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.

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August 20, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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