I used to attempt a Vin Diesel impression, but it sounded like a mix of Sylvester Stallone with a little bit of Elmer Fudd. "You'wr nawt afwaid of duh dahk, are you? Huh huh huh. Huh huh huh."
Even though it's been almost ten years since The Chronicles of Riddick, Vin Diesel fought pretty hard to make another. First, he worked out a deal with Universal to get the rights to Riddick for himself. He owns the character now. Then, he was so determined to get a film made that he leveraged his house in order to get it done. I have to credit Diesel for taking the risk. I hope it works out for him.
The good news is that Riddick is a significant improvement over Chronicles, and it brings back the style and formula for what made Pitch Black a popular film. It's broken up into three distinct acts that feel like several mini-stories. The first act is pretty kick ass and was my favorite part of the film. It takes the time to catch us up with what happened to Riddick after the events of Chronicles. There's even a cameo from Karl Urban. After an attempt to find his home planet, he's betrayed by the Necromongers and left for dead on a hostile planet. Horribly injured, Riddick nurses himself back to health while fighting off the planet's various creatures. Outside of some narration from Riddick, there's a minimum of dialog. It's like a sci-fi Rambo survival story. Also, a lot of work went into the look of the planet and creatures. If the whole movie had been like this, I think I would have been happy.
Eventually, Riddick knows he's going to have to get off planet. He finds an old outpost and activates a beacon. Two groups of bounty hunters arrive to bring him in. The first group, led by a man named Santana (Jordi Mollà), is there to collect the bounty. Satana is kind of a douche, so you know things probably wont work out well for him. The second group, led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable), is after Riddick for a different reason, and has a tie to Riddick's past and the events of Pitch Black. Riddick isn't going to make it easy for them, staying in hiding and picking off the mercs, while giving them the option of leaving him a ship or he'll kill them all. The dialog during this part varies from cheesy, eye-rollingly-awful, to funny, to rapey when directed towards Dahl, played by Katee Sackhoff, who's basically doing Starbuck again, which is fine by me.
Finally, the third act is basically Pitch Black 2 where monsters start attacking, and Riddick seems to be the most effective guy at killing them. He's been through all this before.
Another thing Vin Diesel did was fight for an R rating and that's another area where the film worked. Sure there's gratuitous nudity, thank you again Katie Sackhoff, but the rating allowed them to not pull any punches. There are some great and inventive kills as Riddick picks off some of the bounty hunters that rival any horror film. I mentioned the dialog earlier, but it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a room full of egos and testosterone, meaning lots of f-bombs. I also liked that they didn't go out of their way to make Riddick a good guy. He's a killer and the very definition of an anti-hero. I think that got lost in the last film and a weaker rating wouldn't have helped convey that here.
The effects were very good in parts, and very bad in others. They seemed a few years behind, but considering Riddick had a modest budget for a sci-fi movie, they did a decent job. Overall, I have to credit writer/director David Twohy for getting the most out of the budget and giving us some entertaining action. I enjoyed the pace of the film and the overall style. However, I have to point out that once again one of the climatic scenes featured the same poorly edited fighting that's been plaguing recent films. This one was even a little more disappointing considering it featured Diesel and Dave Bautista, who are two guys you want to see duke it out and you know can handle the physicality. It's a missed opportunity to give us something memorable, and instead it's just another run-of-the-mill fight scene.
Riddick is a return to the style and roots of what made people like the character in the first place. If you were a fan of Pitch Black, but disappointed by Chronicles, then you should be pleased with Riddick. The dialog and special effects can be a little rough in parts, but overall it's an entertaining film and a late-Summer bright spot in what's been a somewhat disappointing movie season. I definitely recommend it as a matinee.
3 out of 5 (Death Stars)