[Review] - Riddick

Courtesy of One Race Films
The good news is, despite how the previews made it seem, Riddick is not a redux of Pitch Black. Yes, it shares many similarities to it, and shares many of the same weaknesses in terms of writing, plot and character development, but it is it's own beast. Considering that Pitch Black is easily the best made Alien clone, then I would say Riddick is to Pitch Black what Aliens is to Alien. Namely, more. Not necessarily better, but different. In fact, if it weren't for a very brief and largely unnecessarily flashback about fifteen minutes in, Riddick makes for a superb direct sequel to the original.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that once spent time building up an immunity to Pepto Bismol, which isn't as impressive as mud-raptor venom.

Full disclosure: I'm a fan of this franchise. I'm a fan of the character, and how against all odds, Vin Diesel and David Twohy have managed to cultivate him into the centre of his own film universe. The fact that three films, two video games and a direct-to-video animation of this universe exist is impressive to say the least. That being said, I didn't watch this film through rose coloured glasses. Plenty of franchises arrived this year that I am bigger fans of, and disappointed the hell out of me. They were poorly made films. So when I say that Riddick, while far from being perfect, is a good film, it isn't inherent sympathy for the product that is making me say that, it's simply analysis of the film. Riddick is not great, and certainly not a masterpiece of modern cinema. But it owns it's own identity, and is fun while taking itself completely seriously. And that's all that it needs to be.

Five years after the events of Chronicles, and more importantly, ten years after Pitch Black, Riddick has been left for dead on an apparently barren wasteland of a planet. Which he intends on escaping. That's the set-up, nice and simple. And remains nice and simple throughout the run time. Where things become a bit disconnected is that each of the film's acts bare little relation to each other, as if Twohy had three short films, and merged them altogether. And of those three, the first act is the best. Riddick gets the screen all to himself (well, with a CGI zebra-dog) as he struggles to survive in this new environment. Imagine if you were dropped into the middle of the Sahara with nothing but the clothes on your back and a busted leg. That is essentially the first act of Riddick, as the man who would be king is forced to shred his humanity. It's survivalist horror, and this first forty minutes is probably the best for all the films, as Riddick's gravelly voice over recounts his fall from grace. The franchise has taken a unique direction in their character building with Riddick, starting him as a monster, growing him into a man, cutting out his heart, and now, turning him back into the monster, presumably setting up any future instalments.

The second act is the least fun, and not just because Riddick completely disappears from the movie. Two mercenary teams show up hunting for him, and the film completely changes focus to them, as one rough and tumble crew and another para-military unit compete to see who can get systematically killed off the quickest. Riddick becomes a bogey man in this section, seen in half glimpses and shadow as he hunts the hunters. Which would be fine, except the mercs aren't that interesting. Matt Nable as the Boss is the only one of them that is as fully developed as Riddick himself, and the only one whose motivations (which I will leave unspoiled, because it is a high point of the film) endear him to the audience.

The rest run the gamut between annoying (Jordi MollĂ 's Santana) to pointless (Katee Sackhoff's Dahl) to cannon fodder (the rest of them). Dahl is perhaps the most glaring example of the script's weaknesses, mostly because she's the only woman in the film, and therefore stands out more then the rest of them (which all blend together). She just doesn't have a point, or at least I couldn't figure out what Twohy was trying to say with the character. Making the character the only female, and casting the only other "big name" in the film would seem to suggest that there was meant to be a greater importance there, but the only thing that separates her from the rest of the crew is a poor-choice rape subplot and a few sexual innuendos.

The third act is as copied from Pitch Black as anything in the film, as Riddick joins forces with the remaining crews as darkness sets and the real monsters come out. It's a weak finish, if only because we've been here before, right down to the plot device of having to haul a ship's power cell across an expanse of beasties. I'm sure that there could have been a better, or more original ending to the film, but Twohy fell back on what worked the first time, which is usually death for a franchise (at least Chronicles went hard in another direction). Considering that the rest of the film did such a fine job of differentiating itself from the previous films, that the ending fell back on convention so quickly and easily was disheartening.

The film looks impressive. While the Riddick movies haven't never had top line CG, they've at least used their budgets to maximum effect, and that is well on display here. The alien landscape, shown mostly in day light and in full detail, is well developed, and all the more impressive considering it isn't the Australian outback this time, it's a Vancouver sound stage. The creature effects hold up well too, with the xenobiology in the first act both diverse and well realised. The ecology holds together and makes the planet here seem as much a character as any of the actors. Special mention goes to the mud-raptors, for finding a new way to play an old tune, and for the zebra-dog thing, which isn't used as an easy-laugh gimmick, but as emotional crutch for Riddick to lean on.

Where the film falls down the hardest is the dialogue. This isn't meant to be Shakespeare, but this isn't even Dan Brown. Riddick is at his best silent, or making seemingly ludicrous threats (because Diesel knows how to sell a threat). But the art of conversation is lost on these characters. Lines that are meant to be playful barbs between each other are stilted and weak, and the insults, threats and sexual invitations have all the maturity of a fifth grader. And none of the characters are capable of a come back that makes any sense. The retorts here are weak, and seem at times only tenuously related to the initial insult. It's as if no character is listening to a thing the others are saying, and responding in what they think sounds like a cool eighties one-liner, but actually sounds like the weak mutterings of a passive aggressive fool. This would be passable if it were an occasional experience, but in the second act, every line of dialogue is peppered with these half baked insults, and that the only way the mercs are capable of communicating is in half-assed bursts of depravity. Only Nable seems to be able to speak in complete sentences.

There is a flashback that explains why Riddick is no longer in charge of the Necromongers, and features Karl Urban for all of forty seconds. Understandable, as he would have been running double duty on Star Trek Into Darkness, and his Almost Human pilot at the time, but the entire sequence begs to have been left on the cutting room floor. Without it, Riddick's situation is wrapped in an air of mystery, one that can be left to be told in a possible fourth film. Left in, all it does is distract from the good stuff happening at that moment. And remind those viewers that might prefer to forget that Chronicles still happened. As I said in the intro, removing this scene makes Riddick a direct sequel to Pitch Black, in tone, in characterisation, and in a couple really well developed plots regarding the events of Pitch Black. The strongest elements of this film are in fact those that draw a direct connective tissue to the original film. That Riddick does not exist in a vacuum, and that his actions have consequences. This film, if it has a theme, is about consequences. Riddick is cast out of the life he won, is being haunted by the life he escaped, and is forced to rebuild himself from the ruin of his actions.

In that respect, once you block out the childish taunting between wholly unlikeable characters, Riddick is another good entry in a series that thrives on just being good. On being reliably enjoyable and occasionally impressive.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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