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Review: RIDDICK Goes Back to Basics

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by on September 6, 2013

The short review: If you are willing to look past the often groanworthy dialogue and put your cynicism aside, Riddick delivers a solid sci-fi adventure full of high octane action, antiheroics, and white knuckle fun.

The long review: Let me preface this by saying that when it comes to Vin Diesel’s Riddick trilogy, I am a neophyte. I haven’t seen Pitch Black or Chronicles of Riddick. I haven’t even played the video games — and I play a lot of video games. My knowledge of the series was essentially limited to an understanding that it was a generally well regarded sci-fi franchise anchored by Vin Diesel and his weird steampunk nightvision goggle-eyes. That being said, while this doesn’t seem like the kind of franchise that needed to be a trilogy, I found Riddick to be remarkably accessible and enjoyable despite knowing little-to-nothing about it. Sure, it’s clumsy in places and they make someone you love like Nerdist podcast guest Katee Sackhoff or Dave Bautista say something profoundly stupid, but when you look past that, there’s two hours of preposterous action set pieces, self-assured swagger and one-liners that evoke Bill Paxton at his Aliens best.

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It’s been nine years since the last Riddick film, so writer-director David Twohy makes sure to inundate the audience with guttural, corner of the mouth, expositional voiceover from Vin Diesel, as we find Riddick buried alive and left for dead on an alien world. Visions of sugarplum fairies (read: flashbacks to weird future-fascist foursomes and Karl Urban sneering) dance in Riddick’s head as we see our hulking hero crawl out from the debris, tend his considerable wounds, and try to survive among the incredibly unforgiving elements. Of particular merit is the film’s creature design, which manages to impart a familiar xenobiology to its varied beasties and gives them a menacing, deadly edge all at once. The effects and the score are top notch and do a lot to elevate this from Redbox hatewatching rental fodder to supremely satisfying matinee silliness.

At its core, the film is a two hour-long game of cat and mouse, but the roles of “cat” and “mouse” continue to shift and evolve as we meet new characters and our heroes escape old horrors to face fresh ones. Whether it’s Riddick versus the local wildlife, Riddick versus mercenaries, mercenaries versus mercenaries, or everyone versus monsters that look like Dr. Mengele’s version of a Skeksis, the name of the game is always “hide and go seek, but with 100% more murder,” which, as I understand it, is what worked so well for Pitch Black in the first place. In fact, from what I gather, it seems like Twohy and Diesel went out of their way to make this essentially a remake of the 2000 film, but, for my money, it works. Those of you who are tired of the “monsters in the dark” probably won’t be lining up to see Riddick anyway, but Twohy pulls it off well enough to keep the viewer entertained and engaged throughout.

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While some of Riddick‘s dialogue is laughably bad, I get the distinct feeling that the film, and perhaps the franchise as a whole, is meant to have a certain level of testosterone-fueled bombast behind it. Whether it’s Vin Diesel growling his faux-insightful opening monologue or a made-to-order one-liner after a particularly nasty kill, it’s the kind of silly writing that leaves you with a smile on your face in the same vein as something like Pacific Rim‘s “Today, we are canceling the apocalypse.” It’s dumb, to be sure, but it’s the kind of dumb that makes it eminently quotable and/or perfect fodder for gleeful group-watching over a few cold ones.

Whether you’re tired of the Riddick franchise or, like Twohy and Diesel, you want to see two more filmsRiddick is a competent, enjoyable and suitably action-packed third entry and well worth seeing if you’re looking for two hours of delightfully dumb sci-fi escapism.

What did you think of Riddick? Let us know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter. Plus, for another take, be sure to check out Comic Book Club’s video review on the Nerdist Channel later today!