Directed by David Twohy
When it comes to reinvigorating popular franchises, Vin Diesel seems to have it all figured out these days. With his recent revitalization of the Fast & Furious franchise, the action star has now set his sights on rebooting the modern cult franchise and intergalactic antihero that put him on the proverbial map back in 2000 with the latest sequel from him and writer/director David Twohy, simply entitled Riddick.
As a fan who immediately fell in love with Pitch Black, I will be the first to admit that Chronicles of Riddick left me in the cold, despite the fact that I am one of the few who will still defend that film on the merits of its story (and Diesel) alone, albeit not much else. When Riddick was initially announced, I had my reservations in check; then the announcement came that the franchise was gloriously returning to its R-rated roots and star/producer Diesel was literally putting everything on the line to get the sequel made outside the studio system and that’s what really piqued my interest as a fan, especially considering Diesel’s recent track record.
And thankfully Diesel, Twohy and the rest of the gang from Riddick really delivered on their promises to the fans out there, giving us another stunning action-packed horror/sci-fi adventure that proves there’s still a lot of R-rated fun to be had at the movies even if the studios don’t necessarily think that there is. Far more in line with Pitch Black than Chronicles of Riddick, this latest sequel also feels exactly like the kind of movie I would have spent my summer watching at the drive-in as a kid and there’s something to be said for a movie that feels new and yet also feels like it has classic 80’s sci-fi DNA coursing through its veins.
Riddick opens with Diesel doing voice-over and recalling what he says is “a legendary bad day”; he’s just been double-crossed and left for dead on a desolate planet by the Necromongers whom we met previously in Chronicles (there’s a quick Karl Urban cameo too) and he’s now faring against a planet filled with various hostile creatures that see Riddick as nothing more than a tasty treat. Realizing that becoming a king has dulled his own animalistic senses, we follow Riddick as he returns to his grisly roots (much like the series is doing) by training against the killer aliens around him and sharpening his own skills and reflexes in an effort to become the badass he once was before he got “soft” (again, some may argue this also could be paralleling Diesel’s own career after appearing films like The Pacifier).
Realizing that he needs to find a way off the mysterious planet he’d been left behind on, Riddick hatches a plan to trigger an emergency beacon which will alert every mercenary in the galaxy to his whereabouts, ultimately providing him with a ride off the god-forsaken planet. What ensues when the two mercenary teams show up is a gory and visceral cat-and-mouse game proving that Riddick hasn’t lost his deadly touch along the way. And of course, things don’t necessarily go according to plan for either Riddick or the bounty hunters on his trail as an epic storm looms in the distance and once it hits, it’s not only the wanted criminal that the mercenaries must fear but the darkness and the aliens around them that happen to be nocturnal and very, very hungry.
As a whole, there may not necessarily be anything all that new going on in Riddick, but that doesn’t mean the familiar shouldn’t be appreciated either. Rather than continue on a sort of Conan in Space tangent much like Chronicles ended up being, with their latest Twohy and Diesel smartly go back to basics and give the fans what they want- Riddick being badass and no hint of a PG-13 rating to be found (in the first 10 minutes Riddick earns its restricted rating on at least five different occasions).
It may seem on the surface that the story in Riddick is quite similar to Pitch Black but for those of you who think this latest film is going to be a rehash, watch a little more closely and you’ll notice Twohy and Diesel are not only breaking down and reconstructing their iconic character after their last venture but they’re also expertly expanding the mythology of this universe at the same time- no easy feat.
The film itself also manages to breeze easily between moments of action, horror and humor, even finding the time to give us quieter moments with Riddick as well (the first 15-20 minutes are simply like watching a really extreme episode of “Man vs. Wild” but instead of watching some dude drink his own pee, we watch Diesel transform from badass to super-badass); then, when our protagonist kicks back into his animal/hunter mode and the narrative perspective shifts towards the mercenaries who have arrived to collect their bounty, that’s when Riddick (the film and the character) starts to have a hell of a lot of fun.
Being fair, I would say that Riddick‘s pacing could have used a little straightening out but thankfully whenever the story begins to wane at all, Diesel’s back on screen with an infectious enthusiasm that you can’t help but be drawn into (seriously, watch Find Me Guilty if you haven’t already; he’s so great), making it easy to overlook any shortcomings this sequel may possess.
As far as the effects, both practical and visual, are concerned, Riddick looks pretty spectacular, almost like a Frank Frazetta painting come to life- extraordinary creatures and all (albeit the main alien “baddie” is nowhere near as terrifying as those freaking pterodactyl/bat things from Pitch Black) and there’s a ton of great gore to go along with the look of this fantastical world, including one gag in particular that should no doubt have everyone in the theatre clapping this weekend.
With its sci-fi-loving heart in the right place, Riddick is just a total blast and undoubtedly the sequel Chronicles of Riddick should have been; long-time fans of this series will go home happy, and for those of you who had your reservations after the last installment (and justifiably so), Twohy and Diesel’s truly infectious admiration and respect for this character and this world will undoubtedly win you over. Riddick may be far from cinematic perfection but it’s everything I was hoping for as a fan and my fingers are crossed for more from these guys.
4 out of 5