Warning: Contains some spoilers and liberal use of cursing.
Allow me to preface this rant by stating that I love the Riddick series. Ever since Pitch Black I’ve been totally on board with the character and when The Chronicles of Riddick came out I was one of the few that straight up loved it. I genuinely believe that that film is far more deserving of praise than Star Wars ever was. I’ve seen the Riddick animé, I’ve played both the video games and Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick are the only movies of which I’ve watched all of the DVD extras of, including all of the commentaries. I’ve not watched a single commentary of any other movie.
Plenty of people will think that my taste is surely warped, for while Pitch Black was appreciated, The Chronicles of Riddick was widely panned. To like it at all is a minority view, and to denigrate the holy Star Wars is sure to send legions into a tizzy. But the reason I mention it is to point out just how biased I was going into this film. As soon as the opening bars of Graeme Revell’s score began, I was excited, I was eager. I had already pretty much decided that this would be a great film before we even got to the opening shot, so a fair bit of my rage is due to the massive disappointment that the film turned out to be.
I’ll get into something resembling an actual analysis and review in a bit, but first I’m going to give a rage filled rant as to what pissed me off the most in this film. The bit that had me leaving the cinema wishing the film was a building just so I could burn it to the ground.
Katee Sackhoff is one of the stars of Riddick. I liked that casting, I worried a bit that the role would be a bit too similar to her iconic one as Starbuck (it is), but still, I love Starbuck and Sackhoff is great. Sackhoff plays a lesbian. When this was revealed I thought, that’s quite cool, that opens up quite a few dynamics that should be interesting to see played out. Except instead of exploring interesting dynamics, it seems that the sole reason that she’s a lesbian is so that at the end the movie can say: “Hey look, Riddick’s such an awesome badass that even lesbians want to fuck his manly goodness!” There is literally no reason for Sackhoff’s character to be interested in Riddick. When introduced she views him as scum, he predicts that she’ll want to fuck him later, does an impressive but very brief bit of violence as she watches, then fucks off. She is impressed by Riddick’s violent abilities, but still thinks he’s scum, and seethes a bit about his sex prediction. When Riddick shows up later, at the end of the film, she pretty much just drops her panties for no reason, just because it’s the end of the film and that’s when you get the girl.
There has been absolutely zero development between the characters, there hasn’t even been any contact between them. Literally the only reason that she decides to have sex with him is because he predicted it and the time he predicted came up. One of the awesome things about Riddick is how he can describe things exactly as they’re going to play out before they actually do. A great example of this is the “I’m going to kill you with my teacup” moment in The Chronicles of Riddick. There’s a few moments like that in Riddick, and they’re generally suitably badass. Riddick gets one big prediction wrong though, but that ties into character arcs and developed relationships so it works. Getting that prediction wrong is the core of why Riddick could have been a good movie.
When Riddick makes his prediction about having sex with Doll (Sackhoff’s character), he doesn’t know that she’s a lesbian. If she was straight it would have been fine for Riddick’s prediction to come true, (though still kinda lame writing as there wasn’t any relationship developed between the characters). But since Doll is a lesbian, that means that the prediction coming true involves changing her entire sexual orientation on a whim. Orientations aren’t quite that malleable, Doll is presented as gay, not bisexual, not of fluid orientation. She does not go near guys. She’s as gay as I am straight, and I’m not about to change my orientation on a whim so I don’t accept her changing hers. The only way to approve of that is if you don’t respect someone’s position on their own orientation. If you think for example, that lesbians just need a real man, like Riddick.
Again. Fuck that.
A more realistic scene would have been for Riddick to hit on her in a “I’m cashing in on my prediction” kind of way, only for her to point out that she’s gay. And here’s the thing about Riddick, he totally would have respected that. There’d be a self-deprecating joke about getting two predictions wrong in one day and then he sails off into the fucking sunset like a badass gentleman.
Instead lesbians are presented as an exotic fruit which can simply be plucked from the branches of their silly ideas once they see what a real man looks like.
It can’t be said enough. Fuck that.
Other problems with the film:
– Riddick gets a cute puppy with big, big eyes that are two different colours. Fuck off.
Riddick making an emotional attachment to other characters is a feature of the other films. It’s a big deal and is slowly and intricately developed. Riddick sees a need for companionship as a weakness. The other films saw Riddick bend this conviction as people grew close to him. It was great.
In this Riddick rescues a puppy cos it’s super cute. Fuck off.
– The opening 20 minutes establishes Riddick on a hostile alien planet. Riddick works best in the shadows, an enigma. His thoughts clouded and motivations only revealed when he acts, generally in a violent fashion. Here we get 20 minutes of introspection as Riddick takes stock of who he’s become, who he needs to be, how he got here, how he can get back. When other characters show up Riddick becomes a shadow once more, and the film gets markedly better. Over all the other films and games we’ve gotten to know Riddick despite how little he reveals of himself. He doesn’t work when he bares his soul. Oh also, Riddick spends a fair bit of this time demonstrating his extreme survival skills. Some of them are cool little ideas, but after a while we get the fucking message, you don’t need to see him fixing that leg again.
– In this 20 minutes we also get a brief writing off of the last film. It’s a few minutes which pretty much makes the entire history and mythology of the Riddick universe irrelevant. I understand the desire to move back to the franchise’s more successful roots, but there are plenty of ways to achieve that smaller horror story within the framework established by the last film, instead of just brushing the whole thing under the carpet. Whether you liked the last film or not, the level to which the past is ignored is just fucking stupid.
– Again, wanting to recapture the initial success of Pitch Black makes sense. But they could have taken the idea of stranded in a hostile environment quite a few different ways. But they made a very minor alteration to the last set up. In Pitch Black there were fearsome monsters that only come out at night, in Riddick there are fearsome monsters that only come out in the rain. Add to that the fact that there was coincidentally a fair bit of rain in Pitch Black, and that the rain comes to Riddick at night time, and you’ve basically just set-up the same fucking movie. You’re not exploring similar themes and atmospheres, you’re ripping yourself off, and what’s worse, you’re not even doing a good job of it.
– Being a sci-fi series, Riddick has necessarily used a fair bit of CG over the years, but it’s always been done quite well. Quite a bit of the CG before was seamless, a fair bit of it was ahead of its time. There were cracks on occasion, but generally speaking the Riddick universe is well realised. If anything the weakness was generally to do with some of the practical sets rather than the CG ones. But now, in Riddick, the CG is straight up shit. I’m normally pretty forgiving of CG, but the desert here isn’t at the level of realism as the abandoned earth of Wall.E, and while Wall.E was impressive, it was still a fucking cartoon. The animals, from Riddick’s fucking dog to the supposedly terrifying monsters, look like they’d be more at home in a video game, and not even a good one. And don’t even get me started on the jetbikes.
– Acting. Dave Bautista is in this, and guess what, he’s not very good. He’s not the worst acting meat you’ve ever seen, but still, he just scrapes by. Less forgivable is Matt Nable as Johns. He attacks his role with a fair bit of gusto. He’s not holding back on his performance or anything. But the performance he’s chosen isn’t really very good. And this isn’t a minor problem either. Johns is at the crux of what allows this film to have any kind of development and worth at all. He really needed to be better. Jordi Mollà did a pretty poor job of a fairly big role too, though at least a fair bit of that can be chalked up to the fact that he’s playing such an unlikable character.
– The overall story is pretty shit. It really would have been very easy to make this smaller horror film in the Riddick universe work, but instead it just seems like they made an executive decision to do another Riddick movie and cobbled together the script at the last minute. The pacing is all over the place, it’s extremely derivative of Pitch Black, there’s not a whole lot of character development going on. It’s hard to believe this film was helmed by the same guy who gave us the last movies. I used to be in awe of David Twohy, but this seems like the work of an amateur who, while still retaining Twohy’s visual style, can’t seem to grasp the concept of storytelling. The shots and sets look like David Twohy, but Twohy’s supposed to have a better grasp of how to tell a story. Pitch Black was scary, it was a horror film. Riddick is not even a little nervy. Twohy can come up with some pretty cool shots, but seems smart enough to leave them out if they’re not actually working. There’s quite a few shots in Riddick that just don’t work. Leaping monsters in a jetbike is clearly supposed to be referencing the breathing fire shot in Pitch Black, but that was a cool bit in Pitch Black, this is another shit shot in Riddick.
I’m being harsh because I’m so disappointed. There is actually some cool sequel material floating around in here. The idea of Johns having a personal connection to the events of Pitch Black does create a nice continuity while simultaneously giving an arc and character dynamics to explore in this film which have some resonance through the past. But the whole area was left a little unexplored. Mainly by Matt Nable’s performance, but there’s a few gaps in the script too. Riddick scrapes itself three stars as a sequel but it could have been so much more and once you take into account that horrendous characterisation of lesbianism the only conclusion left is: Fuck you Riddick, and fuck your three stars. You can have one, wear it as a badge of shame.