A film review by Craig J. Koban September 12, 2013


2013, R, 119 mins.


Vin Diesel as Riddick  /  Karl Urban as Lord Vaako  /  Katee Sackhoff as Dahl  /  Jordi Mollà as Santana  /  Bokeem Woodbine as Moss  /  Nolan Gerard Funk as Luna  /  Noah Danby as Nunez  /  Neil Napier as Rubio  /  Dave Bautista as Diaz

Written and directed by David Twohy

RIDDICK is so very unlike most third films in a series in the sense that it exists in an age when filmmakers and studios are always trying to outdo the scope and scale of what came beforehand.  David Twohy's film is a refreshingly different kind of beast altogether in the sense that he tries to make a conscience decision to scale everything back several notches and return to the pure survival/horror elements that made the first film in this trilogy, 2001’s PITCH BLACK, so well engineered and entertaining.  RIDDICK does not radically revitalize the title character, nor does it place him in a predicament that we have not seen before (once again, he’s trapped on a hostile alien world where its monstrous denizens want to eat him alive), but it’s not really trying to.  What it is trying to do is recapture the hard-hitting and feverous intensity of PITCH BLACK, and for that the film is a success. 

Many took offence to the second film in the series, 2004's THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, mostly, I guess, for its somewhat wimpy and watered down PG-13 sanitation of Riddick’s universe, but more so because its was more of an extravagantly overproduced visual spectacle than a pure blooded and visceral action thriller (alas, I applauded its imagination, ambition, and scope in my original review).  Yet, in hindsight, even I now can see why the detractors cried foul.  THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK seemed keener on throwing things on screen for us to ogle at and engage in than it did with unsettling us the way PITCH BLACK did.  RIDDICK seems to be an effort to completely wipe away the aesthetic excesses of the last film and ground viewers in another story where Vin Diesel’s engagingly and perpetually gravel voiced and cold hearted anti-hero slashes and hacks his way through multiple adversaries – human and non-human alike – like it were just another day for him.  There’s ample giddy and cheesy pleasure to be derived from that alone. 



RIDDICK does not completely ignore the events of THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, mind you.  You may recall that at the end of the last film Riddick was left as the newly anointed Lord Marshall of the Necromongers (looooove that name!), but via flashbacks in this new film we learn how unsatisfied he has become with his new position of authority five years after getting it.  He strikes a deal with Vaako (Karl Urban, barely making a cameo here) to help him return to his home world of Furya in exchange for making Vaako the new Lord Marshall.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, Riddick is indeed betrayed and left stranded for dead on a brutal planet that houses creatures of all disgusting and gooey nastiness.  Make no mistake about it, though: Riddick, as it has been proven time and time again in this series, is remarkably difficult to kill. 

The actual opening scenes of the film – arguably its finest – thrusts us into Riddick’s marooned state, during which time he has to reset and mend his severely broken leg – in all manners positively cringe worthy to view – while defending himself against the planet’s indigenous creatures, some of which include jackal-like alien dogs hungry for their next meal and swamp-like beasties that can poison you with their venomous stingers.  These introductory moments keep the dialogue to a minimum (thank the movie gods!) and instead just showcases the primal force of nature that is Riddick executing one method after another of survival while, at the same time, showing Twohy’s command for creating thrillingly envisioned alien landscapes that are kind of beautifully foreboding in their own right.  This is all terrific stuff.  Oh, and along the way, Riddick befriends one of those alien doggies when it’s just a puppy and takes him under his wing, turning it from man-eater to loyal canine companion.  Awwwww...

The rest of the film never really commands as much interest as the first act, but it’s nevertheless involving.  Riddick launches a distress beacon in hopes of getting off of the planet, but unfortunately for him bounty hunters turn up that literally want his head in a box (the bounty is more if he’s captured dead).  Led by the slimy and deplorable Santana (Jordi Molla, owning his character’s sleaziness), the hunters try as they may to track and hunt the now hidden Riddick.  Soon after that, a by-the-book space marshal, Johns (Matt Nable) also shows up with his own crew that wants to capture Riddick alive for questioning for a past indiscretion that Johns is personally linked to.  Johns' right-hand man – make that woman! – Dahl (Katee Sackhoff, tough and no-nonsense) reinforce to Santana and his men that their methods or help will not be required.  Unavoidably, Johns and Santana’s clan will engage in a climatic showdown with Riddick…that is, of course, if the planet’s monsters don’t do them in first. 

A lot of what Twohy does with Riddick in the story department certainly feels like it’s been cannibalized from a myriad of other action thrillers.  The bounty hunter characters themselves – although engagingly played by the various performers, especially Molla – are essentially props that are routinely served up for Riddick’s justifiable executions (one of his kills – done with a hands-free machete - is both outlandishly improbable, yet perversely satisfying…you’ll know when you see it).  The dialogue here is also not Twohy’s strong suit, as both hero and adversaries chew scenery with cornball exchanges that drip with machismo so much that you’ll want to mop up the floors afterwards that the actors stood on.  Granted, Diesel’s Riddick remains a menacingly likeable killing machine, and the actor certainly plays up to his strengths here as he did with the previous two films. 

Twohy’s calling card, though, is that he handles the film’s blood/-gore spattered and hard R-rated action with a ruthless efficiency and economy that’s not seen in most other modern action films.  He avoids queasy cam hysterics and obtrusive editorial overkill and instead presents the mayhem with a relative clarity and polish.  The director also knows how to make an exceedingly good looking picture on the cheap: RIDDICK cost a mere $38 million, peanuts compared to THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and a ridiculously low sum compared to most other sci-fi action blockbusters.  Even when some visual effects sequences seem to be a victim of the low budget here, every penny of RIDDICK’s financial resources are here on display.  Twohy shows invention and ambition in fully realizing the film’s sun-drenched, golden hued vistas to fully transport us to another planet that feels suitably not of this world.  Amazingly, he resisted the temptation to upconvert the feature to 3D.  Kudos to you, sir. 

Most of all, RIDDICK emerges as…well…unapologetic and unpretentious fun.  It never takes itself too seriously (that would have been the kiss of death) and I was frankly surprised by just how much perverse enjoyment I got from this third outing for Diesel’s eye-glowing and ass-kicking specimen.  It’s ironic, but RIDDICK is essentially a B-grade grindhouse exploitation film set in outer space that’s made with a considerable amount of high-grade cleverness and novelty.  Twohy clearly loves his main protagonist and equally relishes at returning him to the somewhat less-is-more and satisfyingly brooding and aggressive look and feel of PITCH BLACK.  RIDDICK ain’t high art, people, but it gets its intended job done and joyously kind of spits in the face of studio-financed threequel tradition. 

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