The Chronicles of Riddick

The Chronicles of Riddick
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Cast:
Vin Diesel as Riddick
Colm Feore as Lord Marshal
Thandie Newton as Dame Vaako
Judi Dench as Aereon
Karl Urban as Vaako
Alexa Davalos as Kyra
Linus Roache as Purifier
Yorick van Wageningen as The Guv
Nick Chinlund as Toombs
Keith David as Imam
Mark Gibbon as Irgun
Roger R. Cross as Toal
Terry Chen as Merc Pilot
Christina Cox as Eve Logan

Story:
This is the sequel to the 2000 film Pitch Black and it is the first of a planned trilogy of films featuring Riddick.

After years on the run, a new group of mercenaries have found Riddick on a remote planet. He quickly eliminates them, but is curious who would place a large bounty on his head. When he goes back to the source of who’s behind it, he discovers his old friend Imam (from the first film) has been helping the mercenaries track him down.

It turns out that a race of religious fanatics known as the Necromongers have been ravaging the galaxy. Led by Lord Marshal, they have been going from planet to planet destroying civilizations and brainwashing new recruits. However, a prophecy states that only a “Furian” can defeat Lord Marshal. It turns out that Riddick is the last known living Furian and Imam believes he can save their planet.

Riddick dismisses any ideas of being a hero, but he quickly finds he has no choice but to be involved when the Necromongers invade. It doesn’t take them long to find out about Riddick and they begin to hunt him down. But it’s only when they threaten those that Riddick cares for that he joins the fight.

The Chronicles of Riddick is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language.

What Worked:
If you liked Pitch Black, then you’re probably going to like The Chronicles of Riddick. It is the first major sci-fi movie of the year and it attempts to create an epic adventure on a grand scale. The final result is a mixture of Conan, Stargate, and Alien 3 with little dashes of The Fifth Element, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings thrown in here and there. If you’re into sci-fi or action movies, then this film will be right up your alley. It also helps if you already saw Pitch Black, but you can still follow The Chronicles of Riddick even if you haven’t viewed the first film. (I still recommend revisiting it if you have the chance before hitting theaters.)

Two of the most notable things about Riddick are the production design and special effects. The ships are cool and unique. The weaponry also has an interesting look that is reminiscent of fireworks. The planets are impressive environments with alien lighting and weather. The various cultures have exotic costumes and strange mixes of architecture that are unlike those shown in other films. The overall effect is the feeling of total immersion into a world in the distant future and many light years away. All the eye candy easily distracts you from any shortcomings in the film and definitely establishes the epic look and feel they were shooting for.

Vin Diesel returns as Riddick. He’s pretty much the same character he was in the first movie (and every movie he’s done since, come to think of it). To be quite honest, any actor with muscles could play Riddick. He doesn’t have that much personality. But the little personality that he does show is what makes him unique – the bad attitude. His utter contempt for everyone around him and the complete confidence in his toughness make him an interesting hero / villain. Because of that, Diesel works well enough.

Diesel is supported by Karl Urban as Vaako. Sporting an astro-mullet and looking tough, he is unrecognizable from his Lord of the Rings character. He doesn’t get to do a whole lot in this movie, but he seems to hold his own with Diesel. This film also has a couple of characters from the first film that return. Keith David reprises his role as Imam and offers a nice bridge between the two movies. And though Alexa Davalos wasn’t in the first film, she takes on the role of Kyra (i.e. Jack) in the new movie. She’s tough, has a bad attitude, and is the definite protégé of Riddick.

One interesting thing about The Chronicles of Riddick is the fact that it switches from epic adventure to small-scale adventure quickly and repeatedly. For example, amid a planetary invasion, the story focuses in on just Riddick and his friends as they play a game of cat and mouse trying to escape. Later in the film it again shifts from the epic battle to a small adventure on a remote prison planet. It transitions from mass destruction to a foot race between Riddick and his captors. This keeps things lively and prevents the audience from being numbed by the grand special effect shots of death, destruction, and mayhem.

What Didn’t Work:
The Chronicles of Riddick isn’t bad, but it isn’t a home run either. It does have a few problems. Besides Riddick having little character, the film has a weak bad guy. Colm Feore plays Lord Marshal and he’s not really that intimidating in any way. Other characters, like Thandie Newton as Dame Vaako, are there for little more than to look hot. Judi Dench is also under-used as Aereon, an inexplicable “Elemental” who I assume will be described more in future films.

Like Pitch Black, this film likes to pick on religion. The Necromongers are religious fanatics that try to convert the whole universe through death and destruction. I don’t know if this is supposed to be a commentary on Islam, Christianity, or religion in general, but I don’t think the story ever made a definitive statement one way or the other on anything. Is this pro-freedom of religion? Pro-atheism? Anti-Islam? Anti-Christian? And I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been reading the Star Wars New Jedi Order books lately, but the whole “religious fanatic space invaders” thing seems to be a bit cliché now. The Necromongers did everything but call people “infidels”. That leads to my next point. Wasn’t there a better name for the guys that “Necromongers”? It’s a little silly. Other planets like “Crematoria” and such are also kind of weak.

There are also a number of lapses in logic in the film. For example, the surface of one planet is a blazing 700 degrees. If someone steps into the light, they are incinerated. But if they’re standing in the shade a few feet away, they’re cool. That doesn’t make sense. I know this is space fantasy, but there’s only so much I can ignore. There are other examples of this in the film, but you get the point.

Finally, the last shot of the film was probably the most interesting for me. It was the biggest plot twist for Riddick and the point where I was saying, “This is getting interesting. Now what?” It was more intriguing than the rest of the movie in my opinion. So, like with Pitch Black, I was left saying, “Well, that wasn’t bad, but I’m more interested in seeing where they go next.” Hopefully there is a “next”.

The Bottom Line:
I think The Chronicles of Riddick is well worth checking out, especially on the big screen, but your opinion of it will vary dramatically according to what you go in expecting. If you’re looking for the next Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a fun popcorn flick, I think you’ll find your money’s worth.

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