Without a shadow of a doubt, the most interesting thing about David Twohy’s 2000, science fiction epic Pitch Black was the bald, shiny-eyed, morality vacuum known as Riddick. Vin Diesel’s swaggering super criminal was the crown jewel of the savvy, stripped back Aliens homage, a film that traded heavily on the gimmick that both the spikey extra-terrestrial monsters and it’s mysterious, oiled anti-hero both operated best in the dark of night. A sequel was inevitable and like all follow ups it intended to shed more light – both figuratively and literally – on it’s chrome domed central figure who’s star was on the rise thanks to the success of The Fast And The Furious and xXx.
With an increased budget and a far more complicated story (further bolstered by animated and videogame tie-ins released the same year) it was obvious that the powers that be considered Riddick a possible major franchise contender…
Fate, however, sometimes has other plans.
After the events of Pitch Black, we catch up with grizzled Riddick literally cooling his heels on a remote snowy planet on the run from bounty hunters tipped off to his location, but after dealing with this minor annoyance (for Riddick at least), he heads back to the populated galaxy in order to find out which of the two possible people in the universe could have possibly betrayed him. These people end up consisting of the fellow survivors of Riddick’s previous movie, the first of which, Imam is located in New Mecca on the planet Helion Prime. However, a race of warrior zealots known as the Necromongers (who dress like heavy metal Norwegian Eurovision entrants) has laid siege to the city in order to bolster their army led by the death obsessed Lord Marshall, his scheming commander, Vaako and Vaako’s equally manipulative wife (played by Thandie Newton wearing more eye makeup that can be strictly safe and Karl Urban proudly wearing the immaculately crafted hair of a K-pop boyband). After clashing with Riddick they strongly believe he is the last of a warrior race prophesied to end the life of the Lord Marshall and set a pursuit after the criminal allows himself to be abducted by bounty hunters in order to be taken to a brutal Supermax prison on a planet where the sun’s rays reach 700 degrees. Here he id reconnected with “Jack” (the other survivor of Pitch Black) who has renamed herself Kyra and has taken up a life of crime to emulate the man she sees as some sort of big brother figure (interesting choice) and while the two settle their differences they plan to escape before the Necromongers catch up to them. But is there any truth to the prophecy that is constantly being brought up by woman who hails from a race called The Elementals and drifts around place with the power to turn to smoke like a human vape-pen; and even if there is, will the notoriously anti-rules Riddick even want to follow it?
The Chronicles Of Riddick often feels like about three different scripts mashed together to form one single super-epic that sprawls more than a pensioner slipping in the bath. It’s unfortunately as dignified too, as the massively ambitious adventure jerkily yanks itself clumsily from gritty sci-fi prison adventure to fantasy-based, space opera much like the teleporting powers of it’s main villain; if he’d consumed way too much space gin the night before.
It’s not that the film isn’t trying either as the film is positively loaded with interesting ship and planet designs as if David Lynch’s Dune was sweatily remade by the WWE, but all are somewhat thwarted by some noticably shitty CGI that hampers the massive visual scale of the movie down to a really good episode of Farscape.
The expansion of the future world of Pitch Black to include such a bizarre race such as the Necromongers also upsets the apple cart a little where suddenly all the characters have names like Vaako or Aereon and sport genuine super powers which ultimately sits awkwardly in a previously grounded universe where your main character is called Richard. Plus, this mysterious universe is often too on the nose at time which proves to be eyeball tellingly distracting; naming the super-hot fire planet “Crematoria” would be like Star Wars naming Hoth Snowdonia or Tatooine Sandaar or some such shit.
The actors, usually buried under either layers of armour, robes, or soot, try to wrestle the unwieldy plot into submission (like a snow-haired Judi Dench, who blasts through her weighty exposition while you wonder if she knows or cares what any of it even means) but oddly enough, Riddick himself (now apparently the last of the Furyans: an extinct race of fighty bastards) has become a weird, cartoonish parody of himself as the movie breathlessly goes out of it’s way to belabor a fact that we already know – that Riddick is supernaturally tough – to the point where you seriously start to wonder if Diesel is trying to over compensate for something. Watching him kill a sloppy moron with a teacup is entertaining and novel, but after a while it seems that Riddick’s true talent isn’t so much that he’s the ultimate butt kicker but that he picks opponents who are really, really fucking stupid. It certainly doesn’t help much that he’s given such drivel to speak: “It’s been a long time since I smelled beautiful.” he rumbles to Newton’s character, blissfully unaware that his choice of chat up line can be immediately filed under “A Bit Rapey”.
However, despite a galaxy’s worth of niggles and flaws, one thing Chronicles somehow isn’t, is boring and I’m not entirely certain why that is. Maybe it’s because the movie is so nervously eager to smear it’s unnecessary mythology all over your face, or maybe it’s because you can’t wait to see what kind of ludicrous posturing Vin Diesel does next, or maybe it’s even because the whole thing is so endearingly, fucking WEIRD, but it succeeds in passing the time in a decent kind of way.
David Twohy is a gifted filmmaker but as the original Pitch Black and under-the-radar invasion movie The Arrival has proved, he’s a director who works better with a limited budget and while his vision is certainly impressive (the sets are gorgeous) his aggressive world building suffers from too much clutter and too much silliness.
Too vast, too Furyan…