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Riddick puts the franchise back on track
Riddick is one of those movies where, upon hearing of its very existence, you’re either like: “Cool! I dig those movies!” or “Seriously? Didn’t the last one bomb big time?” Which of those reactions comes closest to your own will likely determine how you feel about the third installment in the ongoing Chronicles of Riddick.
First, the good news. After the dreadful over-thinking of the last one, which was just as tedious as its title, The Chronicles of Riddick, the series is more or less back on track this time around, at least in terms of what made the series appealing in the first place. (For you completists out there, no, I’m not forgetting the animated direct-to-video movie Dark Fury or the videogames; I’m just simplifying things for the sake of the review.)
After some unfortunately necessary plot machinations to resolve the events of CoR, the film plops Riddick (Vin Diesel) down on a desolate planet, which he ended up on after surrendering his title as Lord Marshall in order to return to his home planet. He makes the deal with Commander Vaako (Karl Urban, of the rebooted Star Trek films), who double-crosses him and takes over the position, ordering his men to take him to an abandoned planet instead of his home.
His escorts try and kill him upon arrival, but Riddick kills most of them before one gets the best of him and leaves him in the rubble, ostensibly to die alone. Needless to say, he doesn’t. He sends out a distress call, and two sets of bounty hunters arrive to capture him, Vaako having declared him an outlaw once again. One is led by the grungy Santana (Jordi Mallà), the other by the more military-based Boss Johns (Matt Nable). Needless to say, the hunters become the hunted, and a showdown ensues, some of it involving freaky scorpion-like creatures that proliferate with the rain.
That’s about it, but in this case, that’s a good thing. Stripping down the storyline to something more in keeping with the first one is a smart move, as it reminds viewers what was appealing about the franchise in the first place. Remember, Pitch Black, the first installment, was what put Diesel on the map initially, before solidifying his stardom with the seemingly never-ending Fast and the Furious series. Pitch Black was a nifty little sci-fi/horror mash-up, inspired by elements from the same source that inspired the first “Alien” film, 1965’s Planet of the Vampires. (For an article I wrote that gets into this and other films that combine sci-fi & horror, check here.)
By keeping it simple for the most part- save that bit at the beginning resolving the last one- the film functions as a tight little cat-and-mouse action thriller, at least once it gets the admittedly poky first half hour out of the way. The colorful supporting cast certainly helps, especially Battlestar Galactica-reboot star Katee Sackhoff. I didn’t watch that particular show, but if she was half the bad-ass there she is here, I’d like to. Yes, there’s some gratuitous nudity from her (and others) in the film, but she agreed to it and she’s a big girl, so get over it. (Oh, and her character’s name is “Dahl,” not “Doll,” which I did admittedly find a bit annoying at the time until I saw it was the former, not the latter.)
Considering she kicks more butt than anyone else in the film besides Riddick, I think the film deserves a pass for any fleeting glimpses of her body, though I’m sure her male fans won’t have a problem with it- or possibly some of her female fans, for that matter. There’s also something oddly compelling about former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista (The Man with the Iron Fists) – he puts me in the mind of that one guy from the Road Warrior that everyone remembers the most with the Mohawk. (And yes, that was meant as a compliment.) I also always like Bokeem Woodbine (Dead Presidents) in most everything I see him in. He basically plays the same character, but he’s good at it, which is kind of the point of a character actor, right?
As for Diesel, well…he is what he is, you know? The guy makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look positively charismatic in comparison. Granted, he has a certain amusingly dry wit- okay, parched would be more like it- but it works for him, for what that’s worth. As with Woodbine, he basically just plays the same character over and over, but people have made careers out of a lot less, so more power to him for knowing his strengths. Ditto the filmmakers.
Look, Riddick isn’t anything radical. It’s a down-and-dirty B-movie of the sort you usually only see on cable or direct-to-DVD these days. It’s more of an action movie than Pitch Black but in a good way- think Aliens as compared to the original Alien- and an undeniable improvement to the plodding Chronicles of Riddick. Considering this was a sequel that no one really asked for and it’s kind of a miracle it got made in the first place, I’d say that was a win.
All things considered, I’m going to be charitable and give it a B-. Although it’s precisely the kind of movie you expect to see get dumped into the netherworld of late summer before the Oscar bait starts to creep onto movie screens in earnest, it’s actually a lot of fun once it gets going. True, it could get going a lot sooner, but loose ends are loose ends, unfortunately, and better to get that stuff out of the way early, which this film does. By going back to basics, though, it’s a definite improvement over the last one, and that’s the best anyone could have possibly hoped for.