As a responsible critic, the following review contains no spoilers from either this film nor the other films in the series. Any mention of plot or specifics remain solely that of basic details revealed in production synopses (ie: “back of the box” text) or film trailers.
Riddick, the character, has identity issues. No one writer seems to know exactly what his personality is. Despite this schizophrenic disconnect, one consistency always allowed my brain to accept it without question: Vin Diesel. Few actors can truly say they are the only one who can portray a specific character, but no one else can play Riddick. As long as Vin was in, I was in, no matter what was thrown at me. That’s why it’s so off-putting that the pathetic story and morose dialogue of Riddick has moments where even Vin Diesel can’t make me forget that what I’m seeing on screen doesn’t act or speak like Riddick. Thankfully he sure as hell looks like him and with great art direction, crazy creatures, and the right blend of action, it works well to redeem the obvious weaknesses.
Set immediately following the mass scale ending to Chronicles of Riddick – which no plot was going to be able to follow successfully – a lazy reason finds Riddick yet again alone and near death on a desolate planet. Riddick deals with the planet’s minutia, a random story is told, the credits roll. That’s about as much interest you should have in the story because it is as disposable as a Dixie cup and to get into details may very well conjure some deja vu from the previous films. There are about 15 characters in the movie, all mercenaries save for Riddick, and they come into play at some point as well. If the plot, or the way I handled it, is annoying then just wait until you hear the terrible dialogue. It literally made me grimace at times, especially when I see actors I know are up on their action movie talk like Diesel or Katee Sackoff (Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica) are forced to say such stupid things. People don’t talk this way, not even dumb sci-fi mercs, and when put up against two other feature films, an animated film, and two video games it’s saddening that this has the worst dialogue of them all. It’s not just mechanical pointless banter either, some of the lines are so brash or immature I wouldn’t imagine anyone that isn’t a young male under thirteen would even write them. I was shocked to see that director David Twohy (who also assisted in penning the scripts of the previous two movies) was the lead writer in the credits.
Fortunately movies like Riddick don’t need to depend on plot or dialogue to remain interesting, and it’s a good thing because the action sequences and basically any moment where no one speaks at all saved me from walking out of the film. Riddick holds up against it’s predecessors with high pressure situations, brutal animalistic fights, and thanks to the R-rating plenty of blood to accompany it. Not only that but the unnamed planet from the film is a living, breathing world as best demonstrated by the opening ten minutes of the film. While Twohy’s writing has definitely come into question, his vision for how the movie is to look and flow seems as keen as ever. Not only that but the creatures that inhabit this world are more fleshed out and numerous than any we’ve seen in the films yet. At his base Riddick has always claimed to be more animal than man and it’s best demonstrated with the wildlife he is constantly interacting with in the first act. By the end of the film I was truly disappointed with how it played out, but the ride had pumped me up enough to almost not care. Almost.
You may recognize some faces here or there, but frankly no one is a well known actor other than Diesel save the aforementioned Sackoff and I’m wondering if her fan base is slimmer than I think. Everyone plays into their roles just fine, but the bad accents, exaggerated personalities, and Sackoff’s specific behavior is likely due to the director’s lead. It looks like community theater at times with each actor trying to be more over-the-top than the other – after all, these are all hardcore mercs, right? – but it doesn’t come off as real. I also hated the way women were portrayed. Not only is her character’s named Dahl, which is a pun Riddick can’t help but use a couple of times, but she is really the only female in the movie. One other throw away character appears to have been a sex slave as her only purpose and the nameless concubines from the beginning aren’t allowed to speak or wear clothes. Furthermore as the only female character the writers just couldn’t help blatantly making her a teenager’s fantasy – she’s a lesbian (but hints at possibly sleeping with the right guy), she’s constantly in low cut shirts, and of course decides to take a topless sink shower in which almost nothing happens aside from seeing her breasts. As a gamer who doesn’t really care all that much about political correctness I don’t really find these factors offensive (although I didn’t think Sackoff would accept a role like this), I just find her character so completely unbelievable that it deters from my ability to get into the film. Even the better developed characters like Riddick, which I must stress has had two full movies and more than four writers to assist in his background, are only fleshed out to show and tell us things about him anyone who’s seen the previous films already knows.
Needless to say I was disappointed in what I hoped would be a solid third addition to this eclectic franchise. It got back to basics with the Riddick character, it had Vin Diesel, and it was rated R, that’s really all I asked for. Unfortunately the dialogue and recycled plot spoiled it all. No joke, this film could be sued for copyright violation if it wasn’t stealing from the other two movies in its franchise. Thankfully the action that makes up at least half of the film swoops in to save the day and when the dust settles it’s almost a zero sum game. In short, if you always found Riddick movies to have bad plot/dialogue and are just in it to see Vin Diesel be a badass, then you will not be disappointed. If you instead found yourself focusing on the intricate way Pitch Black dealt with the juxtaposition of good and evil in human beings or Chronicles of Riddick questions if actions intended to protect instead lead to worse danger, then you’re going to struggle with Riddick. No substance, no subtlety, just blatant swears, violence, and boobs, which some studio head probably thought would be perfect for a movie like this.
Final Score: 2 out of 5