Behold, the power of cheese! If, after the perceived failure of The Chronicles of Riddick, you said that there would be another Riddick movie – and a full ten years later to boot – most people would think you were crazy. Even crazier to say that the new film would be demonstrably awesome. The Riddick movies were always a bit of an acquired taste: the first a surprise hit that helped make Vin Diesel a star, the second a big-budget epic that marked his gradual descent. Now the third movie arrives with its intended audience firmly in mind, which is part of what makes it such earthy fun. Hit the jump for my full review.
It succeeds in part because it doesn’t deny its true nature. The Riddick movies belong at the drive-in, or even better, on the cover of those old pulp science fiction magazines of the 1930s. Indeed, some of the shots here could have been pulled whole-cloth from Amazing Stories or the like: an unearthly figure striding across alien landscapes with the promise of great things to come if you only plop down a quarter to buy a copy.
Diesel and director David Twohy opt for a future-primitive approach, stripping their anti-hero away from the trappings of civilization and setting him down on a savage planet with no signs of human life. This new film bears a more than passing resemblance to the original Pitch Black, but frankly that’s more than welcome. Diesel’s ruthless intergalactic criminal feels right at home in the howling wilderness. Let him carve a few bone weapons, give him some seriously deadly monsters to fight, and cut him loose to do what he does.
Pompous and self-important? Of course! But also energetic, imaginative and strangely cheerful in its work. You won’t see better set design or creature concepts than you do here, which makes Diesel’s turn as Conan-of-the-stars a stone groove instead of an indulgent slog.
Things stay sharp when the inevitable band of bounty hunters show up to collect Riddick’s head. Again, the scenario spins its wheels a bit as we sense we’ve seen all this before. But still, Twohy and Diesel find ways to make it fun, mostly with clever little gags and slick moments that indicate more than by-the-numbers thinking. The cast is appropriately hammy and generally acts in support of the star, who loves this character as he does little else and makes that affection show.
Perhaps most importantly, Riddick doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts in an effort to broaden its audience. It wears its R rating proudly on its sleeve, reveling in the violence as part of the total package. In so doing, it avoids the watered-down accusations that dogged Chronicles and more fully embraces the character’s ruthless potential. For fans of the saga, that’s extremely good news, and even newcomers might enjoy themselves if they’re in the mood for a little pulpy space opera. Twohy has always excelled at this kind of material — more so, perhaps, than he gets credit for — and with Diesel to angel the project, Riddick emerges as a surprising success. People have written off both the star and his grim avatar more than once. Yet here he stands, triumphant as always and daring us to ask for more. We certainly haven’t heard the last of Diesel; judging by the film on display here, I wouldn’t write Richard B. Riddick off either.
The Blu-ray itself is a solid package, especially considering the film’s less than overwhelming box office returns. A “director’s cut” is included along with the theatrical version, adding new material (mostly concerning Riddick’s erstwhile nemeses the Necromongers) that suggests plenty more story to be told. Sound and image quality are fantastic, helping the film look its best when the blood starts to flow. Only the extra features are a little pedestrian: five short pieces covering various aspects of the film’s development and a motion comic that resolutely fails to move. It’s a handsome package overall, however, and fans of the series — for whom this entry is expressly intended — are bound to be happy with what they find.