We review Riddick – A semi-satisfying mixture of badass and just bad

6 min read
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They say you can’t keep a good man down. Well, that goes double for a bad man. So after a 9 year hiatus and a whole lot of their own time and money, star/producer Vin Diesel and writer/director David Twohy have brought antihero Riddick back to the cinema screen.

And much to long time fans’ delight, the li’l mass murderer that could is getting back to his uncompromisingly violent ways. There are just a few problems that he can’t quite kill his way out of.

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I rather enjoyed 2009’s Chronicles of Riddick – which apparently puts me in the minority. Richard B. Riddick’s second on-screen outing may have deviated heavily from his much smaller, much more focused and very much not PG-13 debut effort in Pitch Black, but Chronicles achieved the type of impressively ambitious world-building that I love.

The box-office didn’t agree though, which is why now, nearly a decade later, we find Twohy and Diesel trying to recapture what worked so well in the first film.

Herein lies the film’s first problem: for the final two-thirds of it, Riddick is essentially Pitch Black all over again: Riddick is back on a strange alien planet, being forced to work with – and occasionally slaughter –  some people who are rather partial to seeing his head and shoulders part ways, after a particularly nasty alien threat shows up due to a specific confluence of natural events. Sound familiar?

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Whether Twohy is a one trick pony or not is certainly up for debate, but what isn’t though, is the fact that he does this one trick very well. If you’re just here to munch popcorn as Riddick the Shiny-Eyed Boogeyman finds new and inventive ways to turn people into filet mignon, then you’ve definitely come to the right place.

But before we can get to any of that though, we open with the film’s strongest act, as Riddick is stranded on the aforementioned planet courtesy of some Necromonger back-stabbing. Also back-shooting, and even a bit of back-drop-a-cliff-face-on-your-head-ing. And so we spend the next 30 minutes watching a broken and beaten Riddick go native, as he has to learn to survive on a world populated by creepie crawlies who all want to eat him as much as he needs to eat them. It’s Bear Grylls meets Alienand it’s fantastic.

Diesel, who sounds like he gargles with his namesake as he philosophizes on killing while rescuing alien puppies (Cue: Awwwww), was simply born to play this role. Whether slinking in the shadows, or staring down angry alien moons, he is Richard B. Riddick.

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Twohy proves he knows how to make money work, as he stretches the film’s meager $40 million budget to give us some arresting science-fiction visuals, some of which look like Frank Frazetta paintings come to life. And thanks to Riddick’s adoption of said alien puppy – a type of jackal/Great Dane mix – we get treated to one of the film’s many moments of unexpectedle effective comic levity.

But soon darkness and rain starts rolling in, and with it an alien threat that forces Riddick to set off an emergency beacon that grabs the attention of two competing groups of bounty hunters, all out to claim the bounty on his head.

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The two groups couldn’t be more different, with one ragtag group led by equal parts sleazy and slimy Santana (Jordi Molla), while the honourable and noble Boss Johns (Matt Nable), who has some connection to Riddick’s past, leads the other more professional unit.

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With the exception of Johns’ right-hand woman, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), none of the other dozen or so people who make up these two groups bare any mentioning at all though, as they’re all either either just walking plot devices, or walking fleshy knife holsters for Riddick.

Dahl though definitely requires a mention, but for mixed reasons. Ex-Battlestar Galactica alum Sackhoff is no stranger to playing tough ladies, but she turns it up a notch here to satisfying effect. Dahl is a bona-fide ass kicking, sniper rifle shooting badass, who not only holds her own, but frequently beats (up) the men around her. For that I applaud Twohy.

That applause though quickly gets drowned out by groans of disgust when, in the film’s biggest problem, it exhibits a simply shocking misogynistic and sexually confused streak around her. There’s almost not a single scene with her in it, where somebody is not either trying to rape her, or cracking jokes about raping her.  And even our “hero” gets in on the action, not only offering a particularly anatomically descriptive missive about sexually assaulting her, but then also using an earlier, totally gratuitous topless shot of her so that he can mix things up by making fun of her nipples. Classy.

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All of this would be more than bad enough on it’s own, but then Twohy takes Dahl’s lesbianism, a character trait she firmly reiterates several times throughout the film (usually quickly followed by a rape attempt), and makes a mockery of it, when [SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING] she begins giving Riddick the googly eyes all because he’s the baddest dude around [/SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING].

Not helping me to overlook these transgressions, is the fact that the film’s third act definitely suffers from a bit of weariness, ending on a slightly limp note. Maybe if Twohy had cut down on the film’s two-hour running time and punched up a few later action beats, it could have gotten the killer finish to match its lean and strong opening, but instead we left with a finale that’s not bad, but not great either.

The bottom line is that when Riddick works, it works really well, and while its tendency to copy from its own past won’t be bringing in any new disciples, established fans looking for more of the same should find something to enjoy. They’ll just find a few very unsavoury and completely unnecessary elements as well.

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Last Updated: October 21, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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