Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
The Chronicles of Riddick is a sci-fi action film released in 2004 and follows the continuing adventures of the character Riddick after the events shown in the film Pitch Black. Written and directed by David Twohy, the film sees Riddick thrust into a conflict between a galaxy-conquering empire and the next world they plan to crush into oblivion. The film stars Vin Diesel who also acts as co-producer, Colm Feore, Karl Urban, Keith David, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench and Alexa Davalos. The film is the second in the Riddick series as this was followed by a sequel, also called Riddick in 2013, and it's also the only film in the series that aimed for a PG rating. Unfortunately, the film was not a hit with critics (Diesel even earned a Razzie nomination for his performance). Despite taking $115 million worldwide, the film was a bomb as it failed to recoup its vast budget.
What's It About?
Some five years after escaping from his captors on a remote planet, Richard B. Riddick has been a fugitive all over the galaxy while fleeing from an assortment of mercenaries and bounty hunters. One such mercenary, Tooms, is foiled in a failed attempt to bring Riddick to the authorities and Riddick steals his ship in the aftermath. Riddick travels to New Mecca on the planet Helion Prime after discovering that his bounty originated there. When he arrives, he meets his old acquaintance Iman who wishes to hire Riddick, believing him to be a member of an ancient race of warriors known as Furyans.
Iman believes that Helion Prime is the next target for a barbaric, warlike race called Necromongers who have been creating a trail of carnage across the galaxy, conquering worlds and absorbing any resistance into their own ranks with a fanatical zeal. Before long, Iman is proved right as the Necromongers appear and easily take control of the planet. Riddick, barely escaping the slaughter, is spared in a sense when he is himself captured by a vengeful Tooms who takes him away to the underground prison world of Crematoria...
Richard B. Riddick
Jack / Kyra
Release Date (UK)
27th August, 2004
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Actor (Diesel)
What's to Like?
The Chronicles of Riddick feels like a very old-fashioned sci-fi epic complete with an ill thought-out enemy race and a faintly generic action hero at the centre. Having said this, the film does have some things going for it. It has a very unique look thanks in large part to the Leni Riefenstahl-inspired Necromongers and their obsession for facial iconography. Huge towers adorned with unblinking eyes stare out over alien worlds now under the rule of the Necromongers who are themselves adorned with cold faces on their armour. Much like Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, it is a film that is pretty much identifiable from almost any scene - at least, any scene featuring the 'Mongers.
Weirdly, the film feels comprised of two separate stories rather crudely bolted together - Riddick's galaxy-saving exploits against the Necromongers and his escape attempts from Crematoria. This second plot thread is much more action-packed than the first and is closer in style and tone to the original Pitch Black. It also gives Diesel his best scenes as Riddick as he snarls and growls his way through the film in between kicking several kinds of alien ass. Riddick is an intriguing character, in spite of Diesel's monotone delivery - he is an antihero in every sense and his curved knives and surgically-enhanced eyes are distinctive enough to make him stand out in the action genre. But he can't save the film from being an overblown and underwritten exercise in CG-laden, sci-fi flavoured nonsense.
- Diesel was desperate for Dench to appear, persuading her that he wouldn't cast the film until she agreed to appear. She later claimed in her autobiography that although she enjoyed her time on set, she didn't really understand what the film was about. She spent her time between scenes playing Dungeons & Dragons with her co-stars including Diesel.
- The entire movie was shot at Mammoth Studios in Burnaby, British Columbia which was a former warehouse for retail giant Sears. At one point during the shoot, the movie was actually the third-largest consumer of energy in the whole of Canada.
- The film was followed by two smaller spin-offs: a videogame called The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay (a location briefly mentioned in dialogue) and a short animated film released direct to DVD - The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury which acted as a bridge between Pitch Black and this film. However, unlike the movie, both were well received by critics.
What's Not to Like?
I hate to report on dodgy casting because I have never once appeared in a film and truthfully have no right to criticise people who have earned millions for their talents. The furthest my acting career went was a GCSE for Drama. But even I could spot some embarrassed looking cast members like Newton, Urban and Dench who feels so out of her depth that it's remarkable to see her in such a nothing role. I can understand Diesel's desire to assemble such a talented cast in his role as a producer but unfortunately, it makes the movie feel as overblown as a pufferfish. I also wasn't a fan of Feore who feels like a weak villain opposite Diesel's ultra-macho hardcase and also has the carpet pulled from beneath him by the subplot schemes of two other characters. This is symptomatic of the narrative overall with doesn't make a whole lot of sense and as I already hinted, feels like two half-written films clumsily forced together.
It rankles me that I have to describe the film as sci-fi because there is no science or allegory at all in the way the best sci-fi stories have. This is the dumbest kind of sci-fi, one that only fits the category because it has aliens, laser guns and strange new worlds. Nothing wrong with that, of course - it didn't hamper the likes of Star Wars too badly - but the setting of this series feels underwritten and poorly imagined. Of course, a planet called Crematoria has such a fierce daytime temperature that it burns everything on the surface. It reminded me somewhat of Joss Whedon's Firefly spin-off, Serenity which felt like a space-based setting created by a fan rather than someone with any imagination. Besides soldiers looking like they were styled by Jean Paul Gaultier, I didn't see anything in The Chronicles of Riddick that I hadn't seen somewhere else dozens of times before.
Should I Watch It?
Despite all his heroics and fighting skills, the most impressive thing Riddick manages to save is his own film. Without Diesel's charismatic character, the film is a near-total dud with a meaningless narrative and a poorly defined universe behind it. Sci-fi should be invigorating and imaginative as well as making us question the real world around us. The only questions I had after watching this film was who else besides Diesel would want a third film in the series after this, which lost Universal a whole load of money.
Great For: Vin Diesel, home commentaries, unimaginative action fans
Not So Great For: proper sci-fi fans, furthering a franchise
What Else Should I Watch?
Thank God that Vin Diesel has the Fast And Furious franchise to rely on because if he was searching for a signature cameo, Dominic Toretto has many more miles (literally) than Richard Riddick. Since the character's debut in 2001's The Fast And The Furious, the character and the series itself have grown from strength to strength until it became the billion-dollar franchise it is today. With the ninth instalment due out later in 2021, expectations are high that it will make the same sort of money that The Fate Of The Furious did. However, Diesel has fingers in many pies these days including his voice work as Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Guardians Of The Galaxy and his occasional appearances as adrenaline-fuelled secret agent Xander Cage in the xXx films.
What's so disappointing is that The Ridicules of... sorry, The Chronicles of Riddick is the complete antithesis of its low-budget, indie predecessor Pitch Black. With a more simplistic story and tighter direction by David Twohy, the film is a decent horror-action cross that only really struggles when it stretches its limited resources to depict CG aliens which aren't that convincing. But overall, the film is much better than this and the third film in the series. Riddick was seen as an improvement on The Chronicles of Riddick but still an underwhelming effort in general.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox