I don’t know if you ever saw PITCH BLACK. It was a low budget ALIENS type movie about a bunch of space-people who get stranded on a planet where nasty monsters come out and eat everybody at night. And then if I remember right there is an eclipse, so it’s gonna be a long fuckin night. So they’re pretty much fucked except luckily they have this dude Riddick on board. He is a prisoner actually, a scary mass killer type, but he has surgically altered glowing eyes so he can see in the dark. So with him being good at killing and seeing in the dark, he is a good guy to let loose in this situation. So the murderer becomes some sort of a part time hero when faced with alien monsters, he saves some lives and possibly leaves his old self behind.
Personally I thought the movie wasn’t so hot. It starts out good but the aliens just aren’t all that convincing or scary and I lost interest after a while. But this Riddick character, played by the then unknown Vin Diesel, was a cool idea and memorably played by Mr. Diesel. The great Keith David is in there too playing a preacher named Imam, but I guess not as memorably, since I forgot he was in it until I saw him in this sequel.
I don’t know what the deal is with the title. It seems to refer to the whole series, like STAR WARS. They even re-released PITCH BLACK as THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: PITCH BLACK so I guess this one should be considered THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK: THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. Anyway, what they did here is pretty admirable. Instead of making a traditional sequel where the same characters face the same monsters again, or different characters face the same monsters, or the same characters face the same monsters plus a thrilling new variation on the same monsters where they are much bigger or smaller or can take over human bodies or fly spaceships or something… instead, they took the main characters and put them into a completely different type of story, an epic fantasy type deal with multiple planets and races and armies and prophesies and all that sort of crap. And at the center of it all is Riddick, the notorious killer who Judi Dench (long story) wants to save the galaxy or whatever.
In the opening scene, Riddick is rocking a John Walker Lind and a head full of dreads, running from bounty hunters. He traces the bounty back to Keith David on the Keith David planet, shaves his head and ends up trying to stop an invasion by the evil Necromongers, a race of uptight death obsessed religious fanatics who fly to different planets in giant religious statues and try to force their beliefs and fashion on everybody. This brings him on a big adventures fighting against armies, busting his old friend Jack (who passed for a boy in PITCH BLACK but now is some Denise Richards type babe) out of an underground prison and facing down the king of the Necromongers.
This is not a great sci-fi movie for the history books like ALIEN or something. A guy told me, “I’m sick of half-assed sci-fi movies,” but I was quick to tell him that actually this one is more like 2/3 assed. It didn’t knock my socks off but you know, I could feel my socks getting loose at some points. I gotta admit I enjoyed it. I liked the basic story of it, the idea behind the bad guy’s culture, and the idea of the mass murderer chosen one. I liked the way the necromongers space ships look like gothic statues, and their armor has knives built into the back like they’ve all been stabbed. I liked the ALIEN RESURRECTION type bounty hunter that keeps failing to outsmart Riddick. But most of all, I cannot lie, I liked Riddick. This growly voiced muscle bound dude with an iconic look (shaved head, dark goggles, glowing eyes), who can apparently get out of any tight situation with a couple of knives and/or a rope. He gets alot more to do than he did in PITCH BLACK, and only once does he face monsters. (When this happens he doesn’t react the same way as in the first picture. His response is more like what DMX would do if a bunch of dogs ran after him.)
I do have some complaints though. Riddick is a cool character, but he could be cooler. He needs some better lines. The dialogue in this movie is just plain dumb. They try to make him super cool and on top of things like Blade, but they don’t give him a “motherfuckers always tryin to ice skate uphill” type line. They don’t even give him a “Just out for a Sunday stroll. I guess it’s not Sunday” (Steven Seagal, FIRE DOWN BELOW.) The guy needs to talk more clever. And while we’re on the subject of talking, he should do less of it. He has such a great voice, I think we would appreciate it more if he would shut up more. Be like Clint Eastwood. Omit needless words. Make it count.
I think also it might’ve been a good idea to earn this one an R-rating, not a PG-13. For all the talk about Riddick being a bad guy, he doesn’t do a whole lot of bad stuff. I guess Hollywood are the experts on what makes money, but I’m pretty sure kids were able to see the TERMINATOR movies, the ALIEN movies, the PREDATOR movies, and, uh, PITCH BLACK, all of which were R-rated. I don’t know what they’re worried about they have to keep it PG-13. Whoever is the executive responsible for keeping this thing kiddie safe, I want them to face the music. I wanna see heads roll for there not being any heads rolling in this movie. I like heads in movies, they are good when they roll.
I guess it is a motif in Mr. Diesel’s work, though, that he’s always a fake bad guy. In XXX he is a menace to society turned secret agent who reluctantly saves the world. In THE FAST AND THE FUCKING FURIOUS he is a criminal who ends up convincing the good guy cop to let him go, because he’s so cool. And in PITCH BLACK he’s a killer turned monster killer. But he never really does anything too bad in any of these movies. He’s not Parker. He’s not a total bastard. He’s never all that threatening but the movies tell you he’s a bad guy, and then proceed to make him a good guy. In this one luckily he doesn’t repeat the mistake of XXX and sell out at the end. I won’t give away what happens but I think even some people who don’t like this movie would watch a sequel just to find out what happens next.
And the bottom line is I had fun watching this guy. I like how ridiculously cocky he is. There is a part where out of the blue he starts narrating in his growly Vin Diesel voice and explains his plan, and it makes it hard not to root for this goofball with the glowing eyes. If he will narrate to you like that, then you almost owe him something. Give him a chance.
Now as most of you know, I have a theory that alot of the best popular movies reflect the politics of their era, whether intentionally or not. Everything from PLANET OF THE APES to MINORITY REPORT, to X-MEN 2 and even the STAR WARS prequels have themes that strongly parallel what was going on in the world at the time of their release. Unfortunately I think CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK has the exact wrong politics for our time. The premise is that in dire times, you don’t send good to fight evil, you send “a different type of evil.” Yeah, tell that to Rambo III, helping out the mujahadeen. If you think about our old buddy Osama bin Laden, our old buddy Saddam Hussein, the tremendous success of the butt pyramids in Abu Ghraib, etc., it is pretty clear that our country has worn out the tired notion of “it takes evil to fight evil.”
It’s still cool in movies though so have at it Riddick. Next time let’s see you earn that evil label though. Let’s have a little more HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and a little less XXX.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.