After nine years of waiting, is it a disappointment that Riddick is more of a reboot than a sequel to the trilogy of movies that began with the well-crafted Pitch Black in 2000 and sort of fell off the cliff in 2004 with Chronicles of Riddick? As before, Vin Diesel plays the ex-con, murderer, and anti-hero Richard B. Riddick (“Riddick” to his friends and rescuees). Again, his brutally-tough life has left him stranded and seriously injured on a harsh planet where the only living creatures around seem intent on killing him. This movie does acknowledge the previous film where Riddick ended up with legions of warriors known as Necromongers bowing to him as their new Lord Marshal by showing how they (most notably Karl Urban reprising briefly his role as Commander Vaako) quickly turned on him and left him to die. (You just can’t trust a bunch of death-worshipping soldiers whose slogan is “You keep what you kill”, can you?). Once again, Riddick is targeted by mercenaries out to collect the bounty on his head (double if he’s dead) and of course, they are no match for his wits or his muscle. The clearest call back to the first movie is that once again, a deadly predator dominates this planet. In Pitch Black, the monsters only came out in the dark (which was unlucky for the survivors when they faced a solar eclipse) but in Riddick, the monsters are awakened by water (and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a massive thunderstorm rolling across the desert landscape towards them all). The bad guys are faced with the same question: Do we release Riddick so he can help us survive the monsters?
As you’d expect from a movie like this, most of the mercenaries are a bit cliche. I was really hoping that there would have been some interesting characters among them, but instead we are given the typical set that includes a couple of big brutes, a naive newbie, some sleazy opportunists, and a group of by-the-book military types. Even Katee Sackoff (whose career as a sci-fi action babe thankfully did not end with Battlestar Galactica) played another snarling, ball-busting, space marine whom no one should mess with — they did not need her talents for that. Nevertheless, Diesel is as good as ever playing Riddick the low-voiced tough-guy with a heart (a movie archetype that he pretty much helped establish). After Riddick calls his shot, predicting that the mercs will release him and that five seconds later he would kill the slimeball leader with his own machete, it’s hard not to be riled up when it happens just as he said (the audience sure ate it up). I never really thought of Diesel as ageless, but it’s impressive how he’s still as physically capable as he was 13 years ago to carry out Riddick’s action scenes.
Even though there was virtually nothing new or distinct about this movie (especially after having rewatched the first two of the trilogy), there is something to be said for a good, mindless action flick. Diesel does a great job keeping it interesting, and the action sequences and special effects are serviceable. If this movie is successful, it might lead to more sequels. Unlike the second movie, which tried to expand the mythology, I’m betting that (like Diesel’s other money-making franchise about fast cars and furious people), any future instalments will likely just stick to the formula of having Riddick kicking human and alien-creature butt. (3.5 out of 5)