Recently I wrote of my love for the first outing of space criminal Richard B Riddick (the B surely standing for “badass”), Pitch Black. It was a fun, low key sci-fi action flick about an anti-hero convict played by Vin Diesel leading a group of survivors against some nasty critters. The movie was a big success and a sequel was made but The Chronicles of Riddick, was a bit of a misstep, trading the simple thrills for an overreaching plot about intergalactic empires and whatnot. It wasn’t well received, although isn’t as bad on repeat viewings just rather daft.
Now, Diesel gets the shiny eyes out of retirement for this third installment, which takes a step back to the character’s more simple roots.
We catch up with Riddick left for dead on a seemingly desolate world, and a flashback reveals that the Necromongers who had installed him as their leader betrayed him and he wound up there. The planet seems uninhabited save for a variety of nasty creatures- reptilian vulture things, jackals on steroids, creepy looking eels and some nasty, poisonous scorpion like things, aka Mud Demons, that live under water. Riddick is injured but soon starts relying on his wits once more, deciding that he needs to make up for letting himself go soft and making the mistake of getting civilized.
He snatches one of the space coyote pups and trains it, and works out a way to make himself immune to the Mud Demon stings. Then he escapes the desert into a more lush valley where he discovers an abandoned mercenary station. He raids it for supplies and then sees an approaching rain storm, which allows the MDs to come out.
Riddick activates the station’s beacon which scans his face, planning on attracting bounty hunters who’s ship he can nick. Two ships respond to the signal, the first being Santana’s (Jordi Molla) crew of rough around the edges bounty hunters (including former WWE star David Bautista), shortly followed by a smaller but more polished and professional crew led by Johns (Matt Nable), the father of the merc who’d captured Riddick in the first movie. He wants answers about what happened to his son, and offers to help, but Santana rejects it.
Riddick picks off a few of Santana’s crew and the teams join forces under Johns’ leadership, with his second in command Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) clashing with the unstable Santana.
Riddick pinches power cells from both ships and offers a deal- he’ll give them one so they can leave and take the other ship for himself, warning them that something more dangerous is coming. Riddick is taken down and wakes up just before the rainstorm hits, bringing the Mud Demons out in force.
Can they all work together to get off the planet? Can Riddick trust the bounty hunters, and can they trust him?
I really dug this movie, but then as a Riddick fan I was already in the zone. It’s a definite step back towards the first movie in terms of scale and plot- a fairly tight, no frills sci-fi action flick. It quickly gets Riddick off the throne and back down in the mud and then after he slowly gets back into the zone the action kicks in and it doesn’t let up.
Diesel is allowed to have some fun with Riddick again, the wolfish grin and swaggering badassery is back in a big way, and his sarky narration helps things along at the start, and allowing him to be by himself for the first section of the movie allows the film to build up his aura of ingenuity and resilience. He starts the movie with his shin bone poking out through the skin and employs some Rambo-style rudimentary first aid.
When the mercs show up he’s clearly having fun taunting and outsmarting them and they use the Pitch Black trick of having him skulking unnoticed within feet of his pursuers. Vin Diesel has the muscular charisma to pull it off and is in his comfort zone, with easy toughness and nailing the anti-hero likability from the off.
He’s given good support from the actors playing the two team leaders, Molla and Nable. Nable doesn’t look old or grizzled enough to have been Cole Hauser’s dad a decade ago as the movie suggests, but he does a good job nonetheless as the tough leader of the pro hunters and his relaxed confidence himself was quite cool, and he exuded natural authority.
Molla is clearly having a ball as the nasty Santana, who’s a caricature scumbag villain- he shoots a woman in the back, harasses and attacks Dahl, and is generally unhinged, you’re in panto hissable villain territory. My one problem with the character was that he never seemed a genuine threat to Riddick- physically he was kinda small, but also he was way out of his depth. I know this was deliberate, with his crew being distinctly bush league and aiming too high going after Riddick, but he was a little too inept, at times seeming almost willfully stupid.
The rest of the bounty hunters are largely unremarkable cannon fodder, with the only three standing out being Sackhoff, Bautista and Nolan Gerard Funk (cool name) as the religious kid on Santana’s crew, with everyone else being generic tough guy types.
Bautista only really stood out because of his hulking size, dodgy mohawk and the fact I’m a WWE fan. He does alright as the heavy, but disappointingly doesn’t do much for most of the movie, and when he does finally throw down against Diesel their fight is rather short and a little lame. Why hire someone with such physical presence and not let him use it?
Katee Sackhoff as the only female on the planet does well enough with a hugely cliched role as the “badass chick”, to be fair she does both parts of this genre trope well enough- she’s hot and she actually looks like she can handle herself in a scrap. I know that sounds sexist, but this film is definitely in the teenage boy market and as a former teenage boy I can confirm that there are few things sexier than an attractive woman who could kick your ass.
But the character and the treatment of her is also one of the most problematic They make it plain she’s a lesbian early on, but then she has an odd flirty relationship with Riddick. I say “flirty” but some of our slapheaded hero’s dialogue to her is seriously creepy- I doubt complimenting anyone on their toenail polish and comparing it to the colour of their nipples which you saw while perving on them in the shower would ever go down well.
I’ve seen that a few other people have been irritated by this and it was rather disappointing and a misstep for the movie, although I personally think that Riddick’s coarse dialogue with her was deliberate as part of his MO in trying to throw people off their game. Still, it was a bit suspect and the fact she was flirting back at the end was dodgy (I assume she was flirting back, I couldn’t make out her last line to him). There was gratuitous nudity as well, with her showering but I missed this because I’d stupidly necked two bottles and a coffee before going into the movie.
The lesbian being won over by the hero’s manliness wasn’t cool back when Fleming had Pussy Galore fall for Bond, and it’s definitely not legit in the 21st century, however, I liked that they didn’t consummate the relationship and hope that her flirting back was intended as her being tongue in cheek and slightly mocking of his cockiness, which is how I initally read it. She seemed to treat his claims that they’d end up shagging with amused irritation more than anything. Whatever, it wasn’t necessary- either make her a lesbian and ditch the flirty stuff, or make her straight and a proper love interest, you can’t have it both ways and I can understand why lesbian viewers and female audiences in general might not like the way the character was handled. It just smacked of teenage boy fantasy.
Also, calling her Dahl was a mistake as I thought they were calling her “Doll” throughout the movie.
It really is a shame as Sackhoff was quite badass in the role and did banter well with Diesel and hold her own around the others, but these scenes did leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
Other than this the film is executed well enough, David Twohy knows how to shoot a decent action sequence, and while it lacks the “dying light” tension of the original the critters are still quite creepy and it’s a fun, entertaining sci-fi flick. The script is cliched in places but there are a few decent lines and nice touches throughout (one character berating another for jinxing them, one of the kills that Riddick predicts before he does it, etc.)
Verdict: Diesel is on fine form and the simpler plot suits the character better, it’s generally very good fun even if the treatment of the female characters does cause a few problems. A step in the right direction, but if Riddick gets another outing maybe give him a decent human foe and better supporting players. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.