I went into Pitch Black with zero expectations, and, like many others, was pleasantly surprised to discover a legitimately intelligent, tautly-scripted sci-fi/horror hybrid in the tradition of Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. Despite what director David Twohy and star Vin Diesel seem to believe, however, I didn’t fall in love with the film because of Diesel’s Richard B. Riddick. Like Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, Riddick works within the context of the story because he’s a wildcard, enriching the conflict by complicating the group dynamic—How can this ragtag band of castaways possibly survive an onslaught of ravenous predators when they must also contend with the unpredictable killer in their midst? Attempting to transform him into a heroic figure, as The Chronicles of Riddick did, simply does not work; once you’ve peeled away his layers of cynicism and revealed the decent man underneath, he’s not terribly interesting anymore.
Riddick, the series’ third official installment, suffers for much the same reason. The cold-blooded convict introduced in Pitch Black just doesn’t cut it as a protagonist; he’s merely one small cog in a larger thematic conversation, a thought-provoking meditation on the nature of morality (Does one bad deed make you a bad person? Can one altruistic act redeem a lifetime of sin?). Although it abandons most of Chronicles’ bloated mythology porn and strips the character back down to his most basic, essential elements—stranding him on a hostile world and pitting him against an army of savage beasts, both alien and human—Riddick still lacks any such sense of clear narrative focus. It delivers adequate thrills, but continues the trend of fetishizing the Furyan, leaving the supporting cast woefully underdeveloped—and since the movie that started it all was most certainly an ensemble piece, it really does feel like the storytellers currently shepherding this unnecessary franchise are totally unaware of what they got right in the first place.
[Originally written September 12, 2013.]