With each of the first two Riddick films, my heart grew fonder with the passage of time. So, I intend to get ahead of myself for this third installment and declare it pretty solid, despite some reservations. Of course, the unrated director’s cuts helped in each instance for the first chapters—especially concerning 2004’s overstuffed “The Chronicles of Riddick”. It’s been nearly a decade since that film was released to tepid reviews and disappointing box office in June of that year. It was such a tonal shift from 2000’s “Pitch Black” that audiences and critics weren’t sure what to make of it—me included. Outlandish costumes, gargantuan sets, overwhelming CGI and Dame Judi Dench. Thandie Newton chewed the scenery with relish in a PG-13 Macbeth, with space opera aspirations. It was a lot to take in, and director David Twohy was certainly ambitious. The cult steadily grew over the years with cut footage incorporated for a special edition DVD and a couple of hit Riddick video games. Star Vin Diesel banked on the latest Riddick feature due to the grass-roots fan support and the exceptional DVD sales of the unrated cut. His stature from the phenomenally successful “Fast and the Furious” franchise hasn’t hurt either. So is this risky venture worth the wait? It’s a resounding YES for the film’s first third, then a bit of a mixed-bag after that. But it’s already growing on me in retrospect. Riddick tends to improve in the rearview (apologies to Walter Chaw for borrowing his oft-written phrase).
The opening act is superb. Now a homesick Lord of the Necromonger fleet (you really have to see the first two movies to keep up), Riddick (our man Diesel) is quickly betrayed when he strikes a deal to return to his home planet of Furya after installing Commander Vaako (a briefly seen Karl Urban) as his successor. Riddick survives an assassination attempt by his escorts, but is trapped in a mountain landslide (on a barren and unfamiliar planet) by Vaako’s aide Krone (Andreas Apergis). Injured from a compound fracture, and realizing that his 5-year life as a “king” has made him soft, Riddick trains himself to regain his killer edge on the desolate world. He defeats a number of vicious alien creatures—some that swim, some that fly—and befriends an injured Jackal-like pup. Riddick, his skills now sharp again, and with his loyal “dog” in tow, activates an emergency beacon to summon bounty hunters to arrive and “rescue” him. Two different ships show up, and find a blood-written message from Riddick to abandon one ship and leave on the other–or else face the wrath of our favorite ultra-powered Furyan. It’s at this point that “Riddick” shifts tone and becomes much more conventional. Resembling the original “Pitch Black” for the remainder of the running time, Riddick and his self-imposed hunters are pushed to join forces to defeat a rapidly approaching horde of “mud demons”. Add a gorgeous Amazon-like blonde named Dahl (a cool and sexy Kate Sackhoff), plus the father of a former adversary (Matthew Nable as Boss Johns), who’ll have to decide if they’ll assist the Furyan former felon–and possibly manage to save their own lives in the process.
There’s plenty of fun stuff here, and unlike large swaths of “The Chronicles of Riddick”, “Riddick” is lean, spare, tough and R-rated. That last one was an absolute must, and there is a sizable amount of gore and violence for the fans. It is often very dark in the film’s latter half, which acts as an intentional buffer (that’s my bet) against this movie’s limited budget (a well-used, but decidedly paltry 38 million). But it also sustains the haunted house feel it has carried over from 2000’s “Pitch Black”. Twohy’s instincts aren’t always in tune here (he’s directed just one other feature since “Chronicles” in 2004), but he always manages to pull it out in the clutch—especially in a stark and ferocious penultimate scene. The landscapes sometimes look set-like, but it only adds to the midnight B-movie richness of the piece. And the menagerie of creatures are always nifty and convincing. I could have done without the silly looking air-motorcycles, but I welcome the return of scoring from composer Graeme Revell. And there’s a nasty decapitation scene to die for. If David Twohy’s script is intermittently clunky, it does pull off a fair amount of killer one-liners throughout. There’s also a healthy dose of misogyny and sexism to remind us that our badass anti-hero is not going PC anytime soon. Some may get their feathers ruffled over it, but it fits perfectly as far as I’m concerned–your not supposed to be bringing Riddick home to mommy. I initially thought “Riddick” would be presented in 3D, and I’m pleased that I was mistaken. The IMAX version that I attended was more than enough without the paper glasses. “Riddick” ultimately is not the classic that us rabid fans were hoping for, but it’s pretty darn rich all the same. It’s one for the fans, so first-time “Riddick” buyers should proceed with much caution. I believe it will stand the test of time. Which is good because I’m doubtful we’ll get another go around unless the worldwide box office takes off. Domestically it opened at #1, but even 50 million seems unlikely for a final take. But I’m happy enough, and I applaud Diesel and Twohy’s chutzpah. They got this project to see the light of day. And Riddick received one more chance to rule the dark. Grade: B