Monday, September 9, 2013

More Pitch Black Than Chronicles, Riddick Muddies The Franchise.

The Good: Moments of character/concept, Special effects, The acting is fine.
The Bad: Plot plods along slowly, Huge story/character gap, Not nearly as engaging as the prior film.
The Basics: With Riddick, the universe created by David Twohy gets quite a bit smaller and viewers are left with a long, drawn-out anti-climax to one of the most compelling science fiction epics of the last decade.

As the September Slump hits cinemas, I actually had cause – for the first time in years – to be excited. For the first time in quite some time, there was a film being released that I was psyched for. That film was Riddick and, to be honest, it is rare that I get my hopes up for a sequel and yet the Riddick movies have grown on me over the years. And, given how and where The Chronicles Of Riddick (reviewed here!) ended, I felt confident that a compelling and interesting sequel could be made. So, I had my hopes up for Riddick.

Unfortunately, Riddick did not deliver on the anticipation. The brilliance of the evolution of Pitch Black (reviewed here!) to The Chronicles Of Riddick was that it started with an insular adventure in a dark, dirty universe, then exploded that universe into a huge, creepy, fascinating place. Riddick mortgages the scale, thematic work and substance of The Chronicles Of Riddick to return to a tiny corner of the universe that was last seen under siege that is a tremendous disappointment. After all the momentum and build-up of the last film, the franchise takes an abrupt right turn and the sad aspect is that it ends up in territory that feels way too familiar to be truly entertaining for the fans of what came before.

Opening on a desert planet where Riddick is wounded and forced to set his own broken leg and evade alien dogs and eels, the fallen hero puts himself in a tomb. There, he reminisces about how he came to rule over all the Necromongers, inspiring assassins and villains to target him. Eager to get away from his pain and the responsibility of running the galactic cult, he turns to the ambitious and traitorous Vaako to find his home planet, Furya. Given that only Vaako knows the location of Furya, Riddick is forced to keep him alive, while Vaako jockeys for Riddick’s position as Lord Marshall of the Necromongers. Betrayed by Vaako and his lackey, Krone, Riddick is exiled to the desert world where he is at the mercy of the elements and the indigenous predators. During his stay on the planet, he raises an alien dog pup and discovers a bounty hunter’s cabin.

Activating an emergency beacon from there, Riddick draws the attention of a ship full of mercenaries, who set down on the planet to find and capture him for the considerable bounty on his head. Two ships worth of mercenaries – one led by the reckless Santana, the other by the efficient and militaristic Johns – begin to hunt Riddick. Playing the groups off one another, Riddick is able to entrap both as part of his gambit to leave the nameless planet.

Riddick is hardly as focused on Richard B. Riddick as the title might imply. Instead, this is largely a remake of Pitch Black where the predator is Riddick, instead of some nameless creatures that rule the night. In some ways, Riddick has a similar problem to The Matrix (reviewed here!). The Matrix climaxes with a man apparently reaching his potential and effectively becoming a god. So, where do you go from there? The writers tried to backpedal from that in making the sequels to The Matrix and the result was far less compelling than the original. In a similar fashion, Riddick begins at a time when Richard B. Riddick stands at the head of the most powerful force in the galaxy, one which was previously characterized as mindlessly willing and able to carry out the whims of the Lord Marshall. So, that Riddick glosses over that to return the franchise to a pretty banal fight/chase film is disappointing.

Far more compelling on the character front is Boss Johns. Johns is the father of the bounty hunter from Pitch Black who had originally captured Riddick. In Riddick Johns becomes compelling and interesting in that he is just a father looking for answers. He has spent the past decade hunting Riddick for nothing more than information on what happened to his son. While Santana and his associates are clearly motivated by greed, Johns just wants peace of mind and that makes him an interesting anachronism in the film.

Johns is flanked for most of the film by Dahl, which puts actress Katee Sackhoff back in a prominent role in a science fiction franchise. Having yet to watch Battlestar Galactica, I cannot speak to her performance on a comparative basis, but for Riddick she credibly pulls off a character motivated by loyalty with absolutely no sexual chemistry with any of the men in the flick. Amid a cast that is very testosterone-heavy, she holds her own.

Vin Diesel competently returns to the role of Riddick for Riddick, but the part in no way stretches him. In fact, there is almost nothing we have not seen from Diesel before this film. That said, director David Twohy knows how to get a decent performance out of Vin Diesel and shots like the reaction shot of Riddick when he is being pumped full of horse tranquilizers captures an emotional range from Vin Diesel that is impressive when one considers he is not able to emote with his eyes at the time.

Still, it’s not enough to make Riddick worth recommending on the big screen. The Chronicles Of Riddick painted a big story on a huge canvass; it truly was epic. Riddick scales it back and it goes so far back, it is baffling the producers bothered. The film is entertaining in its last half and it looks good, but it is not building to anything substantive the way its predecessor was.

For other futuristic survival stories, please check out my reviews of:
The Last Days On Mars


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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