Rule the Dark
David Twohy’s low-budget 2000 sci-fi flick Pitch Black should have really gone under the radar as it was just a typical B-grade creature feature, yet it somehow managed to spawn a loyal fan base thanks to its unique central character, the anti-hero Richard B. Riddick, an escaped convict with surgically-enhanced eyes that allow him to see in the dark, played by Vin Diesel, in the role that pretty much launched his career as an action heavyweight. After the original Pitch Black was such a success, particularly on DVD, producers became interested in making a sequel and exploring the Riddick character a little deeper. Interestingly enough, writer/director David Twohy wrote the screenplays for not one, but three sequels and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) was born. Although The Chronicles of Riddick had a much larger budget and scale than it’s predecessor, it wasn’t particularly well received with a cluttered and confused narrative centering around an army of warriors that call themselves The Necromongers, intent on cleansing all of humanity in their goal for universal conquest. After the film’s lacklustre box-office performance it seemed as the future of Twohy’s other Riddick stories was rather bleak.
So here we are, nine years since we last saw Riddick, Twohy and Diesel are back with a new film originally titled The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking, but later simplified to Riddick, clarifying that this time around the flick will solely focus on Richard B. Riddick instead of Necromongers, undead soldiers, New Mecca and whatnot. Diesel was so intent on bringing Riddick back to the big screen that he funded the film himself when production was in jeopardy of shutting down due to financing.
Funnily enough, the movie feels like a re-imagining of Pitch Black rather than a fresh story. After Riddick is betrayed by his own people and left for dead on a desolate unknown planet, the film opens quite boldly in a rather lengthy prologue where Riddick is seen fighting for survival against mother nature and alien predators; with very little dialogue for a full twenty minutes or so, this is a rather daring move for a main-stream picture. It is here that the film achieves most of its best moments as we witness Riddick in his element and come to understand why he is so dangerous and powerful. Desperate to flee the sun-scorched world, Riddick eventually activates an emergency beacon and alerts a group of mercenaries who rapidly descend to the planet to attain Riddick’s head and claim their bounty. The first group to arrive are a new breed of lethal killers led by machete welding Santana (Jordi Mollà); this team are more brawn than brains. A second highly coordinated shuttle of mercenaries later arrives, captained by Johns (Matt Nable) whose pursuit of Riddick is much more personal than just a reward prize. One step ahead of the game, Riddick quickly realizes that time is running out for the inhabitants of the planet as a storm is brewing which will unleash a large number of mud monsters intent on taking down anything in their path.
While Pitch Black and Riddick pretty much parallel one another, both sharing the same formula, this is clearly Twohy’s strongest script to date with a surprising range of different characters, most of which have a bit more depth than others in the franchise. Santana, played by Jordi Mollà, Bad Boys II (2003) is great as the comic relief, while his henchmen, particularly Diaz (Dave Bautista) are more memorable than most. Dahl, the only female character in the film on the other hand, played by a striking Katee Sackhoff, television’s Battlestar Galactica (2004), doesn’t have much to do throughout the picture, she seems to be placed in amongst the mucho men as a play-toy for Riddick or to knock Santana around from time to time; her character could have done with some fleshing out and more screen time. Vin Diesel was definitely at the top of his Riddick game as the deadly anti-hero; he’s had many years to perfect the character and is probably at his menacing best throughout the picture. Riddick also grows an unlikely bond with an alien dog, which is the first time we’ve seen his slightly softer side, a pleasant surprise in the picture.
The effects work in general ranges from great to average, with the creatures and the aesthetics of the planet being highlights; some of the shuttles and mechanics aren’t as smooth or lifelike as one would expect in today’s cinema, but everything can be slightly overlooked given the film’s small budget and B-grade nature. In another rather unconventional move, director David Twohy decides to do the full creature reveal in the first few minutes of the film, opposed to during the finale, showing audiences the danger that lurks ahead, building the dread early on.
The film does have many flaws with its cheesy dialogue and dim-witted characters, but the picture’s biggest issue is its unprecedented 118 minute running time; I highly doubt Riddick needed to be this long. The film drags from time to time, particularly during the second act, where the mercenaries don’t really have much to do besides growl at one another, while Riddick is seen ‘hanging around’ the facility with nothing interesting to do either. Diesel also claimed that the ‘main’ reason for this third entry in the franchise was that a fan claimed he really wanted to see an R-rated Riddick film, ‘Something about that comment made me think,’ said Diesel, ‘If I can do anything with this newfound success, if I could do anything at all, I could deliver on that wish.’ Sadly the film doesn’t truly live up to Diesel’s promise, with only a couple of kills worthy of mention, I doubt this is that R-rated Riddick that fans were hoping for.
Most Riddick enthusiasts should be pleased with this new entry in the saga. While the film won’t win any new fans and doesn’t live up to its strong opening act, it’s popcorn entertainment all the way through and knocks The Chronicles of Riddick out of the park. Twohy explains that the franchise will next head to the Underverse, as he apparently has the next two chapters mapped out; let’s just hope we get a ‘different’ film this time rather than another rework.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Riddick is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia