Second Opinion: Riddick
Riddick is a fast and furious sci-fi extravaganza. That’s right, I’m not letting this phrase go. At least it’s the same actor this time. I really do like the Riddick movies and there’s a lot to love about this one. After The Chronicles of Riddick opened the world to a more epic universe, Just Plain Riddick scales it back to Pitch Back levels but subverts that construct in interesting ways.
We find Riddick stranded and injured on a desolate planet. After a brief flashback bridging the end of Chronicles to now (and Karl Urban’s only scene, so don’t get your hopes up), Riddick survives alone, doing a space age Cast Away, or maybe more of an I Am Legend since he has a space dog instead of a volleyball. Eventually he finds a way to call for rescue, but Riddick can’t be rescued so it’s complicated when bounty hunters land on the planet to claim him.
I love, love, love the first act of this movie. I could have watched a whole Riddick Crusoe movie where he just survives in an alien desert fending of monsters. There is a satisfying chunk of that though, with wonderful visual storytelling where we just see Riddick make plans to train himself and escape hostile situations.
Then the gang of bounty hunters show up and Riddick stalks them. This shifts Riddick’s role as a protagonist. He’s still he hero, but he’s playing the role of the monster. The bounty hunters may or may not be good guys. I mean, they’re presumably just trying to earn a living and Riddick is a criminal, but we don’t want them to capture Riddick and we want Riddick to escape and have more adventures, but he is killing people.
This means there’s a large section of the film where we see a whole lot less of Riddick. The script and direction by David Twohy effectively keeps Riddick in the shadows, but we see all of the machinations he’s enacting on the bounty hunters. A particular scene about a key is built up beautifully. Plus we got that whole opening survival sequence that was all Riddick and nothing but Riddick.
You may notice that all of Riddick takes place on a single planet, and really a limited space on that planet, largely on a soundstage or interior set with a few green screen shots. It’s a soundstage play like old “Star Trek” used to be, and boy is it nice to see some actual sets into which artists put some creative work. Twohy plays within the genre, reversing Pitch Black where Riddick was basically in charge. Even when he was the prisoner, he was the only one who could see in the dark so he was still in charge. So now Riddick is against the gang of survivors on this planet, yet we hang with them just like we would if they were the innocent victims trying to escape the monsters. Contained doesn’t mean slowed down though. There is still extravagant action within this setting.
The gang of bounty hunters is full of the usual types. Santana (Jordi Molla) is the A-hole we like to see get beaten up and really hope he gets killed. Dahl (Katee Sackhoff, and sounds like “doll”) isn’t quite the superchick, because she takes a beating which is either a refreshing dose of humanity or an unfortunate dose of retro-sexism. Look, it’s the Katee Sackhoff type. We like her as sci-fi badasses. Diaz (Dave Bautista) is the muscle. Luna (Nolan Gerard Funk) is the religious guy. Bokeem Woodbine is the guy who always masturbates. I assume. He’s not as vocal about it as he was in The Big Hit but that’s still his thing, right? There’s Boss Johns (Matthew Nable) whose name you might recognize, and he has a history/grudge against Riddick. Plus, other guys.
In between stalking and fighting there is a lot of tough talk. The lines aren’t always clever but I love the attitude, especially the righteousness of Riddick sounding ominous just to mess with people. There’s a little more rape talk than I would like (my preference being zero, for the record). They don’t actually say the R-word, it’s just the whole lack of consent and all. It is a very R-rated, violent movie and they’re probably just trying to push boundaries, if perhaps in a careless way sometimes. Maybe I’m reading too much into it when the guys, including Riddick, explicitly voice their intention to have sex with Dahl, and she gives back to them an equally colorful refusal. Even if, hypothetically, there may be a point in the movie where she changes her mind, that only raises more questions. Still, less rapey than Kick-Ass 2.
As much as the format of Riddick shifts, some parts of a Riddick movie don’t change, not even the context of them. Riddick is reliable in that way and I like revisiting those tropes. Dahl might not be a superhero but Riddick is. He can literally do anything. No matter his injuries or his restraints, he will win. He’s a space age James Bond and I love the wild, unrealistic but creatively fruitful ways in which Riddick dispatches his enemies. Or maybe he’s more like an interplanetary Rambo, because he does it all bearing the pain of his injuries too. If you’re looking for a fallible hero, that’s not Riddick. I love Riddick just the perfectly badass way he is.
Don’t bother staying for the closing credits though. I was hoping for a Judi Dench easter egg, but there’s no Judi, nor anything after the credits to tease Ridd4ck. We learned in our interview with David Twohy that there is an epilogue on the DVD extended cut. The movie certainly doesn’t feel lacking for an ending but it is nice to know I have a Riddick 3.5 to look forward to.