Vin Diesel is the closest thing we have today to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger or a Sylvester Stallone in his prime. Granted, his body of work to date hasn’t justified such a label, yet when he’s playing the right character, there’s no one alive who can play the badass so effectively. In Riddick, the newest entry into the now-trilogy, he returns to the role that put him on the map for action aficionados everywhere. The first entry, Pitch Black, had a low-budget John Carpenter-esque flare to it, full of violence, one-liners, and Diesel kicking some serious ass. The sequel, Chronicles of Riddick, lost the charm of the first, deferring to a glossy studio feel, a wide scope, and worst of all, a PG-13 rating (wherefore art thou, gore?). Thank The Gods of Action, for somehow of another, Riddick returns us to the origins we loved the first go around: plenty of scary creatures, mercs with mouths, gore galore, and Riddick absolutely dominating the screen. They even throw in gratuitous nudity! After a summer where most heroes took a back seat to showy villains, scene-stealing supporting roles, and all-out spectacle, Riddick gives us the badass action hero we crave… nay, deserve.
Riddick (Vin Diesel) is buried under rock on a deserted planet. As he tells us via bass-heavy, grumbled narration, “I’ve been crossed off the list before.” The first thing we see him do is set his broken leg, then drilling plated armor into his flesh to hold it in place. Ouch! Outside of a slight limp, this won’t be a problem for the rest of the film. A creature stands between him and possible shelter: a mud-dwelling creature with a venomous bite and a long scorpion stinger at the end of a serpentine tail. Riddick spends a period of time immunizing himself to the venom, taming one of the local alien dingos, and securing his escape to shelter. He finds an emergency beacon, which he fires off, attracting two ships of bounty hunters: one led by Santana (Jordi Molla), a vicious slimebag with a flair for violence and a predisposition for throwing caution out the window, and another led by Johns (Matt Nable), who seems to have ulterior motives for seeking out Riddick. Along with their respective second-in-commands, Diaz (Dave Bautista) and Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), they begin their hunt for Riddick… or is Riddick hunting them? And why is Riddick so scared of a looming rainstorm…?
Like all enjoyable action movies, David Twohy, writer/director of the Riddick trilogy, knows to surround his main character with plenty of fascinating fellow badasses, played by muscly brutes and scenery-chewers. Molla, always such a terrific villain, absolutely dominates the screen as Santana, dropping one-liners galore and having more fun than one can possibly fathom. The other real stand-out is Sackhoff, who could absolutely headline her own action franchise: she’s beautiful, muscular, tough, and knows how to spit out hard-ass dialogue with precision. There are a number of references to the previous two installments, but they aren’t necessary for enjoyment. What is necessary is an affinity for badasses verbally abusing one another, killing, being killed, and escaping situations from which escape is impossible. It’s all impossibly silly at times, but isn’t that part of the joy this genre can bring? Twohy packs all of this into his script front to back, with plenty of gruff humor and enjoyable payoffs (Riddick promises at one point to kill someone within five seconds in a very specific manner… guess how that person’s life will end, and how quickly?).
Yet without Diesel, this awesome set-up may be for not– the first twenty minutes or so of film is all Diesel on screen, all the time. Diesel, unlike anyone else of his generation in the action genre, is a force to be reckoned with; the sun glistens off his shaved head, the sweat drips from his pumped muscles, and he incurs all manner of punishment only to bounce back more resilient than ever. No one actor can play Riddick today: who would even try? The Rock’s voice is far too charming, not nearly gritty enough; Diesel’s marble-mouthed barely-legible delivery is exactly what a hero like this requires. Does anyone else proven in Hollywood even have the bulk, the gristle, and the chops to do this sort of thing (someone give Jason Momoa another chance)? The most surprising thing about Diesel is his ability to give Riddick a sly intelligence: Arnold and Sly were never known for playing credible braniacs, they were possessed grunts, lugs with a purpose. Riddick is a clever and malicious son of a bitch, and Diesel lets those silver eyes gleam naughtily every time one of his schemes pays off in blood. He serves his purposes well in the Fast and Furious franchise, but Riddick is the character for whom Diesel should be remembered. Twohy and Diesel make one hell of a pair, giving us the closest thing to a Carpenter/Russell we have nowadays. I would absolutely pay good money to see a fourth (R-rated) entry to this franchise– Riddick is the action anti-hero a man like me craves, and this third installment delivers the badass goods.