In preparation for watching the third feature film in David Twohy and Vin Diesel's Riddick series, I went back last night and watched Pitch Black (2000) and Chronicles of Riddick (2004) back-to-back so I could refresh my memory about the character, his world, and Twohy's vision for each. Turns out my initial reactions to the films were reinforced (and go a little counter to the general consensus for the films): Pitch Black was a nice little sci-fi/horror/action film but didn't really grab me, while Chronicles was over-the-top, filled with clichés and horrendous names (Necromongers? Creamatoria? Really?) but I fucking loved every minute of it; especially the extended director's cut, which took the craziness even further, making the film equal parts Prophesied-Hero-Seeking-Revenge and Shakespeare-Jodorowsky Visionary-Mash-up.
Watering Chronicles down to a PG-13 rating for its theatrical release hurt the film, in my opinion, and with the new third film, simply called Riddick, Twohy and Diesel go back to the well with an R-rated romp on an isolated planet teeming with monsters and mercs. I really went into this not knowing what to expect. The reviews after the first day or two of release are all over the map. Some love it. Some loathe it. So with absolutely no idea what to expect quality-wise, I pinched my nose and took the plunge.
And was genuinely pleasantly surprised.
I had been concerned that the reduced budget and scaled-back story would be a disappointment after the gobsmackingly brilliant final moments of Chronicles. I was afraid I was going to miss the tales of Lord Marshall Riddick, but thanks to a well-placed cameo by Judge Dredd himself, Karl Urban, reprising the role of Necromonger Commander Vaako (and cementing his reputation as Most Awesome Sci-fi Actor Working Today), this film has a logical and very satisfying way of situating itself in relation to what came before.
As you can probably guess, it involves violence and betrayal.
And then we're off into our new totally sincere and cynicism-free adventure, taking Riddick back to the basics in what is an action-packed showcase for Diesel. The first major chunk of the film is essentially Diesel acting alone with imaginary monsters, dingo-like dogs, and the desert. If you've ever had hesitations about Diesel, which I know I have, you have to give him props for selling this performance with every iota of his being.
The cast is rounded out by Jordi Mollà as the mercenary leader (and all-around shitty guy) Santana with Dave Bautista as his right hand, Diaz, and competing mercs Matt Nable as Boss Johns (where have I heard that name before?) and Katee Sackhoff as his second, Dahl. There are other mercs who die violently and creatively as the story goes on, but these four are the main focus, although Bokeem Woodbine as Moss and Nolan Gerard Funk as Luna get the lion's share of supporting character spotlight.
To be honest, though, everybody gets a moment or two to shine in what is a surprisingly tight script for a film clocking in at almost two hours on the dot. Both Bautista and Sackhoff do excellent jobs playing just the right combination of tough and funny that have me extremely excited to see Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy and positively giddy about the rumors of Sackhoff maybe playing Captain Marvel.
The technology and set designs are both great, providing a lived-in world with believable machinery and weapons, contrasted with the remnants of a culture long-gone and Riddick's back-to-basics bone-and-stone weapons-making. The actual dialogue and plotting are a step up from Chronicles and Pitch Black, with a healthy dose of old-school Heavy Metal magazine-style twists, character developments, and cheesy sexuality. There are even some boobies thrown into the mix for the kids.
There's a decided intent this time out to give Riddick a sexual side. You know, if you like that classic James Bond "I'm gonna fuck you and you're gonna like it" rape-threat balanced by the knowledge that his cock is the baddest cock of all – whether you like cock or not – and it's going to win you over in the end. It was cheesy and lowbrow without question, but it didn't bother me. Then again, I grew up on Heavy Metal and James Bond hyper-masculinity, so…
It would have been nice, though, to see Sackhoff show up in the final scene between Riddick and the rest of the survivors. I guess Dahl had to go re-evaluate some things about her professed lifestyle preferences.
Being a fairly low-budget sci-fi extravaganza, there are some expected shortcomings with the CG effects here and there, particularly during a Megaforce-level couple of Hoverbike sequences. But for the most part the monsters are effectively threatening and Riddick's pet Dingo-doggy-thing was endearing and kind of awesome. Hell, I could have watched a whole movie's worth of Riddick and his Dingo, balanced out with Dahl punching people in the face for giving her lip. That alone would make the ticket worthwhile.
That there's a decent little story here as well is just gravy. Hopefully this will mean a definite fourth film as Riddick heads off to find his devastated homeworld. And maybe more Necromonger madness? Fingers crossed!
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.