Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: Riddick!

Watching Riddick I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to 2012’s Dredd, another ultra-violent, small-scale sci-fi film - with an uncompromising testosterone-fuelled lead character - that managed to squeeze a lot of value out of its budget. Riddick isn’t as consistently engaging as Dredd, but rest assured it has its share of gleefully messed up moments as meat-heap Vin Diesel sends the title character hurtling back to his savage roots. Much like Dredd, I entered with low expectations but wound up surprisingly entertained.

I’ll tell you why I’m a convert... after the jump!

Riddick is a badass. Now you can resist that, choosing to mock each grizzled tough-guy one-liner, or you can embrace it. It’s far more fun to just roll with it, to accept Vin Diesel as a fleshy battering ram and delight in him ploughing relentlessly through the scenery. I haven’t even seen the second film in the trilogy, The Chronicles of Riddick, but now I’m actually curious to check that one out purely based on his performance.

There are hints to the content of the second film. Whatever lofty station that Riddick had previously attained is unceremoniously taken away from him when he is betrayed and left for dead on an inhospitable planet plagued by grotesque and murderous monsters. Riddick almost dismisses the second film himself in his gruff narration, stating that he’d made a big mistake by becoming “civilized” and that he was going to wipe the slate clean and start again. He then spends a good 20 or so dialogue-free minutes asserting his dominance by punching the shit out of the local wildlife. I’ve heard people say that this section was slow going but I personally loved it. It was like it was straight out of the pages of sci-fi/fantasy comics magazine Heavy Metal. Why would you not want to see one man alone on a desolate planet devising ingenious ways to eviscerate things? The film commits to an idea and attacks it.

It’s only later when Riddick manages to get himself hunted by two factions of rival bounty hunters that the story (and dialogue) really kicks in and begins to explore familiar tropes. The bulk of the film has that 80’s vibe of a group of commandos/mercenaries being stalked by an impossible foe (in this case, Diesel). It has dashes of both Aliens and Predator but thankfully the ensemble is strong, and there are enough inspired bursts of visual flair to forgive the fact that the film sags a bit at times. Our appreciative audience seemed mostly onboard, enthusiastically applauding at one key moment, an even bigger reaction than the collective nerd-gasp that erupted when the beloved Katee Sackhoff (playing bounty hunter Dahl) performed her first nude scene. (It’s a shame that she’s stuck in a largely thankless role, alternating weirdly between being the tough girl and an object). Really much of this film’s pleasure derives from anticipation. It’s a cycle of setups and payoffs where we eagerly await the moment that Riddick will follow through on his promises.

I’m not going to insult the film by saying that it’s fun if you “turn your brain off” because if it does veer a bit dumb at times then I think it’s very deliberate. I feel confident that director David Twohy and his cast know exactly what this film is and relish playing around with it. They work very well within their limitations. They’ve created a film which is closer in spirit and scope to Pitch Black, however, the leaps forward in technology have allowed them to create some far more outlandish and ambitious set pieces. Yes, the CGI can get a little cartoony, but if you can immerse yourself it’s an entertaining ride. Not the best film I’ve seen this year, but a good night out. And if you grew up loving the sci-fi actioners of the eighties then I definitely recommend it!

1 comment:

  1. As idiotic of a movie as you can get, but worth the trip for the obvious amount of fun it's having with itself. Nice review Luke.