2013 has been a fairly strong year for Sci-Fi films. Tom Cruise’s OBLIVION was a thoughtful and beautiful journey contrasted by Guillermo del Toro’s kaiju destruction epic, PACIFIC RIM. ELYSIUM, while a little-less-than-subtle with its social commentary, was still a fantastic piece of science-based filmmaking featuring powerful exoskeletons and forcefield weapons and a movie-stealing performance by DISTRICT 9′s Sharlto Copley. So it’s only appropriate that we end the summer movie season with with a little down and dirty Sci-Fi thrills in the form of everyone’s favorite growling, night vision, anti-hero: Riddick.
When we were first introduced to the character of Richard B. Riddick in 2000′s PITCH BLACK I think it would have been a safe bet that none of us suspected we’d be looking at the beginning of a bigger series that would span more than a decade. But here we are 13 years later to see if Vin Diesel can continue his string of box office successes with the next chapter in his Riddick series called. . . well, RIDDICK. For those who enjoyed PITCH BLACK and thought that the sequel, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, strayed too far from the original in terms of feel and scope, take heart. The latest entry in the series is a return to the smaller, more intimate and claustrophobic feel of the original without being a retread. At this point, if you don’t know about Riddick, go back and watch PITCH BLACK (or at least hit the Googles) and then jump back in at this point. It’s cool, I’ll wait. . .
RIDDICK is interesting in its structure in that it is actually three smaller stories woven together with a single, overarching goal in mind. The film starts out with RIDDICK alone on an unfriendly planet. It plays out in ways reminiscent of a Sergio Leone western, a man alone in an inhospitable wasteland left for dead and trying to make sense of his situation. The first 20 minutes of the film are done with minimal dialogue, allowing Diesel to use his physicality to convey the realities of his situation. Part of this is an explanation covering how Riddick went from the all powerful Lord Marshal at the end of the previous film to now finding himself in full “Riddick of Arabia” mode on a desert planet—which paves the way for a nice Karl Urban appearance.
It isn’t until this whole first episode has played out that we finally get the arrival of the bounty hunters that the trailer centers around. Which brings a thought to mind, the trailer doesn’t give too much away as is often the case these days. If you’ve seen any of the spots they do give away some of the kill shots, but nothing that is crucial to the story. Now, at this point, if I was doing this as a “proper review” I’d just tell you the entire story in great detail and then take great offense when the unwashed masses accused me of spoilers because, you know, I’m a reviewer and you’re not. But I’ve got no love for that nonsense. Here, on my blog, you just get to find out the basics and if it was any good while still leaving plenty of surprises. So what can we say without giving it away?
First, the bounty hunter story arc is much less straight forward than the trailer would make one believe. Let’s just say the dynamic amongst the group is far more complex and interesting. The film does a great job of establishing the character of the bounty hunters with Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s upcoming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), Jordi Molla (BAD BOYS 2) and rugby-player-turned-actor Matt Nable all turning in great performances and distinguishing their characters from 2-dimensional, red shirts just waiting to get “ghosted”. Even the supporting players with less lines have been given backstories and unique traits that keep any of them from blending together into disposable grunts. There are fairly long stretches where Riddick isn’t to be found and it all works well because the supporting cast and their different dynamics with one another are so fascinating to watch play out, all of which is a testament to the talents of writer/director David Twohy
There is also a strong connection to the first movie, so if you’ve not seen PITCH BLACK in a while I suggest you bone up (and avoid IMDB as the spoiler is right there for everyone to see). This connection to the first film, as well as Riddick’s longing to find his home world of Furya, give the film a much larger scope despite taking place in a small location with a small cast. These connections to the bigger story of Riddick add a nice sense of gravity to even the smallest actions in the film because it always feels like something bigger is at stake.
Diesel is great as Riddick. He definitely seems to be having more fun with the character in this one. No matter the situation the character always seems full of confidence and always has something interesting to say. The dialogue is a mix of standard Sci-Fi and modern-day colloquialisms. This is probably the most varied we’ve seen Riddick as he runs the gamut of the emotional range, allowing Diesel to show off his acting chops as opposed to just flexing his physical presence a la the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise. But Riddick is clearly a character that Diesel loves to play. These films are his babies. Prior to the screening he gave a very moving speech about how proud he was to show this film off to all of us, how it’s a dream come true to keep this character going even after a 9-year hiatus. His joy and passion for the character come through loud and clear as he explores Riddick’s emotional range, from the vulnerable and thoughtful to the downright brutal and sadistic. Riddick can be violent in the worst ways, but I never faulted him for it, never felt it was unnecessary.
In the end, RIDDICK is a fun, character-driven, sometimes violent, sometimes thoughtful, always entertaining piece of Sci-Fi that contains key elements of a Clint Eastood Western and Mel Gibson’s ROAD WARRIOR. It doesn’t take itself as seriously as some of films like OBLIVION, but it is never in danger of falling into parody. If you like PITCH BLACK, you’ll like this. If you like Vin Diesel, you’ll like this. If you like your Sci-Fi a little dirty with a little post-apocalyptic/wasteland flare, this is for you. My first thought when the credits rolled was, “I hope they find a way to make another one.”