Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Chronicles of Riddick

 Vin Diesel has certainly cut out a name for himself in action movies. But one of his best was undoubtedly Pitch Black. An early 00's sci-horror flick in vein of Alien. Who could've predicted that the sequel would be a massive big budget sci-fi epic in vein of Dune and/or Star Wars. But with a leading man like Riddick, it’s obviously going to be darker and more violent than either of those.
Insert Vin Diesel's trademark smirk here: Obviously.

  The Chronicles of Riddick is massive in scope and vastly different in tone from its predecessor. Pitch Black inhabited a gritty futuristic world like you might see in Firefly and Blade Runner. However our look into this world was narrowed to a mere glimpse. We see a ship, its crew, and small insight into the kind of environment it operates in. This is all flipped drastically in The Chronicles of Riddick. The world we're put into is still the same gritty future, but its inhabited by villains who wouldn't be out of place in a sweeping medieval epic. Instead of scary looking black horses on which to ride into a scene and slash away at the innocent villagers, they have scary looking spacecraft, impeccably designed to evoke a gothic and futuristically regal look. Its an odd balance of tone.
   We expect characters like Riddick to be up against bounty hunters, law enforcement, and mercenaries. The vicious aliens in the first one fit the plot so well that it’s hardly relevant to the point I'm making here.  Seeing Riddick end up being the reluctant hero tasked with avenging his race and saving the universe from a whole legion of space-faring bad guys is stunning, overwhelmingly different, but not at all unwelcome. He went from a mere badass to mankind's savior over the course of a movie. And given the character, and how Vin Diesel inhabits him so well the movies may feel a world apart, but they’re linked very nicely.

   There still are mercs, and prison planets, and all the tropes a sequel to Pitch Black should have, but those are tiny plot points. The scope of the narrative has exploded and multiplied exponentially. We’re no longer confined to the sci-horror/survival nature of the first movie. This is a movie where the fate of all mankind hangs in the balance. And Riddick is the prophesied savior. And that’s the point I’m making. There are elemental beings, and prophecies, a villain who is half dead and has been to the gates of hell apparently, and its very fantasy oriented. Sci-fi fantasy, granted, but the world from Pitch Black didn’t seem like home to these characters and their mythical prophecies. It was a gritty world. Devoid of such things.

Was the shift in tone a bad one? No. It expands the universe that Riddick inhabits in a big way. Some may not care for the tone of this one, and it’s understandable. It really is like if the sequel to Alien had Ripley joining a cause to save the universe and fight Darth Vader and blow up the death star. That’s how drastic it feels. But doesn’t that sound awesome? That is indeed the case with Riddick. Dropping him into a situation like this creates for massive spectacle and intense eye candy. Because we’ve dropped those confines, we’ve got a character-faithful space adventure with insanely high stakes that speeds from one big action packed set piece to the next.

Visually it’s incredibly unique. You’ll be hard pressed to find another movie like it. The closest I can even think of, is David Lynch’s Dune. Spacecraft and weapons aren’t the typical rocket powered, and pew pew stuff from Star Wars. Stuff looks fundamentally unique and incredibly different here. If for that reason alone, see it. It’s a refreshing bit of eye candy that doesn’t feel like a run of the mill sci-fi actioner. It’s a big budget space faring epic at its Hollywood finest. Vin Diesel and cast all bring their A game and deliver some very good performances.

   The story is a little heavy on things it never takes the time to adequately explain, but it seems well written, and the dialog isn’t bad. All the acting is very good. Its overall very well put together. And it certainly shows. This never once feels second rate. Its first class action and adventure all the way. And with a character as badass and iconic as Riddick who’s simply a whole lot of fun to watch, this movie is pure entertainment.

  It does however; help to see both movies to get the full weight of the character development and what these guys have been through. But given the grand scale of this one, Pitch Black would feel merely like a prologue. And from that perspective, The Chronicles of Riddick hardly wraps up the book. It’s merely chapter one. We still have many questions, many loose plot lines, and a huge cliffhanger.  It doesn't feel like we got a crap ending. It feels like this was simply made to extend over a few more movies. And it helps that we actually would like to see more.

I’m enthralled. It genuinely has me. I’m ready to start reading the next chapter. Hurry the hell up Diesel, Twohy, I’m ready for it. And I have a feeling, so are a lot of other people.

P.S. A third Riddick film is already filming and slated for a 2013 release.

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