This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Twohy’s Pitch Black in no small part made his reputation as a director to keep tabs on, and is also the first major warning Vin Diesel gave of his impending assault on the A-list. His surly anti-hero Riddick remains his best performance and most interesting character, so talk of a reprisal was inevitable. After seeming to have been in production for a decade and a slight delay in a Transatlantic holding pattern The Chronicles of Riddick has arrived. It wasn’t really worth the wait.
Five years after the events of the previous film Ridders is dodging bounty hunters on a snowy wasteland of a planet on the outer edges of civilisation, although he’s a little upset to discover that the price on his head comes courtesy of the holy man he saved in his prior outing. Tracking him down, he finds the reason Imam (Keith David) wants his presence – Necromongers are rapidly approaching his homeworld of Helios Prime.
This, as you’ve no doubt already gathered, is a Bad Thing. As a race these Gothic influenced miscreants charge their way across the galaxy, converting any denizens of planets they happen across to their beliefs or killing them outright should they refuse. They hope to ‘unify’ the human race by overwhelming numbers and force of arms, clearly influenced by the ‘conquest’ winning condition of Sid Meyer’s Civilisation rather than the ‘establish a colony on Mars’ one. They crusade in the general direction of ‘The Underverse’ where something interesting but ultimately barely tangential to the contents of this film may or may not happen, as is often the case with vague prophesies. Only one man has been to the gates of whatever the hell this Underverse is supposed to be, the Necromonger leader, their Lord Marshal (Colm Feore). I assume that’s a honorific rather than a clever name, but as he seems to be otherwise lacking in nomenclature let’s call him Jessie. For reasons wisely glossed over his trip has given Jessie the ability to move exceptionally quickly a la Agent Smith/Jones/McBain/etc from The Matrix and the ability to steal souls a la Mortal Kombat‘s Shang Tsung. Let’s pretend we’re impressed.
Anyhow, Riddick rather wisely decides that this isn’t his fight before diving straight into it, because the movie would be something of a non-event if he didn’t. After beating up a few of these Necromonger chappies and having a brief word with Jessie, he makes a sharp exit allowing himself to be captured by a group of mercenaries lead by a fellow called Toombs (a fellow called Nick Chinlund). Shipped off to a lazily named prison planet (it’s really hot, so it’s called Crematoria, such is the level of the screenplay) he meets up with the little lad/ladette Jack from the previous film, who since embraced the fact she’s actually female in the shape of shapely Kyra (Alexa Davalos). They break out, they find out Jessie is responsible for the extermination of Riddick’s race, they go after him, they win, we leave the cinema. The film shows about as much enthusiasm for the telling of its story as I just did in summing the blasted thing up.
For most of it’s time with us The Chronicles of Riddick feels like a mediocre 80’s action movie with mediocre 90’s computer graphics and precious little reason to exist in the 00’s. There’s nothing wrong with aping an 80’s action movie, in fact when faced with the likes of S.W.A.T. it’s something we’re oft left crying out for. However, what made the best of the old-school actioners so memorable was a certain sense of silliness at how over the top it all was, step forward Commando as the alpha and omega example. Even the space epic it’s trying desperately and in vain to supplant, Star Wars had the good sense to include leftfield nonsense like camp robots and highly trained, armed to the teeth Imperials being systematically destroyed by teddy bears with middling sized sticks to alleviate what could otherwise become a rather pompous atmosphere. The Chronicles of Riddick takes none of this on board, and instead opts to be Very Grave and Very Serious and Very Full Of It’s Own Self Importance, with a net result of it all seeming Very Riddickulous, to use to the obligatory pun as required by law in every review,
When faced with nigh on two hours of Necromonger sub-commanders like Vaako (Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings‘ Eomer) wandering around saying things like ‘Obedience without question. Loyalty until Underverse come’ without the slightest hint of irony somehow the overwhelming earnesty of everyone forms a double negative and becomes overwhelmingly silly. This is a pity, as in the precious few moments Diesel in particular is allowed to have a bit of fun with his character it’s really rather good. Witness the movie’s only unqualified success of a scene, where Riddick kills a threatening prison inmate with only his teacup, having first cleared up a crucial mistake in thinking it might be a soup cup. Sadly these moments are fleeting, bright spots in a dark weave. It mistakes fun for gravitas, and while the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive The Chronicles of Riddick is trying so desperately to be a Big Dumb Action Movie at the same time as a serious slice of science fiction that it rather loses it’s way and falls between the two stools, working neither as a rip roaring adrenaline fuelled affair or as an exploration of a rich alternate universe.
That last sentence is somewhat critical, especially when the studio is trying so desperately to do a Matrix on us. While the Stateside box-office failure of the film is likely to put the kybosh on many plans, there’s already an animated feature, a release of Pitch Black with The Chronicles of Riddick branding and an X-Box game telling of Riddick’s escape from Butcher Bay prison prior to the first movie. It’s not likely to go much further, because the lynchpin of all of these is this movie, and it’s simply not strong enough nor is the universe of Riddick intriguing enough to warrant further exploration for all but the most devoted genre fan.
With performances from a relatively obscure cast that isn’t so much bad as it is misguided, some iffy CG and a bizarre decision to show many of what could have been spectacular fight scenes through a camera angle apparently inspired by a jackhammer trying to burrow through the Earth to Australia, there’s a tragic sense of missed opportunity all the way throughout The Chronicles of Riddick that’s more frustrating than it is worthy of derision. You can’t doubt the good intentions of everyone involved, but if the tone of the piece was a few shades lighter that pitch black (did you see what I did there? Clever, ain’t I?) it might have met with more critical and commercial success. At the moment though, it looks like the Vinster may have picked the wrong franchise to attach his wagon to.