Wednesday, October 2, 2013

'Riddick' Review

I was pretty surprised when I found out there was going to be another Riddick movie. Originally introduced in the 1999 sci fi space thriller "Pitch Black," Vin Diesel's , goggled, muscle bound anti-hero, Richard B. Riddick, a dangerous and unpredictable convict with surgically altered eyes that allow 50/50 vision in absolute darkness became popular enough with audiences and fans of the genre that the studio eventually released a sequel/spinoff, "The Chronicles of Riddick," in 2004. Vin Diesel once again gave a memorable performance as the relentlessly hunted fugitive who just cannot help but insert himself right in the thick of trouble, but the film itself, with its overblown production, plodding narrative, and shaky, so-so special effects was not as well-liked as its leaner, edgier predecessor and failed to be the kind of mega profit yielding hit the studio undoubtedly wanted it to be. So the franchise went into almost a decade long hibernation until this past September's release of "Riddick," the revitalizing third entry in the series that discards most of the action/adventure bombasticity of "Chronicles" and returns to the darker, more suspense driven tone of "Pitch Black."
Double crossed and left to die on a strange, hostile planet were just about everything wants a piece of him, Riddick must fight for survival and regain the "edge" that was dulled through years spent idling over an undesired throne. In what are probably the most memorable scenes of the film Riddick forces himself to adapt to the challanges of his new environment, cunningly devising methods for dispatching some of the planet's more nefarious indigenous lifeforms and inadvertantly adopting a four legged friend in the form of a cross hyena/wolf creature that latches on to the "back to basics" loner as a cub as the two develope into a somewhat more heavy metal version of Timmey and Lassie.
But his observations earlier in the film lead Riddick to believe that there is something sinister lurking within the planet and itching to burst forth when the land is moistened and muddied by the massive thunderheads that are fast encroaching. Choosing to roll the dice and take his chances Riddick locates a vacant outpost intended as a waystation for mercenary outfits in between jobs and triggers a homeing beacon that alerts nearby bounty hunters to his proximity on the planet. Soon a rag-tag looking crew of mercenaries arrive, eager to cash in on the substantial bounty on Riddick's head by "literally" taking off his head. The scene becomes even more crowded when they are joined by another team of bounty hunters, the leader of which has a personal stake in capturing Riddick that ties back to the events of "Pitch Black." To sum up the rest of the movie in a nutshell, the two opposing merc outfits form an uneasy alliance to help hunt down their common prey. Things do not go as planned (big shocker there.) The rains come and all hell breaks loose.
Although a definate improvement over "Chronicles," I found Riddick to be somewhat of a mixed bag. While some parts of the film, specifically the first act function with a clarity and singularity of vision that is both refreshing and engaging, other parts come off as a bit muddied and not as well thought out as they could have been. At one point there is a violent altercation between two characters that is literally has no ramifications and is never followed up on. One of the characters tagging along with the bounty hunters that arrive first is a believer who is given to reciting scripture whenever things get dicey but turns out to be a completely superfluous character whose faith does not pay off an any way but to prompt a cheap, typical tough guy line from Riddick, "Let's leave God out of this." The interactions between the two competing teams of mercenaries are pretty trite and generic and the film loses some momentum in the third act, fizzling as the action becomes more or less formulaic and predictable.
Moving on from my few complaints there are other parts of the film that go a long way in compensating for the areas in which it stumbles. The parts of the film were Riddick is forced to become "survival man" are very memorable and entertaining. Vin Diesel effortlessly slides back into the role like he never stopped playing Riddick during the nine year interval between this film and the last one. The scenes featuring Riddick "Ghosting" the arrogant and overconfident mercenaries who start out falsley assume they have the upper hand are definately a highlight and there is also a scene were some characters are faced with the dilemma of whether are not to open a safe that may be primed to explode that comes off as genuinely suspensful. I also thought the CG in this movie looked pretty impressive. The world looks rugged and arid and the creatures look menacing and creepy. One can definatlely tell that they were able to funnel a lot more of their budget into good looking effects by setting the story on a smaller scale.
Though not as solid a film as "Pitch Black," "Riddick" is definately a fun and unapelogetically violent venture that benefits from its smaller scope and well deserved R rating. I truly hope the film yields a positive enough response to re-energizing the franchise so I do not have to see the next one when I am pushing middle age.