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Saturday, September 7, 2013




"You're not afraid of the dark, are you?"

"I can't accept that you're the hero of this demented fairy tale," or something of the sort, is uttered in exasperation at Riddick. Therein lies the not-so-secret joke at the heart of the Riddick franchise. Vin Diesel's titular, ultraviolent yet ultimately noble anti-hero, Richard B. Riddick, really is the hero of this "demented fairy tale" spanning three movies, two video games, and an animated feature. Riddick is well-aware he's the center of the universe, and he always seems silently amused when the various corrupt human bounty hunters and alien warriors who cross his path don't seem to realize this, or figure it out far too late. It's a strange universe indeed when the most important person in it, the one unstoppable, incorrigible force, is Richard B. Riddick. It's a good thing he's on our his side.

After the disappointment of 2004's The Chronicles of Riddick, which vastly expanded the Riddick universe but set Riddick up against a race of undead alien conquerors called the Necromongers in a PG-13 setting, Riddick is a welcome return to form. That form being Pitch Black, the original R-rated sci-fi nightmare tale about a crew of bounty hunters, civilians, and Riddick stranded on a hostile alien world with fearsome monsters. Once again R-rated and proud of it, Riddick efficiently blazes through the exposition of what happened after Riddick killed the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers in Chronicles, when he ended up as the new Lord Marshal (the Necromongers "keep what you kill"). As miserable as Riddick was with his new job ruling over the Necromongers (he couldn't even enjoy his bed full of undead nude Necromonger playmates encouraging Riddick to explore their Underverse), the Necromongers were even more eager to get rid of Riddick. In the briefest possible appearances that still qualifies for top billing, Karl Urban, who was the Necromonger who schemed to be Lord Marshal before Riddick slid right in and took the crown, preyed on Riddick's one desire: to find his homeworld of Furya. Instead, the Necromongers took Riddick to a godforsaken hellhole of a planet, told him it was Furya, and left him there (after trying and failing to kill him).

The first act of this new film is basically the Riddick version of Survivorman, as a severely injured Riddick uses every bit of his skill and cunning to survive on this barren rock, battling killer alien dogs and the new Big Bad creatures of the franchise, giant aquatic scorpion monsters. As Riddick slowly adapts to his new surroundings, Diesel's voice over laments that somewhere along the way, he's lost a step. Indeed he has. The Riddick in Riddick is not quite the Riddick of Riddicks past. Though dangerous as ever, he is also more careless, more prone to mistakes, and sometimes finds he's out of his depth. Riddick's arc in Riddick involves him trying to regain the Eye(shine) of the Tiger. Always a fearsome loner incredibly resistant to anyone or anything getting too close to, or God forbid, relying on him, Riddick adopts a pup of one of the alien dogs and raises it as his stalwart companion. A Furyan and his dog. Good grief! Has Riddick gone soft? Ask the two different crews of bounty hunters who land on the planet looking to collect the hefty bounty on Richard B. Riddick. The bounty is even doubled if he's brought back dead. "I haven't heard that one before," Riddick smirks, after a lifetime of icing bounty hunters coming for his head.

The most memorable bounty hunter who ever came after Riddick is Johns (Cole Hauser) from Pitch Black. (Though Vin Diesel seems to have not aged a day, we learn 10 years of real time has passed since the events of Pitch Black.) Turns out, bounty hunting is a family affair as the father of Johns (Matt Nable) has come for Riddick, seeking answers to what happened to his son in Pitch Black. Daddy Johns ultimately learns a lot of things he didn't want to know about his son, and about Riddick, and finally, about himself. It's a tough pill to swallow that Riddick was the good guy in Pitch Black and his baby boy was the morphine-shootin', kid-killin' bad guy. With Daddy Johns is Katee Sackhoff, looking identical to Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, her most famous role, as Johns' second-in-command and deadly lesbian sniper. Opposite Johns' uniformed crew is a gaggle of roughneck, sleazebag bounty hunters lead by Jordi Molla and counting Dave Bautista among their number. After The Rock, Bautista is now the second former WWE Champion Vin Diesel has battled and bested in a Vin Diesel movie. Molla spends most of the movie bragging he'll put Riddick's head in a box. Riddick's reversal of fortune on Molla is the movie's most gruesomely hilarious gag.

Eleven bounty hunters against Riddick. The old Riddick wouldn't have left a man standing. This time, Riddick takes it easy on them, recognizing he needs the help to deal with the real enemy Out There: a gathering rainstorm that will bring wave after wave of hungry, killer scorpion monsters. Unlike the relentless assault by the flying creatures in Pitch Black, these scorpion monsters are far more considerate, limiting their attacks to happen in between important plot points, like Riddick, Johns and Bautista going after the engine nodes to their spaceships Riddick stole and buried. The scorpion monsters easily take out the red shirts among the bounty hunters but are careful not to horribly murder anyone whose name goes immediately below the title. They all do want Riddick's blood on their gross bladed pincers, though, and when the scorpion monsters impale Riddick in the side of his torso and then have him hopelessly surrounded on a cliff's peak, we come to realize we are watching The Passion of the Riddick. But what kind of a universe would Riddick be without Richard B. Riddick? A lesser one, to be sure. In the end, Riddick learns that he may still be the baddest Furyan mofo in the galaxy, but sometimes even Richard B. Riddick can only get by with a little help from his friends.