years ago, a little movie called Pitch Black snuck
up on audiences. Featuring rising actor Vin Diesel as a
criminal almost as frightening as the creatures he had to
face in order to get off-planet, the movie was sharp, fast
and fun. Diesel's Riddick certainly looked like a good vehicle
for more adventure, and a sequel was a certainty.
that sequel developed, Hollywood became enamored of the
concept of the epic trilogy, forgetting that not every character
and every director really has the chops for such a thing.
And so we end up with the same team, writer/director David
Twohy and producer/star Diesel, in the deep end of the pool,
paradoxically fish out of water.
Chronicles of Riddick still has a few things going for
it, mainly Diesel and his attitude. But from the title alone,
you know that the pretension level has kicked up a notch
or five, something Riddick himself would disdain.
time, the threat isn't some unknown predatory species that
admittedly we'd seen before. Instead, it's a galactic empire
called The Necromongers (probably spelled with a "K" for
added mysterious Koolness). Twohy flounders horribly with
this concept. So thinly drawn are The Necromongers, that
it's just as likely that a fifth grade boy read Jack Kirby's
New Gods, watched the second season of Starblazers,
caught Dune on Sci Fi then went off to make up his
own story to tell his friends. Hey, I've been there. But
I didn't spend over a hundred million to do it.
should the studio have forced Twohy to do it, either. When
he gets down to what made Pitch Black work, there
are moments of real pleasure. Riddick has spent five years
on an ice planet avoiding the authorities, whoever they
may be. (Evidently, that shifts around a lot.) When we first
see him, he's Yeti-like, jumping over cracks in the ice
avoiding mercenaries looking for a high bounty. If not quite
exhilarating, it's still a sequence that shows that Twohy
does have a comfort level and can still throw up good action
as Riddick picks off his pursuers one by one.
it's not the main plot. As the narration by Dame Judi Dench
broadly hints, Riddick is the subject of prophecy. Only
he can take down the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers (Colm
Feore), a super-powered religious zealot that has been to
the edge of the Underverse and back. Because of that journey,
he is half alive and half …something else. (The plot plays
it loose, despite the obvious inference from the name of
- a legendary character whose coming was foretold? Please.
He's the kind of guy whose exploits are talked about with
a mixture of craven admiration and sweaty fear in seedy
bars, not inscribed in stone and cast in bronze. Underneath,
Twohy knows it, too, even if Diesel doesn't.
these Necromongers go about conquering the Universe before
journeying to the Underverse, forcing every survivor of
their attacks to convert to worshiping …something else with
an admittedly nifty-looking neck-piercing mindwipe. Why
do they do this, if the Lord Marshal has already been there?
It all comes back to the Prophecy, which Dench, as the "elemental"
Aeron, reduces to a mathematical calculation just in case
we don't buy into the sense of wonder we're supposed to
have. A race called the Furians will destroy the Lord Marshal,
so he's trying to get them first. Guess who the last surviving
you said Nathan Lane, points for imagination.
the movie could be impressive, if Twohy's production design
didn't tip its entire hand in the first ten minutes. Every
image, every piece of set, repeats things from the beginning,
just occasionally sliding in scale. Worse, The Necromonger
sense of aesthetics is pretty much limited to a vaguely
affected Twohy's direction, too, because even every fight
scene has the same forced iconic shot of Riddick leaping
down from above on a hapless foe. Those foes, by the way,
always deserve what they get, begging the question:
just how "evil" can Riddick be if he only kills scumbags?
Even Dench's narration says that by conscripting Riddick,
the forces of relative good are using one evil to fight
another. Yet he has a soft spot for a foster daughter (Alexa
Davalos) picked up in Pitch Black, grudging respect
for an Imam (Keith David) and a love of kittens, albeit
huge armored man-eating ones.
Chronicles of Riddick wants to be grand. Whatever powers
that be completely lost sight of the fact that we didn't
want grand, we wanted fun. And so it fails. Better luck
with the videogame.