Riddick (Vin Diesel) who first sprang to violent life in Pitch Black (2000) and its sequel, the rather overblown The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), is a helluva badass kind of guy.
How do we know this? Frankly we’re not really allowed to miss it.
From the opening moments of Riddick, written and directed like the other two movies in the franchise by David Twohy, when we see a near-lifeless, bloodied Riddick reach up and throttle a predatory pteradactyl/dragon-mix vulture equivalent to death in seconds, it’s clear he’s not a man to be messed with.
But it’s not just hungry, inquisitive flying predators that fail to best him.
In short order, he sees off a pack of hairy, hyena/wolf creatures, grabs one of their puppies as a pet, fashion weapons MacGyver-like out of pretty much nothing and evades painful death at the hands of a pool-dwelling carnivore that is equal parts Alien xenomorph, Yautja from Predator and a thoroughly pissed off giant scorpion.
Perhaps his greatest victory though, and the clearest evidence of his unconquerable, can-do masculinity, is over the planet itself.
Dumped by his attackers, who turn out to be double-crossing Necromongers (dressed in the inevitable bad guy wardrobe of metal and leather), on an orange and gold-washed desert planet, whose high soaring cliffs, and teetering mesas would defeat most anyone else, he not only fashions a life of sorts but manages to bend the inhospitable environment to his will.
The import of all of these bigger than Ben Hur survival techniques, that we are dealing with a man that will not be bested, is never left to our imaginations.
Via rather portentous and overly melodramatic narration, necessary since Riddick is alone for the first half hour or so of the film, we are reminded again and again that he is angry, will not be beaten by anyone and will do whatever it takes to survive.
While there is a certain impressive Bear Grylls Goes Intergalactic quality to the whole thing, and it’s impossible not to be dazzled by the harsh beauty of David Eggby’s cinematography, it’s an overly long set up that could have been accomplished in half the time.
Having said that, once Riddick beats the “Mud Demon” aka giant pissed off Xenomorphic-giant scorpion barring his way and scales the giant stone steps to the relative lushness of the savannah beyond the desert (which looks rather suspiciously like the landscape from Lost in Space), the action picks up considerably.
In no time at all, Riddick is joined by two bands of competing mercenaries, both summoned by a distress signal he activates in an abandoned mercenary station with the hope of stealing their ship – one team highly organised paramilitaries led by Boss Johns (Matthew Nable), the father of junkie mercenary William from Pitch Black, and the one by a leering misogynist Santana (Jordi Mollà) with the social skills of an ape and the usual assortment of ragtag nutjobs.
Naturally they are no match, at least initially, for Riddick who plays a rather entertaining game of cat-and-mouse with them all, even managing to steal the two power nodes they have secreted in a locked cupboard, placed there to stop either of them racing away and leaving the other group behind.
While the trailer may have given the impression that Riddick was a Pitch Black redux of sorts with a mass spawning of the Mud Demons the main enemy to be faced, far more of the movie is devoted to the power plays between the mercenaries and their quarry, and amongst the mercenaries themselves of whom Katee Sackhoff’s Dahl is a standout (even if she is unfortunately saddled with more misogynistic leering and verbal posturing than a cheerleader at a drunken frat party).
Entertaining though this all is, and make no mistake Riddick is an enjoyable enough, testosterone-fueled, if empty-headed, mishmash of a romp with every sci-fi trope you can imagine brought along for the ride, it all feels a bit paint-by-numbers with very little original storytelling involved.
The relationships, such as they are, between the various characters feel forced and crudely constructed, which causes more than a few problems at the end when a rapprochement between Riddick and the survivors comes seemingly out of nowhere.
It’s almost as if Vin Diesel (who now owns the franchise) and David Twohy had decided on a certain ending, of which nothing will be said here (but you can probably guess where it all ends up) and then shoehorned the characters, and the rather rushed narrative to fit it, come what may.
It’s all rather symptomatic of a movie that while superficially enjoyable with lots of visual eye candy and sci-fi imagery to keep you entertained, leaves you feeling like you have seen pretty much all of it before.
There’s nothing wrong of course with assembling well worn, much loved tropes and reassembling them into a new, original cinematic beast.
Done properly, and with a highly original filtering vision in place, it can work a treat, as George Lucas demonstrated with Star Wars way back in 1977.
Riddick alas seems to have simply assembled all the disparate influences IKEA-style and hoped for the best.
The result is a frothy, fun-filled action-packed movie that is worth seeing if you’re looking for a brainless, diversionary film in which to lose yourself for a couple of hours.
Unfortunately once the adrenaline dissipates, and frankly there isn’t really all that much generated over the course of the movie thanks to its derivative flagged-ahead-of-time nature, Riddick ends with more of a whimper than a bang, a sign perhaps that badass as he is, not even our hyper macho anti-hero can save a franchise that has simply run out of original things to say.