The at-once boringly and stupidly monikered anti-hero Richard B. Riddick returns for a second bite at the sequel pie, after 2004’s follow up to the breakout original, Pitch Black, Chronicles of Riddick failed to set the box office alight. Writer and director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel hope to regain some of the menace and mystery by stripping back the universe to the bare essentials as in the still excellent franchise starter.
Left for dead on a barren planet some time after the events of Chronicles, Riddick must survive this harsh terrain, training space dogs and avoiding deadly space serpents. Finally coming across an abandoned mercenary station, Riddick activates a distress beacon which leads two teams of bounty hunters to descend upon the planet, eager on collecting the price on his head. Riddick has other ideas.
The film is split into three disparate threads; each one tonally different from the last. The first act has Riddick alone, scoping out the planet he’s found himself on and trying not to die. The second is practically Riddick-less, introducing us to the two merc teams as Riddick stalks from the shadows, picking them off one by one. And the final third is an all out creature feature, aping the original in terms of a small force against overwhelming odds of snarling beasties.
However, none of these stories are particularly interesting and Diesel isn’t as commanding a screen presence as the film seems to think he is; master of one, perhaps two if I’m being generous, facial expressions, and a voice that doesn’t so much instil fear as it does boredom and unintentional laughs. As such scenes where we’re alone with just Riddick (and sometimes his trusty space dog) drag on; and things don’t improve when the rent-a-grunt mercenaries show up, with nary a personality between them – just a lot of bluster and bravado and not a lot else, which would be fine if the film was going for science fiction silliness (like Predator for instance), but it doesn’t. It plays everything with a straight face when it should really have fun with the concept, and ends up looking exactly like the type of film it’s trying desperately not to be. Both director and star seem to believe Riddick is far more iconic a character than he actually is, with slow motion hero shots and countless scenes of him looking moodily into the distance, that cause giggles rather than awe. And although the section of the film that has Riddick stalking in the shadows is the most effective it goes on for far too long; almost twice as long as the similar scene in Pitch Black did, and that was the film that introduced the character. Okay, he’s stealthy. We get it.
The actors are mostly just there to be killed or to be foils for Riddick. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck) is perhaps the most prominent of the cast besides Diesel yet even she doesn’t get very much to do outside of hunting for Riddick and be female. Not that anyone in the film comes off very well with a script that’s as wooden as the lead actor. It’s a blessed relief when the monsters show up again near the end (incidentally one of the film’s few triumphs; beautifully horrible creature designs) mostly so the cast can just shoot things instead of deliver lines, almost all of which are awful. For every line that sounds like something a normal person might say, five absolute clunkers are spat out soon after. And that’s before the films odd sexist streak raises its head.
A film that for the second time misjudges the appeal of its title character (Hint: there is none) and has none of the traits of the first film it’s trying so hard to recapture the spirit of.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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