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How Vin Diesel Righted the Science Fiction Ship with Riddick
Richard B. Riddick's always at his best as a lone space wolf.
Vin Diesel and director David Twohy are deep in development on a fourth installment in the sci-fi film franchise that tracks the stealthy space exploits of Richard B. Riddick, breathing fresh life into a saga that’s been on pause, to impatient fans’ vexation, since 2013’s Riddick.
Riddick (streaming now on Peacock!) was considered a return to form among respecters of the Diesel-owned science fiction IP (which he obtained in a savvy deal that saw him show up for a cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in exchange for ownership of the franchise). Leaner, meaner, and by far more focused on a simple cat-and-mouse story than The Chronicles of Riddick, its 2004 predecessor, Riddick didn’t do much to expand the lore-verse of our mysterious anti-hero (as the poorly-received Chronicles tried to do). Rather, it pivoted back to the basics that made the original Riddick movie — 2000’s Pitch Black — such a hit with fans in the first place.
Middle movie The Chronicles of Riddick gets a bad rap for forcing the lone-wolf ex-con character Diesel introduced in Pitch Black into grandiose new scenarios he doesn’t seem built for. The film felt bloated with wonky sci-fi mythology about elder space species, Riddick’s Furyan-race origins, and perhaps even an unlikely hidden destiny. But for all its faults, it did evolve Riddick’s backstory beyond Pitch Black’s bare-bones basics, explaining why a rogue fugitive with a bounty on his head seems plugged into something much bigger. After all, if you’re gonna keep making movies about a guy with freaky eyes who prefers to fly solo, don’t you need to give him more to do than hang out on barren planets with only wildlife to keep him company?
Why Riddick Was a Return to Form
As it turns out — and as Riddick would go on to prove — not necessarily. After trying to tame its leading man by plunking him down in The Chronicles of Riddick’s overpopulated story-verse, Diesel and Twohy pivoted big-time with Riddick, stranding him once again on an isolated planet as a fugitive on the run. Mere minutes into the movie, it’s easy to tell that Riddick’s the kind of film that isn’t interested in laying down layers of dense science fiction canon, it’s simply there to let Riddick do what Riddick does best: X out bad guys, save the innocent if he can, and follow a hero’s moral code that doesn’t need a universe of bounty hunters looking to cramp his style.
Riddick’s setup can be summed up with an elevator pitch: After a trip to find his home world of Furya goes treacherously wrong, our hero’s all on his lonesome once more on a hostile planet, where he finds an abandoned mercenary outpost and sets off its emergency beacon. Knowing the bounty on his head is sure to entice someone to come calling, he lies in wait for a chance to commandeer whatever ship (or ships) might arrive, honing his well-attuned survival skills in the meantime with help from his new best friend — an alien jackal-dog-like animal brought to endearingly realistic CGI life under the keen eye of visual effects supervisor Alain Lachance.
Everything that happens in Riddick follows from that basic template, with competing teams of mercenaries arriving, each with very different reasons for wanting to claim their human prize. The movie stays put on the nameless planet, relishing in the “he’s out there somewhere!” spectacle of watching Riddick lay traps from the shadows, make stealth kills, and slowly circle in on the remaining bounty hunters whose Riddick-fearing paranoia, by that point, is pinging off the charts.
Really, though, what more does a Riddick fan need? Diesel’s sci-fi franchise isn’t at its best when it’s trying to be the next Star Wars. It works instead because the camera stays focused on the moment-by-moment character triumphs of its compelling hero, and on that front, Riddick absolutely nails what makes the series tick. Putting labyrinthine lore about Furyans and Necromongers aside, we could watch endless Riddick movie sequels that never stray from the basic formula of putting Diesel in a sticky situation and letting him scheme his way out. Like Die Hard’s John McClane, he’s a hero who doesn’t need a ton of exposition to explain himself… so long, that is, as he does cool things that vibe with his inner hero’s code.
There’s one other thing that makes Riddick such a great watch, and that’s the movie’s supporting cast. Diesel surrounded himself with the perfect mix of merc archetypes with killer, tough-as-nails turnouts from Katee Sackhoff and Dave Bautista as competing bounty hunters, led by polar-opposite crew chiefs Matt Nable (as Col. Johns) and Jordi Mollà (as the sleazy, selfish Santana — who gets one of the science fiction’s coolest on-screen deaths). Bokeem Woodbine and Raoul Trujillo also get smaller roles as merc crew members who make their screen seconds count, as does Keri Hilson in the brief but high-impact role of an unnamed prisoner whom Santana sadistically teases with the illusive allure of freedom.
With what’s likely to be a bigger budget and a brand appeal that’s only grown in the decade since Riddick’s release, it’s a safe bet that Twohy and Diesel will assemble a similarly sweet casting lineup as more news emerges from development on the fourth Riddick film. Whether the upcoming movie dives deep into Riddick’s Furyan roots (as Diesel himself has teased), or simply weaves another serialized tale of dodging murderous ne’er-do-wells on some backwater space outpost, the odds are high that it’ll strike the right note with fans — so long, that is, as it follows Riddick’s wise example and keeps the slick sci-fi action centered squarely on its leading hero.