Written and directed by David Twohy. Starring Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Jordi Mollà, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Gerard Funk, Conrad Pla, Bokeem Woodbine, Neil Napier.
A completely stripped-down B-movie that reigns in the series from the overblown The Chronicles of Riddick, writer-director David Twohy’s Riddick dials things back to 2000’s Pitch Black. Or even further: this modest-budgeted ($38 million) sequel, with its shoddy (CGI) effects and straightforward plotting, delivers the genre goods just like a 1950s sci-fi quickie. That is, despite the 2-hour runtime.
Just how pulled back is this? Outside of a few brief flashback scenes (which feature top-billed Karl Urban, who is otherwise absent from this film) that connect this entry to the previous film, the first 30 minutes of Riddick are completely dialogue-free: our titular hero (played by Vin Diesel) struggles to repair his injuries and fight off alien threats after being left for dead on a hostile planet.
This survival movie aspect of the film – with the unique twist of taking place on an alien world – makes for some of the best scenes that Riddick has to offer. Despite similarities to the recent bomb After Earth – this is, after all, roughly the same premise – the competent writing and direction manages to involve us in the character and his plight with workmanlike efficiency.
It seems like such a simple thing to ask, but more and more contemporary films sacrifice comprehension for sturm und drang: coherence gets lost in flash and fury that might deliver a visceral thrill but leaves us out in the cold when it comes to understanding the specific details of what is going on in any particular scene (or even shot).
But as we watch Riddick mend his wounds, make a shelter for himself, fend off alien dogs, and create weapons, we have an intimate knowledge of what, exactly, is going on. With the fate of the planets and races of alien beings largely (and refreshingly) forgotten, we can relate to Riddick’s tale of simple survival, even if it is taking place on a foreign landscape.
I only wish that landscape weren’t so awash in second-rate CGI graphics. While there’s a certain appeal to the vibrant alien desert and (almost cartoonish) creature design, there’s never any sense of reality – human characters stand out against their backgrounds, and barely seem to be in the same film as the CGI monsters. While most of these movies are shot in desert locales, the majority of Riddick was clearly produced on a soundstage in front of a greenscreen.
While we can’t reasonably expect the entirety of Riddick to remain dialogue-free (wait for J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost, starring Robert Redford, for that experience) the final two-thirds of the film turn into a satisfying B-movie ride just the same, filled with colorful supporting characters, some light comic relief, and some surprisingly graphic violence (while The Chronicles of Riddick secured a PG-13 rating, this one earns a hard R).
Upon reaching a deserted station – and spotting a far-off storm that will bring a wake of vicious creatures with it – Riddick sends out a distress signal that brings two teams of bounty hunters after him in search of a large payday (the bounty is doubled, we learn, if they bring back his corpse). In order to get off the planet, Riddick must play the hunters against one another – and then cooperate to combat the hostile natural threat.
While Diesel’s presence dominates the film, the supporting cast is asked to shoulder much of the screen time while the lead character lurks in the background. Jordi Mollà and Matt Nable offer up diverting performances within their clichéd characterizations as competing bounty hunters; Katee Sackhoff makes for an appealing tough-but-sexy heroine.
While the setup and characters may be familiar, it the execution that sets Riddick above the usual genre outing. Compare one sequence which pits Riddick against a deadly – and poisonous – swamp creature that stands in his way. Most action films would feature a quick (and forgettable) fight scene; here, Riddick attempts a variety of techniques before cultivating the poison from the beast and slowly dosing himself over the course of some days (weeks?) to build up an immunity before finally taking the monster on.
In an age of over-produced B-movies masquerading as blockbusters, Riddick is a straight-up B that gets it right.