Posted: September 10, 2013 in Film reviews

Directed by David Twohy. Starring Vin Diesel.

And so a character who first appeared in low budget sci-fi flick Pitch Black thirteen years ago returns to the big screen in a film that, in the grand scheme of things, shouldn’t exist given how poorly the second film, Chronicles of Riddick, did nine years ago! That we now have Riddick in 2013 is testament to a vocal fan base, the fact that the character is a labour of love for both Twohy and Diesel, and because various people personally put their hands in their pockets to fund the picture. As an avowed fan of Dredd who still hopes to see Dredd 2 someday this is encouraging (and apologies in advance I will be mentioning Dredd again later on!)

Riddick is set five years after the events of the second film, which left the titular hero as Lord Marshall of the Necromungers, though thankfully the film doesn’t rely on a thorough knowledge of Chronicles of Riddick, all you need to know is that Riddick was king of some crazy space aliens, until betrayed and left for dead on a very inhospitable planet.

The first third of the film sees Riddick struggling to survive until he battles his way to an abandoned mercenary station and calls for help. As Riddick is still a wanted man, however, help comes in the form of bounty hunters after Riddick’s head (literally) and matters are further complicated by the arrival of a second group of mercenaries who’re after Riddick for different reasons.

Riddick starts to pick the mercenaries off one by one, but the imminent arrival of an altogether deadlier foe means he may have to join forces with them instead.

There really are three distinct stories going on in Riddick. Riddick battling the elements, Riddick battling the mercenaries, and Riddick and the mercenaries battling monsters, and whilst it would be churlish to suggest this could have made for a trilogy all its own, it’s fair to say that there’s probably a little bit too much packed into this film for it to work effectively, especially once you throw in a Necromunger prologue which feels a little tacked on, however great it is to see Karl Urban.

Clearly Twohy and Diesel decided to return to Riddick’s somewhat barebones roots after the middle film tried to turn a low budget movie into a big budget sprawling space epic complete with intergalactic armies and bizarre outfits. Chronicles was a noble effort but it never really worked for me, so the stripped down nature of Riddick should be a good thing, except oddly this pared back Riddick film’s around the same length as the second one!

For me the film is at its best in the middle portion. The start isn’t bad, and it’s interesting to see Riddick surviving against the odds (plus it foreshadows the finale) and the alien puppy he adopts is very cute, but it gets a little repetitive, and he really needs opponents he can spar with verbally as well as physically.

Luckily such opponents arrive, and the various mercenaries are an interesting bunch, and even those slated for an early death get at least a sliver of personality. The standout is Katee Sackhoff, and not just because she’s practically the only woman in the film, she might just be playing a riff on her Starbuck character, but she’s engaging to watch and (for the most part) more than just eye candy. Jordi Mollà as Santana is also fun, even if he is a nasty piece of work, and he and Sackhoff play off one another nicely as members of rival groups, and off Diesel as the three factions play a fatal game of cat and mouse.

The finale feels a little rushed, and also a little too familiar given it harkens back to Pitch Black. Overall the film could have done with a tighter focus, and this is where I mention Dredd again. Dredd is a film that understood its market (even if its market didn’t quite reciprocate) and is a great example of a stripped down, exploitation film. By contrast Riddick talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. Getting away from all the Necromunger malarkey and going back to basics is only half the battle if you still end up with a film that’s too long and too bloated. There’s also some disquieting sexual politics at play that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Connery era of Bond. Being an antihero is fine, but it can be a delicate line to walk and on a few occasions Riddick steps over the line.

These problems aside there’s much to enjoy about Riddick. Diesel is never going to trouble the Oscars, but he’s a strong screen presence and holds the film together well, aided by a cast who for the most part rise above their limitations. The dialogue is sharp and often funny, and the action scenes mostly well done, and the realisation of the alien world and its various indigenous life forms is exceptional. Good sci-fi films are always welcome, especially ones that veer away from the generic 12A Hollywood blockbuster ideal, but whilst I always like watching Riddick films, I find I can never quite bring myself to love them, and for me the idea of Riddick is probably more enjoyable than the reality.

  1. neil says:

    should have had more people shouting “RIDDICK!” In it

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