'Riddick' Review: Vin Diesel, Low-Fi Effects, Power Space Franchise

'Riddick' Review: Vin Diesel, Low-Fi Effects, Power Space Franchise

We last saw the escaped convict Riddick (Vin Diesel with cat eyes) enthroned before an army of planet-hopping Necromongers.

Having killed the Necromonger Lord Marshall, Riddick became their leader–per their “keep what you kill” code of governance.

That was in 2004.

Almost a decade later, Riddick returns. As Diesel told MTV in 2008, “Everyone knows I love the Riddick character and I’m always working on it. It just takes five years to make another one because [director] David Twohy and I are so precious about it.”

Of course, Universal’s trepidation to sink $100 million into potentially another box office failure, like The Chronicles of Riddick was, might have had something to do with the new film Riddick taking its time to reach movie houses.

Riddick’s opening scenes seem to allude to this fact – Diesel in voice-over notes that he got careless, soft, and that he had to get back in touch with his animal side. So in 2013, he’s finally getting back in touch.

Set not long after the events of its predecessor, Riddick picks up our title character on his quest toward self-rediscovery. During an attempt to get back to his home planet, Furya, Riddick is betrayed by a Necromonger lieutenant, the ambitious Vaako (Karl Urban). Vaako’s underling attacks Riddick and leaves him for dead on a forsaken world.

Riddick has plenty of time to get in touch with his animal side now. Early on he battles Alien-like monsters (Mud Demons) and jackals in his search for water. After adopting and raising a young jackal pup, he escapes from the most rugged part of the planet and finds an abandoned mercenary outpost. Using the outpost’s communications system he sends a signal into the ‘verse: I’m still alive. Come get me. With a bounty on his head, the hunters come. Cue the action.

Riddick is most refreshing for its reminder that sci-fi movies don’t need nine-figure budgets to succeed. With limited finances and a truncated shoot time, Twohy and Diesel still deliver a rugged action-adventure picture in the vein of their previous outings.

Twohy’s script–and Diesel’s growled dialogue–are hokey in the B-movie style that makes Snake in Escape from New York such an awesome character. Diesel and Twohy surely know their movie is a million miles from the digital precision of Star Trek or the heavily documented universes of Marvel and DC characters. It’s a fact they’ve generally embraced.

Riddick features average CGI and generally good acting, but the personalities of the characters and the imaginative world are what most stand out. Let’s be honest though: it’s really just about Diesel showing off his character. When one particularly annoying merc gets killed off the audience I watched with erupted into cheers, laughter and applause. That’s what the Riddick series is about, and it’s what episode three delivers.

It’s no wonder the term “diesel” has become synonymous with “cool.” Speaking of Diesel – he’s had the Riddick character down for a while now, and the latest installment simply cements it. Always relaxed under pressure, with computer-generated ice eyes he stares down man and beast alike. His action is punctuated by swagger–his stride, the way he rides hovercraft bikes. He always responds with a snide retort.

The supporting cast is mostly a collection of stereotypes: a butch lesbian warrior named Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), cocksure Santana (Jordi Mollà), the seasoned veteran Boss Johns (Matt Nable). No one stands out as exceptional or appalling, and they allow Diesel to showcase Riddick against a variety of foes.

Aside from that, Riddick is mostly generic spaceship sets and a lot of CGI. Considering the cheap price tag it all looks pretty good and avoids that low budget feel. The strange beasts and backdrops; daring, brutal fights for survival; and crass bounty-hunting mercenaries all fit nicely within the established Riddick ‘verse and demonstrate that Diesel and Twohy know their series.

Like its title character, it still has a lot of life left in it.