For those of you expecting wall-to-wall action from RIDDICK, you might be mistaking this film for an entry in that other Vin Diesel franchise. If you want eye-popping science-fiction visuals, again, that's not exactly what this third installment in the series that began with 2000's PITCH BLACK and trudged along in 2004's THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK is completely about. I think the elements of Richard Riddick (at least the first film—certainly the latest) that appealed so greatly to Diesel are the themes of isolation and of one skilled killer fighting against a small army of... something. In this first film, it was a scorched, seemingly lifeless planet by day and a lethal darkness at night. But this time around, Riddick is the death in the dark, at least for a large part of this movie, and he seems to be enjoying the turnaround.
Kind of sort of picking up sometime after CHRONICLES (with an appearance by a familiar face from that film), this story eventually sees Riddick back on another sun-burnt, nameless planet, severely injured and fighting for his life against alien creatures that want nothing more than just to eat him up. The first 30 minutes or so of the film feature no dialogue (outside of a bit of narration and the flashback to how he got here in the first place); it's Riddick versus everything this planet has to throw at him. There's a race of alien dingos and a hideous set of creatures that look like a combination of lizard and scorpion. There aren't a ton of different unfamiliar wildlife featured in RIDDICK, but the creature design is pretty great in the way it blends the familiar with the grotesque.
Soon enough, he figures out that there's a slightly healthier portion of the planet with plants and fresh water, but when he gets there, he discovers a way station for mercenaries. Knowing he can't stay on this planet forever and that he needs a ship to get off, he uses an emergency beacon at the station to alert nearby bounty hunters to his presence on the planet, and just waits for the ships to come to him. Two groups show up—a motley crew led by Santana (Jordi Molla), and another more militaristic unit led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable). Perhaps more interesting are their second in commands, played by wrestler Dave Bautista (soon to be Drax the Destroyer in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and "Battlestar Galactica's" Katee Sackhoff, respectively.
Both teams believe they have what it takes to get Riddick to show himself and kill him—the bounty on his head is worth more if he's dead. ("That's new," Riddick rightfully acknowledges.) But as always, the lone wolf sees all with his glowing eyes and he seems to know exactly what his adversaries are going to do next. There are some truly badass, über-violent moments in RIDDICK that will likely make you squirm and/or laugh, but they're liberally spread out over the two-hour running time, giving us time to take stock in the shocking things we've just witnessed and figure out how it changes the game in progress.
Honestly, anyone who complains about the film being too slow is missing the point. Diesel and series director (as well as writer) David Twohy are just as interested in the between-action moments as they are the big set pieces. And I'm perfectly okay with Diesel wanting to get in a more contemplative groove with this character, who seems almost like some kind of mellow monk when he isn't chopping limbs off or mowing down monsters. When given the opportunity, Diesel can surprise us as an actor. He hasn't done it in a while, but there are a few acting choices he makes here that are genuinely interesting. Look, he's not going to win any awards for his performance, but it's distinctive in a genre that can get pretty repetitive.
Still working on a tighter budget than Diesel's other franchise, for the most part the special effects are pretty good in RIDDICK. There are these speeder bike sort of things with handle bars that make them look like old-school choppers that are just ridiculous, especially since many of the characters look like variations on bikers anyway. It's a rare bit of silliness in a film that seems to take itself fairly seriously. There's no winking going on here, especially from Diesel, who clearly has a great affection for this character—the one that essentially started him down a certain path as an actor.
What Diesel and Twohy have done is captured the indie-movie energy and vibe that they created for PITCH BLACK, poured in a few more dollars, another interesting supporting cast, and a substantial amount of Diesel's inherent coolness and given us a film that about entertainment, yes, but also a fair amount of looking behind the goggles at just who Riddick is and what makes him tick. Yeah, I liked this one.