Dir/scr: David Twohy. US. 2013. 119mins
After the rather self-consciously epic and rather plodding The Chronicles Of Riddick (a title that implied how seriously it was trying to take itself), Vin Diesel’s muscular sci-fi franchise smartly heads back to the B-movie roots of its original film Pitch Black, and delivers a dark and bloody genre film that delivers in terms of monsters, knives and a healthy bit of gore. With Diesel’s popularity in the Fast & Furious franchise proving he still has box office muscle, the film will be welcomed as a guilty pleasure fantasy outing in amidst the early round of festival premiere would-be awards films.
The violence and the monsters and the big guns all add up to something of an moodily enjoyable adult fantasy romp, and though a little static in the central section, it relishes the sci-fi mayhem and will appeal to those who lapped up Pitch Black’s old-fashioned creature-feature silliness.
That isn’t to say Riddick is perfect. It feel way too long at just a smidgen off two hours – and does feel it as it lags and repeats itself in places – and is more than a little ridiculous at times, but at least it (eventually, after a rather po-faced start) has a sense of humour, and does come up with some splendid action scenes that reinforce Riddick as a brutally brooding and indestructible character (rather like a futuristic Conan) who is a dab hand at the old carnage.
Plus it shows that the growling Vin Diesel has the chops to carry a film on his manly shoulders. In the Fast & Furious films he has to compete with the likes Dwayne Johnson and Paul Walker (as well as a bunch of very cool cars) for screen time, but here he is very much front-and-centre, with everything revolving around him.
The film opens in the UK on September 4 and in the US a couple of days later, and gets a hefty worldwide release through the rest of the world over the month.
In Pitch Black we had Riddick as a hunted criminal with special see-in-the-dark powers and a great capacity for violence, while in the sequel writer/director David Twohy took the upscale route and had him pitched as a hero from a legendary planet up against a whole army of Necomongers (distinctive by their black leather garb and a serious sense of humour bypass) and eventually crowned Lord Marshall (or top dog to you or I) after a face-off with their leader.
All well and good, but it did write Riddick into something of a God-like corner. So Twohy smartly opens the film with a brisk link to The Chronicles Of Riddick, with duplicitous Necomonger commander Vaaka (Karl Urban in a cameo reprising his role) conniving to dump Riddick on a remote planet…a dangerous sun-scorched rock, where Riddick finds himself injured, abandoned and seemingly alone. Just how he likes it.
After fighting off beasties and making best friends with an animal cub (a cross between a zebra and a leopard) he realises that the planet is more dangerous than he first thought, and so he activates an emergency beacon that he knows will draw bounty hunters to him. The first ship to arrive is a lethal team led by machete-wielding Santana (Jordi Molla), while soon a second team lands, headed by Johns (Matt Noble) who has a personal reason for finding Riddick.
But even two groups of heavily armed mercs are no match for Riddick and he starts taking them out as part of his plan to claim one of the ships as his own and a way off the planet. He also takes something of a shine to Johns’ second-in-command Dahl (Katee Sackhoff, from television’s Battlestar Galactica reboot) – who claims to be lesbian but is soon exchanging sexual banter with Riddick…the film is rather simplistic and limply misogynistic – but at heart he is all about the mayhem and looking for an escape route.
The violence and the monsters and the big guns all add up to something of an moodily enjoyable adult fantasy romp, and though a little static in the central section, it relishes the sci-fi mayhem and will appeal to those who lapped up Pitch Black’s old-fashioned creature-feature silliness. There is also no denying that Vin Diesel’s muscular charisma works extremely well here, and with more serious awards-orientated fare set to be released out of Venice and Toronto platforms Riddick is just the sort of Friday night action romp audiences will be on the look-out for.
Production companies: One Race Films, Universal Pictures, Radar Pictures
UK distribution: Entertainment One UK
US distribution: Universal
Producers: Vin Diesel, Ted Field
Executive producers: Samantha Vincent, Mike Drake, George Zakk
Cinematography: David Eggby
Editor: Tracy Adams
Production designer: Joseph Nemec III
Music: Graeme Revell
Main cast: Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matt Noble, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Raoul Trujillo, Karl Urban