Okay, I’m at a bit of a loss because I have yet to see “The Chronicles of Riddick” as I write this review for “Riddick,” the latest film in the franchise from writer/director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel. At the same time, I have seen “Pitch Black” which started this series off in the first place, and perhaps that’s all I need to have watched before viewing this movie. The way it is constructed, “Riddick” is very much a stand-alone movie to where it doesn’t necessarily require you to have watched the previous two movies to enjoy what it’s about.
As the movie starts, Riddick (Vin Diesel) is now King of the Necromongers, but he ends up being betrayed by his supposed followers when he is left for dead on a planet that he is led to believe is his home world of Furya. From there, Riddick struggles to survive in a hostile environment where all these scorpion-like creatures and dog beasts are out to eat anything that moves on at least two feet. To make matters worse, bounty hunters are once again on the hunt for him as he is forced to expose his location in order to find a way off of this barren planet.
What’s interesting about “Riddick” is we see how being King has somehow robbed this anti-hero of his abilities to survive. Diesel has made it no secret of how much he loves playing this character, and he invests Riddick with everything he has. Whatever you may think of his acting, you can’t say that Diesel isn’t dedicated to giving this character the respect he deserves. Riddick is a bad dude, but like the best anti-heroes in movies, you still find yourself rooting for him.
“Riddick” really is a passion project for Diesel and Twohy more than anything else. Because “The Chronicles of Riddick” was a big budget studio movie that didn’t do well commercially, the two of them ended up having to raise the money independently to make this film a reality. Going from a budget of over $100 to a budget of under $40 million may have forced them to cut a lot of corners, and this is probably not the Riddick movie they originally envisioned after doing the last one. But I liked what they were able to come up with given the limited resources at their disposal.
One of the joys of watching “Riddick” is seeing how Twohy deftly skewers a lot of sci-fi clichés and wonderfully plays on the bounty hunters’ collective fear of their prey. Once they arrive on this barren planet, Riddick leaves them a warning to leave one ship behind for him or suffer the consequences. Right away, you know that a majority of these characters are screwed. The question is how are they going to die? There’s a great scene where they think that Riddick has gotten into one of their storage compartments which is protected by a highly explosive device. Did he or didn’t get inside? That’s the question. Whatever the answer is, it leads to one of the movie’s most wonderfully suspenseful moments.
Among the crew of bounty hunters is Katee Sackhoff whom we all know and love for playing Starbuck in the rebooted version of “Battlestar Galactica.” She plays Dahl, a female mercenary who can dish it out as much as the men can and them some, and the punches she inflicts on the male population she has to deal with are painful to say the least and leave a scar that won’t be easily forgotten. Sackhoff is awesome in a role that definitely recalls how much we loved her as Starbuck, but she isn’t just playing that character all over again. Dahl makes it abundantly clear at one point that she doesn’t f--- guys, and Sackhoff leaves you wondering just what exactly her character means by that.
Also in the cast is Jordi Mollà who you might remember from Michael Bay’s bombastically awful “Bad Boys II.” Here he plays Santana, the leader of one of the bounty hunter groups who does very little to hide the fact that he’s a slimy bastard. Mollà clearly relishes playing such a despicable character, and we get a kick watching him go over the top as he hunts down his prey. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that his character gets the fate he deserves.
Then there’s Matt Nable who plays the leader of the other team of bounty hunters (who are better equipped by the way), Boss Johns. I have no idea if his mother gave him that name, but I can only imagine the playground beatings he got as a kid. Talk about a name to live up to! Anyway, Nable, a former professional rugby player, does good work in conveying the conflicted emotions of his character as it turns out that he needs Riddick for more than just a simple bounty.
Dave Bautista, a former WWE wrestler, plays the most bone crushing bounty hunter of all, Diaz. With Bautista in the cast, you know that he and Diesel are going to have an all-out fight. Whether or not it compares to one between Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in “Fast Five” I will leave for you to find out.
Most of the visual effects we see in “Riddick” are rendered in CGI, but that’s understandable given the movie’s low budget. While the overuse of CGI effects in movies tends to drive me crazy, many of them look really good (especially some of the alien landscapes). Riddick also gets to adopt a dog in the process, and the dog turns out to be one of the movie’s best characters. This slobbering beast could have been an annoying sidekick a la Jar-Jar Binks from “The Phantom Menace,” but he’s a cuddly little fella underneath all that snarling.
It’s also great to see Graeme Revell back composing the score for “Riddick” as he also did the music for the previous two films as well. Actually, this is the first film he has scored since “Shark Night 3D,” and that came out in 2011. His score for “Riddick” marks a return to the electronic scores he did for such movies like “The Crow” (one of my all-time favorites) and “Dead Calm.” It’s a wonderful reminder that Revell doesn’t need a full orchestra to create suck a compelling score.
“Riddick” isn’t a great movie and doesn’t reinvent the wheel for either the action or sci-fi genres, but it kept me entertained throughout and it says a lot about Diesel and Twohy that they managed to bring this character back to the silver screen. Despite “The Chronicles of Riddick” not being a big hit, the fans still wanted to see Diesel’s most favorite character make a return to the big screen. It took almost a decade, but they came through even though they had fewer resources to work with. Regardless, I think they did a good job and it does make me want to revisit “Pitch Black.” While we’re at it, it also makes me want to see “The Chronicles of Riddick,” and that’s even if people say it’s not very good.