Actionscifi's Blog

Classic Movie Review – The Chronicles of Riddick

You could be forgiven for not knowing that this film is the sequel to the 2000 cult (honestly, I think I’m just euphemising for “little watched”) sci-fi flick Pitch Black. The two things that Pitch Black had going for it were a fun Aliens-inspired plot and Vin Diesel at the height of his powers: when Diesel flexes his muscles and mostly refrains from speaking, he’s fantastic. When he tries to adopt a personality (see, for example, xXx) he’s woeful.

So, the thinking obviously went: revive Riddick, throw a lot more money at this one, get a decent backup cast (Judy Dench, Thandie Newton, Colm Feore) and we’ll have a sure fire hit. The main problem with this theory is that the joy of Pitch Black was watching the slow development of Riddick: at the beginning he was the dangerous and mysterious convict before a crash landing forced him and the crew to rely upon each other to defeat the aliens. We were never really sure if he was good or bad (OK, so we had our suspicions, but work with me here) and it was only at the end that the warm and fuzzy Riddick came out to play.

This time around we know from the beginning that Riddick has a heart of gold, and where’s the fun in that? Compare the identical scenes in the two films where Riddick is chained up inside a space ship. In Pitch Black it is near the beginning and his brooding face, his muscular body, the dark goggles, the mystery as to who he is, all combine to have us believing that any minute now he’s going to break out and do something really nasty to some poor, cowering crew member. Maybe the death will even be slow and painful. This time around we know our man won’t harm a fly unless he absolutely, positively has to (having already let some bounty hunters off lightly at the beginning of the film) and so, after a while, Riddick actually tells us that he doesn’t think he’ll bust out of his chains right now because it’s not part of his plan: not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff.

For the most part, the best characters in this film are the women. Alexa Davalos, upon entering proceedings halfway through as the grown-up version of the little girl who survived Pitch Black, almost steals the limelight away from Vin, with some fairly impressive spinning back-kicking and quality trash-talking: not bad for a former model with a resume briefer than the outfits she dons. Seeing Judi Dench in this film, on the other hand, is a little like seeing your mother in a nightclub. Mum! What the hell are you doing here? She is very wise, however. We know this because she sounds like the Queen of England, and she brought Thandie Newton with her which is a very wise move. Thandie would not look out of place in any nightclub and neither does she look out of place playing Dame Vaako, the resident Sexy Evil Chick, with a healthy streak of Lady Macbeth.

I must say that I enjoyed Twohy’s decision to get a little Shakespearean on our resident bad guys, the Necromancers, and develop at least a smidgeon of depth. Yes, the word “Shakespearean” may be a little OTT but at least Twohy – who also wrote the script – does his best to inject some personality into the dark side. Films like Independence Day would certainly have benefited from the same approach. These Necromancers are at first glance a homogenous mass of Gladiator-looking types, obliterating life one planet after another and giving those who surrender the option to have their brains re-worked so that they’ll follow the Necro faith, or to have their souls ripped out of their bodies. Very Ghost. Before long the Necros are succumbing to the plotting of Dame Vaako, who is constantly telling her man, Vaako (Carl Urban), that the boss is overlooking him for promotion. Meanwhile the mental makeovers they give their underlings don’t seem to be ensuring that everyone toes the company line and at least one of the leaders does some “thinking outside the box” as they say.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this film is the lack of hand-to-hand combat action. Diesel has been around long enough not to have to resort to cut-and-move tactics from the cameras, and yet this is what we get: very few properly choreographed fighting scenes. Instead we have the tell-tale close ups of fists connecting with faces and lots of rapidly-moving cameras obscuring what’s actually happening. For a $100 million action flick starring the genre’s then pre-eminent man (I know, slim pickings back then) this is simply unacceptable.

All-in-all, this is a middling action sci-fi work-out but it certainly didn’t bore me. Rather the cinema seat engulfed me lovingly and we were given what we demand as an absolute minimum: enough colour and oomph to keep us contented, if not quite ecstatic.

Highlight: Riddick’s narrow escape from a crash-landing space craft. That’s where all the money went.

Lowlight: Twohy’s attempt to flip the premise of Pitch Black on its head in a scene where it’s deadly to be out during the day, instead of the night. The sun is so hot that you’ll spontaneously combust if it touches you, but you’re safe in the shade of a rock? Please. This is not Buffy.

Stereotype Watch: The guards running the prison we visit at one point in the film are all Russian, so you can pretty much guess the rest: they are bad, they are corrupt, they are very dirty and they drink a lot of wodka. By contrast, the female characters are strong, but they mostly know to stay back and watch when the boys have to settle the score.

Verdict: 52/100

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5 Comments so far
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Yeah, I would agree with this. I thought it got better as it went along, but it was no “Pitch Black”.

Comment by Dennis the Vizsla

Must watch Pitch Black again when I get the chance. Perhaps also another difference between Pitch Black and CoR is this – the smaller the budget, the more ridiculous your plot can be.

Comment by actionscifi

for me, this was just one of those films where they take a good character and try to do too much with him. Pitch Black was so much better, but Chronicles ahd a few good moments, just not enough to justify it even being made. Oh, and just came out today that they’re about to start writing a third one. Not sure if that’s good or bad…We’ll see

Comment by Mystery Man

Agreed. In the Pantheon of action movies, how Pitch Black ever qualified for a sequel (as much as I enjoyed it), I have no idea. A third one? Oh dear. Will have to put up a rant about that when I get a chance.

Comment by actionscifi

[…] Who paid to see Chronicles of Riddick and thought it was trash? You and me (check my review here). […]

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