STARRING: Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matthew Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista

2013, 119 Minutes, Directed by:
David Twohy

From the start, nothing goes right for antihero and dark-side philosopher Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), which of course means that he's completely in his element.

Left for dead on a barren and rocky planet, Riddick (It's still amusing how tough and enigmatic his last name sounds and how silly it becomes when the "Richard B." is added before it) awakens to a strange reptilian, vulture-like creature nibbling at his finger as he lies splayed out on a rock in the middle of nowhere. After a bite or two, the hand comes to life, grabs the bird-thing by its neck, and strangles it until it is no more, has ceased to be, and is, most assuredly, an ex-reptilian-vulture-thing.

From there, Riddick lets us know that it will be making a course correction after its awful mess of a predecessor. The problem, Riddick says in his narration as he tries to survive the wilderness of this unnamed planet, is that he had become too "civilized." It's time for him to find his animal side again.

It's necessary because he has regained consciousness on hostile terrain after being betrayed and left for dead by the evil Necromongers of The Chronicles of Riddick. The short flashback detailing the reason Riddick is marooned is the only reference to that movie, showing that even writer/director David Twohy would rather move on as quickly as possible from that bloated piece of misguided space opera. Here is a three-act story of survival that puts our hero in peril, turns him into a threat, and then makes him the only chance of salvation for the mercenaries who made the bad decision to try hunting him.

"The main reason the film works is Vin Diesel's larger-than-life persona . . ."

Each section of the film works to varying degrees because the focus remains on Riddick. In the first act, he's a survivor on a Darwinian nightmare of a planet where everything has adapted to kill or scavenge. He encounters a group of dingo-esque beasts that are intent on ripping him apart (he soon steals a pup and raises it as a viciously loyal pet), and when he falls into a pool of undrinkable water, it is only to find himself surrounded by eels.

The climax of the initial escape involves a hideous species of reptile with a tail that looks like a death mask and giant pincers, and that's not the business end of the animal. That part has venomous fangs and a bad attitude, and it's important to mention that he faces all of these foes while suffering from a broken leg that he must set and keep in place with some handy screws.

The longest segment keeps Riddick off-screen for stretches of time, but his creeping movements and sometimes bloody handiwork are always the focus as he attempts—quite successfully—to outsmart and outlast two groups of bounty hunters. The first team is led by Santana (Jordi Mollà), a slimy man who hides his cowardice with an abundance of sadism. Upon arriving on the planet—after Riddick announces his presence there through an emergency beacon in an attempt to get a ship to escape ("Leave one ship and go," he has scrawled in blood on the door to the outpost, "or die here")—Santana frees and subsequently murders a prisoner on his ship to make room for Riddick. Riddick, hiding from view, watches as the woman dies before him, his face a stone suggesting that he has ceased to respond to death and/or that he's merely starting a tally of transgressions to avenge.

Santana and his crew are soon joined by a group of mercenaries led by Johns (Matt Nable), a man who wants Riddick alive to answer some questions about someone in his past. The gag here is how an outnumbered and outgunned Riddick who rarely appears on screen—and then only in flashes or shadow—can get the upper hand on his opponents through trickery, thievery, and a whole lot of sowing of distrust. At one point, Santana cannot even be sure that the key around his neck to an explosive lock has actually been around his neck the whole time.

Riddick's adversaries aren't fleshed out, but they needn't be. They are simply notches on the chart of Riddick's body count or targets for him to threaten or manipulate. We dislike some more than others and are apathetic to the rest. They are not the point. They exist solely as a way to show how much of a presence Riddick is even in his absence, and despite whatever shortcomings he may have as an actor, Diesel's larger-than-life persona in this role of a criminal and murderer who somehow always seems to end up being the most honorable one in the room is significant reason why. One must even grudgingly admire his ability to laugh in what seems to be a scenario of certain death for him and his dedication to keeping as sickening a promise as putting someone's head in a box.

The third part is little more than a fight against creatures that are a bigger threat to both sides than each other, but the momentum of the first two sections carries the film through its relatively anticlimactic final act. The main reason the film works—just enough—is that each section builds off the last while offering an entirely different dynamic—of situation and character. Riddick understands the appeal of its eponymous antihero and embraces his dark, anything-to-survive ways.

- Mark Dujsik



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