The universe of Riddick isn’t something I’ve exalted as much as other properties because when it comes down to it, each film has been mismanaged at some point or another. Pitch Black is an enjoyable time, but borrows way too much from others of the same genre; it wasn’t able to balance being an homage and doing its own thing enough to warrant originality, or a franchise for that matter. The Chronicles of Riddick is almost worthy of loathing, were it not for its ambition and a couple satisfying moments. However, neither film has been able to bring this universe into full effect because of a dumbed down plot, or the exact opposite: a bloated, special effects extravaganza that thinks it’s a futuristic Shakespearean production.
With video games and comics to entertain the hardcore fans until the undetermined threequel, the waiting is finally over as Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) has hit the big screen again after nine years; and they seem to be finally stepping in the right direction. Riddick is a continuation of the previous two films, although it feels like a beginning of a new trilogy. After being left for dead on a mysterious and deserted planet by the Necromongers, Riddick must learn to survive. The first thirty minutes of the film is essentially Vin Diesel going Bear Grylls on this planet no one has any idea about. For all we know it’s a wasteland. He has a broken leg, is being hunted down by unusual dogs, and has no water. Survival is inevitable.
Eventually Riddick finds a safe enough place for shelter and could continue on toward a watery paradise, except a swamp inhabiting scorpion-like creatures blocks his path. This was my favorite part of the entire film, because the entirety of it is Riddick adapting to this world, which becomes the same for the audience. There are a couple of landscaping shots that are awe-inspiring (although the film could have done with some more), and the creature designs are interesting to say the least. Once Riddick kidnaps one of the dog’s puppies, we get to examine it as well. It looks like a zebra-dog hybrid, but my best comparison is Ozymandias’ Bubastis in Watchmen mixed with a Great Dane. Once again in film, the dog is a major highlight.
The episode of Riddick vs. Wild continues with him battling the scorpion creature, finding out it has a venomous bite before it eats its prey. He manages to kill one, taking its tooth he extracts the venom and begins injecting himself to the point of tolerance. What starts as a somewhat sickening scene gives Riddick temporary superpowers to level up and conquer the marsh of beasts in slow-motion. It looks great, has the adrenaline to pump the rest of the film, and gets Riddick past his first “boss fight” if you will. Most might find the first half-hour slow and monotonous, however, it is exactly the kind of thing that has been missing from the previous films. It sets up this world we and Riddick know nothing about; it might have strange parallels to Planet Number Two in Pitch Black, but instead of throwing a group of crew members on an isolated planet with a convict, we get to experience it for a while.
A homing beacon is activated by Riddick who finds an abandoned way station, bringing in two rival bounty hunter groups. The first headed by the appalling Santana (Jordi Malla), along with his right-hand man Diaz (Dave Bautista); and the second directed by Boss Johns (Matt Nable) and his right-hand woman Dahl (Katee Sackhoff). If you haven’t guessed yet, Riddick stands on the sidelines watching these two groups fight and then adds more fuel to the fire. The problem is that the scenes involving the crew arguments feel disjointed and most have Santana in them who is despicable without a saving grace. Malla plays him fine, it isn’t his fault, but there is nothing to like about the rapist scumbag and you begin counting the minutes to his possible comeuppance. The rest of the supporting cast does a fine job, aside from the three or four you know nothing about, creating another Prometheus dilemma.
Once the bounty hunters land and the majority of them are established, the rest of the film is a ticking clock, waiting for a literal brooding rain cloud to come overhead and for Riddick to make an appearance. Then, Riddick warns the crew, giving them the option of handing over one of the ships to leave, or die by what the rain holds as he has hidden the power nodes the vessels need to operate. Take Pitch Black and trade the darkness with the rain cloud and that’s the McGuffin this time around. It’s uninspired, but there are some good things throughout. There are humorous nods to Pitch Black and even one to The Fast and the Furious which doesn’t necessarily land. The second half of the film is noticeably weaker than the first; however, there are some great kills and a lot of fun for where it goes.
There are people complaining about how Vin Diesel and Katee Sackhoff have little chemistry, but watching this, I never got the impression that they should, in a romantic sense at least. Very early on, Dahl tells Santana her sexual preference and it isn’t men. When Riddick comes into the picture, the scenes involving them felt humorous because of what he doesn’t completely know about her. Personally, it worked with how the actors played the scenes and their sexualized relationship as the film progressed, but others might not get that across with the watered-down love interests we see these days.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Riddick is the fresh start for a rebooted franchise; the way it introduces the world, how the film plays out, its conclusion, feels like they are trying to do something new. The only thing is, this is still clunky. Take the elements of world building and properly establishing who Riddick is and integrate it with the plot of Pitch Black, and I think there is a really good film in there. Instead I feel left with two decent sci-fi/horror movies that are just there. Riddick is a good time at the theater, dare I say “great” time, but the film has its problems. When it comes to retreaded ideas of the first film that already borrowed from plenty other great genre pictures, Riddick can’t manage to pull its head above uninspiring. I’ll still take another sequel, however.
The Good: world building, creature design, Riddick’s dog, and kills that are a lot of fun.
The Bad: Santana’s personality, the middle drags a little bit.
The Ugly: unimpressive storytelling that, as Pitch Black did, borrows too much from other properties.