Film Review: ‘Riddick’ returns to violent roots

Film Review: ‘Riddick’ returns to violent roots
Vin Diesel reprises his role as the titular antihero character in “Riddick.” Photo by Jan Thijs

“Riddick” embraces the return of its R-rated violence and takes pride in pleasing the fan base, yet its over-reliance on the formula that made “Pitch Black” an audience favorite ends up fulfilling our desire for entertainment only halfway. 

In 2000, “Pitch Black” debuted in theaters, garnering an intense cult following and staking its claim in pop culture.

The success of this B-movie gave rise to “The Chronicles of Riddick,” which bombed at the box office, thus canceling any plans to continue the franchise.

This setback motivated Vin Diesel, however, to go back to the basics and give his fans what they wanted to see.

The end result, “Riddick,” provides enough familiar meat to feed its supporters, but it contains nothing new to completely satisfy their appetites.

Marooned on a desolate planet after being betrayed by a warrior cult that once called him a king, escaped convict/murderer Riddick (Vin Diesel) braves the dangerous alien wildlife and becomes a more powerful being than ever before.

When he activates an emergency beacon at an abandoned outpost, bounty hunters from every corner of the galaxy arrive to collect the price on his head.

Unbeknownst to them, Riddick intends to use them as pawns to facilitate his desire to get revenge on the people who left him for dead.

Using his honed survival skills and propensity for violence, Riddick unleashes a furious attack of retribution.

On the one hand, it was wise of Diesel to delve into what made his alien antihero click with audiences 13 years ago, marking “Riddick” as a triumphant return to form.

Along with collaborating franchise director David Twohy, he sets out to fix the mistakes created by “The Chronicles of Riddick” and provide his fans with the B-movie they’ve been waiting to see.

I enjoyed the visceral brutality of the action sequences as well as admiring the photo-realistic CG beasts that Riddick himself has to battle on a constant basis.

The choreography is swift and relentless, and the vicious impact of many of the film’s set pieces is testament to the R-rating this franchise deserved after years of silence.

There’s no way Diesel and company could’ve had this much fun with a PG-13 slapped onto their backs.

Additional points go to “Riddick” for possessing a “Pitch Black” type of survivalist suspense, something the fans have longed to see again on the big screen.

I applaud Diesel’s conviction in staying true to the spirit of his titular character — a ruthless, highly skilled antihero. Like him or not, he has his fans’ best interests at heart and never compromises his integrity.

On the other hand, Diesel and Twohy’s decision to stick to the mechanics that worked well for “Pitch Black” doesn’t go according to plan — at least, not all the way.

You could say this is where living by the rules of tradition and not being open to fresh ideas backfired on them.

While the scenarios involving Riddick facing off against not only CG monsters but also bounty hunters are well done, they’re nothing we haven’t already seen in the first installment.

Come to think of it, this entire film is, in essence, a retread of the original “Pitch Black,” only with better special effects and more guns.

I would’ve liked to have seen jump-out-at-your-face moments and a direction that had a life of their own, instead of having to pay a visit to familiar territory that’s already been explored.

Furthermore, I felt the cast of bounty hunters wasn’t utilized to its fullest potential, leaving the audience with little more than your typical armed fighting persons just waiting to be eliminated.

If I had to name someone who proved to be an exception to the rule, however, it would be Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Longmire”), who instills a no-nonsense, disciplined toughness in Dahl, the sole female member of the team.

Fans can expect to have a fun time and not leave the theater empty-handed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they got hungry again and came to see “Riddick” again, only to realize it doesn’t have anything fresh to offer.

All they’ll get is the same food they asked for.

But at least Vin Diesel tried.

MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.
Running time: 1 hour and 59 minutes
Playing: In general release

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