Give Riddick’s creator David Twohy some credit. Despite audiences intimating in the strongest possible terms that they have, at best, a cursory interest in a franchise featuring Vin Diesel’s cat-eyed space killer, he’s managed to convince the moneymen to splurge on not one but two sequels.
Having enjoyed a modest success with 2000’s Pitch Black ($39m domestic on a $23m budget), he somehow sold the idea that these unremarkable numbers equated to an untapped audience of blockbuster proportions whom presumably had only stayed away the first time around because they’d been stuck in traffic en route to the cinema. Triple the budget and sanitise the content to achieve a teen friendly rating, argued Twohy, and six times the original gross was all but a formality. Sure, brand awareness was low and the protagonist is an antagonist, which is traditionally a hard sell for a mass audience, but make it and they would come. Unfortunately, bafflingly, The Chronicles of Riddick defied those reasonable expectations and flopped, making $57m domestic on a $105m budget. Twohy’s dream of further chronicling Riddick’s misadventures seemed dead and buried, like so many of the character’s victims, but the director went away, regrouped, crunched the numbers and has now returned with a follow-up reminiscent in tone, outlay and content to that 2000 original.
Riddick, delivered for a mere $38m, may see the character return in reduced circumstances but with a low budget comes greater freedom, and the trade off is that this sequel has a fun, b-movie vibe, complete with gratuitous female nudity, bloody violence and bad language. You never heard Vin Diesel promise to get “balls deep” into an attractive mercenary in that big budget sequel, and perhaps that’s just as well, but free of the obligation to make a film that’s all things to all people, Twohy’s embraced the sci-fi schlock pedlar within, making a film that seems to suit both him and the eponymous character much better.
The disadvantage to having less cash is Twohy doesn’t seem to have many low budget ideas that don’t involve Riddick being trapped on a planet with a group of undesirables and a hidden alien menace. If the plot’s somewhat reminiscent of the original film and its influences, not least James Cameron’s Aliens, it is at least a flick that makes good use of its precious resources. Every cent of that $38m is on screen, not least in the rendering of a parched alien world that makes up in scale and detail what it loses in organic credibility. A limited number of characters allows for a more intimate sandbox, and with no money for grand spectacle, Twohy’s forced to spend time with his cast instead, giving each man and Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff enough to do that we’re in terrible danger of caring what happens to them.
It may have been a sequel than no one bar Twohy and a small but dedicated cabal of Riddick aficionados wanted, but Vin Diesel’s third outing in the role is a wry and skilfully directed slab of sci-fi horror that overcomes some pacing problems and the need for a few snips in the editing suite, thanks to Diesel’s chunky screen persona. Sackhoff and vengeance craving grunt Matt Nable add lively support. It’s unlikely Riddick will leave the world demanding a further chronicle of the character’s adventures but that hasn’t stopped him returning before. Not goodbye then but until next time.