There’s a moment fairly on in Riddick: Rule The Dark in which the titular badass informs us via voice-over that he’s setting the clock back to zero. Well, not quite. While Vin Diesel and David Twohy mostly make good on their promise that Riddick would be a return to the efficient, bare-bones style of Pitch Black after the clunky po-faced world-building of The Chronicles Of Riddick, the filmmakers can’t let go of their mythology.
Riddick opens with our antihero fighting against the hostile elements of the world he’s been dumped on by the double-crossing Necromongers (blink and you’ll miss Karl Urban). Just as Riddick has regained his health and deadliness, and found a dog-like companion, two sets of bounty hunters arrive to claim his head.
But he’s not the only thing they should be worried about…
Once the film’s plot finally kicks in at around the half-hour mark, Riddick resembles Pitch Black in all the right ways. But while Diesel and Twohy’s passion for the character made an unlikely third film a reality, it’s also what gets in the way of it fulfilling its potential. They aren’t content with making an entertaining sci-fi/horror. The duo are determined to stitch this film into the same tapestry that spun way out of control with Chronicles, to the extent that Riddick requires you to remember what happened to Cole Hauser’s character in Pitch Black.
Twohy’s great at writing down and dirty, and the hard-boiled mercs and bounty-hunters who arrive at the half-hour point are a great example of this; larger than life figures who are only just starting to wear out their welcome when they’re messily dispatched. So every time the script pulls focus away from these new characters and back towards references to Furyans or William Johns’ lack of backbone, it’s jarring and shows an unwillingness to fully open up the film to anyone beyond the unwavering faithful.
Why else would Matt Nable’s vengeful Boss Johns have so much to do when the overlong running time would be better spent developing Katee Sackhoff’s far more entertaing Dahl (“I don’t fuck guys. I fuck ‘em up, if I need to.”) or at least giving her an action sequence.
Still, Riddick can’t be written off. Diesel wears the role like a pair of well-fitting goggles and he obviously has a ball playing it. Although the first act drags on for far too long, it is quite good fun watching him train a comedy space dog and tangle with pond-dwelling beasties that look like something out of Deep Rising.
As mentioned, the middle third kicks into gear by turning into a tightly-scripted, tense and funny nail-biter. With the mercs quickly realising they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, Twohy’s on his home turf and creates excellent set-pieces that lead to well-staged fatalities.
Riddick’s problems resurface towards the closing 20 minutes. Sackhoff’s sterling work repeatedly beating the crap out of sleazy Jordi Mollà leads precisely nowhere as she’s left out of all the action set-pieces. Instead, the character is subjected to a misogynistic and homophobic moment that’s so out of the blue and so misjudged it’s difficult to understand why no one noticed it (we assume it was supposed to fit in with the tone).
While we’re reeling from that, the ending struggles to deliver on the tension established during the previous hour.
For the most part, Riddick: Rule The Dark is an entertaining genre movie that hits a lot of the right notes. It’s funny, it’s gory (both Diesel and Twohy clearly relish being from PG-13 restrictions), it’s tense and Diesel and Sackhoff are on great form. But in refusing to let go of their grand designs for the franchise and stretching a lean story to a flabby two hours, the filmmakers hobble their passion project. Riddick earns that third star, but only just. Oh, and sidelining Katee Sackhoff is unforgiveable.
Someone get that woman her own franchise.