Judge David Johnson can see in the dark. But only if there's a lamp on nearby.
Rule the dark.
The Riddick saga continues with a third installment that hearkens more towards the first film than the second. That's a good thing.
Facts of the Case
Riddick (Vin Diesel, Fast and Furious 6) awakes in a sun-blasted alien world. His leg is broken and strange creatures prowl, eager to sink their teeth into his delicious bald head. He scrambles, pushes through the pain, and struggles to find refuge on one leg. And so Riddick opens, with a fifteen-minute, dialogue-free kick-off, placing our interstellar anti-hero in the most vulnerable state we've ever seen him.
But to get off this Godforsaken rock he will have to rebuild himself into the Alpha badass he used to be, and connive and kill his way onto his own ship and away from the clutches of bloodthirsty bounty hunters and bloodthirstier monsters.
My feelings towards the Riddick brand are mixed. Pitch Black remains a fun, nasty little surprise, a creature feature that was simple in its designs and effective in its execution. The Chronicles of Riddick? A fat mess of a movie, stupidly eschewing an R rating and forcing a perfectly good B-movie antihero into a mythology-drenched space opera. I watched it once and was bored sideways. I promptly forgot about Riddick.
So here we go, ten years and mountains of Fast and Furious money after Pitch Black, Vin Diesel dons the purple contact lenses once more and journeys back into the void. Appropriately, Riddick returns to its roots, with writer/director David Twohy opting to jettison the high-minded mythology of the Necromongers and whatnot, tightening the focus, and bringing back the monster movie aspect of the series.
Sign me up.
It is largely an intimate indie-feeling affair, with Riddick versus the bounty hunters versus the eventual alien monster invasion. I like Twohy's approach here, specifically with the re-introduction to Riddick. We get some clean-up Necromonger story (featuring a brief guest spot by Karl Urban), but then it's onto this alien world and Riddick attempting to piece together survival. He's basically been marooned, and to escape he needs to call down the galaxy's most vicious mercs.
This sets the stage for the second act, where Riddick systematically menaces these bad-asses. The mercs are colorful and varied; there are two groups, a ragtag band of smart-ass pirates and an orderly militaristic group, led by someone with a direct link to a major character from Pitch Black.
The human-on-human violence eventually gives way to the all-out creature assault. Where the beasts from the first film came out at night, these predators go nuts in the moisture and, with a rainstorm on the way, hilarity ensues. The final third is all monster mayhem.
Twohy's arc is fairly simple to follow and he raises the stakes as the film moves. What's missing, though, is that one set piece that crackles. Isolated monster encounters are cool and all and Riddick's sporadic fight scenes with other mercs lend some pop, but there just isn't anything to point to in the film as a "you've-got-to-see-this" moment. Even the endgame, which I found surprising and, ultimately satisfying, could have benefited from more spectacle.
The production design is imaginative, but heavy on the CGI. Effects largely look good (particularly the alien monsters), though a few bits with the starships and the mercs' hovercrafts were iffy.
Universal offers a good Blu-ray. The 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is eyeball catnip, rendering the alien terrain with clear, stylized perfection. The shiftier visuals wince under the probing HD, but overall this is a true looker. For sound, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround delivers a full experience, ratcheting from a quiet, sound effects-heavy prologue to the pounding rush of the denouement.
Extras: Featurettes on the mercs, the Riddick character and its important to Vin Diesel's professional life, a look at the Riddick mythology, the tech and Dawid Twohy experience. Also: a bonus short called "Blindsided." The director's cut features an alternate ending, as well. I preferred the old ending.
I liked Riddick. But it's no Pitch Black. Thankfully, it's also no Chronicles.
Not guilty. Good Riddick.
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