Chronicles of Riddick, The (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Chronicles of Riddick, The Poster

With a title like The Chronicles of Riddick, one can assume that David Twohy's movie comes with lofty aspirations. Indeed, there are hints of a complex, involving story here. Unfortunately, too many of the nuances are drowned out by incessant, repetitive action, pointless running around, and computer graphics overindulgence. So, although The Chronicles of Riddick offers its share of solidly entertaining moments, it doesn't hold together as a single, coherent motion picture experience. Too often, it simply makes no sense.

We were first introduced to Riddick (Vin Diesel) in 2000's Pitch Black, Twohy's ingenious and engaging Alien knock-off. That movie laid an egg at the box office, earning less than $40 million, but gained a following on home video. That, coupled with Diesel's enthusiasm to return to the role, got The Chronicles of Riddick off the ground. What keeps it from truly taking flight, however, is the film's lack of a logical, reasonable structure. As a futuristic action movie, The Chronicles of Riddick dazzles with impressive visuals and a few kinetic fight scenes. But as a work of science fiction, it's largely a failure, because it is occasionally impossible to figure out what's going on.

The film opens about five years after the events in Pitch Black, and Riddick is on the run from bounty hunters again. His latest tussle with a group of "mercs" leads him back to his old pal Inam (Keith David), who has learned from the prophesy of the Air Elemental, Aereon (Judi Dench), that Riddick may be the only one to stop the warmongering Necromongers and their near-invincible Lord Marshall (Colm Feore). The Necromongers are about to lay waste to Inam's planet, and Riddick arrives just in timeā€¦ to be unable to stop much of anything. Soon, he's on his way to a penal planet to locate Jack, the teenage girl he saved in the previous movie. Jack has changed a lot in five years. She now goes by the name of Kyra, is played by a different actress (Alexa Davalos), and has become just as cold and cynical as her mentor. If the two of them can escape from the prison, they'll end up teaming up against the Necromongers, but that's a big "if," since there's a lot of running around, climbing, and shooting involved to succeed.

The Chronicles of Riddick boasts a striking look. The cinematographer is different (Hugh Johnson), but he follows the approach of Pitch Black by employing various color filters to indicate mood swings and lighting changes from planet to planet. The number of special effects has been greatly increased from Pitch Black, but that's not necessarily a good thing. Some of the most complex shots, including one near the opening when the Necromongers lay waste to a planet, look computer generated. Visually, a viewer should never confuse a motion picture with a computer game. That was a major flaw in The Matrix Revolutions as well.

Much of the film's middle section, which concentrates on Riddick's adventures on the penal planet, are unnecessary to the overall plot, and they steal valuable time that could have been better spent on expanding the situation with the Necromongers. Also, a little more exposition should have been employed to expand upon the nature and goals of Aereon, who doesn't seem to serve much more of a useful purpose than to give Dame Judi Dench an opportunity to appear in a science fiction movie.

The penal planet scenes become especially tedious during the escape, when Riddick and company have to outrun a rising sun before it burns them to a crisp. Once again, a lot of what happens during this sequence doesn't make much sense, but I suppose we're supposed to forgive Twohy because we're into the action and rooting for the characters. That's a flimsy excuse for gaping plot holes, and not a particularly strong reason for the inclusion of a 15 minute segment whose lone purpose appears to be padding the running length.

The Chronicles of Riddick proves how valuable a commodity Vin Diesel can be when he is used properly. Recently, with duds like A Man Apart, Diesel has been losing both popularity and credibility as an action star. But, once again playing Riddick, he has returned to top form - the charismatic anti-hero who can growl one-liners (most of which are expectedly cheesy), snap bad guys in two, out-grunt his opponents, and accidentally save a civilization or two. Diesel understands this character, and, despite the lapse of four years, he hasn't missed a beat. This is the same guy who splattered bugs in Pitch Black.

The other actor worth noting is Alexa Davalos, who gives an untamed interpretation of Jack/Kyra. Although there's an element of feral sensuality in Davalos' portrayal, the film wisely keeps any potential sexual energy between her and Diesel at arm's length. They're playing big brother/little sister, not would-be lovers. Colm Feore, the Canadian actor, is inadequate as the Lord Marshall. "Intimidating" is not a word one would ever use to describe Feore, yet that's precisely what's required of him here, and he isn't capable of delivering. Supporting actors include an underused Thandie Newton (as the scheming wife of a Necromonger captain), Judi Dench (whose ethereal character serves no useful purpose), and Keith David (whose Inam isn't around for very long).

It's hard to determine whether the movie's main problems are the result of sloppy scripting, inconsistent editing, or a combination of the two. But it's clear that the final cut of The Chronicles of Riddick fails to attain its full glory in large part because of its frustrating unevenness. The film is adequate for those who want to spend a couple more hours with one of the most interesting science fiction characters in recent years, but the story lacks the lean, single-minded focus of Pitch Black, and it suffers because of it. Although the ending hints at what might happen during another volume of Riddick's adventures, it's questionable whether that tale will be told. The Chronicles of Riddick isn't solid enough to earn a sequel.

Chronicles of Riddick, The (United States, 2004)

Director: David Twohy
Cast: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos, Linus Roache, Nick Chinlund, Keith David
Screenplay: David Twohy
Cinematography: Hugh Johnson
Music: Graeme Revell
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:59
U.S. Release Date: 2004-06-18
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1