It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Pitch Black and I’ve probably seen it between ten and twenty times since it was released. For what it is I think its a phenomenal piece of work with characters who should’ve been nothing more than cookie cutter cut outs of sci-fi stereotypes actually having just the right amount of depth for the film. Biology, physiology, and ecology of the aliens aside, I thought Pitch Black’s aliens were monstrous enough to rate with the xenomorph.
Chronicles of Riddick I liked a lot less. Part of Pitch Black’s charm was it had a distinctly indie feel and felt less Hollywood while the second Riddick movie definitely felt Hollywood. There were other issues with it, such as the retconning of the “shine job”, the introduction that Riddick isn’t a bad ass because Riddick is a bad ass but because he comes from a particular race (which reduces his bad ass-ness IMO; I mean, is he an average Furyan bad ass or is he more bad ass than a typical Furyan, we’ll never know). It did offer some funny wit (“No, I’m going to kill you with my tea cup.”) but it felt like a different movie and I didn’t like it as much.
Now we have Riddick and, a few days after it, I’m finding it problematic.
Just as a warning, this review will contain some spoilers further on down so if you are dead set on watching this movie without knowing anything ahead of time, stop here, otherwise away we go.
So, things you know if you’ve seen trailers: Riddick is stranded on yet another barren rock of a planet, just him against the elements. What you don’t know is that this part takes up a good 20-30 minutes of the movie. He’s stranded there after Vaako double-crosses him, dangling the location of Furya in front of Riddick to get him to leave the Necromongers. Instead of Furya, Riddick gets Not Furya and, after being dropped off a cliff in the middle of a landslide (which then lands on him), is left for dead. He then crawls out of said landslide with a dislocated leg, fights off some alien jackals, almost gets munged by a poisonous mud monster, and hides in a sarcophagus in the middle of some inexplicable ruins. For 30 minutes.
This part of the movie dragged. I understand that it was important from a zeroing the scales perspective; this is supposed to be a reboot AFAIK and so David Twohy wanted to acknowledge what had come before while cleaning the slate. That being said, did we really need all of that to lead up to Riddick’s battle with a giant mud-monster (and his adoption of an alien jackal puppy; yes, Riddick gets a dog)? Not certain.
What comes after this is, in some ways, a very similar movie to Pitch Black. You have an alien world that is positively FILLED with horrible monsters with a hankering for human flesh. You have a group of people who don’t really trust/like each other having to work together in order to beat a nature-driven time clock in order to safely get off planet before the monsters wake up and come for them. You have them FAILING to do so and having to join forces, while also back stabbing each other, to get off planet and survive. Hell, there’s even a character from the Johns family, only this time it’s Daddy Johns who has been hunting Riddick to find out what happened to his son during the events of Pitch Black.
Between the point where Riddick activates the distress beacon that brings two sets of mercs after him and when they escape you have your usual Riddick-schtick: Riddick stealth killing people, Riddick overtly killing people, Riddick fucking with people, Riddick getting fucked with, and lots of violence. With an R-rating Riddick felt much more like Pitch Black than Chronicles.
The problems come with the dialogue. In many ways its pretty bad. I mean, this isn’t high cinema but some of it, even the bits from Riddick who was raised in the penal system, were just atrocious.
And then there’s problematic gender issues in the movie. In the first two films there’s always a female character who earns Riddick’s respect, pilot Carolyn Fry (whose moral stance and death at the end of Pitch Black causes Riddick to go back and save people he would’ve otherwise left for dead) and Kyra/Jack in the second movie (who grew up wanting to be Riddick and who Riddick felt responsible for because he saved her life). While there was some hint of maybe a touch of romance with Kyra at the end of the second movie, there was never anything overtly sexual; I’d argue that Riddick was pretty even-handed in how he treated men and women in both of the first two movies in that they were either prey, rubes, or very-distant-maybe-if-you-looked-sideways-at-them-allies. Is it perfect? No, but it’s not entirely horrible either.
In this one? This one we get the lead female of Dahl (pronounced “Doll” which leads to all kinds of notes of sexism in a very 1920’s sort of way) played by Katee Sackhoff who is mostly ordered around by her captain (the before mentioned Daddy Johns). We’re lead to believe that she’s a lesbian in that she tells us she “doesn’t fuck men, but occasionally fucks up men”. It’s safe to assume that Riddick, who is lurking about the base at this point, hears this. Also, while lurking about the base, he totally pervs on her as she’s taking a sponge bath (a shot of fairly pointless nudity IMO even if Katee Sackhoff is cute). At one point Riddick says, in a list of things he’s going to do once they take the chains off him, go “balls deep in Dahl”. This is made to be simply creepy and sexist, rather than rapey, when he immediately says “But only because she’s going to ask me to.” The final creepster moment we get from Riddick is when he comments on Dahl’s painted toenails and how their color matches her nipples.
None of this is necessary. We already get that Riddick is, to use a term used by people I don’t agree with, an alpha-male type. He’s oozing machismo, drowning in testosterone, to put it bluntly we know he’s a “man”. That was evident in the first two movies without Riddick having to get creepily sexual with a woman. There’s also the point that his statement about having sex with Dahl and his own reputation. Riddick is, quite frankly, a badass’ badass; at the point of the movie where he makes the comment he has pretty much intimidated every single person there. Hell, his bounty got changed so that he’s worth more as a corpse than he is alive because people don’t want him living anymore, probably because it’s safer for everyone that way. Even though he throws in the caveat about consent, there’s still the implication that he could go “balls deep” in Dahl whether she wanted it or not and it’s only his decision to attach that caveat that means he won’t (which then implies he could revoke that caveat since he put it into place). Maybe Twohy put it in there to show that Riddick does think about and acknowledge things like consent, that he was being implicit in that he would only have sex with her because she consented, but the way Riddick said it, in a list of things that were *going* to happen regardless of what anyone else wanted (for instance, one of those things on said list was that he was going to kill one of the mercs in the first five seconds after the chains came off for killing Riddick’s dog) made it seem like to me the idea of Dahl’s consent was a foregone conclusion.
And when you throw in that, as far as the audience knows, Dahl doesn’t have sex with men, there’s a problem there.
This problem is further compounded by the end of the movie when Riddick is rescued by Daddy Johns and Dahl. Dahl lowers herself on a cable, hooks Riddick up to a harness (while straddling him), and they both get lifted to safety into the merc ship. As they’re rising into the air, Dahl asks Riddick, “So, what’s it like?”, the implication that “it” that she’s talking about is sex with a man. This is backed up by Riddick immediately grabbing her ass and, later, telling Johns to tell Dahl (who is mysteriously absent from the bridge of the ship) to “Keep it warm for me.” Hmmm, I wonder what “it” refers to here…
So not only is Riddick a man’s man, an utter alpha-male, we’re also getting into the worrisome territory that Riddick is so male he can screw a lesbian straight (or, at least, get a bit more flexibility with her sexuality than she was before Riddick entered her life) which is itself problematic since there’s a certain percentage of the male population who, wrongfully, think that lesbians are women who just haven’t been introduced to the right penis yet and, once they are introduced, will swear off their homosexual ways.
I hope that I don’t need to express my low opinion of that percentage of men I’m talking about here.
So, in the end, it feels like we got a lesser, more problematic Riddick character than we had in the first two movies. While I was happy to see another Riddick movie come out, I’m not quite certain that I’m happy that him becoming a MRA fantasy figure was a price worth paying.
There’s nothing with Riddick that requires a theater for you to enjoy so, if you’d rather wait to see it, I recommend that you do so.