“You Keep What You Kill”
Four years after Pitch Black became a modest box-office hit and cult classic, Vin Diesel and David Twohy returned to the character in an effort to expand his universe. The Chronicles of Riddick was a three-part project, consisting of a big-budget theatrical release, an animated film set between the two feature films, and a videogame which acted as a prequel to Pitch Black.
Because I only have so many hours in a day, we’ll get the videogame and its sequel in the coming weeks, and focus our efforts on the non-interactive entries in the series for now.
Dark Fury is an animated film which picks up immediately after the end of Pitch Black, with Riddick, Imam, and Jack away from the terror, and adrift in space, whereupon they are captured by a mercenary ship. Mercenaries/Bounty Hunters are a large part of the Riddick universe, and from the introduction of Johns in Pitch Black, to these clowns, and then the ones in future movies, it appears that mercenaries are very common in the future, especially if you’re one of the most hunted men in the known universe, Richard B. Riddick, escaped convict and murderer.
With a running time of only thirty-four minutes, Dark Fury wastes no time in throwing the thin-but-compelling plot at us: Riddick and company are attacked by a crew of mercenaries whose leader sees herself as some kind of twisted art collector, and few survive. Jack commits her first murder and the focus is more on action than terror; both of these points really help to bridge the gap between Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick and reconcile the massive change in tone and scope between the two films.
“This is your chance. Your chance to do what no man has ever done.”
Chronicles of Riddick begins five years after the end of Dark Fury, with Riddick in self-imposed exile after ditching Imam and Jack on New Mecca. It’s actually kind of noble, the anti-hero hiding himself in an effort to avert the violence and killing that he always finds himself involved in. Unfortunately, he is dragged out of retirement by Toombs (a mercenary from Dark Fury) who, after being defeated by Riddick, tells him that the bounty on his head originated from the planet Hellion Prime, home to New Mecca and Keith David’s Imam. From the outset, the scale of Chronicles is noticeably far more grand than Pitch Black. The budget is over $100 million, roughly five times that of Pitch Black, and it shows; lots of blue-screen and computer-generated images, of course, but director David Twohy, perhaps in an effort to emulate the “epic movies” of the 1950’s, also created massive, beautiful sets. Ultimately, the look of the film resembles Ben-Hur meets Lord of the Rings. In addition, the costumes, while more hit-or-miss, really hit the mark when they do. Armor worn by heroes and villains is a little bit too “centurion” for my tastes, but the Thandie Newton’s tight dress is as beautiful as it is feral, and Dame Judi Dench, in full Helen Mirren mode, wears lovely flowing gowns which make her look as light as the air she can transform into on a whim. The film, however, is not content to rest on the aesthetics of its first act; the middle of the film, where the action really starts to pick up, is set in a Slam (prison) on a flaming-hot planet, which calls to mind the grimy engine room from Titanic, with burning coals, dirty inmates, and saturated earth tones.
There’s no doubt about it: The Chronicles of Riddick is a gorgeous film. On the other hand, the script is a little too sprawling for its own good and David Twohy’s indie sensibilities don’t translate to big budget tentpoles (yet). Too much of the film is spent talking about the new villains, the Necromongers, and, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Necromongers as villains, they can’t help but feel a little too big for the movie, and too much of the film is focused on them, as opposed to Riddick… Ya know, the protagonist. The movie just about loses us on Hellion Prime, but when the action moves to the Slam on the fire planet, we are brought back down to basics and the movie becomes more believable and relatable.
If the Necromongers have one thing going for them, however, it’s the wonderful pairing of Karl Urban and Thandie Newton as Vaako and Lady Vaako, in full Macbeth mode. Despite the terrible mullet, Urban is really intimidating and can only be one-upped by his own wife, who all his ambitions truly belong to. Their relationship is sexy, violent, and the only human part of the Necromonger plotline.
“If I owned this place and Hell, I’d rent this place out and live in Hell.”
Returning characters from Pitch Black, however, do not fare as well. Imam shows up, sets up the plot, shows up his hot wife and cute child, and then dies fighting off the Necromongers. Jack shows up as well, later on in the Slam, but she has been recast, and her character is totally different. It’s something of an arc started in Pitch Black, but it’s unfortunately only told to us rather than shown to us, which is always, ALWAYS a negative. Also, she calls herself “Kyra” now for absolutely no reason. It’s an arc, but it’s not a particularly good or believable one, so the movie loses major points for it.
Unlike the first film, Chronicles is rated PG-13, though it doesn’t take a huge loss because of it. There’s less blood and only a little swearing, but the action still hits hard and some of the kills are still brutal enough. Nothing compared to what’s in store for Riddick in his next film, but enough for the needs of this flick.
The Chronicles of Riddick is equal parts ambitious universe-building and bloated misfire. If one can stay attentive during the boring first act and Necromonger focus, the middle act in the prison and subsequent “outrun the sun” chase scenes are among the best in the series and the ending is pretty provocative, a great launching point for wherever David Twohy and Vin Diesel decide to take the character next.
Unfortunately for them, Chronicles was a commercial failure upon release, and the accompanying videogame, Escape From Butcher Bay, received far greater critical acclaim than the film is was a tie-in to. Because of these factors, and Vin Diesel’s rapidly fading star, it looked like Riddick was finished, doomed to sci-fi obscurity until the end of time.
However, due to Diesel’s power to create movies using only the force of his will, we have a long-awaited third film in the series, opening September 6th, 2013. Stay tuned for part 3 of PopCultureGalaxy’s Riddick-Mania and see if Riddick was worth the 9-year wait, or if we should have just let sleeping dogs lie.
Dark Fury: Rating:
Chronicles of Riddick: Rating: