There are major spoilers in this post, so if you plan on seeing Riddick (and flawed as it is, I would still recommend it) then you should wait to read this review until after watching it.
First let me say that I love the Riddick character and the fictional world that he inhabits. This is the third film of the franchise series. Vin Diesel, who is an avid D&D player, has essentially been a co-creator for the franchise along with writer-director David Twohy. I eagerly drank in Chronicles of Riddick as my own introduction to the series (by which I mean I saw Chronicles prior to Pitch Black)–and in fact I continue to like it better than its better critically received predecessor. Vin Diesel mortgaged his financial future to get Riddick made, which increases my support. I’m a big fan of the mythos that Twohy and Diesel have created for Riddick, with its mercs, assassins, Necromongers, Elementals, Furyans, and the UnderVerse. And for my money, the Riddick character manages to achieve epic status as one of the most evocative anti-heroes in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that I have ever seen. So as a viewer I was rooting for this picture every step of the way.
Riddick was made on a budget of a mere 34 million, which is meager by today’s standards for such a product. But the CGI looks great and all of the action choreography is well performed. It is, for me, a fine effort overall and a success as a film. But the story is severely undermined by the literally the film’s last couple of minutes. The heavily strained ending–which is basically… just silly–is not enough to ruin the overall experience of the film for me. But what in the world were Twohy and Diesel thinking?
The story will make more sense to those who have seen Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick. In the preceding film Riddick became the nearly all-powerful overlord of the Necromongers, a civilization with powers derived from a connection to a dimension of reality called the UnderVerse in which the souls of the dead meet their karmic reward (good or bad) and empower those who slew them in life. The Necromongers practice a faith based on the connection with the UnderVerse. Necromongers can ultimately achieve a fully realized state of “Transcendence” as such. “You keep what you kill” is the Nercomonger credo. And thus Necromongers lay waste to all the worlds that they find on this account. Riddick, who is something like an assassin simply for the sake of survival rather than by contract, belongs to a race known as the Furyans who came from the planet Furya. Furyans have powers that rival or surpass those of even advanced Necromongers, and are thought to pose the only real threat to the Necromonger agenda. Most of the Furyans have however been destroyed by the Necromongers, and Riddick is one of the few left known to exist. As a highly successful assassin Riddick had a large bounty on his head and was sought by “mercs” or mercenaries. In Chronicles of Riddick, he is eventually hounded down by the Lord Marshal (supreme Necromonger overlord) and of course they face off at the end. Obviously Riddick was the victor. So for a time Riddick uncomfortably assumes control of the Necromonger empire (he is not a believer in their faith).
This third film of the series starts with Riddick being tricked by the second in command of the Necromongers, Vacco (played by Karl Urban), and deposited on what Riddick believed was going to be Furya when he stepped off the ship–but is actually just a world that serves as a place to kill Riddick off. This no-name, backwater planet is inhabited by savage and hostile life forms. Riddick is left for dead with a fully fractured shin, which ostensibly owing to his extraordinary Furyan constitution he is able to fully recover from after setting. Riddick must however survive on this alien world in the spirit of such films as Jeremiah Johnson (and, at least in spirit, I would add Man in the Wilderness) and Cast Away, two films that Twohy and Diesel note served as inspiration,
And the film handles the survival (adapt or die) aspect well. (I’m a fan of the reality TV show Survivorman with Les Stroud, so I found this part engrossing.)
The next phase of the film is initiated by Riddick discovering a mercenary base on the planet, and from there signaling his presence and attracting mercs for his bounty in order to provide a means off of the planet. (There’s apparently a new bounty on him? Huh? This makes no sense since Riddick should be presumed dead.) Two rival merc bands show up and the tensions between them is pretty well developed. The merc characters and performances are good. (Standouts: Jordi Mollà as Santana, Katee Sackhoff as Dahl, and Dave Bautista as Diaz.) The mercs manage to capture Riddick. Eventually everyone is forced to combine forces to survive the onslaught of a terrestrial threat. This is all developed in an entertaining enough way.
So far, so good. However… the film closes with Riddick’s nemeses throughout the story doing a one-eighty and inexplicably rescuing him when he is facing almost certain death. And then, if that wasn’t jarring enough Riddick seduces a lesbian into having sex with him (or at least clearly signalling that she is eager to)! Evidently, Riddick’s sheer animal magnetism and irresistible (20+!) charisma must have somehow won them over at the last instant.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any other conclusion that one can draw strictly in terms of how Riddick’s relationship with the survivors develops throughout the film. Otherwise, one is forced to fill in the gaps with imaginary guesses, making things up that try to explain it.
At the film’s end, of the three mercenary survivors in addition to Riddick each has motivations that could developed to make the rescue plausible. The mercenary leader Johns is motivated solely by the pursuit of information about whether his son survived a past incident that Riddick was involved with; and then how his son met his death when Riddick tells that he didn’t make it. Perhaps Johns reflects that despite Riddick’s caustic and brutal honesty about his son’s demise he nevertheless feels he owes Riddick a debt for sharing the information that Johns so desperately sought. Maybe also Johns feels indebted for Riddick not killing Johns any number of times when Riddick easily could have as they fought their way together back to the base. That is, maybe Johns demonstrates that there can be honor among thieves.
Whether Dahl and Riddick actually engage in sex immediately following the rescue is basically immaterial since she clearly communicates that she wants to; whereas she is a self-identified lesbian who unequivocally states at one point that she “doesn’t do men.” Perhaps Dahl (and the sexist associations of her name doesn’t help the situation at all) isn’t really lesbian, communicating that she was strategically in order to keep the otherwise all male merc crew she belongs to at bay. Or perhaps Dahl is more accurately bi-sexual (and very discriminating). But at least throughout the film she does seem to express a soft spot for Riddick. (She at least indicates support not killing him in a key scene if for no reason other than he is a highly effective ally in pursuit of survival.) But in all events, Dahl’s attraction to Riddick simply isn’t developed enough in the course of the film to warrant offering herself sexually to Riddick at the end.
And then there is the emotionally innocent character Luna, the youth whose fervent faith is oddly tolerated and accepted even if no one respects his skills. Perhaps he shares a religious vision of some sort that helps tip the scale.
Maybe Dahl and Luna exhort Johns to rescue Riddick, and it is enough to shift his conscience into gear. But these are the sorts of things that we have to dream up as possibly happening out of our view that explain why Johns would rescue Riddick.
Anyway, this all takes place within about a minute right at the end. And until then the movie was working like a charm, at least for me.
So again, for me, it is really only the stupid ending–which lasts only a couple minutes–that puts a damper on the whole experience. If the ending had been more satisfactorily executed I might have given this film 4 of 5 stars. But as it stands it barely makes 3.