The Chronicles of Riddick, written and directed by David Twohy, represents one of the biggest missed opportunities in recent years. The question I have is this: did it shoot too high, or did it not try very hard? It’s a tough call but I’ll have to go with – and this is a cop-out – a bit of both. Great pains were taken to put this character from Pitch Black into a greater universe, and measured creative actions were undergone to make it as cool as possible. Unfortunately I don’t believe that Twohy thought too far out of the box, or outside the box at all. When you think ‘space story,’ the first thought you may have is Star Wars. That particular franchise is very successful I heard, and had a war going on that the heroes fought on one side of. Want to know what The Chronicles of Riddick is?

I’ll tell you what it isn’t – very successful. Its critical and commercial failure, particularly the latter, can be blamed for the eight year delay between The Chronicles of Riddick and the expertly titled sequel The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking. Audiences didn’t seem to respond too well to the shoddy cinematography and editing during action, nor the underdeveloped characters, nor the length. I’ll take them one further; the chief issue with Riddick is its universe. The space war template is not served well here where it is in Star Wars because the enemies are so damned stupid. Indeed Stormtroopers and then droids were absurd enemies that posed no real illusion of menace – perhaps they posed a phantom menace – but they weren’t derivative and lame creatons known as the Necromongers, which are not only derivative and lame, but go on to influence the space story universe for the worst.

The perfect The Chronicles of Riddick movie, in my opinion, and a cool sidequel (is that a term yet? I suppose only Soldier really counts as one) and sequel to Pitch Black, would have Riddick out on his own in a galaxy that’s swarming with mercenaries, PMCs, space prisons (like Mass Effect 2), bounty hunters, and the occasional clawed alien. Twohy could have expanded the Crematoria sequence in the middle of the actual film into a feature, and it would’ve been fine. It wouldn’t have needed such a huge budget, and it wouldn’t have required such a lame universe, but kept in tune with the gritty original.

My own personal feelings on fantasy as a genre, as a well as the sword and sandal epic, don’t enter into this because even those who enjoy sorcery and magic will find those and other traditional tropes disjointed here when applied to the science-fiction world established in the first movie. In Pitch Black there were no Necromongers, and that’s how it needed to stay, because then we also wouldn’t have elementals and soul-stealing and something called the Underverse, which at this point I can only visualize as Robot Heaven from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. These things are all reinvented pieces of fantasy bullshit – which I hate – which is coupled with planets and spaceships and guns that shoot bullets but sound like they shoot lasers. Sure, everybody likes Krull because they saw it as a young age, but that movie sucks. Perhaps that’s not due to its genre-mixing, but rather its pacing.

I’m not some genre stickler who never wants to mix things, I mean the horror/comedy is one of my favorite genres, and has only let me down once, with Zombieland, but it is very necessary to mix these genres correctly, or cleverly, or with a purpose. Star Wars, to go back to that one again, started out mixing fantasy and science-fiction very well, with all talk about planets and spaceships and lasers coming first, and the Force coming a bit later. It totally fit within the universe, but the Necromongers are more invasive in the context of the universe than the narrative. They show up and I’m just dumbfounded. They’re a religious empire on a crusade to convert all of humanity, and this is just no good for Riddick, so he goes and fights with them.

Another problem with the Necromongers comes out of their interactions with Riddick. Just like the Stormtroopers and the droids were not threatening villains that could ever scratch the heroes, these guys are in a constant badass competition with Riddick, who aspires to be the ultimate badass. He can kill anyone with anything, so that’s a really difficult character to create a sense of vulnerability. That doesn’t really matter – we still root for James Bond even though we know he’ll never die, surviving even time and the Pierce Brosnan era (my personal favorite) – but it really reflects poorly on the villains.

Even when we did have Stormtroopers we had Darth Vader, but I’m not too into Colm Feore as a badass. I liked him better as a John Woo regular and his brief but memorable turn as the First Gentleman in 24: Season 8. Not only that, but these Necromongers get taken out so easily. It’s like the badguys and cronies in a movie like The Punisher or The Marine. I’m not convinced that these dudes will be able to take out John Cena, not for a second. Riddick in the universe is the most powerful being, and the Necromongers seem to bend to his will, as do the mercs and the prison lions.

The most telling piece of the the universe of Riddick‘s haphazardness in its media world is a Franchise Collection (I think that’s the releasing company) DVD set called The Riddick Trilogy, including Pitch Black (or The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black), The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, and The Chronicles of Riddick. That they’re actually going to make a real trilogy with Pitch Black as a prequel is just perfect, because in a few year we may see, in some less sensical retailers, The Riddick Trilogy collection sharing a shelf with The Riddick Trilogy, containing The Chronicles of Riddick, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Live 2 Tell.

It’s not all bad. The Crematoria sequence is the closest in comes to being genuinely entertaining, rather than ironically for its B-movie dialogue and acting. There is something interesting, reflected in the killer character who finds trouble in his replication; this is speaking specifically to Kira, an older version of Jack from the first movie. The heartless killer (proven to have a heart by the end of Pitch Black so WTF) takes responsibility for his actions as measured in this killer jr. character, and the audience could potentially read remorse in our anti-hero, where he can actually see the monster he is standing in front of a mirror. I’m glad it wasn’t a romance, but every element, including this one, comes across weakly, as Kira turns about to be a whiner and not nearly as badass as she thinks. And it’s once again interrupted by the ubiquitous Necromongers. In fact, all the elements in the movie are spoiled; ruined by either the Necromongers or the audience’s inability to immerse themselves in a universe that seems to exist only in support of its eponymous character. The minor characters in Star Wars probably wouldn’t have the same sense of importance or specialness were it titled The Adventures of Starkiller.

Here’s an example of how one action scene is marred by this strangely niggling idea: the action scene is ‘the fleet is mobilized during the Necromonger invasion, several pilots go to war.’ First of all, I don’t know what the fuck planet we’re on. Let’s call it Helios Prime, going off of memory. Why should I care about this planet? Riddick has no stake in it. Oh – Keith David’s here. Space Imam. Second-of-ly, what fucking fleet? Why do we spend so much time watching the pilots fly their spaceships into the air doing their standard “WHOOO-YEAH” yelps and getting blown to pieces if they ultimately don’t do anything? I’m not just saying they ultimately didn’t defend the planet – I’m saying we could have easily not spent so much time. Riddick, from the ground level, could have been fighting Necromongers (or massacring, as it were) while in the background we see the dogfight. Eventually, towards the end of the scene we watch as the remaining pilots are taken out.

The scene sticks out to me because it seems reminiscent of Star Wars – the Hoth scene or the final assault on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi where we jump around to different pilots in the cockpit radioing things to each other. But those guys were aligned with the hero, so we rooted for them somewhat. We have zero stake in the pilots of The Chronicles of Riddick, and indeed this scene happens so early that we don’t really care, and at the end, it amounts to nothing. The planet’s overtaken, and to Riddick, nothing’s changed.

This movie could have been an interesting story – dark, space-faring science-fiction about the seedy underbelly of the galaxy and the occasional alien. From what I understand this is what the video-game Prey 2 is going to be – aside from a total departure from the original. The Chronicles of Riddick is exactly what everyone says it is: overblown. It’s really too bad, and I feel like this may be science-fiction’s second Heaven’s Gate in terms of original material. I know you’re thinking ‘it’s not original – it’s a sequel,’ but I’ll take sequel over remake, reboot, or even adaptation any day. A writer who sits down to his typewriter and bangs out characters, situations, plot points, and in the case of science-fiction, sometimes an entire universe, is incredibly valuable and increasingly on the decline. These people know that you can’t turn up gold in mined areas – though you often run the risk of turning up The Chronicles of Riddick.

It hardly feels original – note how many times I brought up Star Wars in this post…

The tagline should be: There’s a fine line between anti-hero and dick. This summer, it’s crossed.

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