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Movie Review: Riddick

Riddick poster

"This is nothing new," Vin Diesel's gravelly narration tells us at the start of his latest adventure, the simply titled Riddick, and those words are a primer for audiences, letting them know that this movie isn't going to try to do anything more than entertain. After a quick, almost apologetic wrapping up of the cliffhanging plot from the previous installment, Riddick is thrown onto an unnamed alien world by himself, half-dead and trying to survive. "The question isn't what happened," he says, possibly referencing the grand misfire of The Chronicles of Riddick that threatened to kill the character's franchise in its infancy, "It's what happened to me."

Director David Twohy, along with Vin Diesel's enthusiastic support, worked hard to bring his begoggled sociopathic anti-hero back to the silver screen, but it is obvious from the start that he has learned what works and what doesn't. The first act of the film involves Riddick fighting a hostile environment and using his own ingenuity to take down an imaginatively designed alien enemy, and it highlights many of the things that make the character so interesting and endearing without getting weighed down by the unnecessarily complicated universe-building that made the last movie so hard to sit through. Once Riddick gets his mojo back, he sends out a distress signal, knowing full well that it will bring bounty hunters--and their ships--his way.

The movie then follows a very familiar pattern, with Riddick on the hunt and the threat of an alien menace far worse than him on the horizon. There are plenty of mercs for him to pick off--two groups that are after Riddick for entirely different reasons--and there is a vague plot in there somewhere involving one of the characters from Pitch Black. Most memorable of the new characters are Santana, the lead bounty hunter played with relish by Spanish artist Jordi Molla, and the tough chick Dahl, a role that seems to have been written especially for Katee Sackhoff.

Look carefully at what Riddick's got in his left arm

Also worth noting is Riddick's pet, a big dog-like creature that he rescues early in the film and trains as a sidekick. The dog adds an interesting dynamic to Riddick's character, but doesn't weigh down the movie the way you might expect. It also helps that the visual and special effects are surprisingly well-done, despite the reduced budget Twohy has to work with. Sure, there is the occasional CG schlock, but the creatures and violence aren't quite so cartoonish this time around. Twohy also doesn't get as carried away with lens filters and fish-eye lenses as he has in the past, instead focusing his energy on subtler sound techniques and not-so-subtle slow-motion action shots.

Make no mistakes, however; this movie is an indulgent guilty pleasure at its very soul. The violence is over-the-top, is bloody, and only loosely attempts to follow the laws of physics, there's some gratuitous nudity here and there (so that's what Katee Sackhoff's nipple looks like), the characters have about as much depth as a sub-Sarahan swimming pool, and the story is not only predictable but completely laid out by Riddick throughout. If that doesn't sound good to you, go see something else.

Yes, Starbuck does appear in this movie without her shirt on

At the risk of spoiling things (if you're really annoyed by spoilers, just skip to the next paragraph), I will admit that my biggest problem with the story is its completely nonsensical ending. It tries to follow the same pattern as Pitch Black, but without the heavy-handed thematic punch that gave that film's ending an actual point. It's indicative of a problem Riddick fails to solve, namely the purpose of bringing the character back for another outing; it simply offers nothing to justify its own existence. Pitch Black dared to make Riddick a dynamic character who changes as a result of his experience, but here, Riddick is reset to his starting point and stubbornly refuses any attempts to develop his character.

Sure, Riddick is fun to hang out with for a couple of hours, with his unusual mix of respect for the struggling and disrespect for human life. His narration is filled with clever ironies and an uncanny understanding of the human condition, his complete superiority over his prey never fails to be entertaining, and the way he seems to have an inexhaustible number of aces up his sleeve is great, but this story gives us no reason to think that there's anything more to the character than that. As wise as it was to quickly dismiss The Chronicles of Riddick (Karl Urban reprises his role as Vaanko for literally thirty seconds, even though he somehow got second billing for his glorified cameo), it's a little disappointing that the story actively tries to undo any changes Riddick went through to get where he is.

In the final analysis, I can't in good conscience call Riddick a particularly great film. It will probably please its core fanbase--people who are largely predisposed to enjoy it no matter what--but I doubt it will pull in high box office receipts. If David Twohy and Vin Diesel were hoping that this outing would breathe new life into the franchise, I don't think they really succeeded in their goal. I wouldn't mind seeing another adventure starring the loveably violent maniac, but I also wouldn't be torn up inside--nor would I be terribly surprised--if this turns out to be his final big screen curtain call.


Fans of the character just looking for a fun ride that closely resembles Pitch Black will be happy, but Riddick probably won't kill his way into anybody else's heart.

-e. magill 9/7/2013

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