How much do you love Pitch Black? For those passionate few whose fandom is strong enough to warrant sitting through a nearly identical (but inferior) film with all the originality of say Teen Wolf Too, Riddick may offer some late summer mindless entertainment. Everyone else may want to wait for home video for this IMAX version of a straight-to-DVD sequel that may not skimp on effects but could have used at least one new idea. Well, at least this one’s got Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) in it.
Although it hasn’t as aged as well as I would like I will still admit to having some affection for Pitch Black, the 2000 sci-fi adventure about a murderous thief trapped on a world of monsters with people who want him dead, but I draw the line at the ridiculous trainwreck of a sequel that stalled this “franchise.” To call Chronicles of Riddick something akin to Underwold-level terrible is frankly being kind. That Riddick got made at all, even nine years later, and isn’t nausea-inducing is something of a minor miracle.
With the exception of one extended flashback sequence (featuring a cameo by Karl Urban) Riddick ignores the events of the second film deciding instead to recreate the events of Pitch Black as our anti-hero (Vin Diesel) finds himself on a abandoned world full of lethal monsters, a looming natural phenomenon that will bring death, crews off two ships that want want Riddick dead, and a climactic battle sequence in the dark as the characters forced to work together race to the spaceships and safety. Sound familiar?
My favorite piece of the film is the beginning, after the unfortunate flashback reminding of us of the many failures of the last film, where Riddick carves out a life for himself on the treacherous planet with only his loyal hyena-zebra-dog creature to keep him company. Once the first group of space pirate bounty hunters (Jordi Mollà, Dave Batista, Raoul Trujillo, Conrad Pla, Danny Blanco Hall, Noah Danby) show up, soon followed by a more organized military-style group of hunters (Matt Nable, Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine) things get far more predictable.
Although there’s not much charm seeing Riddick go through the exact same patterns of a better film (stalking, killer, and terrorizing a group of people who want him dead until he’s forced to work with them to survive against the alien threat), the film allows Diesel to step right back into a character tailor made for him and Sackhoff steals several of the film’s best scenes as the stereotypical tough-as-nails lesbian bounty hunter (whose sexuality is used for some mostly unfortunate “humor” and skin-crawling attempted rape sequence better left on the cutting room floor).
If you’ve seen Pitch Black there are no surprises here as the story unfolds in an identical manner. And if you haven’t seen the first film I don’t know why you’d seek this one out. That said, there’s lots of Diesel acting like a bad ass, and several shots of Sackhoff doing the same, an insane amount of mindless alien scorpion creatures (except when they inexplicably disappear in several late dramatic scenes coincidentally allowing the characters time to talk), and two ships full of assholes for our protagonist to fuck with and straight-up murder before he gets serious about making it off this doomed planet and back to civilization. It’s not a film I’d recommend to anyone but die-hard Diesel fans, but it is better than Chronicles of Riddick (although so is a kidney stone).