Back in 2000, Vin Diesel and writer/director David Twohy created the character of Riddick for a tiny sci-fi movie called "Pitch Black." A remorseless antihero in the vein of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell's Snake Plisskin, he is a pitiless criminal would inspire his own sequel/spin-off film, "The Chronicles of Riddick." Of course, that film, with its huge budget, opulent sets, and Judi Dench supporting performance, was something of a financial disaster and studio Universal mothballed the character indefinitely.
Still, you can't keep a good Riddick down.
After Diesel acquired the rights to the character (in exchange for his cameo performance in "Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift" -- yes, seriously), he mounted a low-budget, largely independent sequel. It's the sequel nobody asked for but is still here anyway, which has been a consistent theme with movies in 2013 (what, you weren't dying for "Kick-Ass 2?")
Is Riddick's return a blessing or a curse? And will you be eager to see the space criminal in further intergalactic adventures? Read on for Moviefone's review of "Riddick."
1. You Don't Have to Be Intimately Familiar With the Riddick Mythology ...
One of the best things about "Riddick" is that it dispenses largely with the clumsy mythology that cluttered "The Chronicles of Riddick" and made it a baffling box-office dud instead of the potential crossover hit. (Keep in mind that there was an animated movie in there somewhere, too, directed by the guy who created the original "Aeon Flux" shorts for MTV.) A lot of the stuff about wizards and warlocks and god-knows-what is gone, replaced by streamlined nastiness and sturdy character work. Basically, if you saw "Pitch Black" and skipped "Chronicles of Riddick" and, really, who can blame you, then you'll have a fine time with "Riddick."
2. ... But It Doesn't Hurt
That being said, there is a section in the beginning of the movie where they explain what has happened in between "The Chronicles of Riddick" and "Riddick" that is so confusing and silly that you can't help but get lost. There are also some weird connections to "Pitch Black" that even a "Pitch Black" super-fan like myself was kind of like "Huh?" The ending of the movie, too, points towards an unnecessary dip into Lake Mythology, which is sad indeed. "Riddick" is best when it's unencumbered by this plot-heavy nonsense. While it isn't absolutely necessary to have seen "The Chronicles of Riddick" if you've seen it (and, better yet, understand it), then you'll be better off for "Riddick."
3. It Is Very 'Pitch Black'-y
In many ways, "Riddick" attempts to replicate the feel of "Pitch Black," which, when it was released in 2000, really was quite dazzling: a laser-focused bit of scary genre filmmaking. That film saw Riddick as a prisoner whose ship crash-landed on a hostile alien planet. The criminal, along with a band of mismatched survivors, realize that the nocturnal predators that prowl the planet are about to be very happy, since a lengthy solar eclipse is just around the corner. In "Riddick," the character is again partnered with unlikely allies (they're mostly bounty hunters) and again has to face an alien menace: in this case, it's crazy creatures that rise out of the mud, and (of course) the planet is about to be blanketed in rain. There's something that works on both a visceral and metaphoric level about Riddick the ruthless predator having to do battle with actual ruthless predators. It just works.
4. It Takes a While to Get Going
The first 45 minutes of "Riddick" are a slog. We get the character's back story, we watch as he tries to acclimate to the harsh weather and creatures of the planet, and he walks around. A lot. It's seemingly never-ending and it puts a big damper on the fun that follows, when two teams of bounty hunters show up on the hell-planet to take Riddick down. Had the first 45 minutes been shaved down to 15 or 20, then "Riddick" would have really been a streamlined killing machine. As it stands, it's too baggy and uneven.
5. Diesel Owns the Role
In a weird way, "Riddick" is a labor of love for Twohy and Diesel, who labored for years to get the film made. And you can tell, by watching Diesel's performance as Riddick and in the relish that he gets to deliver lines like "The same color as your nipples," that he's having the time of his life. The character is truly iconic and you can understand why a studio would want to base a franchise around him, as ill-fated as it seems now. It's rare to see an actor so wholly inhabit a role like Diesel does Riddick, so when it happens, you can't help but be totally thrilled.
6. Riddick Has a Cute Werewolf Sidekick
In the seemingly endless opening of "Riddick," we watch as he saves a baby werewolf coyote thing and raise him as his own, a killer sidekick for a stone cold killer. The werewolf coyote has giant bat ears and tiger stripes and is brought to life with some fairly convincing computer graphics, which are even more impressive given the film's minuscule budget. What's more, you actually form an emotional bond with the little wolf and with the wolf's relationship with Riddick. Unexpected, indeed.
7. It's Mostly Shot in a Sparsely Furnished Canadian Warehouse
The budget for "The Chronicles of Riddick" was $120 million, according to some estimates. The budget for "Riddick?" $35 million. That means that a lot of the frills have been cut from the production, including but not limited to lavish costumes and big-name movie stars. But maybe the biggest downgrade is the location: "Riddick" is mostly shot on some sparsely furnished Canadian sets in which one giant rock is seemingly moved around a cavernous soundstage to suggest other locations. Sometimes this adds to the movie's low-budget, B-movie charm. Other times... Not so much. Still, if you thought the landscapes in "300" were a little too extravagant, then this is the movie for you!
8. The Monsters Are Good and Scary
They have giant tails that make them look kind of like scorpions, and slick heads that owe more than a little bit to H.R. Giger's "Alien" design. They also have giant poisonous fangs. At one point, I got the impression that they could also regenerate themselves, but I think I was just confused by all the monster mayhem. The point is that they're a wonderful design and truly scary, two things that can rarely be said about movie monsters.
9. Starbuck Delivers a Top-Notch Performance
Katie Sackhoff, who played Starbuck in the long-running and very brilliant sci-fi series "Battlestar Galactica" is in "Riddick." Her performance is one of the movie's best, as a hard-nosed bounty hunter who doesn't take guff from anyone, all while maintaining a delicate, angular sense of graceful femininity. Oh, also she also appears shirtless. That is all.
10. There Could Be Yet Another Sequel
The end of "Riddick" suggests that there could be further adventures for the criminal antihero, but, honestly, "Riddick" seems to be the definitive word on the character. This is a well that has been visited more times than anyone would have thought, and we're pretty sure that well is empty. It's been a blast, Riddick, but don't call us, we'll call you...