David Twohy and Vin Diesel partnered up again for this latest effort in their Riddick trilogy. Sadly, viewing the third installment was akin to watching a snail race where the creatures were on Quaaludes. Ultimately, the film felt like a diluted revisit to the original and best of the Riddick trilogy, Pitch Black.
David Twohy stated that Riddick would be a return to the character’s roots and it did; annoyingly so. In Riddick we get a pale imitation of the superior Pitch Black. Similar plot-line; similar story arc and similar “big-bads.” While the film looked and sounded impressive in IMAX, it did not improve the experience enough to save the film.
Act one had Riddick alone and deserted on an alien planet and the film moves slowly forward while our anti-hero patches himself up and learns the lay of the land. We are then given the backstory of how he got to the planet and Karl Urban, in what has to be the shortest and most nonsensical cameo in cinema history, shows up to “trick” Riddick out of his crown.
For those with short memories, in the second installment of the trilogy, Urban’s character was the MacBeth in the Necromongers. His wife was the real mover and thinker and not Karl’s Vaako. The flashback blithely ignores the second film’s character arc and it does not explain the sudden change in Vaako.
While the first act moves at the speed of maple syrup on a cold Canadian morning, we also see Riddick’s growing attachment to a canine type creature he captures for an experiment. Immediately we know that this creature will be sacrificed later in the film. Such stereotypical scenarios are not worthy of either Twohy or Diesel in their return to the dark science fiction world of Riddick.
Act two picks up with the arrival of the mercenaries. Their interaction livens things up and allows for a bit of comic relief. The first group that arrives are a rag-tag bunch that look more like a band of Hell’s Angels than mercenaries. But that is necessary as they can then be polar opposites from the second group that arrives.
Group number two has a direct link to Pitch Black as the leader of this smartly turned out cadre of mercenaries happens to be Johns senior. It was his son who died in the first of the trilogy and he wants Riddick because he thinks the convict “ghosted” his son.
This was the least believable part of the casting decisions. The actor playing Poppa Johns looked nowhere the right age to be the father of the morphine imbibing mercenary from the first film. Almost as unbelievable was the single female mercenary. Twohy opted to make her a lesbian stereotype rather than provide us with a seriously strong female character.
There was also a bit of unnecessary female nudity while she stops to have a “sink-bath” and we get to see one bare boob, nipple and all. Twohy must have known that his audience would be lagging at this point so a little female nudity was interjected to keep viewers focused. But in keeping with the obvious revisiting of a diluted, and inferior Pitch Black, the filmmaker must have felt the ends justified the means.
Act three sped up and provided some much needed action. But it was a case of too little too late. The pickup in pace did nothing to save the overall slowness of the film. The final act of the film also mirrored Pitch Black’s finale. But even the “speedy” final act does not improve the overall feeling watching treacle in three acts.
David Twohy and Vin Diesel made the claim that this film would redirect the story back to the logical arc from the first in the trilogy. What they really meant was that they would mirror the first film. As you watch Riddick, you can pick out scenes and set pieces that almost copy the first film frame by frame. And when the film isn’t doing that, it is using similar themes.
Even the creatures that attempt to eat every human on the planet resemble the giant “bat-like” creatures from the first film. Of course these monsters do not need the dark, but they resembled the first “baddies” in their movement and even their teeth.
The biggest problem is in the characters who act as filler, and fodder, for Riddick to kill or manipulate. Every single character, even the “dingo-dango” canine were, without exception, two dimensional cardboard cutouts.
In the first of the trilogy, even the characters who were killed off quickly had a depth that is missing here.
But 2-D characters and poor storyline aside, the film did look brilliant. The lighting was subtle and had the right sort of nuances to show the alien planet off effectively. The CG creatures, which included a sort of “buzzard-like” bird; the “dingo-dangos” and the water scorpions looked fantastic; realistic and believable.
Had the rest of the film been as good as the CG creatures, it would have been very entertaining. As it was, the middle bit of the film, act two, with the interaction of the mercenaries easily ranked as the best bit of the film.
The overall feeling while watching Riddick was boredom. The film is a diluted, slow and boring revisit to the film that started it all. Pitch Black was an excellent ensemble piece that did not rely on nudity or stereotypical cardboard characters to sell it. Riddick is a pale copy of the first film in the trilogy and it is a disappointing and unsatisfying product from David Twohy and Vin Diesel.
By Michael Smith