When even the humblest movies are planned to allow for multiple sequels if at all financially feasible, the Riddick trilogy (and counting?) must be one of the most haphazard of movie franchises.
I doubt many would have expected any kind of sequel at all to 2000’s Pitch Black, and yet The Chronicles of Riddick appeared four years later to reinvent its surviving character as the hero of a grand sword & sandal epic in outer space. It’s not unlike the later John Carter of Mars, but less wasteful in terms of money spent, and with 100% more hovering Judi Dench.
Even more improbable still, with David Twohy’s Riddick, Vin Diesel is now officially the headliner of a trilogy. Having achieved the holy number of installments, now three movies can be packaged together in budget multi-dvd box sets in time for Black Friday shopping. Or should that be that Pitch Black Friday? Oh, please yourself.
Riddick has more in common with Pitch Black than Chronicles, but one thing they all share is surprisingly good art direction and set design. Chronicles, especially, went far above and beyond the call of duty. I’d argue that it draws more from Dune‘s visual imagination than the typically plundered art direction of Alien or Star Wars. Even Riddick has more believable alien landscapes than the volcano top conclusion to After Earth, which looked like it had been shot on the tiniest soundstage M. Night Shyamalan could book.
Riddick‘s plot is admirably simple (man trapped alone on a hostile planet, struggles to simply survive, then gain a foothold to escape), and the first 30 minutes or so are crackerjack. But then additional characters show up and so there has to be… shudder… dialog.
Sadly, everything falls apart at this point — and I mean everything, from the visuals to the script. What started out as an intriguing shipwreck story turned into something conventional and cheap. The bulk of what follows is set inside a single room, and not in a good way (like a good submarine movie, for instance), but in a bad way (like, they ran out of money and ideas).
Riddick is also unfortunately sexist. Battlestar Galactica fan favorite Katee Sackoff gets the coveted only-girl-in-the-movie role, and she dutifully works what her momma gave her. She’s sadly stuck with a retrograde character who exists mostly to concede to Riddick’s brutish flirtations. It’s unclear if her character is actually gay or simply allows her male colleagues to assume she is, but either way, it’s stomach turning when she acquiesces to Riddick’s crude propositions. Her utility exhausted, she simply vanishes from the film.