A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 538 – The Chronicles of Riddick

The Chronicles of Riddick – August 20th, 2011

Where yesterday’s movie was new to me, this movie, which is that movie’s sequel, is one I have seen countless times. I’m not sure how that’s happened, except that perhaps it’s a little cheaper to get the rights to? I honestly don’t know. But I feel safe in saying that I probably happen upon it on television at least once every two weeks, if not more frequently. And usually I stop on it long enough to see my very favorite scene and by then I’m hooked on it so I keep watching. Because I cannot help but love this movie. I don’t know what it is about it that I find so irresistible but it will grab me every time. It is a guarantee.

I don’t recall when I first saw this movie, but I do recall a friend telling me I had to see it for a single reason: The acrobatic scene. And she was not wrong. The funny part is that somehow, before I’d seen the whole thing beginning to end in one sitting, I was under the impression that said scene came right at the beginning. After all, it features Riddick being locked up, escaping from his shackles on his own (of course), then escaping from prison to go kick some invading army asses. And you’d think that escaping from prison to go be a bad-ass would be a good way to start a movie, right? But there’s a whole act that comes before prison. There’s an entire planet taken over by the invading army and there’s a familiar character killed off and Riddick starts out all hairy and shaves his head. A lot happens before that prison break! And I knew a lot happened, I’d just gotten the order mixed up. The prison break is a strange sort of intermission in the rest of the story.

Now, the actual story of the movie is about how Riddick isn’t just a murderer with shiny eyes, he’s actually one of the last survivors of a genocide perpetrated by the Necromongers, who are sort of like the Borg if the Borg were goth instead of industrial. The leader of the Necromongers (the Lord Marshall, played by the always awesome Colm Feore) is pretty leery of Riddick’s existence, since he’s heard a prophecy that a Furyan man will be his downfall. So he’d ordered all the Furyan men executed, down to babies in their cradles. Somehow Riddick survived. One other guy did too, but I suspect he’d already converted to the Necromongers? Not sure about him. Doesn’t matter, since he’s one of them by the time the movie starts and he gets a good death later on. So of course the movie is going to end in a showdown between Riddick and the Lord Marshall. That much is pretty obvious from the outset. It’s getting there that makes the movie.

Unfortunately, it makes a somewhat messy movie. I’ve already noted that the prison break stuff in the middle feels like it’s in the wrong place, that it should be the beginning, not the second act. Add to the pacing and plotting issues the fact that the movie has two major storylines and one of them was severely edited down for the theatrical cut, and you’ve got some problems. This isn’t to say that I enjoy the movie any less because of them. It’s just that I can recognise that it might have been a more successful movie if it had been dealt with a little differently. The first movie, after all, had a very simple premise and plot, which allowed for a lot of detail to figure into the story itself. This movie tries to give Riddick himself a heap of background mythology, introduce an entire culture of villains in addition to the larger culture of starfaring races present in the universe the movies take place in, and run a side plot reuniting Riddick and Jack, whose presence in the movie is awesome but also totally unnecessary.

Here’s the thing about Jack: The character isn’t really the same here. Enough so that they changed her name. Riddick calls her Jack and she retorts that she goes by Kyra now. She’s on the prison planet Riddick goes to because she wanted eyes like his and he told her a supermax prison was the place to get it done. But aside from that and Riddick’s concern for her survival, she doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose. I know she’s meant to be a motivating force for a man who otherwise would have just walked away from the Necromongers regardless of any prophecies. There had to be a reason for him to go back to them, to get angry with them. Something for him to want revenge for. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it would have been simpler to just use the genocide of his entire race as a motivation. It would have pared down the plot quite a bit while still leaving room for character development for Riddick. Hell, keep the prison break and use it at the beginning. Sorry. Broken record on that score.

Truth be told, I’d hate to lose the prison section. It’s a really good look at how Riddick interacts with other people when he’s not running for his life. He’s biding his time in that prison, which is basically one giant cavern underground on a planet with freezing cold nights and days so hot the rock on the surface melts. While the bounty hunters who brought him in argue with the prison guards up in their shielded station near the surface, Riddick does some acrobatics that remind me why I enjoy watching the men’s gymnastics competitions during the Olympics. He easily establishes himself as not someone to mess with by beating up a few other convicts, shivving a guard with a teacup and making friends with one of the large feline-like creatures the guards keep to scare the prisoners. And the whole time he’s there, he’s just waiting for his chance to escape because he read the situation between the guards and the bounty hunters before he even arrived and he knows exactly what’s going to happen. That right there? Is some good stuff. Fun action, good character development, some quippy lines for Riddick, and then he gets to lead some of the other cons on a prison break through a soon-to-be-deadly environment.

I’m torn here, because I think with a little more oomph that prison stuff could have made for a decent movie on its own. But I also like the Necromonger plot. I like the look of the civilization and I like the cast involved (Feore as the Lord Marshall, but also Karl Urban and Thandie Newton as the power-hungry Vaako and Dame Vaako and then Judi Dench as an Elemental who’s been captured by the Necromongers to try and track down Riddick) and the concept of an invading force that mandates conversion or death is a good one to hang a movie on. The Necromongers are given a nice and creepy militaristic visual style and they’re plenty threatening. The plot following Riddick’s role in the Lord Marshall’s eventual downfall could have been a truly strong one, and that it isn’t as strong as it could be has nothing to do with the characters and the explanation of the Necromongers as a group. At least not as far as I’m concerned. It just feels like the movie wasn’t quite put together the way it was meant to be. Or the way it should have been. I love it, and as I said I’ll watch it repeatedly, but I do acknowledge that it’s uneven and patchy and flawed. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. Diesel’s been talking about sequels for a few years now, and it would be very cool indeed if that happened, but I’m not holding my breath. I only hope if it does happen it’s a little neater than this.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

The Chronicles of Riddick

August 20, 2011

The Chronicles of Riddick

Now with this movie, at least, I know how much is David Twohy and how much is Ken and Jim Wheat. I can state with a fair degree of certainty that virtually all of this movie is David’s. My uncles only get a credit at the start saying this is based on characters created by them. What David has done here, to varying degrees of success, is build a grand epic adventure around Riddick. It has a huge marauding invading army that swarms like locusts over planets. Riddick is given a back-story that involves an entire civilization wiped out because of a prophesy. There’s a big daring escape from a deadly prison planet. And of course there’s an awful lot of badassery.

This is a completely different movie from the first Riddick film. It’’s not at all a horror or survival movie. Sure, it still has Riddick, and Vin Deisel continues to do a fantastic job of playing him as this righteous force of nature that lives by his own rules and cannot be stopped even by a vast army, but the entire mood of the film is a radical departure.

The movie starts out with a bounty hunter tracking Riddick down where he’s been hiding out on some remote ice world. This bounty hunter, Tooms, completely underestimates Riddick of course, and ends up getting his ass kicked. Riddick steals Tooms’ ship and flies off to New Mecca to politely ask his old friend the Imam from the first movie just how it is that bounty hunters have discovered his location. Here’s where it gets a little complicated. Imam has been working with an air elemental named Aereon to try and defend his adopted homeworld from a massive invading army. Aereon believes that Riddick is the key to defeating these Necromongers, who are led by a half-dead prophet who claims to have come back from a place called the Underverse as something more than human. So it was Imam who told the bounty hunters where to find Riddick in the hopes that he would come and stop the invasion.

Riddick wants none of it. He decides instead to rescue the only other survivor from the first movie, Jack, from the supermax prison she’s gotten herself locked up in. It’s a ball of hell where the sun melts the day side of the planet into lava and the night side is ice cold. Deep underground in a system of caves the prison is a chaotic place where the inmates fight constantly amongst themselves. Riddick conspires to allow Tooms to capture him so he can go to this prison planet (thus escaping from the Necromongers, who are intrigued by Riddick’s strength and are hunting him.)

The prison planet scenes are the best part of the movie. Jack has grown up into a badass in her own right calling herself Kyra now, and together she and Riddick get to play their favorite game “who’s the better killer.” There’s very much a sense in the prison that, as with Rorschach before him, he is not locked up with them – they are locked up with him. It becomes clear that Riddick has a plan for everything and is several steps ahead of everybody else all the time. In addition to being a guy capable of killing a man with a teacup.

Meanwhile there’s intrigue amongst the Necromongers. Vaako, the second in command and staunchly loyal supporter of the half-dead Lord Marshal is being manipulated by his mistress to attempt to take the throne for himself. They think that they can somehow use Riddick to achieve this end.

This is a beautiful movie, as is the first one. David Twohy has a great visual flare and works well with all the digital effects at his command here. I particularly like the design of the many Necromonger troops like their half-psychic bloodhounds with their green lit face masks. Another great plus for this movie is the astonishing cast. Vin Diesel is of course perfect as Riddick, the character he was born to play. Then there are big stars like Judi Dench and Thandie Newton as the air elemental and the conniving Necormonger mistress. Karl Urban, with his furrowed brow and pinched lips, is absolutely perfect for the role of Vaako. Everywhere you look it’s a familiar face in a cool role.

I have to say that the pacing of this movie is a little odd. It’s as though there are two movies here trying to occupy the same space. There’s the daring prison break and rescue of Kyra, which is by far my favorite part of the film. Then there’s the epic tale of Riddick defeating the vast army of the Necromongers, which is cool enough, but feels as if it’s slightly too large and epic to be contained in a single movie.

This movie borrows liberally from other genres. The entire defeat of the Necromongers and the last shot of Riddick on the throne is taken directly from Conan. The slaughtering of an entire race to stop a prophesy is one of the oldest legends in the human storybook (right up there with the man doing battle with a son raised by his enemies.) The backstabbing (litterally) and intrigue amongst the Necromongers feels familiar from a hundred tales of corruption within regimented societies. I love this film though. It combines everything into something stylish and cool, even if it isn’t new.

August 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment