Riddick removes the worst received elements of Chronicles of Riddick, while retaining none of the standout features of Pitch Black.
As the third in the sequence, Riddick was always going to have identity problems, particularly as the first two movies were in almost entirely different genres. For the uninitiated, ‘Pitch Black’ is a classic space-survival horror in the mold of Aliens, whereas ‘Chronicles of Riddick’ is a space opera that plot-wise reassembles nothing so much as ‘Conan the Barbarian IN SPACE’.
Pitch Black had a group of space passengers with relatively complex motivations and it managed to fit in a surprising amount of character development fitted in before monster related-death. On the other hand in Riddick, we have a group of space-mercenaries who are utterly indistinguishable and who largely hang around waiting for monster/Riddick related-death.
One of the nice things about the previous two films is that we didn’t get told anything about our hero’s sex life, particularly considering how many action films feel the need to insert a ‘Hero Is Definitely Not Gay’ scene into a narrative. Sadly the streak doesn’t last, but it is fairly difficult to bring to mind a film series in which you don’t
find out that the hero is into girls until the third film.
Speaking of girls, we have Katee Sackhoff playing ‘Actress fallen victim to typecasting’. She’s the token woman (not quite but effectively) of the film, and like the others characters receives no character development or for that matter, character. She does, however appear topless briefly. And this gives us a useful shorthand because if you consider Katee Sackhoff’s bare breasts a good reason to see a film, then it’s quite likely you’ll also enjoy the general testosterone-fueled, blood and gore that fills the rest of the movie.
There is no question that this is a film aimed at schoolboys with a side order of fanboys…
For everybody else, the film is just too long, while simultaneously not having enough stuff in it. The first 30 minutes is Riddick wandering around a new planet fighting various wild animals in such a way as to establish him as the Man We Should All Aspire To. Then we have some mercenaries turning up to capture our hero, and we get an hour or so
of them being picked off one my one by Riddick, then monsters arrive and the rest of the movie is characters being picked up one by one by monsters.
The sad part of this is that you can see the bones of at least a few good movies in here. If you drop the monsters, and spend the time scripting some character development and letting the actors stretch a little then you’d have a fairly solid Rambo-First-Blood-In-Space and probably set yourself up for a couple more sequels. At the very least
we might care when some of them died.
Similarly, dropping the mercenaries entirely and filming a few more scenes with the antagonists from the second film would make extend the first act into a potentially interesting ‘fall of an empire’ plot. As it is, the scenes that do include the antagonists from Chronicles feel like filler and could have been replaced by a couple of lines of narration. They’re not the only scenes that shouldn’t have made the movie: bizarrely there is an attempted rape that manages to in no way affect the scenes around it or affect the relationships between characters. I might be missing something but if you can treat attempted rape quite that casually then there might be something fundamentally wrong with the setup…
Now, while the movie compares badly with Pitch Black, it does compare well with Chronicles of Riddick… Gone is the jarringly WWE-style fight chorography, talk of ‘prophecies and magic’, and the silly names (‘Nercromongers’ anyone?). Also gone is Riddick’s ‘boring invincible hero’ status – he takes a lot more punishment these days. Riddick is certainly a better use of its budget than Chronicles, but the stripped down nature certainly doesn’t compensate for the lack of heart.