Riddick: It’s a name that sounds like a toad burp, which is appropriate, because Vin Diesel’s unmistakeable voice sounds like a frog turning over an engine. It’s also the name that kickstarted started Diesel’s career.
Before he drove cars through an indefinite string of films, he was space-psycho killer outlaw Richard B. Riddick, being transported as bounty before having his captors attacked by darkness dependant monsters. He can also see in the dark, an ability that’s only fully explained in a video game and in passing on film.
Riddick is a pretty cool guy. Sure, he’s another smug, anti-hero psycho killer, but compared to the noxious amount of crass tongued and pop culture spewing saviours in genre films, Riddick is easily one of the more tolerable, balanced options. He’s the likeable murderer with a moral compass you know is there, but only used in desperate situations. The only question now is what do you do with this guy after his ambitious sequel flopped almost a decade ago now?
Last we saw Riddick, he had become the king of the Necromongers, but having not made complete peace with the very people he was recently beating up, it was only a matter of time before he was double crossed. Now, lightyears away from anywhere on a ghost planet, Riddick has gone Les Stroud, surviving off the barren land and domesticating a dog. Barely making it out of a fight with a poisonous local species, Riddick decides to use his own bounty to his advantage, making himself bait, letting the hunters know what planet he’s on so he can hitch a ride out.
For his last outing Universal thought they could wring a dark, grisly Star Wars out of him. Chronicles of Riddick was an ambitious, gritty mythology that proved to be a bit much, not only because it was such a strange, dramatic departure from the sci-fi-horror Pitch Black. Now Riddick proves to be too simple a fellow such a complicated a saga. If Riddick seems unambitious, it’s hopefully because Riddick’s handlers have caught on that he belongs more in a Mad Max styled hellhole than more than a denser mythology.
Riddick isn’t a complicated film. The entire plot can be summed up as ‘every man, woman and monster wants to kill Riddick.’ The surroundings are a sepia toned recreation of Wile E. Coyote’s turf, and the objectives aren’t much different: kill and survive. For this, the film benefits, though that doesn’t mean there’s no space for creativity.
Hunting after Riddick are two specific teams, one led by chain of command know-it-all Boss Johns (Matt Nable) and flamboyant thinks-it-all Santana (Jordi Mollà). For a whole half of an act, Riddick takes a siesta as these two mercenary teams learn to survive each other before surviving him. Many of them endearingly recognize the clichés they seem to be marching into, putting some good bumps into what could have been a duller ride. Former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, in particular, often plays against the type of right-hand big-man.
Predictability in this narrow story isn’t as easy to track. Add on top the two boulders in Vin’s throat murmuring to us his brand of no-nonsense one liners and you can do a hell of a lot worse for action fare.
But that’s not to say this is the best we can get out of Riddick. The bar is almost set too low, and the final bout against the rain-locked (not darkness-locked) critters does feel like a hard throwback to Pitch Black. It’s good that Riddick’s been scaled back to fit into his own goggles, but even this film undersells it. Butcher Bay, the video game with the character and part of the official Riddick universe, had more moving parts in the story and still managed to work. Simplicity is Riddick’s strongest aspect, along with just being satsfying, but this murderous star rebel can’t play this trick again.