Reviews for this sequel have been pretty lukewarm, and while I don’t blame anyone for feeling as such, there are some high and not-so-high points. This is not a blanket mediocre film, but the averaging out of the varied content can leave one feeling that way. As documented recently here, I feel Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick are really strong films in their respective, specific genres, with my preference being for the latter movie. Riddick does fall between the scale and premises of those films, but doesn’t live up to either one quite as well as it could have.
Betrayed by the Necromongers and left for dead on a desolate planet, Riddick (Vin Diesel) fights for survival against alien predators and becomes more powerful and dangerous than ever before. Soon, bounty hunters from throughout the galaxy descend on Riddick only to find themselves pawns in his greater scheme for revenge. With his enemies right where he wants them, Riddick unleashes a vicious attack of vengeance before returning to his home planet of Furya to save it from destruction.
There are three sections of this movie for me to critique which all have their distinct qualities. The first act of the film feels very sparse as it is just Riddick fending for himself on this desolate planet. There’s a few bits of narration from him and a flashback with the Necromongers that fill in some plot gaps from the aftermath of The Chronicles of Riddick. It also contains the only and very brief appearance of Karl Urban as Vaako. I had hoped for more from him here, but I figured it would be no more than a cameo. Anyway, this first act didn’t do much for me. It was kind of cool seeing Riddick wounded, vulnerable, and out in the wild getting back in touch with his animal side. However, it is quite sparse not giving you much beyond the survival action set pieces to get involved with. The film was starting to feel like an adventure that would play out in some prequel comic book – a very small scale transition piece story that is a stepping stone to something larger.
Thankfully, as I anticipated, once we get some bounty hunter characters injected into the mix, the film really started to entertain and engage me. Sure, the premise is quite stripped down and basic feeling more in line with Pitch Black, but if you’ve got a couple of vibrant, enjoyable characters to fill out that premise, you’ve got enough to make it worthwhile. It does take a few minutes to get them warmed up, but it’s the clashing dynamics between everyone that sparks it all off. Essentially, there are two teams of bounty hunters, or mercs as they are called. The first is lead by Santana, who is an enjoyably sleazy, down and dirty type with a very gritty, testosterone jacked team. The other is a more clean cut operation lead by actor Matt Nable’s character who has personal ties to Riddick and the events of Pitch Black. These two teams clash immediately causing a lot of conflict, and striking some very humorous, entertaining interactions.
Santana is portrayed very well by Jordi Mollà. I found him the most lively and charismatic character of the film. Mollà paints Santana as a very salacious individual with little respect for anyone else outside his team, and especially doesn’t like being ordered around by any of them when they’re forced to team up. Santana has definite smarts, but his attitude surely digs his own grave with many characters, especially Riddick. Also, former wrestler Dave Bautista is part of Santana’s team, and he does his part well, especially since Diaz doesn’t require much beyond being tough, formidible, and a little charismatic.
And color me majorly impressed by Katee Sackhoff. She portrays the exceedingly tough Dahl, part of the opposing team of mercs. She more than imposes her physicality upon Santana and others who try testing her, and has the attitude to go with that. This isn’t some stereotypical tough chick routine. Sackhoff kick ass as a bonafide hard edged, sharply skilled mercenary who has an extra distinctive flourish to her character. I’m sold on the actress and the character completely.
Now, Matt Nable’s character, of Boss who does have a bit of a reveal that I’ll not spoil for you here, is fairly okay. As I said, he adds a tether back to Pitch Black, but he’s really little more than that. The character is confident, authoratative, and intelligent, but compared to the colorful Santana, the tough as nails Dahl, or the nicely fun muscle bound hired guns of Santana’s gang, this is a rather mild character. He also sits on the fence never becoming an outright, reviled villain, and the ending reflects the reason why. There’s some intended depth with this character, but because he is so much on the fence, you don’t know if you’re supposed to sympathize with him or view him as a vengeful enemy. The film never galvanizes him into what kind of adversary he should be, and thus, comes off as quite forgettable and mild.
It is clear that Vin Diesel has a love for Riddick, and so do I. I think he is very fascinating type of anti-hero that has so many avenues of expansion, but this film really takes no ambition with Richard B. Riddick. The character is still written well by David Twohy, but that signature aura of mystique isn’t quite there. That ambiguity of what kind of hero he might choose to be, or the cunning way he manipulates events and perceives deeper into others isn’t really utilized here. Because the is a straight forward survival story with only bad guys and no potential good guys, you generally know how Riddick is going to deal with everyone. There’s no one of morality or sympathy like Imam, Carolyn Fry, or Jack / Kyra here to sway or alter Riddick’s actions. He’s out for himself, and will bargain however he can to escape this planet alive without being held captive. So, there’s no place for a lot of those more complex elements of Riddick to exist in this story, and that’s unfortunate. Diesel still does a really good job in the role, making him a fun, smart, highly capable, and entertaining protagonist. It just doesn’t feel like we’re getting every element of the character that I love. I kept perceiving something being missing from the performance or portrayal all throughout the movie, but couldn’t really put my finger on it. There is more to this character that we have seen in both previous movies, but this movie is just a little too stripped down to allow him to develop or be fleshed out. It also seemed like Vin Diesel didn’t wear contact lenses this time out, and instead, had Riddick’s “shine job” eyes digitally done.
I loved Graeme Revell’s score for both previous movies, but I wasn’t impressed with his work in this film. The familiar main theme does make some subtle appearances, but we never get a full fledged crescendo of it. Many of the action beats are scored appropriately well. Yet, the rest of the score feels very different in many places from Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick. There were a number of cues which just didn’t strike the right chord with me, same as some of the humorous bits of Riddick and the silly tricks with his dog-like pet. Those were certainly there to forge an emotional bond with this animal, which seems to have a massive unexplaned growth spurt during the first act, but because it was such a poorly done CGI creation I just couldn’t care that much about it.
The digital visual effects are about on-par with those in The Chronicles of Riddick, but like with Pitch Black, it’s good that a large chunk of these effects appear during dark environments. The creatures that strike at nightfall are considerably better rendered than Riddick’s pet, which is the only CGI that I cringed at. Of course, there’s only so much you can do on a $38 million budget where entire landscapes are enhanced with digital effects, and thus, you’re stretching your dollars to their limit. Thankfully, the CGI is pretty good in large part, and added to the film a whole lot more than it detracted.
I do like that David Twohy put forth the effort to build in connections to both of the previous movies. Again, you’ve got some flashbacks with the Necromongers showing what happened after Riddick killed the Lord Marshal, and how it led to him being left for dead on this nearly barren planet. Yet, I know this was not the film Twohy nor Diesel intended to make when they laid out their plans for The Chronicles of Riddick, and so, this is a smaller scale story intended to be a springboard towards a larger scale adventure. As much as I absolutely want to see this franchise take off and allow these fimmakers to tell the Riddick stories that they want, I’m not sure this is the movie to get them there. Like I said, this story is probably stripped down too much in terms of character and conceptual development, and focuses more on the entertainment value of action sequences. While all of the action is very well executed making for a bloody, violent, and fairly exciting movie, it has one more major failing.
As I said, there are three sections of this film to critique, and the last one, clearly, is the ending. Riddick is an action / horror survival story putting this character into increasingly treacherous and deadly scenarios where he must fend for himself. People are going to betray him and attempt to kill him, possibly even stranding him on this planet to ensure their own survival. I won’t detail the ending of this movie, but frankly, it is a terribly weak ending that is a copout to the entire premise. There’s no dramatic punch to this ending, no rationale for the actions of the other characters involved with it, and leaves you hanging with an empty feeling. The film builds to a tense, riveting crescendo, and then, fizzles out. This film absoultely should have ended with a strong, impactful, emphatic statement for the character and franchise. I even sat there through the end credits hoping for an extra scene to appear, but once those credits roll, that’s all there is. Up until this point, I was enjoying myself, and was engaged in the excitement of the action. I was interested to see how the machinations of these deceitful characters would manipulate the fate of Riddick. It was a fun adventure with plenty of graphic violence pulling no punches, and just having a good, gritty time with itself. It’s just those last few minutes of the movie where you just don’t know how Riddick is going to get out of this at all, and the entire movie cheats you out of even a decent pay-off. I just felt letdown, and it’s worse yet because I know David Twohy can write something better than this. He wrote Warlock, co-wrote The Fugitive, and co-wrote both previous Riddick movies. It’s a whimper of a conclusion when it should have been amazingly awesome to re-energize audiences about the character of Riddick, and leave them wanting to see more bad assery from him.
I had been waiting for this movie for a long time, and I really wanted this franchise to be very successful. So, it really, honestly pains me to give any amount of negativity to jeopardize that success, but this really feels more like a movie many would rent instead of rushing out to the theatre to see. Even removing the ending from the equation, it is a fairly average sci-fi / action movie without the same stylized visuals or scope of Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick. However, it has some extra punch in the graphic violence and some pleasing female nudity, and has some entertaining and well portrayed characters to liven up the uninspired story. You can potentially have a good time with this movie, but I don’t feel it’s a strong enough outing to give Riddick the new injection of box office life that he needs for David Twohy and Vin Diesel to do what they desire with him, unfortunately.