The Chronicles of Riddick Review
Five years after the conclusion of Pitch Black, Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), sporting dreadlocks and living in self-exile on a frozen planet, finds himself once again being hunted, this time for a 1.5 million dollar bounty. Tipped off to where Riddick is hiding by Abu "Imam" al-Walid (the cleric Riddick saved in the first film), a merc (mercenary) named Toombs (Nick Chinlund) arrives to collect our antihero and the bounty on his head. Riddick eludes capture, steals Toombs' ship and flies to New Mecca where he confronts the backstabbing cleric. Imam (Keith David) tells Riddick that Toombs was used to draw him out, because New Mecca is being targeted for takeover by Necromongers (a legion of armor-wearing storm troopers who will kill you if they can't convert you to their evil ways) and he is the only one who can save them. According to an Elemental named Aereon (a ghostly seer who can appear and disappear at will), Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), the Necromonger's half dead/half alive leader (who can pull the soul right out of your body) has systematically destroyed a race of people known as Furions, because it was prophesied that Lord Marshal can only be defeated by a Furion warrior... Riddick, it appears, is the last remaining Furion.
Still with me?
Riddick tells Imam it's not his fight, but before he can leave, the Necromongers arrive and a deadly battle ensues. Riddick is captured and taken to Lord Marshal's ship where he meets the Necro leader, his second-in-command Vaako (Karl Urban) and Vaako's seductive wife Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton), who will stop at nothing until her man has overthrown Lord Marshall as leader. Riddick is forced to undergo a mind probe and during the procedure, Lord Marshal discovers that Riddick is in fact the last Furion. Riddick escapes yet again, and once he's recaptured he's sent to a hellish subterranean prison on a planet called Crematoria where the surface temperature reaches 700 degrees during the day - there he is reunited with Kyra (the now-grown character Jack from Pitch Black), a former merc betrayed by fellow mercenaries and sold into slavery, who is deadlier than most of the men on Crematoria and the two of them escape and head back to face Lord Marshal and the inevitable final confrontation that awaits them.
Four years ago, director David Twohy offered up a brilliant little slice of horror and science fiction called Pitch Black. It made an overnight star of Vin Diesel and quickly became a cult favourite. Teaming once again with Diesel, he's made a sequel (of sorts) in the form of The Chronicles of Riddick. Borrowing plot and production design ideas from the likes of Dune, Starship Troopers, Star Wars: Episode II and even The Matrix, he's created a fascinating new world of planets, Necromongers, Elementals and Furions. Back onboard are Diesel and Keith David as well as the character of Jack/Kyra, and Graeme Revell once again provides the music. The special effects and cinematography are dazzling. Cinematographer Hugh Johnson replaces David Eggby from the first film and despite the bigger production, manages to retain the flavour of the original. There is a fantastic sequence on the planet Crematoria where they have to outrun a rising sun before they are burned to death and the underground prison is truly impressive. Although technically a sequel to Pitch Black, Twohy intended The Chronicles of Riddick to be the first film in a trilogy of Riddick adventures and the ending of the film certainly leaves the door open for a sequel.
Say what you will about Vin Diesel's (Pitch Black) acting technique (or lack thereof), but the character of Richard B. Riddick was tailor made for him and he plays it for all it's worth. Every inch an action hero, he can jump, kick, punch, kill and grunt with the best of them and it doesn't hurt that he looks awesome in a tight tank top and cargo pants. Alexa Davalos (Angel) is excellent as Kyra, the sexy, but cynical tough-as-nails reincarnation of the girl named Jack from Pitch Black who sees Riddick as a mentor and gives him a run for his money in the killing and ass-kicking department. An odd casting choice and shamefully-underused, Dame Judi Dench (Die Another Day) adds a bit of class to the film and is ever the professional, making the most of the ethereal Elemental Aereon. Karl Urban (LOTR: The Two Towers) is great as Vaako as is Nick Chinlund (Below) as the sleazy merc Toombs. At the opposite end of the acting spectrum is Thandie Newton's Dame Vaako and Colm Feore's Lord Marshal. Newton (Mission Impossible 2) is stunning to look at, but her attempt at doing Lady MacBeth falls flat and there is little chemistry between her and Karl Urban. Similarly, Colm Feore (Titus) is a good actor, but never quite captures the megalomanic essence of Lord Marshal.
The Chronicles of Riddick doesn't succeed as a proper sequel because it lacks the elements that made Pitch Black such a success, namely the minimalist claustrophobic set pieces and the casting of relatively unknown actors. With more money at his disposal and a higher profile Diesel, Twohy threw caution to the wind and decided to make the sequel a science fiction epic with bigger stars and spectacular cinematography and special effects. The film is at its best when the focus is on Riddick. The silvery-eyed antihero has lost a bit of his edge and Twohy has done some bizarre editing to the fight scenes (by way of close-ups and strobe lights), but the action sequences and one-liners are vintage Riddick and saving his own ass remains his number one priority. Though the Necromonger subplot is a bit confusing (I'm sure it will be explained fully in the second and third films of the trilogy) and riddled with plot holes, the film does succeed as a stand alone film. If you're looking for an entertaining couple of hours, The Chronicles of Riddick will deliver, but if you're expecting the excellence and originality of its predecessor, it will leave you disappointed.