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Review: Riddick

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Full Disclosure as I go into this review: I am a huge fan of Pitch Black, Vin Diesel and Katee Sackoff, so this movie was pretty much a must-see for me. In fact, I broke all of my movie-going rules for seeing this one: I went opening weekend, I went in the evening and I paid full price for it. I wanted to contribute to the opening numbers that much; I really wanted to support one of my favorite franchises to the hilt.

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Another note before I get into it: I went into the movie expecting three things. First, that there would be a lot of action. Second, that I’d get to see Vin Diesel playing his signature badass character hardcore. Third, that the movie would not blow me away in terms of dialogue, plot or anything else other than action scenes.

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My short review, as I gave it to my brother-in-law: “If you want to see lots of fights with aliens, a little bit of nudity and a lot of F-bombs, go see Riddick.” In other words, the movie met all my expectations. I did set them a bit low, but after Chronicles of Riddick, I wasn’t sure that Riddick had the same charm as Pitch Black (if you can call a movie about aliens eating their way through shipwrecked survivors charming). In a way it doesn’t, but it calls back to Pitch Black so hard that in many ways it’s a more worthy sequel than Chronicles. However, Chronicles isn’t ignored either, and they explain how Riddick gets from the end of Chronicles to the beginning of the much-more-like-Pitch Black that is Riddick.

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That is to say that Riddick doesn’t have its issues. The dialogue is clunky at times and the plot has been claimed by others to be a retread of Pitch Black. In many ways both are true, but ultimately, I prefer that to the overblown insanity that was Chronicles. However, the more glaring issue is that the movie treats women horribly. See my synopsis for some details, and I’ll elaborate more on that in a follow up post after I’ve had time to process.

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All in all, Riddick met my expectations and even exceeded them. The script did a great job of being like Pitch Black in all the right ways while building on both movies. It has Riddick being a badass, it has a perky blonde, and it has a bunch of mercs. There’s even a holy man in it, albeit not a carbon-copy of Iman. David Twohy also does some neat effects with the lighting that, while minor, keep in the viewer’s mind the state of Riddick’s own special vision. Riddick delivers more than it promises and is a mostly entertaining movie.

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Very spoilerish thoughts in the spoiler box.

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Synopsis:

Riddick opens with the title character badly injured. He can’t walk and has to perform a bit of home surgery on himself to regain mobility. As he hunts for water, he fends off dog/jackal-like beasts. Putting himself into a hibernating sleep, he dreams and shows the viewer in flashbacks that he let his guard down around Vakko and trusted him long enough to left stranded and injured by one of Vakko’s underlings. I’m sure the fellow went back to claim the crown and ‘keep what he killed’, and I’m just as sure that Vakko’s sword had something to say about that. ,,

After he learns of a nearby grasslands just on the other side of the cliffs he’s been hanging around on, Riddick realizes he’ll have to go through the amphibious monsters that block the path to the savannahs. Riddick catches a baby, milks it for venom and tests it on an orphan dogkal he found. The venom proves to be paralytic; when the puppy recovers, Riddick tests it on himself and slowly builds an immunity to its effects. He leaves the puppy behind in a cage to go fight his way through the pass, only to have the puppy follow. After Riddick kills the two barring his way, he takes the puppy with him.

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Okay, I have been sitting on this joke since the first 30 mins of the movie. So the tag for Pitch Black was “Fight evil with evil.” The tag for Riddick should have been: “Riddick gets a puppy.”

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Time passes, as is shown by the dogkal growing up. Riddick and his pal are getting along well when they find a merc station. Riddick raids it for food and supplies; we see adorable scenes of him playing with the dogkal and generally enjoying his uncomplicated life.

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When a slow-moving storm is spotted approaching, Riddick at first welcomes the rain but his dogkal’s reaction leads him to realize that the amphibious creatures he had so much trouble killing are coming with the rain. He knows that he has to get off-planet. He activates the merc station’s distress beacon and lets it ID him. Then he leaves a message on the door: “Leave one ship behind or die.”

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A merc company run by a bastard named Santana arrives. They are the typical brutish group of thugs and one Bible-totting lad who seems to go along with them because they have the ship. The first thing Santana does is let their female prisoner go—for about a hundred yards before he shoots her in the back. He tells the dismayed Bible-lad that he killed her because he was “getting attached to her”. Since it’s implied strongly that he raped her, we’re meant to hate Santana.

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As his group is settling in, another group arrives, epitomizing the other merc stereotype: organized, well-armed and disciplined. Santana gets pissy about them taking his bounty and won’t even let the other guy introduce himself. The other leader lets Santana take lead, telling him, “I won’t raise a finger until you ask for my help.” Santana convinces the other group to pull a power cell from their ship so Riddick can’t steal it.

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That night, Riddicks kills two of Santana’s men, and a third is caught in a trap and killed in front of Santana. The merc leader goes to the other group and asks to use some “gear. And if there are some men that come with the gear, I would not object.” The group refuses him, and the leader of the group tells Santana that they run the show now. Santana mouths off to Dahl, the only woman on the team (Sackoff), and gets beat down over it. I approved, thoroughly. The merc leader wants 24 hours to find Riddick alive, and then he’ll turn him over to Santana for the bounty. Santana is confused, but the audience gets a clue: the merc leader is named Johns.

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I confess, I squeaked a little in surprised approval at this connection to Pitch Black. For those who don’t remember, Johns was the merc who was trying to take Riddick in for the bounty.

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At this point, the movie is a massive cat and mouse game. The merc team trails the dogkal back to Riddick’s home cave; meanwhile Riddick has come back to the merc camp to spy on Dahl in the shower and find out where the power cells are. He steals both of them and buries them somewhere. Dahl gets to beat up Santana again when he tries to rape her. I approve even more but am very disappointed that we see the lead-up to the rape attempt but not the resultant assbeating.

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Riddick approaches the two teams with an offer: give him one ship and everyone leaves. They have until the rains come to decide. When Riddick starts to leave, Santana tries to shoot him in the back. Riddick’s dogkal attacks Santana and is shot by the merc. Riddick is tranqed by Dahl.

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When he wakes up, Johns is interrogating him about his son’s death. Riddick is only marginally cooperative, flipping between taunting Johns, threatening Santana (“when these chains come off, you’ll be dead within five seconds”), and sexually harassing Dahl. He’s buying time until the rains come; when the creatures attack and Johns realizes how screwed they are, he starts to cut Riddick lose. Santana stops him, but Johns already has gotten his leg free. Riddick kills Santana with that leg and his knife, in an over-the-top way. I do not care, for I approve of Santana’s death at this point.

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I’m aware that that’s exactly what Twohy wants. I do not care if he’s jerking me around like a puppet. The man shot Riddick’s dog and is a murdering, rapist, asshole. The universe is made better by his lack of being in it.

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Riddick, one of Santana’s men (Diaz) and Johns head out to get the power cells. The action scene is pretty well done and ends with Johns riding on the bitch seat behind Riddick after his bike crashes during an impact with Diaz’s bike. The two rehash and argue Johns’s death, with Riddick revealing Johns’s morphine addiction and Johns having a very hard time believing any of it. As they fight, Diaz quietly disables one of the bikes; when Riddick digs up the power cells, Diaz tries to kill him and Johns. Riddick kills him, but Diaz shoots out the remaining bike. Johns and Riddick each strap a cell to their backs and hoof it toward the ships.

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All I could think was I was betting that Riddick wished he’d buried them closer.

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They have to fight the amphibious things on the way back, and Riddick is badly injured. Johns takes his power cell and runs off with both. Riddick has to do self-surgery (again!!!!!) with a hot rock but finds himself alone and outnumbered. He’s fighting a hopeless battle when Johns flies up and shoots out the creatures. Dahl retrieves him from the rock.

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The final scene is Johns in one ship and Riddick in another; they are going their separate ways. Riddick tells Johns that he’s a better man than his son—which is cold comfort to a father, I’m sure. Johns starts to ask where Riddick is going, but declines to actually be told, figuring its better if he doesn’t know.

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Thanks for the review!

I'm a huge fan of Pitch Black, and single-handedly convinced a gaggle of friends to watch it (and thereby convert households to the Church of Diesel) many years ago. I am thrilled to hear that they have gone back to Pitch Black and less over-the-top Chronicles.

I have no idea when I will see it, but I am glad it was not a total bomb, (in theory, it means there will be more!)

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The ending is left wide open for a sequel, of course. I'll not spoil but the conceit that got Riddick to the planet in this movie is the same the movie ends on. As much as I hated Chronicles, I'd like to know what becomes of the Necros in the future, too. However, Riddick seems pretty much done with them so I'll be surprised if we see them again. And a little pleased. Of course, I'd be satisfied with Twohy and Vin Diesel saying, "This is what happened to them" just as much as seeing them again.

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