Saturday, September 07, 2013

Riddick / *** (R)

Riddick: Vin Diesel
Santana: Jordi Mollá
Boss Johns: Matt Nable
Dahl: Katee Sackhoff
Diaz: Dave Bautista
Moss: Bokeem Woodbine
Lockspur: Raoul Trujillo
Luna: Nolan Gerard Funk
Vaako: Karl Urban

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by David Twohy. Written by Twohy and Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell. Based on characters created by Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat. Running time: 119 min. Rated R (for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity).

The first thirty minutes or so of “Riddick” depicts just one man trying to survive in an alien wilderness where every creature seems designed to destroy him. This man is Richard B. Riddick. If you are unfamiliar with the character of Riddick from the previous films “Pitch Black” and “The Chronicles of Riddick” than this sparse period of story will serve as a wonderful introduction to who he is and what he is about. In fact, even if you are familiar with those two movies, this is a better introduction than the character has ever received before.

Riddick is human, but not from Earth. He is from a planet called Furya, and even after becoming the ruler of a universe in the previous film, all he wants is to return home. He was a criminal, but he seems most in his element when no other humans are around him. His eyes have developed to allow him to see better in the dark than most humans. I’m not sure whether this is an ability unique to him or a trait of all Furyans. It hardly matters for his story’s purpose.

He has been abandoned on this planet without a name. He calls it Not Furya, because… well, it isn’t. He is broken, quite literally. His leg has been broken in a fall, which makes him what looks like easy prey to the planet’s indigenous inhabitants. Not so easy, though. He begins by killing a vulture-like lizard bird with one hand. Soon he’s battling what look like giant-sized hyenas, but the real threat seems to come from the one place where he can find fresh water. A serpent-like thing lives there eking out the prey that wanders along. It’s not alone either. There’s a family of them in various sizes. The little ones have the deadliest venom.

Watching Riddick piece together the environment in which he’s found himself, and studying the methodology of his survival skills makes for a fascinating adventure. His solution to his broken leg seems a little far-fetched. He captures one of the hyena pups and develops a relationship to help anchor the events with some sort of personal connection. The character and screenplay strip away the grand nature of “The Chronicles of Riddick” to produce a more visceral story, which is more befitting of the Riddick persona.

There’s no way this survival story can sustain the entire movie without any other human interaction, and the filmmakers are well aware of that.  Despite my enjoyment of the first half of the film, I was not disappointed to move on to a new development when Riddick realizes there is no way he can continue to survive on this planet with the serpent creatures growing in number. He finds a homing beacon and soon two separate crews show up to collect the bounty on Riddick’s head.

The second half of the film is more typical action adventure fare with Riddick picking off the crewmembers trying to secure one of the ships for his escape. Soon, it becomes apparent to everyone that Riddick isn’t the biggest threat they face and they join forces to escape the serpent creatures with their lives. It’s pretty cleverly orchestrated in the way they Riddick forces the men out for his head to depend on him for their own survival.

In the same way the first half of the film forms its set up from the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick”, the second half ties in with “Pitch Black” with a story thread and the basic premise of the action. David Twohy, who helmed and co-wrote the first two films, returns in the same capacity for this one. He handles the action of both halves of the film efficiently. While the political components of “Chronicles” have once again been removed from Riddick’s world, this stripped down approach seems comfortable for Twohy and his crew. He seems to have an obsession with things slithering around in the dark, and he finds a good platform for that in this franchise.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I was not a fan of “Pitch Black”, the movie that essentially turned Vin Diesel into a star with his original portrayal of Riddick. I much preferred “The Chronicles of Riddick” which developed a mythology for this space universe that I found more intriguing for its politics and science-fiction themes. I believe I was in the minority with these opinions, which would explain the near ten-year hiatus between the failed second film and this one. This simpler incarnation of Riddick seems to be what the fans want, and the filmmakers are wise to return him to his roots. They do a better job with the material here than they did in the first movie, although the last five minutes are little too sentimental for the tough as nails character they’ve created.


Dan O. said...

Nice review Andrew. Can't expect a movie starring Vin to be smart or thought-provoking, but you can expect it to be fun, which this is.

Andrew Wells said...

I thought "The Chronicles of Riddick" made an attempt to be a little more thought provoking than Diesel's other films, which is probably why it was rejected by his fan base. You make a good point, though. Diesel's success has been based pretty much solely on fairly mindless action fare. He doesn't break that mold here, but I felt this was a little more well done than many of his other flicks.