Vin Diesel Isn’t Fighting for Family in Space
“There are bad days, and then there are legendary bad days.” If there was ever one line that could sum up the experience of watching Riddick, the most recent entry to date in the biggest Vin Diesel franchise that isn’t Fast and Furious, it would be that one. A film that embraces the cheese though is never quite as fun as it could or should have been, it still remains the pinnacle of the series. This may be damning with faint praise, especially considering that there is much that just feels like a chore to this one, but it does get to be properly silly by the time it finally makes its way to the final act. Is this enough of a reward for the surprisingly meandering journey it takes to get there? Not really, but there is still at least some joy awaiting you at the end. Of course, that is only if you make it that far as this one really starts to drag.
This all begins with the titular Riddick (Diesel) as he emerges from a pile of rubble on a desolate planet. Though he is rather seriously injured, that won’t stop him from doing battle with the hostile creatures on the planet. Once he manages to do this, we are given a whole lot of exposition about how he ended up here that doesn’t really matter and drags the whole thing down even as we are just getting started. After this is over, he hides himself so that he has a chance to more fully heal. He makes a friend in one of the creatures on the planet who will accompany him as he makes his way across the planet. When Riddick arrives at an abandoned mercenary base, he thinks that he may have found his way out. Specifically, he activates a beacon that draws two groups of new mercenaries to the area. He tries to get them to leave one of their ships behind, but that doesn’t end up happening. Instead, the groups are not really up for negotiating and instead want to capture Riddick. They play cat and mouse for a bit in what should have been a thrilling sequence of events though never gets there.
Though there is something potentially engaging about the stripped down conflict and confined location, much of the energy feels sapped from the experience. Any of the excitement that might have been had in some of the initial moments as Riddick takes on various beasts with a combination of both his brains and brawn soon feels like it fades away. One negotiation that should be tense just feels like it is the characters talking in circles with each other. When someone pulls out a gun and everything goes into chaos, the effects don’t do the film any favors either. That everything is basically cut short before the fight can even really begin makes it all the more disappointing. There aren’t dynamic stunts to speak of or well-choreographed action that stands out as it insead just tries to keep getting to the next moment. Even when the film tries to give the empty scenes something resembling an emotional conflict, it falls increasingly flat. Diesel can do a lot with just his gravelly voice, but even he can’t smooth over the generally banal journey that it takes us on. One hesitates to call it boring as there are some thrills, but none of them hold the weight that they really should.
In particular, even Dave Baustista in one of his earliest roles feels like he is going wasted. When he meets his end, it feels like an afterthought when it could and should have made better use of his distinct on-screen presence. While he is a small part of the ensemble cast of characters, it is indicative of the lack of detail to their characterization that it is hard to remember much of anything about him or anyone else. If you think of a classic science fiction film like Alien, you can remember specific details about each of the crew. Obviously, Riddick was never really interested in telling a gripping story in such a fashion. However, that is no excuse for not at least putting in some thought to the characters to make us care when everything kicks off. To give credit where credit is due, when it hits the fan it can be a lot of fun. Take when someone gets pierced through the chest by creatures outside. The use of what seems to be more practical effects are fun and appropriately gruesome. At the same time, there is a persistent emptiness to it all that lingers over the entire slog of a runtime.
The passion is there in key aspects of the craft, but the rest of the substance is just lacking. Even when Diesel is able to let loose, cackling like a maniac while still chained up, it passes far too hurriedly to really leave any impact. There is the great moment involving Riddick kicking a sword through the air, but that is only one scene amidst an entire feature that could have used this more macabre spirit. Whatever the new film ends up being, if it is even made after all this time, one hopes that Diesel is given room to really just go completely bananas like he does here as this film feels like it is stuck between embracing absurdity and playing it straight.
For most of it, it seems just like a countdown to the conclusion that can’t come quickly enough. This finale is quite a lot of fun as the characters try to escape while under attack, but it isn’t worth the massive investment that it takes to get there. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that it is really only 20 minutes of madness that can’t make up for just how mundane everything else is. Had this been maintained throughout, then it really could have been something more fun. Indeed, there is nothing quite like seeing Riddick do a stunt on a space motorcycle over top of a swarm of killer beasts. These are moments where Diesel, who clearly has a lot of love for the character, just seems to be showing off. Unfortunately, this is not enough to redeem the rest of the film around him. As it stands now, the greatest legacy that Riddick has is as a missed opportunity that could and should have been so much more.