Movie Review: “Riddick”

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Just by the title alone it should be fairly obvious as to what (or who, in this case) this sci-fi/action flick is all about, but I’ll spell it out for you just in case.

“Riddick” (film number three in the saga) is all about the exploits of escaped convict Richard B. Riddick. The last time we saw Riddick (played by a snarling, throaty, Clint Eastwood-channeling Vin Diesel – who just gets better and better in this role), he had just been made the Lord Marshall of the nefarious Necromongers and was sitting on a throne with thousands upon thousands of loyal followers ready to do his bidding.

So, the question is: What kind of Necromonger reign did Riddick have? Did he lower taxes? Did he provide his constituents with free health care? Did he scrounge up some funding for a new Necromonger baseball stadium?

The answer is: none of the above. Why is that, you ask? Because Riddick’s second-in-command, Vaako – who was still upset that he didn’t get to kill the last Lord Marshall Zhylaw, therefore becoming Lord Marshall himself (“you keep what you kill, it’s the Necromonger way”) – sent Riddick on a wild goose chase to find his home planet of Furya, with no intention of Riddick ever returning.

Vaako (played by Karl Urban) is literally in the film for one scene in the first five minutes, so any of you that were huge fans of the “Dune”-like, sweeping (and somewhat confusing) storylines that the second film brought about will be sorely disappointed in the plotline of “Riddick.”

Vin Diesel in "Riddick"

This is what happened when Riddick started dating Lady Gaga.

No more than a few minutes into the movie, it’s made fairly clear that the whole setup that was teased at the end of film two would be completely abandoned for a more straight-forward, primitive tale of survival and endurance in the wilderness of a strange planet.

So, Riddick has been betrayed by Vaako and left for dead on some god-forsaken planet, where one creature is more vicious than the next and it looks like our (anti)hero is rather screwed, I must say.

However, in a situation where 99.9% of the population would die within minutes, this is where Riddick tends to thrive. It isn’t long before Riddick goes full bore “Man vs. Wild” and makes Bear Grylls look like Perez Hilton. Riddick kills himself his first vicious animal. He skins and debones that animal, in order to kill another bigger, more deadly animal. And so on and so on and so on. He even manages to snag himself a pet along the way, which goes from a cute puppy to a full-grown “dingo-dango” (as it’s called in the film) in an impossibly-short time period, but I digress.

Now the action goes from “Man vs. Wild” to “The Dingo-Dango Whisperer,” as Riddick and his new pet travel the planet in search of food, shelter, and a suitable escape route. This is not before Riddick spends a pretty good amount of time building up a resistance to the poison bite of a particularly nasty creature (the nastiest of the film) – a slimy, scorpion-tailed beastie that submerges itself under a mud puddle, sends its tail up to sway in a hypnotizing motion, then strikes and bites its victim, incapacitating it and saving it for later consumption. Dude, let me tell you – this thing is foul. Let’s just say that it gives the creatures from the first Riddick film, “Pitch Black,” a run for their money.

A boy and his dog in "Riddick"

Riddick and his dingo-dango.

Now, “Pitch Black,” the 2000 sci-fi/horror hybrid that first introduced the character of Riddick to the cinematic world, had a unique and distinct spirit it to it that the second film didn’t have. While “The Chronicles of Riddick” (film two) tried to tell the tale of an unruly outlaw traversing the galaxy in an attempt to find his true purpose, while simultaneously searching for his soul, “Pitch Black” was just a straight-up action-packed, alien-filled monster movie. If I remember correctly, I believe some critic, at the time of its release, called it “Aliens meets Jaws,” or something along those lines.

And while you can’t fault writer/director David Twohy for trying to flesh out the character of Riddick, the series just kind of lost its way once film number two was released. “The Chronicles of Riddick” was simply too ambitious for its own good. Now, don’t get me wrong. It had its moments. Without going too much into detail, the super-hot, prison planet scene on Crematoria was fantastically filmed (so much so, that I would’ve preferred the entire movie to be based on this concept), as was the opening chase scene with Riddick and a crew of bounty hunters.

Where Twohy missed the mark with film two was he tried to turn Riddick into an action hero. Actually, now that I think of it, I’m sure that the newfound, surprise stardom that Diesel received between the first film (2000) and film two (2004) also had something to do with it.

Diesel vs weasel in "Riddick"

Ummmh… ever heard of Tic Tacs, dude?

They tried to repackage the franchise from “Alien”/”Jaws” hybrid to a multi-planet, universe-traversing, sci-fi epic on par with the likes of a “Star Wars” or a “Star Trek.” Like I said – ambitious, but not the direction it should have been taken.

QUICK SIDE NOTE: On the other hand, there were also a pair of video games that hit the mark, in terms of the spirit of the first film, that were released since “Pitch Black.” The first game was a mind-blowing first-person shooter (released for the original XBOX, about a week before the second film in June of 2004) that took place before the events of “Pitch Black” called “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.” It told the story of how Riddick came to receive his nifty “eyeshine” that allows him to see in the dark.

The second game picks up mere moments after the conclusion of the first game and directly ties in with the characters and events from “Pitch Black.” This one was for next-gen systems and was also a first-person shooter style game called “The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena.”

I must also mention that there are some animated additions to the saga as well. This includes “The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury,” which was released simultaneously with the first game and the second film and attempts to bridge the gap (story-wise) between “Pitch Black” and “The Chronicles of Riddick.” Apparently there is also an animated short in the works called “Riddick: Blindsided” that has yet to be released. Since, there is no story or synopsis and Diesel and Urban are the only two attached, I assume it’s a Necromonger-based plot, but who knows. We can only wait and see.

So, now that I’ve mentioned all of the prior video games, animated endeavors, and story-bridging projects, all of the journeys of Richard B. Riddick seem so jam-packed and a tad overwhelming and confusing. In an attempt to create a character with such a detailed background, the essence of the character was left behind.

I’ll be the first to admit, that in “Riddick,” all of those murderous urges and total bad-assery is brought back with a vengeance…

Diesel is "Riddick"

Watch Riddick and his rage bubble up…

a Furyan vengeance.

None of that messy “Who am I?” crap is explored in this movie. All of Riddick’s hopes and dreams of uncovering his heritage and/or lineage is brought crashing down within the first five minutes of the film…literally.

Eventually, Twohy strips the character of Riddick down to his bare bones (not to mention stripping Diesel down to his bare-ass in a literal “returning to nature” scene) until all he’s left with is his love of violence and his talent for survival.

So, after Riddick has stripped down to his normal, savage self (don’t worry, the clothes are only off for about 10 seconds total) and having already beaten the scorpion-tailed monster, he heads across the plains of this unknown planet (which he thought was his home planet of Furya, but quickly figured out was really the planet referred to as “Not Furya”) with his pet dingo-dango in tow.

He eventually finds an abandoned structure, which he quickly figures out is a meeting hub for mercenaries (aka: mercs). Since every merc in the universe is after him (there’s a million credit bounty on him – double if he’s brought back dead), Riddick decides to NOT stay at the abandoned structure for too long.

He doesn’t get far when he spots in the distance an ominous storm cloud that is slowly moving in his direction. Since Riddick is super-smart, he makes the correlation between the impending rain, the wet ground, the puddles, and those scorpion-tailed monsters and comes to a tough, yet necessary, decision. He’s gotta get off the planet ASAP and he needs a ship to do it. He heads back to the abandoned merc station and all he has to do is let the facial scanner do its work and – voila! – a merc ship lands on the planet shortly after.

This is where “Riddick” harnesses the electricity and sheer entertainment value that “Pitch Black” had to offer all those years

Johns and the mercs in "Riddick"

All of these dudes (and dudette) against one guy? Doesn’t seem fair… but, yet, it is.

back. It’s simply mercs (or bounty hunters – whatever you want to call them) vs. Riddick in a game of cat and mouse. The mercs themselves are a surly, wayward bunch. There’s Captain Santana, the mouthy, pervy leader (played by Spanish actor Jordi Molla from “Blow,” “Bad Boys II,” “Colombiana,” etc.). Then there’s his second-in-command, Diaz (Dave Bautista – formerly known as WWE superstar Batista), followed by Nunez, Vargas, Falco and Rubio. Come to think of it, they all sound like they have Latino surnames – I wonder what planet they’re from. Then there’s Luna (played by “Dead Girl’s” Nolan Gerard Funk), who is the prototypical religious character. Every movie needs one. Even “Pitch Black” had the Muslim spiritual guide Imam (played by Keith “never touch another man’s fries” David), who turned into one of Riddick’s BFFs, but that’s another story.

Directly following a big speech by Santana – about how he’s going to put Riddick’s head in a box (foreshadowing!) – another merc ship lands. This bunch is decidedly less surly and more on the professional tip. This group is led by a stern, handsome man named Johns, which is a name that should be very familiar to fans of the series – particularly those who love the first film.

It turns out that this Johns is the father of the morphine addicted, bounty hunter Johns from “Pitch Black,” who turned out to be one of Riddick’s biggest adversaries… and we’ll leave it at that. Well, let’s just say that Daddy Johns (former Australian Rugby Leafue star Matt Nable) has a score to settle with Riddick and he’s brought along a crackerjack team of mercs to help him. This four-man crew includes the butch, tough girl Dahl (played by a razor-sharp Katee Sackhoff, of “Battlestar Galactica” fame, in a revealing role), the skittish Moss (played by well-travelled character actor Bokeem Woodbine) and Lockspur (Raoul Trujillo of “Apocalypto”).

So, after the surly mercs lose a few members to unfortunate, Riddick-based accidents, the pro mercs offer their assistance.

Man vs. (super) Wild in "Riddick"

These things – and their scorpion tales – are naaaaaasssssty!

Needless to say, nobody is aware of Johns’ personal vendetta against Riddick and his stop-at-nothing drive to find out what happened to his son on that terrible planet during the events of film one. Another thing that the mercs have collectively failed to figure out is that the “thunder and the rain is a’comin’.” Basically, as Riddick so perfectly phrases it, “There are worse things out there than him.”

After some fun rounds of hide and seek between Riddick and the bounty hunters, the group is considerably whittled down to a handful of members. Riddick tries to make a deal, offering them the fuel cells, that he stole and buried in an unknown location, for one of the two merc ships. He tells them that they have until the rain clouds get there to make a decision. Well, let’s just say that the deal goes south and the rain clouds DO eventually “get there.”  And some sopping wet hell breaks loose.

I won’t spoil the surprise as to “who” or “what” hitches a ride with the rain clouds, but I will tell you that they are a formidable foe that Riddick has seen before. That being said, when the “things” do reach Riddick and the surviving mercs, the film REALLY turns into “Pitch Black” all over again, which is exactly what I was hoping for and happy to get. Finally, the spirit that is the wise-cracking, ultraviolent, unremorseful Riddick has finally returned… with some hatred to spare.

If you were expecting “Riddick” to delve deeper into the large-scale and elaborate world that Twohy almost spent the last decade-and-a-half creating, then you will be extremely let down. There are no shape-shifting elementals played by Judi Dench

Vin Diesel out of the smoke in "Riddick"

Who’s bad?

or strange planets where the sun is so hot that it incinerates anything dumb enough to stay topside.

There is just Riddick – trapped on an unknown, distant planet and stuck only with his knife, his dingo dango buddy, his will to survive, and his instincts to kill. If that isn’t bad enough, there’s a whole mess of truculent mercs and bloodthirsty creatures, nipping at his heels, that all want him unquestionably, indisputably and irrefutably dead.

And that’s exactly the way that Riddick AND the fans of his exploits like it.

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