Vin Diesel has carved a very specific niche for himself in filmdom as the anti-hero of the better (lower case) pulp fiction being produced for cinematic consumption. Resourceful, cunning, and above all more than merely human as he races very fast cars in the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, or as he pummels entire planets into submission using the proverbial stone knives and bearskins in and as RIDDICK. In both cases, he is one man against impossible odds facing them down with the equanimity of confidence. He is, in fact, an almost perfect example of the classical definition of the stoic philosophy, facing peril and pleasure with that same equanimity. Very unclassically, he injects just the right sort of suitably laconic humor into his efforts, even while taking the character, the situations, and the improbable storylines with serious commitment.
In this eponymous installment of his Riddick franchise, Diesel is all but silent. This is not a problem. For though his voice is resonantly basso-profundo, and showing the proper inflection of a predator toying nonchalantly with its prey, making Riddick a man of few but succinct words adds to his commanding mythos. And so it is that the first section of the film, in which Riddick bends a hostile planet to his will and flashbacks to how he got there courtesy of Karl Urban, who, despite prominent billing takes up less than five minutes of screen time. We have voice-over of a sparing nature as Riddick sets his own leg using a boulder and pure orneriness, tames a wild Anubis-like canine, and comes up with a plausible plan to get himself rescued. Rescued is a relative word, of course, with Riddick. It comes down to the choice he offers the mercenaries more interested in the bounty on his head than in his well-being. That choice would be giving him one of their ships or die. They mercenaries scoff. And then they start to die. And there is something wonderful unsettling in the way Riddick tells them exactly what will happen in measured, even tones, and then makes good on the prediction.
This is a crisply directed, fluidly written film with little fat on its sleek plotting. Time is spent showing us why Riddick is dangerous when he wants to be, and why heís not a psychopath, just very, very determined. Time is also spent showing us how he bonds with that canine. For a tough guy like Riddick, there is an almost tender cast to it that comes , I would guess, as close to romance as Riddick gets. The other humans, on the other hand, are less bond-able, are clearly, if not overly, delineated. The two crews of mercenaries are, of course, at odds with one another over the bounty Riddick commands (double if heís delivered dead), but there is also the dichotomy of types. The one made up of decidedly Latino men with biker regalia and attitudes to match. The other upper-crust Wasp types, mocked by the others for their matchy-matchy outfits and adherence to rules of command. When Riddick sets them against each other, itís not like he has to work to hard at it, particularly with Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), the blonde Amazon who enjoys beating the crap out of the other crewís commander (Jordi Molla) for getting out of line. There is also a nice complication of Dahlís commander (Matt Nable), having a past with Riddick that canít help but influence key decisions.
Watching the mercenaries realize what theyíre up against is a guilty pleasure. As is the way Diesel, even in chains, is never less than in total control, even when dealing with the planetís main nightmare of a native creature that sports a vicious scorpion-like tail and an even more vicious set of fangs as it lurks beneath the muddy waters of its lair.
RIDDICK relies heavily on CGI for its sets and creatures, and makes excellent use of the uniformity of color that it can achieve, with the ruddy tones of harsh sunlight reflected off an incessant haze of fine dust particles in the air. It doesnít rely, however, on the bells and whistles to carry the story, which is smart. Diesel is special effect enough in an over-the-top tale, even without the eerie luminous eyes. After establishing his ability to do the unexpected , the second half of the film a delightful bit of wish-fulfillment by proxy as Riddick takes the better equipped and cocksure mercenaries down several pegs with a decisive finality. And this is the ultimate charm of this testosterone-heavy exercise in heavy-metal fantasy. No undeserved arrogance goes unpunished, and both right and might find themselves fighting on the same team.