“Riddick” has been one of most surprisingly enduring characters in recent memory. With two full length movies, one animated short and two solid video games under his belt, he has made waves where no one expected him to. Now, nine years since his last outing, he’s back with the succinctly titled “Riddick” and he hasn’t changed much, though the style of his film has.
The bombastic nature of “Chronicles of Riddick” is thankfully gone. Instead, writer/director David Twohy takes him back to the nittier, grittier film that he’s most comfortable in, hearkening back to the style and feeling of “Pitch Black.” Though it certainly has its flaws, “Riddick” a fun romp through a distinct sci-fi world.
At the end of the last film, Riddick (Vin Diesel) disposed of the leader of the Necromongers. Their way of “you keep what you kill” had suddenly thrust him into position as the new leader. Many years have gone by and it appears that certain Necromongers now tire of him, so they betray him and leave him for dead on a rocky planet with an Earth-like atmosphere, but many dangerous creatures to avoid.
He soon finds an abandoned station with a distress beacon, which prompts some bounty hunters looking for a big pay day to descend upon the planet and begin their search. But Riddick isn’t going to be taken out so easily and a dangerous game of hide and seek begins.
“Riddick” has a great opening. While the comparison may seem like an awkward one, it reminds very much of something like “There Will Be Blood,” which opened its story with no dialogue and only strong visuals to create the time and place of the movie as well as the character’s motivations and personality. Aside from a brief initial narration, this does the same.
Riddick is on a distinct sci-fi planet and doing his best to survive, dodging and killing the many monsters lurking about. It’s also clear that he’s hurt, his usual ninja-like abilities temporarily taken from him. In the best ways, this opening (and much of its closing moments) echoes the grim desperation that was so prominent in “Pitch Black.”
Getting back to basics was a great move here, given how generic of a science fiction movie its direct predecessor was, but because the character is already established, it allows us to see him in a different light. While glimpses of his humanity occasionally bubbled to the surface in previous movies, his tough exterior is broken down here to a greater extent, in memorable and, dare I say, beautiful ways.
If there’s one thing Riddick has, even if it’s never outright stated, it’s a code. He kills those who deserve it and those who are attacking him, but the innocent he leaves alone. When an innocent woman looking to escape her captors is shot down in cold blood in front of him, his face says everything. This connection is powerful and Vin Diesel, having obviously invested in this character, gives it his all.
For the first time ever, he even creates a lasting friendship, even if it is only with a dog-like creature indigenous to the planet. Early on, he finds a puppy and the puppy eventually grows to be much bigger, the two having formed a bond strong enough for one to put their life on the line for the other. This may all seem out of the ordinary for the Riddick character, and it is (in a good way), but that doesn’t mean the film forgets who he is at a primal level. He’s still the merciless, brooding monstrosity that he always was and we get to see him at work, stalking and hunting the mercenaries while they maintain their illusion of safety.
Where this aspect fails is in its complete transitional focus on the mercenaries rather than Riddick. We know and like Riddick while the mercenaries lack personality and fail to maintain enough interest to justify the focus. Furthermore, this abruptly halts the welcomed building of the character that was so prevalent in the moments before.
But step away from “Riddick” for a few moments and you see that it’s more than the sum of its parts. You’ll remember how uninteresting those mercenaries were, but you’ll love how fun it was to see Riddick in his element picking them off. You’ll hate the sometimes excessive shaky cam, but you’ll remember how cool many of the action scenes were. You’ll roll your eyes at the ridiculous dialogue, but you’ll also talk about the many genuine laughs that are to be had.
At its core, “Riddick” is a low budget sci-fi B-movie, but it’s nevertheless a stylish and occasionally tense one. Its final moment is too predictable to be frightening, but it ends on an interesting note and if any more films are to follow, hopefully they’ll be as focused as this one. This is the Riddick we deserve.