Riddick (United States/United Kingdom, 2013)

September 06, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Riddick Poster

Even after nine years, you can't keep a good man down. The indomitable protagonist of 2000's surprisingly engaging Pitch Black and 2004's disappointing The Chronicles of Riddick is back for his third go-around and, if the open-endedness of the narrative is a clue, it won't be his last. Both writer/director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel are invested in Riddick so it won't take more than a modest box office success to start the counter on a fourth film. Riddick works as a stand-alone in that it doesn't demand indoctrination but those possessing some degree of familiarity with the life and times of the title character will get more out of this movie. The introduction hearkens back to The Chronicles of Riddick and one of the antagonists has a familial link to someone from Pitch Black.

Riddick is neatly divided into three acts, each slightly less successful than its predecessor. The first and best part of the movie follows our broken and bleeding anti-hero (Vin Diesel) after he's marooned on a planet that could best be described as "unfriendly." Those familiar with Discovery Channel's survival shows will recognize the vibe. Riddick's aesthetic, especially as presented in this segment, is arresting (with lots of golds and browns and a genuinely alien and foreboding landscape) and there's at least one image that looks like a Frank Frazetta painting come to life. For 30 minutes, this is all about Riddick surviving on his own in a hostile environment where the "dogs" are maneaters and they're some of the nicer creatures around.

Act two occurs after Riddick sets off a distress beacon. Bounty hunters arrive. There are eleven of them in total, but only a few merit mention: the greedy Santana (Jordi Molla), who wants to put Riddick's head in a box; the no-nonsense Johns (Matt Nable), who wants the outlaw captured alive so he can be questioned; and Johns' right-hand woman, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), who repeatedly makes it clear to Santana that his advances aren't appreciated. The rest of the bounty hunters fill the role of the screaming non-virgin teenagers in slasher films. Like in a science fiction First Blood, the better armed, more numerous guys venture into Riddick's territory and find themselves unprepared for what's waiting for them.

By the time we get to the final 30 minutes, Riddick starts to get a little stale so the film ups the ante by forcing the survivors to band together against an alien menace. This segment might have worked better if it had been given more time to breathe and develop but, with the two hour mark looming, Twohy feels the need to wrap things up so he rushes through Riddick's final act.

Much of the film is over-the-top, but that won't be a surprise to those who saw the previous two installments. Diesel is in fine form, growling his lines and being the most menacing person on screen even when he's in chains. The success of the Fast & Furious franchise has elevated Diesel's profile sufficiently to warrant Universal's investment in the film although, at less than $40 million, Riddick doesn't have to do much at the box office to be profitable. It's also worth noting that Twohy gets a lot of bang for his buck. For the most part, this is a great looking film and, although there are a few dodgy special effects scenes (especially the one in which hunters on the futuristic bikes are seen zipping across the terrain), this is as no less impressive than the average mega-budget summer spectacle.

Riddick is a closer cousin to Pitch Black than to The Chronicles of Riddick. It's a dark, tense motion picture and its humor (of which there is a fair amount) is of the gallows variety. Riddick's systematic elimination of the bounty hunters recalls not only Rambo's activities in First Blood but also the methods of killers in horror films. In this case, however, we're asked to identify with the one doing the murdering. It's a matter of who has the moral code. Riddick may be an outlaw but he lives by a set of precepts. Those hunting him, while working within the framework of intergalactic law, are driven by greed and self-interest.

While Riddick is unquestionably Diesel's film, there are some nice supporting performances. Jordi Molla is the kind of generic sadist whose comeuppance becomes one of the film's most anticipated moments. Matt Nable brings a sense of emotional conflict and near-nobility to his part. Katee Sackoff, who's known to sci-fi fans as "Starbuck" from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, is the embodiment of a strong female character. Put her alongside Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor and Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. Like Hamilton and Weaver, Sackoff bulked up for the part.

Riddick isn't perfect but it's a good high-octane sci-fi tinged action/thriller. The pacing issues don't derail the production and there are numerous memorable scenes sprinkled throughout. Those who enjoyed Pitch Black but found The Chronicles of Riddick to be a step in the wrong direction will find that Riddick takes viewers back to the things that worked in the first installment without being a repeat, remake, or reboot.

Riddick (United States/United Kingdom, 2013)

Director: David Twohy
Cast: Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine
Screenplay: David Twohy, Oliver Butcher, Stephen Cornwell
Cinematography: David Eggby
Music: Graeme Revell
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:59
U.S. Release Date: 2013-09-06
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1