Most movies that screen after press deadlines should never have made it to screens in the first place. Riddick is a rare exception.
Critic's Grade: B+
“Maybe I went and did the worst thing of all: I got civilized.” So muses Richard B. Riddick early on in the new film bearing his name. He’s ostensibly explaining how he’s come to find himself stranded on a desolate planet with a figurative knife in his back. Really, though, his words read as a self-aware statement on the downward trajectory of the first two entries in writer-director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel’s sci-fi franchise. Where Pitch Black
was a simple story told well, The Chronicles of Riddick
made a sincere but uneven attempt to expand said tale into a fully realized universe full of warring planets and nuanced mythos. Made on a budget five times that of its predecessor, Chronicles
bit off more than it could chew—but still came across as more of an idiosyncratic passion project than most movies carrying a $100 million price tag.
Riddick’s first twenty minutes or so, which feature no dialogue but abound in man-versus-nature imagery, immediately signal that this a welcome return to bare-bones form. Our nocturnal antihero, who made himself known as an animalistic predator in Pitch Black’s very first moments, re-establishes himself as a primitive survivalist via a series of revitalizing acts: braving the elements, evading (and even taming) the wildlife, living off the land. Once a group of bounty hunters touch down on the planet in hopes of claiming him as their prize, he slinks off into his original comfort zone—the shadows—and Riddick begins to feel like a Nightmare on Elm Street movie in which we’re meant to root for Freddy Krueger. Storm clouds loom, venomous creatures spawn and Riddick’s dog lures the would-be hunters out into the open. This is all as awesome as it sounds, if not more so.
Part of the problem with Chronicles (and, to a lesser extent, Pitch Black) was that it never established a credible foe for Riddick, who was constantly being underestimated by disposable baddies whose fates were sealed the moment they opened their mouths. Riddick does something neither of its predecessors bothered to: It puts its antihero into a situation we genuinely believe, however momentarily, he might not be able to get himself out of. This, to say nothing of the brooding tone and claustrophobic interiors, is part of what makes it the high water mark of the series thus far—not to mention the best action film of the year.