Lost in the Dark
(This article features spoilers for The Chronicles of Riddick and Pitch Black).
With the release of the horror film Pitch Black, audiences were introduced to a grim anti-hero named Riddick. A lawless fugitive and murderer, Riddick was gifted with the ability to see in utter darkness during his stint in a mega prison called Butcher Bay. The film was by no means a classic, but the unique mixing of a great character and an interesting sci-fi/ horror story made Pitch Black an enjoyable ride.
The sequel (not counting the anime The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury) took a completely different approach and tried to expand upon the universe that Riddick inhabits with an epic sci-fi tale spanning several planets. The Chronicles of Riddick was another film that wasn’t truly great, but was entertaining in its own right. Now the director of both films has written and directed another entry in the ever expanding adventures of the famed convict.
After ascending to the throne of Lord Marshall of the Necromongers at the outset of The Chronicles of Riddick, our hero finds himself becoming complacent and whoring and drinking more than Robert Baratheon. Using his newfound resources and power he sets out to find his ravaged homeworld, Furya. However, his subordinates disagree with his course of action and soon Vaako (Karl Urban) betrays him and leaves him to die on an unnamed planet.
A long time passes and Riddick finds himself becoming more animalistic and vicious as he hunts to survive. He discovers an area rich in food and water, but the only way through is blocked by a race of deadly scorpion creatures. Dismayed, he falls upon a nest of dog like creatures in their infancy with no parents to protect them. He takes one of the infants under his wing and begins to devise a plan to break free of the uninhabitable wasteland he’s trapped in. Using his cunning, he slays one of the scorpion like creatures and breaks free with his canine companion. As he forages around his new surroundings he discovers an abandoned human outpost and signals a distress call to attract bounty hunters to his location.
As he waits for his human prey, he notices vast rainstorms sweeping the countryside, which allow the scorpions to leave their hot springs and roam the land for a short time. Eventually two groups of bounty hunters arrive on the planet and reluctantly join forces to hunt down Riddick, but their plots fail them as Riddick gruesomely dispatches them one by one.
Soon however, Riddick is captured and as the bounty hunters prepare to kill him a rain storm begins and soon all parties find themselves besieged by thousands of scorpions. Another reluctant alliance is formed and Riddick is forced to help the hunters find a way off the planet.
Where Pitch Black was a straight up horror and Cronicles was a sci-fi epic, Riddick is an unbalanced mix of both. The first half of the movie plays out like a weird coming of age/ buddy adventure film. Riddick himself in this section isn’t even a shade of the character that has been built up as the ultimate badass over two films. Here he is an awkward futuristic Sam Spade, who delivers some of the worst monolouges in the history of the genre to bring the audience up to speed.
With the explosive grand finale of Chronicles, director David Twohy really had a great launching point for what could have been a great entry into the series. Instead though, he squanders his opportunity and gives us a bastardized Dark Knight Rises starring Vin Diesel and a CGI dog. This part of the movie is the most painful to endure, and makes the film feel like a total waste of time before the interesting stuff really even begins.
The second half is more akin to what fans would expect. When Riddick starts picking off mercenaries you remember why you liked the character in the first place. He’s supposed to be a ruthless and cunning murderer who just so happens to be thrown into situations where he must act the hero or get himself killed. Sadly, this brief glimpse of sci-fi’s favorite anti-hero dies as soon as the hunters (who are assembled of the worst actors in Hollywood) and Riddick are attacked by the scorpions.
Suddenly, Riddick becomes a wishy washy do gooder and the excitement plummets. This second half is also basically a remake of Pitch Black, with the basic structure of the story being almost identical. Twohy again ruins his own franchise with lazy, uninspired writing and a bland plot. The special effects also drag the whole experience down, with awkwardly rendered CG and poorly shot practical effects. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, Riddick does a “superman grab” on a hoverbike over a trench filled with beasties FOR NO DAMN REASON.
I’m afraid that this might be the death knell for a franchise that had promise. We all knew that this series would never enter into legendary status like Lord of the Rings or Evil Dead or any epic trilogy, but to see it crumble into total ruin is really heartbreaking. My suggestion for fans of the series is to stay away and hold dear your memories of the series’ high points (like the first two films and the absolutely amazing Xbox shooter Escape from Butcher Bay), and for casual cinema goers, you probably didn’t have a reason to see this in the first place, and I have no evidence to suggest that you should think otherwise.