In 2000 a little-heralded sci-fi thriller called “Pitch Black” was released in theaters. It was a pretty simple story about a small spaceship crew trapped on an inhospitable planet filled with dangerous creatures who only come out in the dark. Lucky for the crew, one of the cargo was badass criminal Richard Riddick, who happens to be able to see in the dark.
The movie had a certain flashy style and became a surprise hit. It also catapulted the career of actor Vin Diesel, who would go on to greater success with “The Fast & The Furious” franchise.
Success of course breeds sequels and four years later “The Chronicles of Riddick” was released. As you might guess from the somewhat pretentious title, this go-round placed the antihero in a sprawling (well, bloated) space opera. It wasn’t a good fit for Riddick and the film didn’t do quite so well.
But now Diesel and writer/director David Twohy have returned for a third installment. Like its title, “Riddick” is a stripped-down affair more reminiscent of “Pitch Black.” It’s a much better film for it.
The movie opens with Riddick near-dead and alone on a rocky, inhospitable world filled with strange creatures that want to eat him. After a brief flashback to establish how he got in this predicament (which is also the only reference made to the misguided “Chronicles” flick), Riddick begins the slow process of rebuilding his life.
Riddick makes his way to an abandoned outpost and sets off the emergency beacon. Unfortunately the beacon scans him and sends out a notice that the notorious criminal Riddick is on the planet and, by the way, there’s a very large bounty on his head. The rest of the body is not required.
Two very different groups of mercenaries show up to collect. Now Riddick has to stay alive, steal one of their ships and get off the planet before a large electrical storm comes through that will wake up the beasties that come out in the dark.
Twohy has righted the ship with “Riddick.” This back-to-the-basics approach should please fans of the original who were not as happy with the previous edition. Diesel’s Riddick has reclaimed that dangerous yet charismatic appeal that make you cheer for him despite his violent ways.
The film’s best moments are early on when it’s just Riddick all alone trying to make sense of this brutal new world. Once the mercenaries arrive it’s two spaceships full of tired stereotypes and there aren’t a lot of surprises in the back half of the movie.
The movie also has its share of plot holes and cliché moments but as sci-fi thrillers go it’s pretty entertaining.