Directed by: David Twohy
Premise: The third live action feature film in the Riddick series, following 2000’s Pitch Black and 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick. Following the events of the 2004 film, Riddick (Vin Diesel) is stranded on an arid planet that is populated with vicious wildlife. Two teams of bounty hunters land on the planet in an attempt to apprehend Riddick.
What Works: Riddick is a satisfying action adventure. The first half is by far the stronger portion of the movie. Riddick is alone on the planet and this portion of the film is essentially a survivalist story in space, as Riddick provides for himself by making do with the resources on hand. This first half is a pleasant surprise to see in a mainstream Hollywood film. Vin Diesel is literally the only human actor for the first half of the picture and the bulk of the movie plays out visually with very little dialogue. Allowing the first half of the movie to play this way was a bold decision by the filmmakers but it works out really well for the film. The opening of Riddick has an edge to it reminiscent of movies like First Blood and Deliverance and the brutality and the stripped down quality of the picture is unique, especially compared to the many bloated action and sci-fi movies of late. Riddick also has some striking visuals. The filmmakers embrace the possibilities of the movie and its imagery has an art house quality. One of the reasons for the success of Riddick, and in particular the first half, is Vin Diesel’s performance. Diesel may not be an actor of tremendous range but he does have the screen presence of successful genre actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Wayne and this film makes better use of Diesel’s charisma than the entire Fast and the Furious series. Despite how dark much of the movie is, the filmmakers also manage to include a lot of humor in Riddick and the violence and the comedy complement each other effectively, with each offsetting the other. When the picture risks getting too self-serious, the humor lightens the mood but it is appropriately dark humor that befits the movie.
What Doesn’t: In its second half, Riddick becomes a much more conventional sci-fi action movie. As that it isn’t bad but the latter half is never able to live up to the expectations created by the opening. What is more troubling about the second half is how shamelessly it repeats the scenarios and visuals of Pitch Black, the original Riddick film. This second half plays a lot like a condensed remake of Pitch Black and while Riddick is in many ways better it’s all a little too familiar. The quality of Riddick’s special effects varies. The backgrounds and physical effects look convincing but some of the computer generated creatures look a little cartoonish, especially the dog-like creature that Riddick adopts. This movie also has a problem with its masculinity. The filmmakers seem determined to reinforce just how tough their characters are and keep giving them stupid dialogue that is supposed to sound macho but just comes across as adolescent. The characters of Riddick are pretty thin; most of the mercenaries are just a bulge of muscles and firearms and those that are distinguished are little more than stereotypes. This is most troubling in Katee Sackhoff’s character. It’s established early on that she is gay and the movie keeps reminding the viewer of that fact. It seems as though the filmmakers had their hearts in the right place, trying to make a strong female action hero in the mold of Ripley from Aliens, but they miss the very thing that made Ripley such a great character: she was an authentically feminine character who was also tough. Sackoff’s character is really just another man and her sexual orientation is less about high minded inclusion than it is about coding her as masculine.
Bottom Line: Riddick is an entertaining sci-fi adventure. That is all the film is trying to be and it succeeds, so its problems are forgivable and the filmmakers deserve praise for their unique stylistic choices.
Episode: #456 (September 15, 2013)