The RIDDICK films are B-movies in the best sense, in that they aren't afraid to get silly, or afraid to expand their filmic universe in interesting ways, given their budget limitation. If you think that I'm implying that the RIDDICK movies can be dumb, well, they are a little bit. But they aren't quitters. It's admirable how much David Twohy and Vin Diesel really try to create something unique and interesting, even when they're diving deep into common science fiction tropes.
But what I find most interesting about these movies, and RIDDICK in particular, is that Twohy and Diesel are basically telling Robert E. Howard stories. Even THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, bloated as it is, feels very much like Howard on an especially verbose rant, describing harsh worlds and the people who populate them. I very much enjoyed CHRONICLES because the movie felt straight out of that Howard tradition - bombastic but never taking itself too seriously, getting straight to the meat and potatoes of the action while trying to build a fascinating science fiction world. These stories feel straight from Howard's wheelhouse, and while those themes and situations are recognizable, Twohy and Diesel, more importantly pay attention to the spirit of Howard's work. John Milius's CONAN THE BARBARIAN isn't directly adapted from any Howard stories, but Milius nails everything about Howard's work that's essential. So does RIDDICK, even though it's not a Howard story.
RIDDICK, the third film in this series, has moments that any Howard fan could appreciate - there's one shot that could be classified as a Frank Frazetta tribute shot. Riddick (Diesel) is stranded on a backwater planet, with a hostile environment. Betrayed by the Necromongers he once ruled, Riddick was looking for his homeworld of Furya when he was left for dead. There's very little water on this world, and the water that exists is home to a deadly antlion-like venomous alien creature. Riddick's only companion is a dingo-like creature that he raised from a pup. Riddick and the world seem well-suited for each other - Riddick is a brutal killer, and this planet seems to challenge him.
But when the rains come, more of those antlion aliens appear, and Riddick realizes that he can't hope to survive an army of those creatures. So he activates a beacon to bring offworld ships to his vicinity in the hopes of either hitching a ride or stealing one, judging correctly that there's still a huge bounty on him and hunters will come running. Santana (Jordi Molla), with his team, wants nothing more than to put Riddick's head in a box for display - at this point, Riddick's now worth twice as much dead as alive. But another bounty hunter (Matt Nable) and his team of mercs, including Dahl (Katee Sackhoff) have a special reason to hunt Riddick down. Riddick is prepared, but when the storm arrives, and the monsters come out of the earth, Riddick must figure out how to stay alive when every bounty hunter wants him dead.
The best moments of RIDDICK are in its first third, when Riddick wanders the harsh planet alone, trying to survive. These scenes have little dialogue (but some voiceover), and it's here that Diesel finds that primal center to the character. Once the bounty hunters arrive, the movie shifts into a different kind of pace, and the movie suffers for it; it's much more interesting when Riddick is alone, and Diesel explores the character without all the bluster. That's not to say the movie goes badly; it's always fun to watch, especially when Riddick outwits his pursuers. The movie never breaks out of its B-movie trappings, and while we know what happens next Twohy and Diesel keep the action brisk and entertaining. RIDDICK has just about every action sci-fi movie ever made in its DNA at some point -a little ALIENS here, a little TERMINATOR there - but you can sense Diesel's genuine love for the character throughout. Twohy has a nice visual sense as well. The effects work is mostly serviceable, pushing the limits of its budget.
When PITCH BLACK first premiered, no one expected it to become the runaway hit that it did, but Diesel's charisma carried that movie. It's very much the same with RIDDICK - gone are the overblown sets and science fiction trappings of CHRONICLES. Twoy and Diesel choose to take the character back to his stripped down roots. Still, at the film's ending, there's a possibility of more worlds and ideas explored, and you get the feeling that this time Vin Diesel and David Twohy won't let their ideas and worldbuilding get away from them.
RIDDICK certainly doesn't break the mold; its pleasures are familiar and comfortable, but nothing really transcendent. It's a comfortable movie for those of us who enjoy this character and this universe. Perhaps later on there will be an opportunity to dive into that universe a bit more without the pompousity of CHRONICLES. RIDDICK offers a lot more of that same sense of fun that was present in PITCH BLACK. It's a cotton candy movie - not particularly good for you, but fun to eat regardless.