This week I’m taking a break from the run of “perfect/near perfect” genre movies to review—by request from a reader—one that just missed the cut and maybe deserves to be in the list. Starting in 1990, thanks to writer/director David Twohy, we were introduced to a new “hero” character (with all the characteristics of an antihero) that was going to become as popular “back in The Day” as (maybe) Deadpool is today. Part of the reason is the character Richard B. Riddick: escaped convict, murderer, and ultimate survivor; and the other part is the gravel-voiced actor in the role: Vin Diesel. Just as Deadpool probably wouldn’t be as popular with any other actor than Ryan Reynolds, so Vin Diesel is crucial to the success of Riddick.
For those of you who missed last week’s review of Pitch Black (the name is a link to the review), this is the third movie in the adventures of Riddick, not the second. There was a rumoured fourth movie (Riddick 4) supposedly coming out last year, but rumours are undependable. There are also various short animations which fill in a few blanks. So in case you’re wondering about live-action, here are the movies starring Riddick, in order of appearance: Pitch Black (2000); The Chronicles of Riddick (2004); and Riddick (2013). Although my friend Miles Teves (see interview in Amazing Stories® print issue) was the designer for the costumes and helmets in the second movie, that movie was confusing and didn’t satisfy me, at least… plus, like Alien 3, it had a death of a significant character that really ticked off fans. Riddick, however, although made 9 years later, follows hot on the heels of the second movie in terms of timeline.
Even if you’ve not seen Chronicles, you can come into this movie knowing little about Riddick, because there are a few brief flashback scenes (Figure 3) that give you some information about what happened between Pitch Black and now. It’s not necessary for me to go into that now, because it has little bearing on the the timeline of this movie. Suffice it to say that Riddick was marooned on this world on purpose. He was led to believe he would be taken to his home world, Furya, but was left here to die. Ha! He may be the ultimate survivor, IMO. (My wife, the B&T Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, says “he takes too many chances”… but that’s how he survives!)
As Riddick opens, we see a desert world, with towers of stone, and an alien birdlike forms circling in the sky—part bird, part reptile—to land when it spots something protruding from the dirt. It is a human hand, but to the bird-thing it looks edible. It tentatively bites, tugging at one of the fingers, and when nothing happens it edges in to take a bigger bite… then the hand, lightning-fast, closes around the bird-thing’s neck and chokes the life out of it. The narration, in Riddick’s voice comments that “…this ain’t nothin’ new.”
After the credits, we find that Riddick’s ankle is twisted, and he is otherwise injured; how he straightens his ankle is nothing short of brutal. He is in an area of desolation, of pools of mostly non-potable water, some steaming, and vertical outcroppings of rock; he finds a crevice and jams his injured foot into it, then abruptly straightens it. If you’re new to Riddick, you have learned that he doesn’t let pain—anticipated or real—stop him from doing what he thinks is necessary for survival. We also, during this “rest and survival” period, find out what happened with the Necromongers from Chronicles of Riddick (Figure 3).
Besides the unfriendly bird-lizard scavengers haunting the skies of this barren world, he also finds other inimical life. A certain kind of life, with poisonous venom, lives in the pools, and waits to ambush anything passing; it has a tail with a false face to distract prey (Figure 4), but the poison in its mouth is its main weapon. During the months it takes Riddick to heal from his wounds, he discovers this creature preying on the unwary local canids. He rescues a young one whose parents were killed, and raises it/domesticates it to become his doglike companion. He also discovers that beyond this place is another part of the planet with potable water, some scraggly plant life and—wonder of wonders—a bounty-hunters’ shed/sanctuary, similar to the cabins set up in frontier areas on Earth with supplies and the like. And an emergency beacon!
He knows the beacon will identify him, and bring bounty hunters who want the big reward that’s certainly on his head. And he will get a ride home! (He also figures on getting more than one bounty hunter, so as to have a choice of ships.) The first group he gets is a group of six, led by Santana (Jordi Mollà), and including big guy Diaz (Dave Bautista). Santana has come with a box to put Riddick’s head in, as he’s been promised double the reward if he only brings back Riddick’s head. The group takes over the station, putting what has to be the most useless piece of electronic gear—the Cyclops—outside to watch the perimiter. It has a screen on which the people can see what it’s found, but it gets confused easily. Santana removes one of the power nodes from his ship so that Riddick can’t steal the ship while their backs are turned (or, more likely, they’re too reduced in numbers to fend him off). He locks the node in a cabinet, and puts an explosive bolt over the lock, keeping the key on a chain around his neck (and the combination in his brain). Riddick leaves a note inside the staition: “Leave me one ship and you can go.” Diaz says to Santana, “The stupid bastard can’t count. We’ve only got one ship.”
But as I said, Riddick’s been thinking ahead; he knows of at least one bounty hunter who will follow him till Hell freezes over, as the saying goes. And that hunter shows up next with his crew of five, which includes Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) and Moss (Bokeem Woodbine). The leader is Boss Johns (Matt Nable), the father of Johns the bounty hunter from Pitch Black, who is convinced that his son was killed by Riddick, although we know that Riddick didn’t actually do the deed; Johns was killed by the dark-dwelling flyers that infested that two-sun planet. The two teams will be competing to see who gets Riddick: Santana wants just his head, though Johns wants him alive—at least long enough to learn how his son died.
But Riddick knows something that the others don’t, thanks to his Furyan eyes. (We had thought in Pitch Black that he had an illegal procedure done in prison “for twenty menthol Kools” to “strip” his eyes so he could see in the dark. In this movie, it appears that that wasn’t true; Furyans can already do that.) He knows there’s a major storm on the horizon, one that will soak the ground. And he’s already seen what happens when the ground gets wet. Echoing something he said in Pitch Black, Riddick tells the bounty hunters “It ain’t me you got to worry about.”
Once you’ve seen Riddick, if you have already seen Pitch Black, you have a good enough grounding in Richard B. Riddick to tackle The Chronicles of Riddick. That particular movie is long, and perhaps confusing, taking place in several locations: a prison planet with extremely variable temperatures, a different planet, and in space with the army of the Necromongers, who travel in an armada from world to world like jihadists, killing or converting the whole population of every planet they land on to their odd religion… a worship of death and the “underverse,” and a belief that life is inimical to the universe. They also have a “kill it and you keep it” philosophy that plays a big part in Riddick’s adventures.
Chronicles has some excellent acting in it, by such people as Judi Dench, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton (and the aforementioned Karl Urban), but it’s nowhere near as straightforward a movie as this one. And it misses the “perfect movie” designation by a wide margin for that reason. Still, it’s worth watching if only to fill in a few blanks.
David Twohy and Riddick were, according to IMDB, bankrolled by Vin Diesel himself when a bank loan was slow in coming, so it may be that there will be a fourth movie in the live-action series. If so, I hope it lives up to the expectations that have been raised by this one which, I think, is equal to Pitch Black as a pure SF movie. So I highly recommend the first and third in this series and, to a lesser degree, the second. I wait with bated breath for a fourth.
Comments? Comment here or on Facebook if you want to. All comments are welcome! (Just keep it polite, okay?) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!