Mon
Sep 9 2013 10:00am

Riddick’s Rebirth is Rather Messy

Riddick Vin Diesel

Fans of Vin Diesel’s best-loved character Riddick have been waiting nine years for the promised sequel to 2004’s Chronicles of Riddick and its predecessor Pitch Black (to say nothing of the top-notch video game installments). We’ve perked up at any offhand mention of a new movie in interviews and taken heart in teasing messages posted by Diesel himself on his personal fanpage. Now, at last, Riddick is back in a new adventure that is more of a series reboot than a proper continuation of the intergalactic convict’s story.

Stripped down literally and figuratively, Vin Diesel and director David Twohy deliver one of the stranger examinations of machismo dressed in sci-fi trappings in recent memory. After waiting so long, so patiently, I had a lot of feelings watching Riddick. There’s some good, some disappointing, and some frankly really, really disturbing.

Spoilers after the cut.

“Don’t know how many times I’ve been crossed off the list and left for dead,” Riddick intones in the movie’s opening. This has been happening to him since his birth, when he was abandoned in a trashcan on his homeworld Furya. After unwittingly backing into the throne as Lord Marshal of the creepy supernatural army of Necromongers, the lone wolf found he didn’t like wearing a crown. Still searching for Furya, Riddick was duped into being dropped off on a new barren planet filled with hostile beasts with only his cunning to help him survive.

A brief flashback—with bonus R-rated naked babes—to Riddick’s crushing melancholy is all we get of his recent past. Riddick is, after all, a rebirth of the franchise. It’s not meant to move Riddick’s journey forward in much of a meaningful way and on that note, Riddick delivers on its promises. This is a self-contained side story.

On first watching, I thought the beginning half of Riddick was really oddly paced. Even a bit slow. It’s Jeremiah Riddick, as, totally alone and broken, Riddick dedicates himself to getting back to his primal roots among the ravenous space-hyenas and mud-dwelling space-scorpions. He fashions crude weapons, hardens himself against venom, and even briefly goes naked. He makes friends with nature, in the form of an adorable hyena pup that he raises and trains to be his sole ally.

But there can’t be a birth without blood and when desperation forces him to activate a beacon as a lure for bounty hunters and their much-needed spaceships, there’s blood and action aplenty. Riddick is the man that can kill you with a tea cup, after all.

Yet, I think I enjoyed solo Riddick more than Riddick playing another game of cat-and-mouse against two really ugly groups of mercenaries. One group is lead by creepy pervert Santana. The only standout among his crew is a pretty charismatic Dave Bautista. I’m told wrestlers are good with charisma. See: Duane “The Rock” Johnson. The other group is more organized and led by Boss Johns (screenwriter and author Matt Nable). If that surname rings a bell to a longtime Riddick fan, well, it’s no surprise there. His second-in-command is beloved badass female actress Katee Sackoff.

Katee Sackoff Riddick Dahl

It’s Sackoff’s character Dahl (pronounced like “Doll”) that really made me super uncomfortable. Women are barely featured in Riddick, unlike the decent assortment of females present in Pitch Black, who were tough and subversive and flawed. And Riddick treated them with the exact same amount of respect he gives any human. Which, granted, isn’t much at times, but still. It counts. And I’ve already addressed my issues with women in Necromonger society, but Dahl kind of made me wish for Dame Vaako’s return. It was that bad.

You see, Dahl says she “doesn’t fuck guys.” We don’t know if it’s a lie to keep scummy Santana from creeping on her, but let’s take it at face value. This is all we know about Dahl’s personal life beyond her sniping skills. So later on when Riddick is doing his trademark “This is how I will kill you” threats, he also mentions that afterwards, he’s going to go “balls deep” in Dahl. It was really fucking disgusting and not the Riddick I enjoyed previously. It immediately threw me out of the movie.

The only other times women were seen were, as stated earlier, writhing naked in Riddick’s Necromonger bedchambers and one escaped prisoner (presumably a rape victim) that Santana murdered for pretty much no reason in front of Riddick. Yeah, classic fridging.

But it gets worse for Sackoff, who deserves a million times better for her nuanced portrayal of Colonial frack-up Kara Thrace on Battlestar Galactica. She has a really gratuitous topless scene where Riddick spies on her. And he then tries to rattle her about it later in the crudest way possible: “Your nails are pink. Like your nipples.” WAT.

Finally, when all of the mostly interchangeable redshirt mercs are dead (and you pretty much know immediately who’s going to make it the moment they are introduced) we’re left with the implication that Dahl, who had no other conversations with Riddick beyond trying to kill him and who is gay, fucks Riddick. You know, because Riddick is so manly he can “cure” a lesbian.

It’s a big chunk of ugliness in what is otherwise a perfectly serviceable sci-fi thriller. The action scenes have a lot of style, the violence is really over-the-top as you’d expect from the franchise and there are some funny one-liners. I was disappointed Riddick’s flashbacks with Karl Urban (sans mullet! Nooooooooo!) were so brief, but I get it. This movie was funded on a much smaller scale than Chronicles. The FX that are here are solid and the planet has a lot of dark, creepy atmosphere, but it’s definitely not as baroque and beautiful as Chronicles. Matt Nable intrigues and I hope to see him in more roles soon. He imbued Boss Johns with a lot of world-weariness and heart.

But a good script is a lot harder than good CGI, apparently. Even though words cost a hell of a lot less to create. At least in theory. There’s no excuse for some of the terrible dialogue in here. Not even funny-bad, just plain bad-bad. Again, lots of that is centered around Katee Sackoff’s character, but not always. Riddick was never a poet, educated as he was in the penal system, but fans have come to expect a certain level of cleverness from him that just isn’t really to be found here.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Riddick the character should’ve stayed buried in development hell because there were glimmers of goodness and, if the movie does well enough, a continuation of Riddick’s story proper—i.e., a visit to Furya and the Underverse—seems likely. And I’d still want it.

But this Riddick made me think more of Pet Semetary than Pitch Black: “Sometimes dead is better.” Riddick came back wrong. As a huge Riddick and Vin Diesel fan who is also female, I’m incredibly disappointed that the movie I waited so long to see was so incredibly, blatantly, alienating. Riddick isn’t some meta-commentary on male superego. It’s not that smart. And it didn’t need to be super smart to be enjoyable. But if science fiction says more about the present state of a society than the future, what does that say about representations of women in genre? If Starbuck could be so humiliated, what hope is there for the rest of us?

 

Riddick is in theaters now


Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com, covering True Blood, Game of Thrones, and gaming news. Follow her on Twitter @tdelucci

26 comments
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
1. hoopmanjh
Saw the movie yesterday and did enjoy it, for the most part, but also had a bit of a bad taste left in my mouth by the issues you mentioned.
Liz Bourke
2. hawkwing-lb
Yeah. It's, on the whole, in my books, a better film than the latest Star Trek reboot. But much as I enjoyed Riddick vs. wild and Katee Sackoff beating people up... its treatment of women is seriously fucked up. In Pitch Black there were three women with individual, interesting personalities. Chronicles had at least Kyra, Vaako, the imam's wife, and Judi Dench.

Riddick has gratuitous fridged rape victim and Dahl. Whose character would've been fine if the film had been inclined to see her as anything other than an aberration.
SarahPi
3. SarahPi
I had exactly the same issues as you did. I would have rather watched 90 minutes of Riddick alone on that planet. The Cures the Lesbian trope was one of many things that ruined the movie.
SarahPi
4. LJCohen
Huh. I saw much of that same dialogue as ironic, mixed with the push for an "R" rating, rather than purposfully mysogynistic. Perhaps that's because I've recently rewatched Pitch Black and Chronicles, as well as the interstitial anime on the DVD pack and came to Riddick with a solid sense of the character as fairly egalitarian in how he treats different genders. (Mess with me and mine and die. . .)

There was that moment when Riddick seemed poised to get involved when Sandoval attacks Dahl in the station room and the shot at the end when she rescues him in the sling is perfect.

I also didn't like the dialogue 'balls deep' and wished they hadn't used it. And the naming of her character 'Dahl' which just sounded like the generic 'Doll', a 40's term for woman, was a wrong-headed choice. She's not anyone's generic woman.
SarahPi
5. Blakcoat
I have to admit, I didn't get the implication that they had sex (I assume you mean the rescue scene) so much as the joke: "look, you talked all this game, and now here I am, straddling you, and all our clothes are gonna stay on"

I did, however, have a problem with the sponge bath scene. It would have been just as effective with a shirt on
Theresa DeLucci
6. theresa_delucci
@4 I recently rewatched the movies/anime and replayed some of the games. Some things I totally get as a push for an R-rating but Riddick had little of the winking charisma from earlier films. Except when he was with Boss Johns. I really, really liked that character and wish he was used a bit more.

Are you talking about the shot in the sling where Riddick grabs Dahl's ass? Because it might've been cute if Dahl's whole storyline wasn't basically about getting harrassed and almost raped a few times.

@5 That's why I'm not entirely sure it wasn't a joke. At the very end Riddick is on a different ship from Dahl and tells Johns to tell her "to keep it warm for me." I mean, I want it to be a joke that's fallen flat because if it was meant seriously, then it's pretty heinous. Again, pretty much all Dahl did was suffer sexual harrassment and rape attempts. She had no other story. To be fair, none of the other mercs had much background either. Which was too bad.
SarahPi
7. Chakarum
I didn't take the comment at the end to mean they had sex, more of another of his ribs at her character. The one thing I was missing was when they picked up Riddick at the end was an exchange between the two: "Was it good for you" and she smacks him like she did Sandoval.
SarahPi
8. Aflor
I agree with LJCohen the dialog was ironic and I saw the same when the perve was on top of Dahl and the rescue. They didn't have sex and if you hear the final dialog Riddick mentions it. You have to remember, Riddick is no saint. I think many forget how he was in Pitch Black. It would have been nice to have more female actors that were not in degrading positions. Also, Hopefully, the next film will include Furya and step away from the perverseness.
Walker White
9. Walker
I had higher hopes for this because I really like Vin, and I think he gets genre. Plus, we need more sub $40 million genre films. The presence of so many lower budget, but quality, films is why we all so fondly remember the 80s.

The weak link is Twohy. Have you ever heard the director's commentary on the Pitch Black DVD? It is very clear that Twohy is talking about a different film than the one you are watching. Indeed, it was the lack of a budget that held in him back, and you could already see the damage he would do with real money.

Indeed, I think lack-of-Twohy is exactly why the Riddick video games did so well.

I know Twohy and Vin are a team, but this franchise needs a new writing partner to take off.
Theresa DeLucci
10. theresa_delucci
I agree with that re: Twohy. I read an article from a March set visit to Riddick and Twohy came across kinda skeevy. "Hey, did you see the Necromonger babes? Wait til you seem 'em out of their costumes." Then i imagine him leering.

I didn't actually listen to thePitch Black commentary, but I'm all for some better screenwriters to come in and make Riddick smarter and more fun. And less creep-tastic.
JOSEPH HOOPMAN
11. hoopmanjh
I also, as with #4 up above, wish they would've named Sackhoff's character something other than Dahl -- it's a perfectly cromulent name, and would've been fine in a written context, but when it's given to pretty much the only female character in the movie, and when everybody only refers to each other by last name, it's a bit jarring having to mentally correct "Doll" to "Dahl" every time it's used.
Walker White
12. Walker
I'm all for some better screenwriters to come in and make Riddick smarter and more fun. And less creep-tastic.

The weirdest thing? When he made the pervy promise to Dahl my first thought was "Wow, this is way out of character." In Pitch Black, they emphasize his sense of honor, and make it clear that he is never a sexual threat to the female characters.
SarahPi
13. Tesh
When there's an explicit push on the film-making side to garner an R rating, some of this crap is almost inevitable. That's not to excuse it, but neither should anyone be surprised.
David Moran
14. David Moran
Yeah, I walked out of that thing feeling dirty for having spent my money on it. Its treatment of women and gender is just, the worst.
M B
15. selidor
The first half of the movie was enjoyable. Riddick vs. Wild, well executed. Then Pitch Black: The Remix kicked in, which would also have been just fine... And then they took Riddick's lines out and dropped ones in from The Fast and The Furious. Riddick's behaviour toward Dahl was such an odd break of the character; it was as though the screenwriter forgot which character was being written.
SarahPi
17. Michael.J.Dauben
I'm not sure I qualify as a "fan" of the franchise, but I did enjoy the other two movies and was actually looking forward to this one. The reviewer's description of the film have really turned me off, however, so I may just give "Riddick" a pass.
Chris Nash
18. CNash
@15 I don't think even Dom Toretto would've used language like Riddick's in this film. I agree completely with Theresa; it was jarring and out of character for him.

Didn't help that everything after the mercs were introduced were terribly dull, and that Santana's death (spoilered in the trailer, remember) robbed the film of any credible villainous threat aside from the rubbish scorpion things.
SarahPi
19. David Mark Brown
Agreed. I couldn't believe how shallow the writing and dialogue were at times. At one point all that any of the characters could say was, "Fuck." I couldn't track with the movie after that. The camera just kept switching from character to character so they could scream, "Fucking fuck!" "No! Fuck that!" "Fuck the fucking shut up, you fuck!"

I mean, really? I understand that bounty hunters on the verge of getting gloriously invalidated by space scorpians might be "dropping a little mud," (a line I liked, by the way) but if this is all the characters can think of, then they simply aren't interesting characters.

I want Vin Diesel to unjinx our janx on this one.
Tabitha Jensen
20. pabkins
Yeah I have to admit I was really disappointed as well. I really enjoyed the 2 previous Riddick movies. I was also just ticked off at the 'Balls deep' comment. This felt like a redo of the first movies plot but obviously not done as well as Pitch Black. I won't be buying this one for my collection and hope if they do another that it's better than this.

Agree with David's comment above - dropping mudd was a one of the only funny lines.
SarahPi
21. Thomas Hazlewood
This does sound disappointing, and I'm a guy. I, too, liked his general aloofness. To make him a mere 'horny' guy is a step backwards. To have him threaten with his maleness is a step downwards.
SarahPi
22. vampiredoctor
Oh please. Moral indignation in a review of Riddick? This series is a pulpy, macho,vulgar rendition of basically Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian in outer space. I'm surprised someone from Tor didn't pick up on that
Theresa DeLucci
23. theresa_delucci
@22 No, I totally got that Chronicles of Riddick was basically Conan in Space. I wrote a whole article in love with its goofiness. And Pitch Black was a legit creepy scifi movie with clever characters, both male and female with more in common with a John Carpenter than a Ron E. Howard. And one of the video games (and the anime) had a tough, smart villainess terrorizing the galaxy. I'm very familiar with the franchise.

Riddick just felt like pandering and a step down for the character I previously enjoyed very much.
SarahPi
24. vampiredoctor
1. They didn't even actually have sex, it was a joke/throw-away line at the end of the film
2. Even if they did have sex, what is so wrong with a lesbian experimenting with a man? It happens in real life often
3. Riddick's character is a self described murderer and escaped convict. He's been stranded on a desert planet with no female companionship for a while, it makes sense for his character to make crude remarks to a woman, lesbian or not.
4. The cheesy dialogue and vulgarity were actually pretty clever and entertaining in this film. You can't judge it as a film that is striving for Oscars but rather as a pulp adventure.
5. As far as Riddick's character goes, this felt like the quintessential film for him. He's very "Riddicky" in it, literally crawling back from the wildnerness and going on to outwit and outfight a band of bounty hunters to make his escape.
6. Dahl was not a weak damsel in distress. She repeatedly beat up a guy who tried to rape her, was a better sniper than Batist'as character, and generally seemed smarter than most of the mercs around her.
SarahPi
25. Jaq
Anyone who thinks Riddick resembles Robert E. Howrd's Conan of Cimmeria obvioulsy cannot distinguish between sword and sorcery and science fiction.
A lead character with muscle does not a Conan of Cimmeria make.
I have seen no indication in any of the movies that Riddick is a sci-fi version of Conan.
His values are different, his intent is different, his outlook is different, in fact his whole freaking universe is different.
To say that Riddick is Conan in space is simplistic in the extreme, I guess any actor with muscle in any movie, set in any time period must be Conan huh?
SarahPi
28. vampiredoctor
Jaq, you're so off the mark I can't decide whether you're just trolling or truly that ignorant.
If Riddick is too macho for people's sensibilities then just go watch some of the watered down, pandering works of Joss Whedon.
SarahPi
29. Killakam
I'm sorry but I really didn't take the movie as sexist. While there is only one actual female character in a supporting role, she is very strong and survives the film. The whole first half of the movie is about Riddick uncivilizing himself as he believes that was his downfall. That coupled with the fact that he's been on a planet alone with no female companionship for a long time might have something to do with his crude remarks toward Dahl. He never harmed Dahl other than his comments which seemed to return in kind with some of her own. And at the end he only touches her after she makes the comment of asking him something real sweet. I honestly took the whole thing as a joke between the two of them as we never even see them kiss. At the end of the day I enjoyed the film and what they did with it on such a small budget.

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