Upon its release in 2004, Vin Diesel’s The Chronicles of Riddick was slammed by critics and bombed at the box office — here’s why it didn’t deserve it.
Spoilers for The Chronicles of Riddick await us.
sci-fi/horror field black introduced the violent and abrasive criminal anti-hero known as Richard B. Riddick, played by Vin Diesel. Directed by The arrival‘s David Twohy, he said a Extraterrestrial-like, pitting Riddick and a group of civilians against a dangerous alien threat after they crash-land on a seemingly abandoned planet. The film became a sleeper hit, grossing over $53 million worldwide on its $23 million budget.
The sequel, titled The Chronicles of Riddick, wouldn’t be so lucky. Fueled by the cult of the main character and the success of another Diesel vehicle, The fast and the furious, David Twohy would once again be asked to write and direct, this time with a considerably larger budget of around $120 million – a budget the film would fail to make at the box office. He was also criticized. It’s been described as a decent, silly action movie, but a poor sequel to PitchBlack.
It is certainly very different from its predecessor, but it is one of the main qualities of the film: its ambition.
Five years after the events of pitch black, Riddick hides on an unnamed ice planet, avoiding bounty hunters led by Toombes (Nick Chinlund). After stealing their ship and reuniting with Imam (Keith David), one of his fellow travelers from the first film, he learns he might be Furyan, a nearly extinct race of ancient warriors. It turns out that Riddick may be the only one who can defeat the Necromongers, an evil cult that worships a half-dead leader, the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), and seeks to convert or kill the entire universe.
Are there many ideas? Too much perhaps? Undoubtedly. But they are also interesting ideas that give the film all the characteristics of a true sci-fi epic. Dare I describe this as Vin Diesel’s Dune?
The Chronicles of Riddick develops the origins of the main character and the universe in which he resides. It puts together a mix of big-production design, a good mix of A-list and B-list actors, and sets up a grand, franchise-worthy epic storyline. All the while, he’s self-aware enough not to take himself too seriously and leans into corny and consequently memorable dialogue.
One of the most wonderful aspects of the movie is Nick Chinlund as bounty hunter Toombes. It had been seven years since Nicolas Cage had told him to put the bunny back in the box in Air conditioning, but the actor certainly hadn’t lost his hand when it came to playing villains. Toombes is a sleazy, wicked job, and Chinlund has some of the craziest lines to deliver. It’s almost enough to make you cringe when he tells his co-workers to “put on a new pair of knickers, let’s go” when they’re chasing Riddick. I think part of it is the extent to which the actor lets himself be completely disgusting for the role. Chinlund seems to know exactly what kind of movie he’s in and sets his expressions and performances 110% accordingly. It’s scary, but it’s also unforgettable.
Chinlund may be leaning into the B-Movie aspects of the film, but The Chronicles of Riddick is globally finely balanced between the overdramatic and the serious. Karl Urban, fresh off the boat The Lord of the Rings, gives a smoldering performance as Commander Vaako, and Thandiwe Newton becomes Lady Macbeth in her own right as his ruthless megalomaniacal wife, Dame Vaako. She doesn’t even have a first name, but with her extravagant hairstyles, skin-tight iridescent dresses, and eyeliner that literally burns when you apply it, she probably doesn’t need it. Keith David adds some much-needed seriousness to the role of Imam and contributes a fair amount of emotional intensity to the narrative through (spoilers) his death. Even Dame Judi Dench is in this movie; you can’t say it’s not great casting.
Somehow we got this far in the discussion The Chronicles of Riddick not to mention much about the man himself. Diesel is brilliant in this area. It’s a role that doesn’t require him to be the best actor in the world, it just requires him to speak gruffly and deliver badass lines. “I’m going to kill you with my cup of tea,” Riddick calmly declares to a prison guard on the fiery planet of crematoria, before quickly following through on his promise.
Don’t be fooled by the one-liners and inventive action sequences (funny as they are), there’s a surprising amount of emotional weight to this story, and a lot for Riddick to learn. Part of the complaint about this episode may be that Riddick got a little soft, but no one can help but form emotional attachments forever. The inclusion of Jack (who now goes by Kyra) from field black leads Riddick to deal with his abandonment issues. The fact that he left her to continue his life has a tangible negative impact for which he takes responsibility.
The Chronicles of Riddick reveals that our anti-hero has a historically heroic lineage and discusses how he changes in response to that. His transition to a more heroic figure makes more sense when you compare Riddick to the Necromongers, who are written and visually coded as obviously and hopelessly evil. The production design, especially when it comes to the Nercromongers, is far from subtle. But then again, few sci-fi or fantasy movies are about how their villains look.
But that doesn’t mean Riddick is an undeniable hero by the end of the film. It’s loved for its complexity, and the ending definitely leans into that. After Kyra’s death at the hands of the Lord Marshal and fatal retaliation from Riddick, the Necromongers kneel before him and accept him as their new leader. Riddick as the leader of an evil cult? Sign me up. Had this plot thread been followed in the 2013 sequel, there would have been plenty of opportunities to explore the character’s moral gray areas, not to mention the chance to take her on another grand adventure. Unfortunately, this was not the case, the studio having decided to reproduce more faithfully field black in disappointment Ridick.
The Chronicles of Riddick is an ambitious sci-fi adventure on an epic scale that also knows how to have a sense of humor. With the announcement in 2016 that Universal is developing a fourth Riddick movie, which Diesel has confirmed will again be written and directed by Twohy, there’s another opportunity to continue building the world of Chronicles. In 2019, Diesel reported that the script had been completed for Riddick 4: Furya implying that he could see the character returning to his legendary home world.
We’ll just have to wait and see what kind of story that tells.
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