Earlier this week I came up with the idea of doing a post for FEARnet about Riddick's top 10 most badass moments from his first two outings (which should be up this weekend!), and I'm incredibly glad I did because it forced me to re-watch Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick, both of which I hadn't seen in many years. Actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure I ever saw the entirety of Chronicles until the other night.
Not that spending 4 hours on my couch watching those two movies was the most pleasurable experience of my week, but I'm glad I did it because doing so allows me to pad out my review of this latest installment in the franchise with some preliminary thoughts on the first two. Because talking Riddick without first talking Pitch Black and Chronicles would make me a bad blogger, and that's just not kosher with me.
So then. Pitch Black. Released in 2000, the year that we were all supposed to die because of that minor computer glitch that had no impact on us whatsoever. Watching the movie nowadays, the CG effects are pretty dated and awful, and the movie is full of flaws, but I still found myself digging it quite a bit. Pitch Black is a cool little sci-fi/horror hybrid, totally deserving of the cult status and box office/home video success that came its way. It introduced us to a badass antihero and pitted him against vicious alien beasts...what's not to love?!
Four years later we got Chronicles of Riddick, which was to kick off a trilogy of new tales centered around a brutal religious group known as the Necromongers. Though I appreciate the effort of infusing Riddick into a bigger and more epic story than his previous outing, I quite frankly don't care for Chronicles one bit. It's just a big dumb action movie and totally doesn't feel like it even belongs in the same franchise as Pitch Black. Gone are the monsters. Gone is the gore. And gone is the R rating. In other words, gone is pretty much everything I dug about Pitch Black, except for the main character. It's like an Alien sequel, with Ripley battling crazy religious zealots rather than the Xenomorphs....who wants to see that?!
I hate to celebrate the failure of any movie, but I'm actually quite glad that I'm not alone in not digging Chronicles, because it's the box office failure of that movie that directly led to the creation of Riddick. If it did well at the box office and caught on with audiences, that would've meant more sequels like it, chronicling Riddick's further adventures with the Necromongers. But because it didn't do so well, writer/director David Twohy decided instead to abandon the original idea of continuing that story and instead go back to the basics, in an effort to bring the franchise back on track.
Though the film does make an effort to continue the storylines from the previous two installments, Riddick is more or less a bigger budget, more polished reboot of Pitch Black, designed to tap into what the fans enjoyed so much about that movie. What worked in 2000 was the simple story of Riddick battling alien creatures, and that's precisely where the focus is placed in this new installment.
Riddick once again finds himself stranded on a monster-inhabited planet, hunted down by humans who are too stupid to realize that he should be the least of their worries. Shit hits the fan when darkness falls, and they're all forced to band together to try and survive the night. Just as that simple formula worked in 2000, it works again in 2013. Go figure!
In fact, I'm going to have to say that the formula works even better nowadays than it did back then, advancements in technology and improvements over some of the other shortcomings of Pitch Black serving to make Riddick the character's most entertaining adventure to date. The CG creature effects are light years ahead of those on display in Pitch Black, and Riddick manages to deliver everything that I only wish Chronicles was able to deliver back in 2004; over the top rated R gore and a whole lot of monster action. That's all I was looking for, and that's precisely what I got.
Despite the fact that it is at the end of the day a big dumb popcorn flick, rife with generic characters and situations that anyone who's ever seen an action movie is all too familiar with, Riddick is nevertheless a whole lot of fun and it feels like a breath of fresh air for the franchise, even if it's cut from very much the same cloth as Pitch Black was. It runs a bit long, with more of a focus on bounty hunters arguing with each other and trying to find Riddick than I personally needed, but it totally gets the job done and successfully reboots the franchise in a way that effectively erases Chronicles from the mind and makes you remember why you fell in love with the character in the first place. What more can ya really ask for?
On the gore front, Riddick is pretty damn impressive, with a few sequences that quite frankly wouldn't be out of place in one of the Hatchet movies. The R rating allowed for Twohy to really go for it, and Riddick is a whole lot gorier than either of the previous two installments were. To have a movie with such a badass killer as the hero be rated PG-13 is quite frankly sacrilegious, so the amped up gore was an incredibly welcome change from the watered down Chronicles. Riddick spouts a line early on in the film about rediscovering that animal side in himself, which he felt he had lost in the span of time between Chronicles and this film. That line pretty much sums up the entire movie, the franchise re-uniting with its brutal animalistic side, right along with the character.
I've gotta go ahead and applaud David Twohy for putting aside the bigger story he wanted to tell and instead catering directly to fan desires and bringing the franchise back to its simple origins of pitting a badass dude against badass monsters. While the decision was of course money motivated, it's nevertheless incredibly fulfilling to see the fans get exactly what they want, and to know that it was in fact the fans that are responsible for the series going back to the start, rather than progressing down the path it was supposed to head down. Nice to know that some filmmakers care about what the fans want to see, and are paying attention to what they're saying.
As Chronicles proved and Riddick further solidifies, these movies are at their best when Riddick is fighting monsters, and it was quite a pleasure to be able to sit back in the theater with a bucket of popcorn and get to see that action again. In many ways Riddick feels like an apology for Chronicles, and it's an apology I wholeheartedly accept.
Now let's just hope Twohy sticks to what works and doesn't try to get all ambitious again, with Riddick's next outing. Keep it simple, keep it gory and keep it fun, and I'll keep coming back to the theater. I promise.