It’s hard to dislike a movie that tries so incredibly hard to look like it’s not trying. No, seriously. Riddick is the popular guy in high school who dresses and acts like he’s not trying at all, but is actually meticulous about every little detail. He wants everyone to think that all this coolness just comes naturally.
Oh wait. I just described Vin Diesel.
Riddick should be a total mess of a film. It’s nearly 2 hours long, it has a 30 minute prologue, and much of the plot is a rehash of Pitch Black. But it works, and boy is it fun.
We’re first re-introduced to Riddick as he digs his way out of a rockslide. He’s beaten, battered, and bloody. One of his legs is broken. He has no food, water, or weapons on him. Oh, and he’s on an incredibly hostile planet currently devoid of human life.
But how the hell does that happen? Wasn’t he some sort of Emperor at the end of The Chronicles of Riddick? Well, to explain that, we have to put a flashback into our prologue! So even as we watch Riddick desperately avoid all sorts of deadly creatures while trying to get to safety on one good leg, we’re also treated to a flashback complete with monologue that explains how he ended up in this sticky situation.
Riddick being Riddick, he not only manages to find a safe place to rest up and heal, he ends up at the top of the food chain by the 30 minute mark. Of course living out his life on a desolate, hostile planet isn’t in his plans, so when he stumbles upon a mercenary waypoint, he activates the emergency beacon.
This predictably brings a ship of mercenaries eager to take Riddick down and cash in on a huge bounty (amusingly, the bounty is twice as high if they bring him in dead). Riddick doesn’t really care either way, he just wants off the planet because he knows there’s something sinister about to happen.
At this point we’re treated to another fun surprise. A second group of mercenaries arrive and, rather than staking a claim, the leader of this band states that he merely wants to talk to Riddick, asking for 24 hours of interrogation. He promises that after that he’ll let the first group take all the credit.
If I’m being intentionally vague, it’s deliberate. There is actually a lot of story here and the trailers have done an excellent job of not spoiling anything. While I do think there is a bit too much plot here, I have to give directory David Twohy credit for doubling down on all the crazy he can cram into the film. I will say that this feels more like a direct sequel to Pitch Black than it does to The Chronicles of Riddick.
Included in this comparison are the fantastically deadly creatures littering the landscape. There are dog-like animals that hunt in packs, pterodactyl-like creatures roaming the skies, and strange, two-legged amphibious things that not only have a mouth packed with sharp teeth and deadly venom, but tails twice as long as their bodies that end in sharp spines.
All of these creatures are really well done via special effects, as is almost everything else in the film. Whoever did the SFX deserves a hearty pat on the back, with one exception. The hoverbikes are shit. I actually cringed the first time a few mercenaries took these all terrain motorbikes out on a patrol. Let’s just say that those few scenes look like the worst kind of green-screen technology from the 80’s.
As for the acting, well, you don’t expect too much of that, do you? I mean, it’s an action flick. But surprisingly the acting is good to the point that it actually improves the movie. Vin Diesel isn’t asked to do much more than be a badass, but when he’s called upon to do something other than murder-punch somebody, he does it with relish. The asshole mercenary leader Santana (Jordi Molla) is incredibly entertaining, as his character is asked to come off as a complete psychopath.
In fact all the mercs are well cast, with actors like Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine and Conrad Pla all providing good acting and fleshing out potentially wooden characters. The biggest commendations have to go to Katee Sackhoff who plays Dahl, the only woman in the group. Not only does she consistently provide some of the best lines of the film, but she doesn’t take any shit from the other mercenaries. If it means she has to beat the living crap out one of them, then so be it.
All-in-all, Riddick is a hellaciously entertaining movie. It could have easily crumbled under the weight of all that plot or become a muddled mess that just flitted from action piece to action piece. Instead, it all came together to become one of the most watchable sci-fi flicks of the last few years.
It also doesn’t hurt that it was rated R and took advantage of that. PG-13 action movies are inherently terrible.