Movie Review: Riddick
By Matthew Huntley
September 17, 2013
I suppose there is an appreciable level of goofiness to Riddick that at least makes it watchable, but just because a movie is watchable doesn’t necessarily make it worth watching. The charm and pleasure of Riddick, and there is some, stems from the filmmakers not taking the material too seriously and just sort of having B-movie fun with it; that, and its irreverent sense of humor. But despite its carefree yet loyal approach to the science fiction genre, Riddick is ultimately too mediocre, cheap-looking and narratively inconsequential to lift it beyond “should have been direct-to-DVD” territory. That’s a problem when it’s being released in theaters.
Vin Diesel returns as the titular character, Riddick, the skilled criminal and anti-hero from a distant planet who has the ability to see in the dark, a gift that also renders his eyes extremely sensitive to light, which is why he’s always wearing those black goggles (which happen to make him look extra cool and menacing). When the movie opens, Riddick is barely alive and strangles a vulture-like bird on a dry, desolate planet. “There are bad days, and then there are legendary bad days,” he says. The “legendary” bad day he speaks of involves his betrayal by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban), the only man left alive who knows the destination of Riddick’s home planet of Furya. In exchange for directions, Riddick agrees to abdicate his role as Lord Marshal of the Necromonger race and hand the power over to Vaako, but instead Vaako sets him up to be assassinated, which doesn’t exactly go as planned. And so we catch up with Riddick after the fact - broken, bleeding and left for dead.
If any of these characters or story sound completely foreign to you, the reason may be because the last film in the series, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), came out nearly 10 years ago, which was preceded by Pitch Black (2000). All three were written and directed by David Twohy, who obviously has a lot of affection for the main character, and there is indeed a group of cult fans who share his sentiment, which is probably why another sequel was made in the first place. I’m mostly neutral, but I think even the most ardent Riddick followers will find this installment rather insignificant.
During an extended opening sequence, Riddick does what he can to survive his adverse environment, which includes battling creatures that look like a cross between a dog and a coyote (one of whom he raises as his pet) and fending off slimy, venomous “Mud Demons” that live underwater and block his way toward safer land. Seeing that a series of storms is coming, which will bring forth a whole slew of Mud Demons, Riddick sends a distress signal from an abandoned communication station.
Two ships arrive - one carrying a group of bounty hunters led by the ruthless Santana (Jordi Mollà), who wants to put Riddick’s head in a box; the other a group of mercenaries led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable), who desperately wants Riddick to answer questions about what happened to his dead son in the first movie. The only other notable character is a sharpshooting female soldier named Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), who can hold her own against the men and proudly professes, “I don’t do guys.”
The remainder of the plot is essentially the two groups vying to capture Riddick before he takes them out one by one and trying to make it off the planet alive. Not much else really happens, and it’s fairly early on that we can tell the characters and story are going to be mostly one-note. However, the interplay between them and the way they toy with one another does entertain us to a degree.
My feeling is that most people will either smirk or chortle at the movie, just as I did, but ultimately find it doesn’t have much to offer. Its look is cheap and tawdry, and the digital effects, especially the canine creatures, aren’t terribly convincing. And yet, these qualities may all be in line with the movie’s supposed goal to be a low-budget sci-fi adventure, in which case die-hard fans of the character and series may not care. They’re more apt to be drawn to the violence and one-liners from Diesel, of which there are plenty.
Still, I can’t imagine anyone being overly enthusiastic about Riddick. For the first 20 minutes, viewers may even wonder what it’s about, since it simply follows, rather slowly, Riddick doing whatever he can to survive. Then there’s a whole mid-section where we hardly see him at all. I understand none of this is meant to be taken seriously, but in its quest to not be serious, it’s more lame and stupid than fun and exciting. While I was able to tolerate it, I wished it served more of a purpose and perhaps developed the Riddick character beyond what we already know about him. The generically titled film doesn’t push him forward as much as simply remind us he’s still around. Perhaps if Riddick does well enough at the box-office, there will be another movie in the franchise that allows us to see him actually progress and finally learn more about who he is and make it to Furya. Hopefully that movie will be more interesting than this one.