Dir. David Twohy, USA, 119mins, 2013
Overshooting by at least a galaxy, the appeal of lean mean monster mash, Pitch Black (2000), with the ambitiously bloated, commercially unsuccessful, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), it has taken the re-ignition of Vin Diesel’s star, some legal wrangling with copyright owners, Universal, and a huge chunk of the leading mans own change, to further the adventures of Richard B. Riddick. Was it worth it?
Returning our milky eyed night terror to the same kind of desolate environment in which he thrived during David Twohy’s original cult hit, Riddick (Vin Diesel) is cast asunder onto a sandy wasteland, exposed to a menagerie of carnivorous beasties and scorching heat. Some may see the arrival of not one, but two, groups of gun wielding bounty hunters as a reason to panic, but considering our anti-hero summoned them as means of escape from an impending planet-enveloping storm, they’re a welcome sight. So with the battleground laid out between nocturnal monsters, bickering soldiers, and Riddick, the stage is set for a wise-cracking interstellar action smack down.
Subtlety isn’t a word you’d associate with this reset button instalment; it may showcase similar locales and a smaller budget, but gone is the moody aesthetic and gruey atmosphere of Pitch Black, instead replaced by a filtered hue of computer game visuals and hyper-stylised slow-mo’s. This isn’t a bad thing; it simply adds a more cartoonish element which further distances it from the impressive origins.
What cannot be denied is just how much fun watching Riddick is. Intentional or not, there are loads of laughs to be had. Whether it’s the hugely satisfactory pay-off to the “head in a box” gag, or the laughable performance of Jordi Molla as head bad-guy Santana, who’s admittedly given some real “dire-logue” to fumble, this is never less than entertaining Sci-Fi hokum.
The films strength is when it is silent, in fact the entire opening sequence is similar to WALL-E, but with a clunky robot replaced by a clunking great action hulk. It’s also important in establishing Riddick as a vulnerable character, we are presented with a wounded, hunted warrior, one that has fallen far from the throne he was seated upon at the end of Chronicles, and as a result he’s more interesting.
The time also gives Twohy a chance to paint this dusty new world with some fantastic creature design and striking vistas. The pool-dwelling stingy things (official description) are worthy of a mention alongside the Wrath of Khan ear thing and The Flash Gordon (with which Riddick shares a similar, unwelcome vibe) tree dwelling thing, in the pantheon of icky space monsters.
Those expecting action from the get-go might find it takes some adjusting to the impressive Cast Away via Bear Grylls set-up, but you’re guaranteed to rue its absence when the other cast members arrive, and Twohy feels the need to unnecessarily bridge the gap between this and Chronicles with some tedious exposition, surely only included to shoehorn in Karl Urban’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo.
Vin Diesel is clearly having fun slipping into the skin of the character that made his name, and gets to chew on some soon-to-be classic lines such as “There are bad days, and then there are legendary bad days” in his signature guttural drawl, but he is as two-dimensional as characters come, the script happy to let the previous instalments stand-in for character development.
It’ll be interesting to see if there’s still demand for the further adventures of this character so long after the last film failed to find an audience, but there is obvious satisfaction to be had for genre fans, and those simply seeking a no-nonsense slice of Predator-lite action fun, will also have a big dumb grin slapped on their face.