This is a spoiler-free review of Riddick. For part 2 of Riddick-Mania, click here.
We may have thought Richard B. Riddick was gone for good, but he’s back with a vengeance. Riddick has smaller budget, a narrower scope, an excellent script, and a nine year gap in which in which David Twohy’s directing skills have significantly improved. All in all, Riddick is a merciless thrill-ride whose true strength lies in its excellent cast of characters and great pacing all around.
The film begins with Riddick (Vin Diesel, comfortable in his signature role) in a pile of rubble on a strange planet. After setting his broken leg back into place and encountering some dangerous fauna, Riddick finds an abandoned mercenary station and calls for help. Of course, being a wanted fugitive, with his bounty doubled if returned dead (“That’s new”), the cavalry who come to “rescue” him are mercs who are literally out for his head.
Two ships answer the call: one is full of roughneck mercs, and the other ship is a little more high tech, with bigger guns, better armor, and 100% more Katie Sackhoff. It is also captained by the father of a character from Riddick’s past, who wants bloody vengeance on the man who killed his kin. Of course, Riddick is not going to allow himself to be captured, and has every intention of stealing a ship and abandoning his would-be captors on this desolate world. There’s just one catch: terrifying monsters come out of the mud when it rains, and once the downpour starts, it shows no signs of stopping.
Riddick is closer to the first film than the action-adventure that was Chronicles, but that’s not to say it’s a rehash; Riddick has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, from the entire first act featuring no human characters other than our protagonist, to the second act almost dropping him entirely as we meet the disparate mercenary crews and get to know them. Among them are Jordi Molla as the slime-ball captain with a big ego, and Katie Sackhoff, who Riddick (and others) takes a fancy to, but who is not interested in reciprocating, for obvious reasons of sexual preference. but the real surprise here is the character of Diaz; who knew that the gigantic hulk of a man, Dave Bautista, was such a charismatic actor? I enjoyed every part of his performance, from the physicality in his fight scenes, to his quirky character beats and comic timing, and if he plays his cards right, I have no doubt that he could be the next Dwayne Johnson. The cast, representing a multitude of races and lifestyles, though they sometimes feel a little one-note, is still wholly refreshing, and comes across like a greedy, R-rated version of Star Trek, or an even greedier version of Firefly.
Despite the lack of Vin Diesel during the middle of the film, the pacing remains strong, and the writing is excellent; the dialogue is snappy, funny, and Whedon-esque, and the character relationships are so believable, coming off from what, to this point, has been a one-man show, if feels like we’re watching two different movies. Eventually, they intersect, and that’s when the gloves come off, and Riddick shows off its ace in the hole, the R- rating.
Yeah, there are a ton of F-Bombs, but the fact of the matter is that Riddick is an R-rated character. He is juvenile, anti-social, and is likeable only because he is up against monsters, both figurative and literal. He’s not a savior of humanity; he is a convict who wants to have sex with lesbians and kill his enemies in the most painful ways he can imagine… Riddick may be somewhat uneducated, but he has a vivid imagination. Riddick, the film, is as uncompromisingly violent and does not care if you approve. Plus, after a long summer of bloodless carnage, it’s pretty cathartic to see bad men and monsters gruesomely torn apart, complete with the single most awesome decapitation I’ve ever seen.
The film, again, despite its $40 million budget, is beautiful. The CGI monsters are terrifying, and the landscapes are even more beautiful, if presented in a more matter-of-fact way, than in Pitch Black. Of note are the awesome hover-cycles, which, rather than copies of the bikes from Star Wars, feel like loud, rocket-powered hogs with a real force driving them forward. The production design is escalated way past its predecessors, making the lowered budget a complete non-issue. Furthermore, David Twohy is a way better director than he was a decade ago, and this movie is shot with the gravitas and momentum that he tried and only sometimes succeeded with in the past.
Riddick is a different kind of schlock; it knows what it is and makes no efforts to sanitize its grim sensibilities and amoral characters. It may be part three, but it doesn’t give a damn if you know it or not. Following on that, while it doesn’t abandon the mythology introduced in Chronicles, it doesn’t dwell on it either, focusing instead on the here and now, the desperate struggle that is surviving the day on a world where everything is trying to kill you. In creating such an immediate plot and telling it in a straightforward manner with an excellent cast of characters, Diesel and Twohy have created an incredibly tight action thriller, as well as Riddick’s best adventure yet.