Laura CliffordVin Diesel launched his career as an action hero with the release, in 2000, of the popular sci-fi adventure, “Pitch Black.” He has made a false step or two since then but is clearly in control as the adventures of Richard B. Riddick enter the second phase in what may be a franchise in “The Chronicles of Riddick.”
Fans of “Pitch Black,” and the numbers are considerable, embraced Vin Diesel and helped propel him to stardom. The mutated muscle man who can see in the dark cut quite a figure in the first of the Riddick films and Diesel established himself as a going concern as an action star. Richard B. Riddick is not the kind of guy you want to mess with, whether you are a vicious, human-eating alien or, as in “Chronicles,” the power-hungry evil Lord Marshal (Colm Feore).
Lord Marshal has been to the Underverse and back and is now “half alive and half something else.” He has created an army of converts, called Necromongers, and is using his minions to begin the 10th Crusade to take over the universe.
Riddick has been incarcerated on a prison planet for the past five years to protect “Jack,” the young girl posing as a boy in “Pitch Black.” He escapes but soon a band of bounty hunting mercenaries, led by Toombs (Nick Chinlund), are hot on his tail and come darn close to capturing the last of the Furion race. But, there are only four of the mercs and the super-strong and smart Riddick bests them easily, takes their spaceship and heads to Helion Prime to confront the man who may have betrayed him years before – Imam (Keith David, reprising his role from “PB”).
Once on the multi-cultural and religiously liberal Helion, Riddick learn of Lord Marshal’s plans for domination of the universe just as the evil leader’s throngs of Necromongers – mind regressed former humans conditioned to do their lord’s bidding - descend upon the peaceful planet and wreak havoc. Riddick battles the mutant warriors, besting them every time until he is caught – not by the Necromongers but by Toombs and his newly recruited mercs. Their plan is to take the Furion to the prison planet of Crematoria – where the daytime temperatures soar to 700 degrees – and exchange their prisoner for a big bounty. The powerful and cunning Riddick, having learned that “Jack” is being held there, allows his captors to transport him without killing them - yet.
Lord Marshal, wanting to defeat his last great enemy (or, better yet, turn him into a Necromonger), sends his loyal commander, Vaako (Karl Urban), and mutant army on a mission to find and eliminate Riddick. But, the Furion of few words (except for the occasional smart-ass quip) cannot be dealt with so easily and it all comes down to a battle between the muscular anti-hero and the main bad guy.
“The Chronicles of Riddick” has the feel, if not the look, of an old-fashioned sci-fi flick as it reprises ideas and actions from a plethora of earlier films, such as “Predator,” “Star Wars,” “Dark City,” “Ghostbusters,” “Die Hard,” “The Road Warrior,” “Flash Gordon” (without the bright colors) and “Excalibur.” It takes a little time to get rolling as we are reintroduced to Riddick after our hiatus from the character since “Pitch Black,” but soon things start rolling along at a good clip.
The action is fast and furious – sometimes a bit too fast and too furious – as Riddick does battle with the Necromonger phalanx of regressed converts. Riddick is a bit like The Bride in “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” as he takes on all comers all at once. The problem, though, is that helmer/scribe David Twohy shoots these fight scenes up close, too close, and the editors (Tracy Adams, Dennis Hunter and Mark Virkler) display a short attention span as they cut the action so quickly as to make the scenes almost incomprehensible at times.
“The Chronicles of Riddick” is a sci-fi actioner and we get both in ample amounts as Riddick travels from planet to planet and does in all comers who try to take him out. Diesel is physically impressive and has the moves, and the witty one-liners, to keep you watching. There is, despite the too-tight fight scenes, a goodly amount of action to please this particular genre’s junkies. The science fiction aspect of the tale will keep those fans satisfied, too, as the players jump from one planet to another, facing strange creatures, violent climates, marauding spaceships and supernatural enemies.
Of course, and as one would expect, the characters (except Riddick) take a back seat to the action and F/X. Diesel, the draw for “The Chronicles,” is the central character and, with his cocky ‘tude and physical prowess, is the glue that holds it all together. The players around Roddick, though definitely second banana to Diesel and the production, do well enough opposite Riddick and the special effects. Thandie Newton as the slinky, ambitious Dame Vaark, is exotic and quite stunning as the woman behind the man, Vaark. Karl Urban, as her second-in-command husband, is brooding with intensity as he, though conditionally loyal to Marshal, has a solid sense of right and wrong that he must suppress to survive.
The rest of the supporting cast does their jobs well enough despite working in the shadow of the F/X machine. Colm Feore can always pull a decent bad guy out of his hat and plays the evil Lord Marshal with relish. Dame Judi Dench gives her usual classy performance as the Elemental – an ethereal psychic held hostage by Lord M. Nick Chinlund makes his mark as the smart ass bounty hunter and, though he’s been around for a while, could get some real notice for his Toombs character. Newcomer Alexa Davalos, as Kyra (formerly “Jack”), is a knockout even under all of the dirt. The story doesn’t treat her character well and I had hoped for more of her.
The production shows the quantum leap in budget since “Pitch Black.” While the previous film used the dark, and the monsters lurking there, to good economical effect, “The Chronicles” spends its bucks and puts them up onto the screen. The effects are good quality but do not break much new ground. There is some thought given to some new and different concepts like the “Lensers” – mutant creatures that, equipped with a face mask (the lens), can see their human prey in the dark, through walls, etc. They are kind of like a living night scope.
Other production credits are also good quality. Costume (by Michael Dennison and Ellen Mirojnick), especially the stylish armor of Lord Marshal and his Necromongers which is a cross between the Imperial troopers in “Star Wars” and King Arthur’s knights, is well done. Production design, by Holger Gros, is varied and each planet has its own unique, sometimes foreboding, look. Editing, as I said, is a bit too rapid at times. F/X are, overall, solid – I particularly like the demon dogs that the warders on Crematoria send into the prison populace for “feeding time.” Hugh Johnson handles his lensing duties with skill.
“The Chronicles of Riddick” will reestablish Diesel as a major action player, a necessity after the terrible showing in “A Man Apart.” This is going to be huge with the action junkies, sci-fi nuts and Vin Diesel fans. It starts off a little slow but, as its pace picks up, so does your attention. I give it a B-.
Last seen battling creatures which thrived in "Pitch Black," Vin Diesel returns to go up against bigger stakes in "The Chronicles of Riddick."
Writer/director David Twohy ("Below," "Pitch Black") should have quit while he was ahead. "Pitch Black" was derivative, but at least offered interesting visuals and a cast of characters defined by a "Twilight Zone" episode. This utterly superfluous sequel is plotted with pretentious pseudo-religious conflict that makes "The Matrix" sequels look profound and exists in artificial worlds that call attention to the spaces which exist outside of their matte frames. The most interesting aspect of "The Chronicles of Riddick" is how Twohy attracted such a fine supporting cast.
Riddick arrives on the Muslim-like planet of Helion in time to be made the unwitting hero who must defeat the Necromons, an undead race who only fear Furions and aspire to enter the 'Underverse.' After Helion is destroyed in an air raid reminiscent of the bombing of Baghdad as seen on CNN, Riddick makes his way to a prison planet 'so hot you can't set foot on it' in order to find Jack, "Pitch Black's" stowaway, before returning to duke it out with the Necromons' head honcho, Lord Marshal (Colm Feore, "Paycheck").
The best things about "The Chronicles of Riddick" are Thandie Newton's ("The Truth About Charlie") campy costumes, one action scene where Riddick saves Jack from a 700 degree sunrise, and the 'lensers,' creepy dive-masked bloodhounds that sniff out the warmth in Necromons's living enemies. Nick Chinlund ("Tears of the Sun") is entertaining as Riddick's mercenary nemesis Toombs and Linus Roache ("Beyond Borders") meets an interesting demise as the Necromons' Purifier. All else is hogwash, from the "Stargate"-like mechanics of the Necromons' trappings to howl-inducing dialogue like 'My place is at your side, dear husband, from here to Underverse come.' Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench ("Die Another Day") is Aereon, an envoy from the elemental race, whose ability to become transparent perhaps reflects the actress's wish to disappear from the screen.
In Twohy's defense, his film improves from a spectacularly awful first half hour to the better-paced cheesy action that follows. His conclusion, however, ripped off from "The Man Who Would Be King," promises another installment, with Diesel's love interest rumored to be a character established here as even years younger than Jack's in the first flick.
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