Director: David Twohy
Writer: David Twohy
Stars: Vin Diesel, Matt Nable, Katie Sackhoff, Jordi Molla
Release date: September 6th, 2013
Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 119 minutes
Best part: Vin Diesel.
Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.
For the past decade, Hollywood has failed to decide who should be the next big-name action star. When studios aren’t looking at international talent like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais, they put British and Australian actors in iconic spandex outfits to fight for truth, justice and the American way. Despite this, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson have fought tooth and nail to become tinsel town’s biggest tough guys. Judging by their efforts this year, I’d take Johnson’s magnetism over Diesel’s gruff persona any day.
Having said that, Diesel’s screen presence saves Riddick from being a forgettable and puzzling disaster. It’s not simply that this third instalment is unintentionally laughable and uninspired, it’s that there is nothing special here to separate it from other similarly derivative sci-fi action flicks. Unfortunately, this instalment won’t draw any new converts to this inexplicably popular series. This by-the-numbers thriller begins with stern narration and the titular character being thrown into a harsh wasteland and left for dead. Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) travels across the desert looking for any sign of life. Fixing his broken bones whist adapting to his peculiar surroundings, Riddick must regain his immaculate strength and agility. Setting off a distress beacon, he waits patiently for his ‘saviours’ to arrive. Two ships head to the planet with intent to find the Furyan criminal. Looking to obtain a significant bounty, Santana (Jordi Molla) and his crew want nothing more than to put Riddick’s head in a box. The other ship, captained by Johns (Matt Nable), is searching for answers relating to Riddick’s shadowy past. Everyone quickly realises that, on this planet, the hunters can quickly become the hunted.
What follows is a contrived and over-the-top action flick devoid of emotional resonance or suspense. The wafer-thin plot can be seen in far greater sci-fi action movies that deliver greatly on what they promise. Diesel bought the rights to his beloved character when he scorched the screen with his cameo in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. The charismatic actor’s love for this series’ bizarre universe has turned it into a warped Dungeons and Dragons rip-off (ironic, given Diesel’s love for the game). His influence overshadows this instalment’s slight potential. With Pitch Black launching his career, it’s understandable why he is infatuated with his muscle-bound creation. However, the preposterous and lacklustre sequel The Chronicles of Riddick almost killed Diesel’s once promising critical and commercial prowess. For this third instalment, series director David Twohy has left behind the ridiculous warring factions, video game-like action sequences, and uninteresting characters (sorry, Judi Dench) that plagued the second instalment. Despite his commendable intentions, there is a definitive lack of subtly in this subdued instalment. Riddick kick-starts by looking back on the convoluted Necromonger plot-line from the second instalment. Thankfully, this is only touched upon within the first 20 minutes before Riddick embarks on his next adventure. Despite a brief appearance by Karl Urban, the opening’s overt cheesiness and erratic exposition quickly stall proceedings. Diesel may understand this peculiar backstory, but many viewers will be left scratching their heads. As viciously as Riddick’s attacks, this movie hurriedly throws the one-two punch of repetitiousness and predicability. Following this series’ tradition of deriving from such sci-fi dramas as Mad Max and Blade Runner, this instalment divides itself into three uninspired acts. Scenes and concepts are blatantly copied and pasted from I Am Legend, Predator, and Aliens. A compelling ode to 80s and 90s action/exploitation movies this is not. in fact, nowadays, this type of action movie is ripe for parody.
Despite the noticeable plot holes and cliches, jarring tonal shifts, and wavering pace, Riddick is saved by its unique and visceral visual style. The first 25 minutes, in particular, showcase the decrepit landscape this titular anti-hero is stranded on. As soon as Riddick wakes up, everything is irritated by his presence. The Hyena-like wolves and vicious scorpion-like monsters prove to be more cunning adversaries than the gun-toting mercenaries. The cinematography spiritedly captures the sun-scorched nature of this dangerous world and the surrounding planets. Described by Riddick as “Not Furya”, each horizon is peppered with mountainous natural structures, bright yellow and red hues, and bubbling pools. One scene, in which Riddick must hold his breath in a steaming lagoon to escape trouble, emphasises his pressing situation. Coming off of yet another Fast and Furious instalment, Diesel has proven his love for inventive and engaging action sequences. Here, though the hit-and-miss CGI becomes distracting, each set-piece is controlled, shockingly violent, and showcases Riddick’s jaw-dropping talents. Despite stealing visual flourishes from Predator (in particular, the purple-tinged night vision), this movie contains many thrilling sequences. Riddick’s fight atop a mountain, lit by lightning strikes, display shades of the conquering action flick buried underneath this underwhelming final product. The movie’s reach exceeds its grasp in multiple aspects. The production design was obviously battered by the movie’s low budget. Some scenes deliver impressive CGI vistas, while others only deliver cheap, inferior sets. The unconvincing mix of practical effects and CGI illustrate the movie’s rushed production schedule and generic execution. Thankfully, the rumbling score and sound design led tension to this otherwise predictable affair. Since the story and characters are unconvincing, the jump scares and gun-fights are relied upon to deliver the goods.
“Don’t know how many times I’ve been crossed off the list and left for dead.” (Riddick (Vin Diesel), Riddick).
Despite Diesel’s commitment to this flailing franchise, this instalment doesn’t give you a lot of new or exciting information about Riddick himself. The movie wants to have it both ways – presenting a gritty survival story and an ultra-stylish actioner. The movie’s wavering tone affects the character development. At one point, Riddick inexplicably nurses a dying puppy dog back to health – contradicting continual reminders of Riddick’s alarming reputation. Despite Diesel’s charms, this odd-couple friendship is overtly familiar. Having said all that, Diesel’s intriguing performance bolsters the movie despite it taking several silly and confusing turns. Despite the first third’s irritating and useless narration, the gravely voice, charisma and physical presence define his applaudable involvement with the pivotal role. It feels as if we are re-visiting an old friend when the bright blue contact lenses and black goggles are re-introduced. Turning tough guys into kittens as he hauntingly stalks his prey, it’s refreshing to see Riddick toy with his foul-mouthed, over-compensating victims. His murderous methods illustrate that he is as an intense physical and mental force. His clever traps, witty one-liners, and soccer/machete skills establish his an effective and honourable anti-hero status. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are overly macho and offensive to the point of being laughable, and do nothing but become gooey cannon fodder. The baby-oil soaked mercenaries are defined simplistically by threatening poses, impeccable physiques, and silly costumes – turning this instalment into a two-hour pissing contest. The preposterous dialogue doesn’t help. Some characters come off as laughable idiots rather than skilled mercenaries. It’s a problem when the planet’s creepy-crawlies are far more interesting than the humans. Nable and Molla are energetic in conventional roles. Meanwhile, TV icon Katie Sackhoff has her moments as the universe’s toughest female.
Despite its ingenious visuals and solid performances, the ludicrousness of both the premise and execution becomes crystal clear. Plot and character inconsistencies prevent this manic instalment from being the pulsating hyper-kinetic action flick it should have been. The movie is so silly it’s ‘Riddick-ulous’.