Ten years after we saw intergalactic badass Riddick in The Chronicles of Riddick, an overreaching sequel that sabotaged everything lean and mean about Pitch Black, Vin Diesel’s reemergence as a viable box-office draw thanks to the resilient Fast and Furious franchise paves the way for Riddick, a misbegotten and embarrassing follow-up no one wanted.
Having been abandoned on a scorching planet of rocky desert plains, Riddick, a lethal because his shiny silver eyes allow him to see in the dark, awakens to discover that he must fend for himself if he wishes to live. These circumstances instigate an introductory half hour in which, aside from some leaden narration and a superfluous flashback to Riddick’s post-Chronicles days as an alien emperor, he silently goes about his survivalist business, resetting his broken leg by screwing armor into his flesh, training a feral zebra-coyote creature to be his pet, and making himself immune to a giant scorpion’s venom so he can later kill it.
This man-versus-nature opening segment plays like a laughable, tension-free sci-fi variation of The Naked Prey. Nonetheless, it’s still preferable to the ensuing action, which finds Riddick initiating a distress beacon as a means of luring a cadre of mercenaries to the planet in order to slaughter them and steal their ship. That scheme goes more or less according to plan. Unfortunately, it also shifts the story’s focus to profanely talky—and uniformly dull and cliché—bounty hunters who are evenly divided between those who are out-and-out evil, like conniving Santana (Nordi Molià), and those who are faux-evil, like gruff Boss Johns (Matt Nable) and tough Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), whose lesbian-ism is highlighted so, at film’s conclusion, Riddick can also prove his irresistible manliness by having her willingly sit on his lap.
Until it finally devolves into a halfhearted rehash of Pitch Black, the remainder of the action is staged like a wannabe-slasher film, with Riddick as its boogeyman. Yet as before, writer-director David Twohy and Diesel want to have it both ways with their protagonist. Riddick barks and bites like a vicious villain, but he only winds up murdering those who are presented as irredeemably wicked; the rest are either spared or killed by hordes of scorpion monsters. The result is that Riddick is a fake bad guy, one whom the filmmakers want us to fear even as they make clear—by him playing nice with his pet, or going soft and merciful at key moments—that he’s really more of a loveable WWE-style antihero than a legitimately scary serial killer.
With its central character’s malevolence hopelessly compromised, Riddick turns out to be a giant bore, and one made all the more tedious by lame CG effects, ridiculous costumes (Nable’s mercs all wear armor apparently modeled after armadillo hides), and combat scenes defined by rapidly edited incoherence. Then again, for a film about a killing machine who can see at night, it’s fittingly ironic that the film itself is, both narratively and visually, a dark, muddled mess.