Betrayed by the Necromongers, ex-convict Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) is left for dead on a desolate alien planet. After fending off attacks from various predatory creatures, he then realises an even deadlier threat is lurking on the horizon…
Back in the year 2000, writer-director David Twohy found himself with a sleeper hit in the form of Pitch Black, a lean, mean, low-budget sci-fi thriller that introduced us to Vin Diesel’s rumble-voiced badass for the first time. In 2004, however, The Chronicles Of Riddick unsuccessfully attempted to widen the character’s mythology, resulting in a big, bloated, PG-13 space opera of such disappointment that plans for a proposed trilogy were put on hold. It’s good news, then, that Riddick recaptures the stripped-back edge of the first film, opting for an R-rated, back-to-basics survivalist romp that suits the character far better than the operatic fantasy of the second. It does, in short, put the fury back into the Furyan.
Wisely writing the muscular anti-hero out of his role as Lord Marshall of the Necromongers (yup, still sounds silly), the film is roughly divided into three segments. Audaciously, the first – and best – is virtually wordless, as an injured Riddick attempts to survive on a desert planet populated only by vicious predators. Shouldered by Diesel’s imposing screen presence, this section boasts more tension and danger in its first five minutes than Chronicles managed in a full two hours, elevated by some inventive creature design and a strikingly realised alien landscape. All of which, it should be pointed out, is doubly impressive when you consider the comparatively small budget, with Twohy and Diesel having funded the project independently in order to avoid studio compromise and secure the aforementioned R-rating.
The second segment, by comparison, isn’t quite as strong, as the focus shifts to the arrival and subsequent squabbling of two separate mercenary outfits. As a result, this portion features surprisingly little in the way of Riddick, who spends the middle act picking off his newly-arrived adversaries as a stealthy, barely-seen predator. It’s to the supporting cast’s credit, then, that this stretch holds our attention as well as it does, since a few of them prove interesting enough that we’re not merely counting down the minutes until big Vin is back on screen again. Dave Bautista, in particular, is surprisingly terrific as a mountainous gun for hire, providing both muscle and laughs as he nabs a few of the film’s most amusing moments. Katee Sackoff, meanwhile, does her best with a disappointingly generic ‘kick-ass female’ role, and Jordi Mollà is appropriately (inappropriately?) sleazy as one of the ‘head’ bounty hunters.
From here, the third segment sees Riddick and the remaining mercs unite in order to fight a common creature threat. Inviting unavoidable comparisons with Pitch Black, said threat revolves around another weather-based countdown, while the subsequent escape plan once again involves carrying equipment from point A to point B. Still, considering that Twohy and Diesel are attempting to get their franchise back on track, you can perhaps forgive them for echoing the first’s film’s successful formula. Elsewhere, the dialogue includes a few clunky lines (“Not Furya”, anyone?), and Riddick’s sexual ‘advances’ towards Sackoff feel jarringly out of character. Although, looking at the situation objectively, they could be explained as a way of him trying to – ahem – rattle her. Still, there’s a lot to like for fans of Pitch Black (such as a welcome twist involving the identity of Matthew Nable’s merc), and Diesel deserves credit for essentially willing the whole thing into life. He did, after all, mortgage his family home in order to make it happen.
After the bloated disappointed of The Chronicles Of Riddick, it’s great to report that Riddick recaptures the stripped-back edge of Pitch Black. Opting for an R-rated, back-to-basics survivalist romp, it puts the fury back into the Furyan.