“Riddick” (****) out of 5
Starring: Vin Diesel, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, and Dave Bautista
Written by: David Twohy, Oliver Butcher, and Stephen Cornwell
Directed by: David Twohy
Every once in a while, a film that has no business being entertaining surprises me. “Pitch Black” was one of those films, and oddly enough, its’ second sequel involving the enigmatic Riddick character does the same. I don’t have a good or defendable answer as to why I’m drawn to films like this- only that I think they’re kind of cool, and space/aliens are directly or indirectly involved. Director David Twohy (“The Arrival”, “A Perfect Getaway”) has always been able to make the kind of fare that looks great, is semi-creative, and appealing to a very specific audience, but never quite complete.
With the unlikely release of “Riddick”, nine full years after its’ predecessor, “The Chronicles of Riddick”, I think Twohy has made the most complete film that he can possibly make, and it’s worth it, to boot. It’s true to itself and the world that has been established, loves the characters, looks fantastic in spite of some typical Twohy hyper-realism, and above all, is brave enough to be a hard ‘R’. There’s no holding back- we are treated to decapitations, disembowelments, sexual assault, full frontal nudity, compound fractures, copious amounts of blood, alien goo, salty language, and a partridge in a pear tree. All of that ridiculousness would be silly in a lesser film, but it works here.
I give Twohy and Diesel kudos for humbling up and scaling back after the big-budget disappointment of “Chronicles“, then re-establishing this character in a setting that takes full advantage of his best traits. Is he tough? Clearly. Is he resourceful? He’d have to be after being stranded on a remote planet by Vaako (Karl Urban). Is he bold? He’s the only character I know that can threaten the lives of multiple surrounding bounty hunters while being chained up and still come off as believable. Is he a hero? I’d go with the term anti-hero, as he seems to have his own sensible moral code, despite his savage and ‘animalistic’ nature.
The first half of the movie focuses on Riddick’s most interesting trait- his resourcefulness. He’s left broken on a desolate planet that he believed to be his home world of Furya, then stalked by hyena-like creatures and alien-dinosaur-scorpion hybrids (imagine the Giger alien mating with the creepy leech-snake from “Enemy Mine”) of different sizes. After he befriends one of the alien hyenas, he finds a remote bounty hunter outpost, triggers the beacon, and in no time, two starkly different bands of bounty hunters show up to claim Riddick as one of the top prizes in the known universe. Both previous entries in this franchise aren’t ignored, and in fact help drive the plot here. From that point until the end of the film, it’s Riddick’s wit and physicality versus the massive number of obstacles between him and escape from the planet. We know he’s likely to defeat everyone, but we find joy in watching him scheme and the would-be captors squirm.
Whether or not you’re interested in the loose mythology behind the Riddick character, there is no denying how much fun this movie is. The filmmakers cared enough about these characters to give us a smart, surprisingly funny, well-edited action thriller that made me smile on multiple occasions. It’s not often that we get an action movie that dares to forego frantically kinetic hand to hand battles or explosions in favor of scheming, talking, and outwitting, and “Riddick” does all three surprisingly well. On top of that, there’s just enough creepiness lurking about with the aggressive alien-dinosaur-scorpions to keep us on our toes. Sure, an uneven musical score by Graeme Revell and the overuse of ‘diagonal’ camera angles took me out of the moment a few times, but they aren’t major issues.
Sincere props need to go out to Vin Diesel and company for making a movie that cares about its’ audience, and cares about the characters they’ve created. Pay close attention, and you’ll even notice some neat science-fiction sounds that I can’t remember hearing before in a film (the motion tracker that the bounty hunters employ is one example). It’s all a part of a movie that never needed to exist, but I’m quite pleased it does.