Stars: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo | Written and Directed by David Twohy
Being the consummate professional that I am, I made sure to watch both Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick prior to this third film in the nasty-fighty-man mooches about universe franchise. It turns out I had actually seen at least some of both of those films. I guess the reason I couldn’t quite remember whether I had or not is because the first film is now almost fourteen years old and the follow-up was released nearly a decade ago. Which makes the phrase ‘long-awaited sequel’ particularly apt in this instance.
Vin Diesel is now 46, which I was slightly surprised to learn. That’s not particularly old by any stretch of the imagination but it surely won’t be too long before he’s considered for Expendables status. I mention this as the first act of Riddick resembles something like a midlife crisis for the character. Marooned on a hostile planet by the army of Necromongers he inherited at the end of the last film, Riddick has to relearn his animalistic survival skills in order to endure the harsh wildlife of the unnamed environment. It’s a bit like Bear Grylls in space or a sci-fi fantasy version of Cast Away only with less violence (there’s no self-inflicted ice skate dentistry in Riddick).
That last part is a joke. There’s plenty of violence in Riddick, much of it inflicted not only by the man himself but by the large amphibious chicken/scorpion beasts that are at the top of the planet’s food chain and do a pretty good job of keeping Riddick a couple of notches below. Below Riddick – and the friendly alien dog he rears during the first part of the film – are the two teams of mercenaries that turn up halfway through the film to claim the bounty on his head. The film loses some of its focus and a great deal of its charm when these chancers appear on the scene. Most of the characters are too broadly written and acted to be interesting. In addition, this is the Riddick show. Just look at the title. The other characters just feel like a distraction. You might not like the character particularly, but it’s hard to argue that Diesel does nothing if not embody Riddick wholly and it’s good to watch an actor play a character they clear have a lot of affinity for.
The amount of fun the film is in inversely proportional to the size of its cast at any given moment. So whilst the strong start is impaired by the flabby middle section that sees the mercenaries arrive, things pick up again as characters are gradually picked off. The biggest and most cringe-inducing mistake the film makes however is to have its lesbian character, played by Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff, be so enamoured and impressed by Riddick’s displays of super-manliness and odds-defying heroism that she renounces her sexuality to have her way with him. I mean, it’s great that a mainstream film with a big budget acknowledges the existence of lesbians but if that’s what you’re going to do with your character you’ve completely and totally undermined yourself.
It’s pleasing that the film is a return to the survival-horror creature-feature ways of Pitch Black, rather than continuing the weird route of full-on space operatics that Chronicles went down. It’s good example of its genre, with returning writer-director David Twoy’s world-building skills and Diesel’s portrayal of the title character the strongest elements of the film. Riddick-heads will embrace it with open arms.