Vin Diesel returns to the role of Richard B. Riddick, the antihero convict who first appeared in 2000’s Pitch Black and then again in 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick. Reteaming with writer-director David Twohy, Diesel brings the character back to basics after a nine-year absence on the big screen.
The result is Riddick, a film that skews towards the sci-fi horror leanings of Pitch Black rather than the more operatic and fantastical elements of its sequel (the director’s cut of which, by the way, is a marked improvement over the original). With Riddick, Twohy and Diesel continue the story of the title character but smartly reset the playing field for a fresh audience without ignoring the heavy stuff that went down at the end of the last film.
The movie begins with Riddick left for dead on a nameless planet. In gravelly voiceover he states that somewhere along the way he lost a step and was blindsided – and now he needs to rediscover his animal side. Through flashbacks we learn that Riddick, who became Lord Marshal of the religious empire of Necromongers at the conclusion of Chronicles, was betrayed by Vaako (Karl Urban, briefly reprising his role from the previous film).
This keeps continuity with what’s come before but also allows the story to scale back and reintroduce the world of Riddick. It’s a transitional piece, evidenced by the small budget of only $38 million, made in the hopes of more movies (and deeper pockets) to come. Indeed, Universal was reluctant to make another sequel since Chronicles bombed at the box office – Diesel leveraged his home in order to get Riddick off the ground.
This belief in the project shines through in the production, which is pure B-grade bliss from a team that’s clearly passionate about the material. Some fans might be irked that Riddick doesn’t really advance the series’ mythology or explore its mysteries, but in some ways these were necessary evils in order to put the franchise on the map again.
Like I said, it’s a transitional piece – a minor detour before Twohy and Diesel can embark on the sequels that they’d originally envisaged picking up from Chronicles. And so the film begins with an opening act that, no surprises, has Riddick attempting to find that animal side again. It’s a real breath of fresh air too, with a good half an hour or so with barely any dialogue as Riddick struggles to survive on the dangerous, alien-infested planet that he’s been marooned on.
The second act then finds Riddick trying to escape by activating a beacon which brings two separate mercenary crews to his location. One of these is headed up by piratical Santana (Jordi Mollà) who’s after the bounty for Riddick’s head, while the other mob is a more professional outfit lead by a merc (Matt Nable) with personal reasons for finding Riddick. On one hand, series fans will appreciate these motives but others might find them difficult to care about.
During this portion of the film Riddick basically becomes the boogieman, with most of the action focussing on the squabbling bounty hunters while Riddick strikes silently from the shadows. Eventually however, things kick into Pitch Black gear with a final act that feels right out of that movie.
It’s a blood and guts picture, with at least two crowd-pleasing kills that I can think of. Twohy has done an admirable job with his limited budget; like District 9, here’s a film that looks more expensive than it was – with strong effects that give life to Riddick’s backwater world and the venomous creatures that inhabit it. Graeme Revell, the composer who scored both Pitch Black and Chronicles, also returns to dust off the very underrated Riddick theme. It all comes together in an experience that’s sure to be a treat for sci-fi horror fans, but mostly it’s Twohy and Diesel’s passion which shines through and makes me hopeful for more Furyan adventures to come.
Riddick is a triumphant return for a character and world that deserve another chance.