Riddick (2013)

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Vin Diesel is, by all accounts, a smart fella. His production credit on the “Fast and Furious” films means he never needs to work again, and he’s nurtured his Riddick character through two previous films, a computer game series, a few animated shorts and now, nearly ten years after the last one, this new entry.

At the end of the “The Chronicles of Riddick”, our hero found himself as Lord Marshall of the Necromongers, a sort of supernatural race of partly dead soldiers. But clearly David Twohy (the writer – director) and Diesel weren’t interested in telling more stories about the Necromongers, so after a rather implausible first few minutes where he quits his job and gets himself stranded and left near death on a sun-blasted alien planet, we’re able to kick off with a relatively clean slate.

The planet he’s stranded on is full of weird and wonderful alien life, and the first third of the film is him learning to adapt to this environment, hunt in it, and so on. He even manages to get himself a little pet, in the form of a weird dog-like creature, and this section, with Diesel being the only human on screen, is surprisingly gripping and operates as a way to show the skills he has for those viewers who never saw the character before.

But it’s when he finds a long-abandoned scientific / military outpost that the film really kicks off. He triggers the emergency beacon, and when a scanner identifies him, two different groups of bounty hunters come to the planet to get a man so dangerous that the bounty is doubled if he’s brought back dead. One of the groups is a bunch of degenerates, led by a fella called Santana, the other a pseudo-military outfit led by Boss Johns. Santana’s lot want the money, whereas Boss Johns wants to know what happened to his son, one of the characters from the first Riddick film, “Pitch Black”.

Therein lies the film, really. The two groups have their tactics of how to capture and kill Riddick, while he has his lifetime of training, fighting and survival to fall back on in a battle of brawn and wits. It’s really exciting, and while it bears a few similarities to the first movie I think it’s a fresh and interesting way to use the character. Riddick is the hunter in this, and while he’s occasionally a little too amazing to be real (and his comments to the one female member of either crew, Katee Sackhof’s character Dahl, are a little on the dodgy side) the tension is well built up and the final battle, with hordes of Mud Demons being revitalised thanks to a heavy rainstorm and trying to snack on some humans, is well done.

I find it hard talking about films which are solidly above average, other than to say something like “go and see this” in one of a hundred different ways. But I love science fiction, and I want to see it succeed, so it’s great that some real hard sci-fi like this is getting made. None of your “planet Earth with one or two differences” nonsense, this is an alien, with alien ideas, fighting on an alien planet, and I love it. It certainly has the feeling of the middle chapters in a much longer story, but it does well to operate as a standalone film too.

Okay, it’s not going to blow anyone’s mind, and it doesn’t so much advance the Riddick mythos as it does give us an entertaining two hours in his company, but a complicated mythos has been the death of many a sci-fi franchise. For a fairly low budget film it doesn’t feel like it scrimps and saves on the special effects, using its relatively few sets and large portions of darkness well.

If you’re a fan of Diesel’s, you’ll have almost certainly seen this film already (and judging by its box office take, we’ll be getting more in the series as soon as Diesel’s finished with upcoming “Fast and Furious” and “XXX” franchise entries), but if you’re not, I’d definitely recommend getting all three films, and watching them over the course of a few nights.

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Oh, a PS going out to the makers of this film – my wife was very disappointed we got to see boobs in this film, but not even a tasteful butt shot of Vin Diesel. You might want to think about that portion of your fanbase, guys.

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