THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK review
As THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK came to a close, I sat there in the theater contemplating how conflicted I felt about the film. The sequences I loved, but still other stuff that left me thinking… ASS! I leaned over to Father Geek and asked, “So, what did you think?”
He responded with, “I don’t know, I kinda liked it.”
I responded with, “EXACTLY – that’s the problem, I ‘kinda’ liked it too.”
I came home in a nitpicky ass mood about the film, as I had dinner with a fella that LOVED the film and that was just the sort of thing that makes one overly defensive about one’s own take, and causes ya to lash out unfairly at a film that… admittedly “I ‘kinda’ liked.”
Let’s start with what works:
RIDDICK – Vin Diesel and those eyes absolutely own every moment they’re on screen. Contrary to Quint, I don’t feel the filmmakers have played kissy kissy with the character… he’s still everybit the anti-hero that he was in the first film. Let’s face it, in the first film he did care about number one, that was his drive. TILL THE END. In PITCH BLACK – his character was given a dose of humility… his sack was challenged, his heart began to pulse… and he was reminded what loss was. In this film, we have the Riddick that took that Holy Man and the girl that dreamt of being like Riddick up into the stars and safely away from the Darkness behind.
In THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK – moonstone eyes has a survivor family in the universe… That Holy Man (Keith David) and the grown up would be badass girl Jack/Kyra (Alexa Davalos). First – let’s look at Riddick’s anti-hero… Classic Anti-Heroes have an internal logic that is counter to the true-blue hero of say SUPERMAN… but they are STILL a hero, though they may not wear the title well. Riddick is a killer, but he only kills when it serves his purposes. Mainly people fall to him when they stand between him and survival. However, he also will kill those that abuse their power… it amuses him to humble the high & mighty… to be that dish of comeuppance… to be the bitter pill. He bows before no man and if the universe is going to end… he’s the cockroach that will crawl out of the darkness, stand up and ask, “That the best you gonna do?”
His dialogue always has thought beneath it… it isn’t just the line, but the look on his face as he says it that betrays that delicious dose of irony, smug satisfaction, bemusement. He knows he’s the cock of the walk.
KYRA - Alexa Davalos is seven spoonfuls of yummy with a chaser of “Yes, Please!” She carries the spirit of Nikita, the lethal hunger and wrongful seduction of Mathilda and the lithe idle sinewy stretchable deliciousness of Leeloo… and to exit the Besson babeverse a tad… there’s that partner in crime ‘whattawomaness’ that Valeria had that made Conan go gaga. I love EVERTHING about the character except how her character is played in the final 15 minutes or so. There was a chance with this character to create something far more than just the momentary emotional aw fuck… but literally completely fuck Riddick’s universe in and out of both ears. That would have set up an ending that could have made me going GIVE ME THE NEXT ONE NOW… instead of, Wow – that shot so reminds me of the end of Milius’ Conan. That being said… that shot of her laying idly on the rock above where Riddick was… DELISH!
TOOMBS – Nick Chinlund – The Merc – Bountyhunter/Bad Penny Character. Nick has been in tons of stuff, but damn if I can remember him from anything other than BELOW (also by Twohy), but I do know that I’ve never liked him more than I did in this film. In fact – here’s a major problem with the film. I loved the characters of Toombs, Kyra and Riddick. Just flat out LOVE them. I love everything they’re characters do. Every line, facial tic, every movement and utterance. I just… well, let’s get to what I don’t like…
I hate the baroque design of the universe in this film. I kept thinking that the film looked like Tatapoulos and the other designers got struck with a Schumachrian dose of Anton Furst wunder-envy whilst hanging out in Vegas and flipping through a book of Michelangelo’s sketches regarding the human body. When Riddick is taken into the head Necromonger’s ship… and he is asked by that bad actress from BELOVED and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 what he thinks of the place, and retorts with, “I’d of gone another way,” I was thinking… NO SHIT. It’s like the ancient culture that lived on Crete took over the universe and decided to do it all with a gritty shiny faux everything vibe. I hated the production design of the film.
From the trailer’s I thought it looked like bad Sci-Fi Channel design, but it’s elevated through the shear scope of bad taste to a level where I kept thinking… had Joel done DUNE, this would be what it ‘looked’ like.
DAME VAAKO – Thandie Newton - There are times when people must simply realize that beauty is not enough. After her aborted shitstorm of grotesque overacting in BELOVED… Her miserable performance in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2… and then you have the hell on earth that was her performance in THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE… Here… at last she has risen to deliver a performance that dares to reach truly mediocre levels of lame. Watching Thandie Newton attempt Lady Macbeth was about as pleasurable as masturbating with Grade 5 SAND PAPER in a fountain of Rubbing Alcohol. Dear God. Certainly… She is an intoxicating beauty… but she has no soul. No thoughts in her eyes. Her soul is stuck in the guff and on-screen her body slinks along like a zombie… MAYBE that’s what she should do… Play the Undead… it would mean contacts and dubbed moaning… She might be able to handle that. Except she’d most likely be distractingly beautiful. I know she’s a Zimbabwean Princess… 10 to 1 in person she’s an amazing human being, but on screen she’s the fifth horseman of the apocalypse. The worst part – is she is so tied to Karl Urban’s Vaako – that the look of restraint on his face in their scenes together feels less like contemplation and plotting, and more like… “Bitch Please Leave My Scene!”
IMAM – Keith David. Ok – for the record… I love Keith David in film. In fact everytime I see him I think… YES! So when they short shifted his character’s concluding moments on screen, all I could think was… I haven’t felt this cheated by a character’s exit since Sonny Landham’s Billy was last seen on a log bridge in PREDATOR… only to cut away to a scream that pissed me off like you wouldn’t believe… and that I feel is still the only wrong note in PREDATOR. In fact, just thinking about how pissed I was that I didn’t get to see that fight… pure anger.
Ok – now for the conflicted elements… these are the things I ‘kinda liked’:
AEREON – Judi Dench… I love the way her ‘Elemental’ moves through shots, the way she looks… but I couldn’t help but think everytime she said the name Riddick, that she was thinking, BOND. “The odds are good… …that BOND is still alive” Everytime she spoke about Riddick it was with the EXACT same tone and delivery with which she delivers every line about Pierce Brosnan’s Bond. EXACTLY. Having said that, I like her ‘M’, but I don’t like to have ‘M’ possessing the spirit of the ethereal witch with foresight… Had she just gone in ANY other direction than just regurgitating that character in this one… I would’ve completely loved this character.
VAAKO – Karl Urban… Constantly pissed because he’s stuck with a beautiful piece of ass that can’t act worth a shit opposite his every moment together… but move him away from Lame Vaako, and his character instantly picks up much needed vitality. He is channeling a bit too much of Eomer here, but frankly… that’s more or less the role’s fault.
LORD MARSHAL – Colm Feore… I’m still shaking the remnants of his hideous character in THE HIGHWAYMEN out of my skull… It lingers like the taste of anchovies… something you gargle and gargle to get rid of if you happen to accidently eat one… but marvel at the bad taste of those that devour those nasty fucking things. That being said… he isn’t bad in this. Colm is frankly just a tad annoying as a performer. He plays SMUG in every role I see him in. He’s constantly got SMUG all over his face, and that’s pretty much it. That being said… I love a character that hear’s a prophecy about his own death and decides to pretty much wipe out every living being in the universe to just cover his bases… Though – the concept of just being a really cool guy living with a harem of the most beautiful women in the universe on a never-ending voyage through the universe never crossed his mind… alas… that’s the difference between this character and Harry Mudd. Oh… that and instead of being a sniveling lil coward, he’s a badass.
Finally… DAVID TWOHY – the Director… I love his films. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of getting to trade many emails over a great many years with David and I’ve always been a supporter of his, but this film is a model of his strengths and weaknesses as a director. Watching the film, you’ll instantly know which characters that the director loves… they’re the ones given the really great moments. For me, I believe David LOVES Riddick, Kyra and Toombs. I believe Twohy loves Mercs, his prison planet, the concept of out-running the sunrise and did I mention Riddick… cuz Twohy has big gobs of love for Vin’s Riddick and you can see it with every shot and every line. Great work. However, I really don’t get the feeling that Twohy loves the Necromongers, the citizens of New Mecca, the whole prophecy storyline… and the whole VAAKO storyline, cuz otherwise he wouldn’t of just given those poor folks the Cliff Notes version of MACBETH to suffer through. In interviews, I get the idea that Twohy was kinda overwhelmed by the design scale of this film, that that isn’t his medium. His strengths are in intimate character groupings in tense or impossible situations in stark environments. When this movie forgets about Necromongers and Religious Mumbo-Jumbo and one’s past coming to haunt you… When it simply becomes a rescue/escape from a Prison Planet… when the bad guys are low life mercs and prison guards… when you have armored panthers stalking the earth… when the killing game is on, TWOHY is God. He gets it, he loves it and he thrives. But when it becomes about “THE UNIVERSE,” it suffers from not really being about that, cuz the characters we love, could give a shit about the universe.
Imagine if in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK – had there been an hour of dealing with the politics of Donald Pleasance’s reality and the modern world… interrupted by 10 minutes of Snake uttering snide Greek Chorus moments with a badass inflection. That’s how the “Grander” part of THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK plays.
Ultimately, I don’t want Riddick to have a greater purpose than to just wander the galaxy kicking ass as Riddick. Like the design of the film itself, the over-complicating of the scope of the story makes the characters feel more insignificant… which is the purpose of pulling back and looking at the universe… and sure… there at the end he is recognizing that he’s now the POWER of the universe, and there is a classic sort of… WHAT THE FUCK NOW vibe pumping, and I am genuinely curious regarding what happens next… but at the same time I’m underwhelmed.
Twohy is a fine director – but the film shows its seams, Riddick and Kyra are so wonderful as characters that I couldn’t not not enjoy myself… but damn if I didn’t feel that had the film attempted less, it could have been so much more.