I need to preface this review by noting that I was one of the very few who didn’t care much at all for the original Pitch Black (from which the character of Riddick was born), and skipped The Chronicles of Riddick altogether for that very reason. But I chose to see Riddick, the newest addition to the franchise, to find out if, after nine years of absence, whether or not the producers could pull off something unique and scary, and something that would push me to go back and re-watch the others. Based on the reports I read about how the franchise got back off the ground, the trailer that focuses on one very specific scene (one of the better one’s in the movie, I might add), and how much Vin Diesel truly cares for this character, I wanted to like it. Sadly, going in with a lower set of expectations didn’t help convince me that Riddick is a character worth following.
The film begins with Riddick rising from the rubble, a man left for dead on a desert planet, scarred and bruised with a broken leg. As he heals, he grows to know the planet in more depth and, after setting off on a trek to find a more suitable (and environmentally friendly) place to live, he soon realizes that he needs to get off the rock before a massive storm hits if he wants to survive long enough to find his way back to his home planet of Furia. After conveniently coming across a human outpost that had been deserted a long time ago, he’s able to set off a distress beacon in hopes of retrieving a ship from the bounty hunters that would no doubt arrive to collect the price on his head (double if brought back dead—one of the rare, fun subtleties the film has going for it). Two teams end up arriving on the planet: one a group of rag-tag mercenaries, the other a more financed military-style group who may be there for more than just the wealth. After a few careless casualties, the teams set their differences aside to hunt Riddick, who won’t stop until he gets what he wants.
I will say that the first act of this film, where we get to watch Riddick tend to his wounds and get to know the planet, did intrigue me enough to keep me interested. At one point, in order to get past one of the main villainous creatures of the planet, Riddick takes the time to immunize himself from the creature’s venom. Unfortunately, it’s a great set-up for something that eventually falls flat and never truly goes anywhere. Instead, we’re subjected to a second act that mistakenly turns its back on Riddick to focus on the inane antics of the bounty hunters. For about forty-five minutes or so, Riddick is literally thrust into the shadows, seen only sparingly as we get to know a bunch of uninteresting meat-heads we couldn’t care less about. (The exception being Katee Sackhoff’s female grunt with a mighty tight… punch. And even then, her character isn’t developed enough to want to root for.) For example, one of the mercenaries is a completely out of place religious kid who belongs more in the next iteration of One Direction than as part of this group who has nothing but blood and glory on their minds. The most he ever does is pray over dead bodies and complain a lot. Add to that an unevenness that forces the rest of the characters to constantly make contrived decisions made only to help further the plot, and an annoying back-and-forth switch in what the characters actually know about Riddick, done for no other reason then to try and justify those decisions, and what we’re left with is nothing more than a hindrance of lazy writing.
And that’s not where it ends with the poorly written script, either. The writer (or should I say, writers, as there are several credited with writing the script), tries hard to connect this film with the other two (briefly returning to where the last film left off to show how Riddick got to be where he is, and making a seemingly far-fetched connection to the original film that I felt was sorely underutilized in its execution), but wastes too much time trying to make us care for a bunch of people that are all basically going to die anyway instead of focusing on Riddick’s past, his pain and his journey to get home. All of the action (as little as there actually was) then lends itself to an ending that is neither justified in its execution or, by any means, earned. Several things happen in the last fifteen minutes that either don’t go far enough, are outrageously hokey, or come out of nowhere, simply because the movie needed to end somehow. Bottom line, the justification for the characters’ actions, and the motivations behind them, weren’t set up well enough to make it anywhere near believable. And this after such a nicely executed opening act.
In the end, I can’t recommend Riddick; there was so much more the film could have explored, of the world Riddick was on and of Riddick’s own psyche, that I believe would have made for a much more compelling movie. Then again, who I am to speak against a franchise I never cared for in the first place. But you have been warned.
My Grade: C
Next week, new movies include Insidious: Chapter 2 and The Family. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.