Review: The Chronicles of Riddick

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Who is David Twohy? How did this small budget science-fiction director get saddled with the 100-million-dollar film like The Chronicles of Riddick? He created, wrote, and directed it, of course.

Twohy's 2000 cult favorite Pitch Black was the film that launched Vin Diesel into the minds of movie-goers. The little sci-fi horror film that could also surprised the studio and put Twohy on the A-list.

It was about a year after the success of Pitch Black that Twohy approached Diesel and Universal Studios about an idea of continuing the adventures of his anti-hero Riddick, who was one of the only survivors of Pitch Black. Twohy proposed that Pitch Black be his prequel to a much larger trilogy of films that follows the exploits of his space-age anti-hero. Twohy tapped it as "The Dark Star Wars". The studio agreed.

Now, the first in a proposed trilogy of films on Riddick opens. It's five years after the three survivors of Pitch Black left the planet. Riddick (Vin Diesel) is being hunted by a band of vicious mercenaries lead by Toombs (Nick Chinlund); Imam (Keith David) watches as his new planet, Helion Prime, is ravaged by the onslaught of a war conquering race known as "Necro-mongers" (a cross between the Borg and the Romans with a sort of undead element); and the young girl Jack (Alexa Davalos), now calling herself Kyra, has been sent to the prison planet, Crematoria.

As the plot unfolds, Riddick is lured to Helion Prime at the wishes of his friend Imam and an elemental elder known as Aereon (Judi Dench). It turns out that Riddick's past links him to mythical race of beings known as Furians and a prophecy dictates that a Furian will bring down the Necro-mongers and their Lord Marshal (Colm Feore).

Can Riddick escape the clutches of the mercs long enough to free his ward, Kyra, from Crematoria and fulfill his destiny?

You can see the scope and passion Twohy has put into this project. The production design, sets, costumes, and effects are utter eye-candy to any sci-fi junkie. It is a marvelous-looking film.

Diesel's return to his Riddick persona is him just doing more of the same. He grunts, growls, and flexes through a lot of scenes as he hates being the centre of attention. Diesel looks powerful and his battles are vintage Diesel. He is a hero among men, but the film uses a lot more fate-guided plot elements and doesn't allow Riddick to really struggle with who or what he is. He just doesn't care.

Probably the best performances come from the likes of Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, and Alexa Davalos.

Feore is ultra-menacing as a sort of other-worldly Caesar and he towers over all the other actors in the project. This could be a career launcher for the veteran Canadian actor.

Newton is sleek, confidant, and delicious as the scheming wife of the necro-monger Vaako (Karl Urban). The only problem with Newton's performance is that she had no chemistry with Urban. In some ways I guess that is good since she is so self-centered, but in other ways it is tough for an audience to see what Urban sees in her.

Davalos was a fan favorite of the cult television series Angel and in this film Davalos brings a lot of humanity to "uber-male" Riddick. Davalos brings a lot of spunk, energy, and tenderness to Riddick. If it wasn't for her character, I don't know if audiences could have connected with Diesel's anti-hero.

Some things that disappointed me about Riddick were the story elements and the film's overall deep foreboding darkness issue. Like last year's vampire flick Underworld, Riddick takes itself way too seriously and covers a lot of the plot holes with colorful language and suggestion.

Riddick uses the word "faith" through a lot of the film as the evil, conquering race tempts the populous into witnessing the "under-verse". It is just really goofy and really never fleshes out just how evil these beings really are. We never get to know the race enough to understand their faith or true meaning. All we know is that they are evil.

I have to honor Twohy for his direction and his imagination, but the film's biggest fault comes from the script. There are some places where the dialogue seems overly stiff and there are way too many plot holes.

Riddick is a "big-flexing-effects-bonanza" popcorn movie that is sure to delight fans of darker sci-fi. There needs to be more passion and depth focused on the characters, but that's tough when you have a hero who hates being what he is. (3.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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