Film Review – Riddick



It seems that most of the best endings to films come from either high level artistic fare, or B-movies. In fact, most of my favorite endings are from movies that otherwise wouldn’t be so enjoyable if it were not for their fantastic finales. Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from L.A., and, most recently, The Chronicles of Riddick, are a few that are most worth mentioning. All of them have an ending that makes you suddenly take notice of something you may have thought to dismiss come fade-to-black. At the end of Chronicles of Riddick, the titular character played by Vin Diesel turns the tides of fortune and, in effect, aligns himself with the mythic equivalent of space Conan—Conan being the fictional character created by Robert E. Howard and made famous on screen by Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Howard’s stories, Conan eventually becomes king by killing the king of Aquilonia on his throne and taking command of his kingdom. And Conan, like Riddick, was more often than not the anti-hero simply by circumstance and coincidence, often only saving the day in the process of saving himself.

So it is, then, that Riddick opens in the wake of the results of the ending of Chronicles, and finds the titular character stranded on a volatile planet, with no immediate clue given to the audience as to why. Instead, Riddick climbs his way from underneath a pile of rocks and starts on a trek that requires him to fight a lot of local creatures, and he befriends one of them. It’s a lot more like Edgar Rice Burroughs than it is Robert E. Howard, which is essentially the beginning place of where some things go wrong. The smartest thing Chronicles does is to leave us with a sharp cut-to-black ending as the surprise is revealed. In doing that, the movie creates a scenario so interesting it helps elevate the rest of the film that precedes it, and sparks a stronger desire to see what happens next. (Which, as an aside, is what I think is Vin Diesel’s magic; he now has not one, but two, franchises that should for all practicalities be dead, but instead each appear to be primed for extended lifetimes.) And that’s what leads us to the story shift, where instead of following the adventures of King Conan in space, we’re getting something closer to a combination of John Carter and Tarzan, complete with a moonlit, silhouetted, loin-cloth-clad Diesel atop a rock ledge.

Riddick Movie Still 1 Vin Diesel & Katee Sackhoff

As Riddick fights for survival against the planet’s animal inhabitants, we are given a brief, noir-like flashback to the events that brought him here, at which point the plot goes from Robinson Crusoe to a basic rehash of Pitch Black, where Diesel has to contend with both bounty hunters and vicious, deadly creatures in an attempt to escape the planet. It’s minimal and it’s fun, and it’s redundant, but for a reason. After the financial disappointment of Chronicles, the franchise was more or less considered dead; then Diesel received the rights to the character and franchise in an exchange for a cameo appearance in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. At that point, the idea became to take the character back to his roots, i.e. Pitch Black, and reboot the franchise while staying true to story continuity. Unfortunately, that meant dumping what would’ve been the most exciting, or at least interesting, aspect of the potential story they had set up, because in effect it’s the world that director and writer David Twohy and Diesel created in Chronicles that was the movie’s biggest complaint, and what was blamed for its lack of success. Most felt the world building was unnecessary, over bloated, and a bit silly. I personally had fun with it, especially since it all reminded me of the old Hummanoids/Heavy Metal comics out of France that gave us imaginative and in-depth worlds from the minds of people like filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

Riddick Movie Still 2 Vin Diesel

Despite the shift in the story’s direction, there is a lot of fun to be had. It’s a return for Diesel to a role that basically gave him a career, and in turn gives him a chance to chew on and spit out ridiculous noir-tinged lines of dialogue and act all kinds of macho tough, including the offensive feat of wooing a lesbian (Katee Sackhoff‘s character Dahl), in what’s one of the other problems that glaringly sticks out. Early after Dahl’s introduction, we are given the unnecessary knowledge that she is a lesbian and won’t be touching any of the men that she’s surrounded by—that is, until Riddick shows up and starts spitting all sorts of game, intriguing her. Because you see, that’s how much of a man Riddick is: he can turn gay people straight.

As much as I make complaints and point out transgressions, they are, in effect, part of the film’s bizarre charm. This is B-move fare through and through, and with that has traditionally come a general sense of insensitivity and exploitation, not of the audience, but of genders and sex. Riddick fortunately doesn’t really have time for love, but the movie does its best to foreplay it up in lieu of it, and possibly makes allusions to it. The most fun is had when Riddick is let loose to be the mean talking, ass kicking anti-hero he was designed to be. A lot of time in the first act is spent with just Riddick and his sidekick pet as he rolls off voiceover quips about being down but not out. It’s all very much an admission of the movie’s genre, and while Riddick unleashed is somewhat seldom until the third act, it plays off in a go-for-the-throat embrace that basically says the film doesn’t care if it’s indulging too much in what it is. It’s simply going to be. And that’s where it succeeds in doing its job of entertaining you, regardless.


Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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