18 September 2013


To the ranks of "totes emosh" and "bare hilare", we might just care enough to add "fuckin' Riddick" (adjective; fucking ridiculous, used to describe the trajectory of David Twohy's two films after Pitch Black.) Then again, there's little in Riddick, a film in three parts that is itself the third part of a series, to make us care that much.

After the camp juggernaut flop that was 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel secured the rights to his breakthrough character and independently financed Riddick, which finds our anti-hero stranded on a hostile planet while trying to get back to his home world, Furya. This "Not Furya" is packed with ferocious wildlife, and an injured Riddick is only just able to sustain his existence there at first. Eventually, he sets off a distress beacon, and winds up with two teams of mercenaries after him, as well as a whole bunch of alien beasties.

I only saw The Chronicles of Riddick very recently, in the run-up to the new film. It's a film that's not quite memorable enough to have become the by-word for over-ambitious sequels that it arguably should. It's as inscrutable as people think the Matrix sequels are, with the energy of a Star Wars prequel- it's the sci-fi action equivalent of Jools Holland, barreling around a Mos Eisley hootenanny and babbling about the Threshold. But as much as it's a lumbering, baroque folly of a film, there's still some enjoyment in that- it's almost like it takes place in an entirely different universe to Pitch Black, and now, Riddick.

The part that really unifies the three films is Vin Diesel's deadly serious performance in the title role. Just as you get the impression that he's taking the Fast & Furious films more seriously than everyone else in the ensemble, he has a tendency to get lost in the imagined importance of it all. Not that there's anything wrong with taking the character seriously, in and of itself, but the critical failure of the sequels has been that Diesel and writer-director David Twohy seem to take themselves seriously as well.

So, Riddick unfolds in three distinctive acts. The first is admittedly pretty bold, with Riddick isolated on the planet. Save for an utterly incomprehensible flashback that fills in the gaps between Chronicles and the new film, it's just him, struggling against a menagerie of bastard wildlife. The predators of the planet are pretty well designed, and aren't immediately overpowered by the obvious design influence of H.R. Giger. Riddick even gets himself something of a dog. It would be a bold way to start the film, if it weren't punctured by Diesel's monotonous voiceover.

It also leaves you feeling a little knackered even before you get to the second part, which would be a far better premise for a whole feature. Once Riddick calls in mercs to try and claim the bounty on him, the film becomes a survival horror movie- for the mercs. The film is at its most inventive when you're seeing this unlikeable bunch get picked off by Riddick, one by one, with some terrific setpieces involving giant bear traps, and an intense scene with an explosive padlock that may or may not have been sabotaged, which sadly fizzles out in a way that's less interesting than any of half a dozen ways you think that scene might end.

The third act is a straight retread of Pitch Black, with Riddick and the remaining mercs teaming up against the predators, and it's here that the mistakes really build up. Empire's Helen O'Hara wrote an excellent, but spoilery blog about the film's rampant misogyny, which is far more articulate than anything I would have to offer on the subject, except to say that it just piled on the boredom and fatigue that I was feeling at that point in the film. Any one of these acts could have been individually compelling-- the third act already was-- but the overlong, convoluted whole is exhaustively dull and nasty.

Riddick goes into B-movie territory, with a harder rating and some nastier overtones, but just as it didn't fit into the mould of a Star Wars-size epic, the upscaled adult content feels like it's protesting too much. It's kind of good-looking, but far too inward-looking to notice that it's an objectively preposterous. There was potential here for a really fun sci-fi actioner, but there's no real fun in this. It wants to be Conan in space, but this one's closer to Alien3 (and not in a good way.) It's not necessarily worse than The Chronicles of Riddick, but it's ultimately far less enjoyable to watch.

Riddick is still showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Riddick, why not share your comments below? Another note on the series- kudos to Karl Urban, who spends Chronicles swaddled in ridiculous production design, still acts like he's in Macbeth, and has a welcome but brief cameo in this one.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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