Riddick

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Posted: 25 October 2013
Category: Reviews
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The universe's most soft-hearted badass finds himself in another predicament that requires him to utilise all his survival skills and abilities to outwit new opponents, both human and alien, in this third installment in the Riddick franchise.

RiddickWe've come a long way since Pitch Black - and it isn't for the better. This film, which introduced the character of Richard B Riddick (Vin Diesel), a mass murderer and frequent prisoner, to audiences nearly 15 years ago, was a (comparatively) low-budget horror-themed masterful character study claustrophobically set in the biggest environment possible (in that way, much like Gravity).

The sequel, The Chronicles Of Riddick, was a surprise in that it went in a completely different direction, offering a traditional, epic science-fiction action movie with sweeping visuals and a grand political story, though certain plot themes paid homage to the original. It considerably expanded the universe in which the franchise is set and left Riddick in a very interesting position by the end of the movie.

Riddick

The third in the series, simply titled Riddick, offers a brief nod to the events of The Chronicles Of Riddick and then returns to its Pitch Black roots, bizarrely borrowing liberally from that film for most of its plot, as well as the Alien(s) franchise, Ghosts Of Mars, and a dozen other similar tales going back decades. There's nothing original in here - it rehashes everything we've seen before in this very franchise. This rehashing, coupled with a terrible initial 30 minutes, results in a mediocre movie that wastes its talented cast and every possible opportunity it could have had - after all, we've been waiting for this film for nearly 10 years, which is more than enough time to develop something with a lot more originality and substance.

Writer/director David Twohy has seemingly run out of ideas and this problem plagues the entire production.

Riddick wakes up, battered and bruised (and worse) on a hostile, desert-like planet populated with the usual improbable creatures. The first 15 minutes of the film are just creature battle after creature battle and it fast becomes tedious until we are eventually given a contextual flashback (featuring a frustrating blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance by Karl Urban as Vaako - with better hair this time), although then we are brought right back to more creature escapades that, at moments, starts to feel like an animated Disney movie.

Riddick

The story finally gains momentum once Riddick activates a(n improbably convenient) bounty-hunter beacon that alerts nearby mercenaries to his presence. They want him (preferably) dead, he wants a ride off the planet. Mayhem ensues.

No one's surprised... except, it seems, the mercenaries.

The rag-tag bunch is soon outclassed due to the arrival of a more professional outfit headed by Boss Johns (Matthew Nable), who has other plans for Riddick. His crew includes Katie Sackhoff as his right-hand (wo)man Dahl, Bokeem Woodbine as Moss, and Raoul Trujillo as Lockspur.

Riddick

Much of the appeal, for me, of the first two films is that they offered strong, interesting female characters, and flawed characters in general, as well as complicated character dynamics that played out in a survival scenario (Pitch Black) and politics, religion, and ideology (The Chronicles Of Riddick).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Riddick. The casting is once again superb - I must acknowledge the really good job that Anne McCarthy has done on all three films, bringing great talent to the roles with no missteps bar, to my mind, the choice of the actor who played Kyra in The Chronicles Of Riddick - but in Riddick the characters are not developed at all, serving merely as action-scene fodder. You form no emotional connection with them and therefore their inevitable deaths have no impact and bring no sense of fear, or urgency, to the plot and the viewing experience.

Women get the worst treatment, barely featuring in this film, bar for brief gratuitous nudity and to act as a recipient of violence and rape (not shown, just intimated). The misogynistic content in this movie, embodied in one character in particular, is crass, frustrating, and disappointing, especially given the franchise's history with strong female characters. Katee Sackhoff, complete with an irritating topless shot obviously included to tantilise the fanboys (and girls), is forced to hold her own among the testosterone. She does, of course - and Sackhoff is always a pleasure to watch on screen - but her character is, naturally, a stereotyped lesbian role and rather than offer representation, which would be a welcome inclusion in this franchise, it's actually just to obfuscate what is essentially a male-gaze character.

Riddick

She likes to shower a lot too. For some reason she's always wet. You'd think she'd have more important things to do with Riddick on the loose and gunning for them.

Unsurprisingly, you can pretty much predict who is going to die (and, for the most part, the order), though the loss of a few characters is actually a bit saddening (somewhere in the back of my mind that actor has embodied a proper character who I would like to know more about, and who I would like to see get more screen time), while others I found to be anticlimactic.

Riddick

This movie does shine, however, in certain technical areas. The production and set design, as well as the costume design, are both wonderful. Clothes look worn and functional, background props seem to have a purpose, objects are dented and dirty. The station housing the beacon looks as though people have utilised it, lived there, stored stuff, killed time living in the space. It's a wonderful counter to the ridiculous antiseptic environments seen in a lot of science fiction films these days.

The score, by Graeme Revell, tends to be little more than the appropriate background noise though there are a few themes that crop up now and again that are good. He is one of my favourite score composers and I don't know why his work didn't stand out for me this time. He has scored all three films, and I loved the music featured in the first two, but for some reason in this film I didn't even notice the Riddick theme until the end credits started rolling. I imagine it must have been incorporated into the music throughout the film but it never caught my attention.

Riddick

In contrast, the sound design, in places, is excellent. It was hard to take note of it too often, however, because the sound level in the press-screening cinema (this time, Nu Metro cinema 9 at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town) is too loud and everything comes across like a massive sound-blast onslaught except in quieter moments, when you can actually hear some of the skill and work that's gone into the audio. Particular sounds are precise and crisp and, when you have a chance to notice it, surround sound is used well.

Riddick

The visual effects are a bit hit and miss. As in the first two films, the stark landscapes are beautiful, although towards the end of the film the scenes and lighting are affected too much by the orange and teal effect. Character movement suffers from the usual problem of the laws of physics not being translated correctly into the computer and applied properly to the movement animations and character weight. There are also a number of scenes that are so obviously shot in front of a green screen that you half expect a production intern to be wandering past in the background accidentally. Hover bikes feature in the film, and it's in these scenes that the green screen's presence is particularly badly felt. It kept reminding me of the scenes in the episodes of Xena featuring the Valkyries riding to Valhalla (which were shot nearly 20 years ago, intentionally campily) or every scene in the Princess Valhalla Hawkwind Music Video.

Riddick

I love this franchise and I enjoyed Riddick, after the cringeworthy first half an hour, but this film offers nothing new, and too much mediocrity. Like most of its characters, it is entertaining but completely disposable.

Riddick is written and directed by David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matthew Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, and Raoul Trujillo.


The review screening was courtesy of Nu Metro. Riddick opens on circuit in South Africa today and is already on circuit in the USA.


Tags: #horror, #lgbti, #screen, #speculative_fiction



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