The failings of The Chronicles of Riddick may cause viewers to wonder what it was about this film's smarter predecessor, 2000's Pitch Black, more horror film than sci-fi, that led to a second, far more pricey installment.
Did anybody really need another overblown space opera, the kind that goes on and on and on, as forgettable characters battle over ancient wrongs, impossibly large spaceships blow up stuff, the fate of the world rests on one brave, tough warrior, and special-effects expenditures account for the largest portion of the budget?
The clearly derivative movie, written and directed by David Twohy (The Arrival), borrows from Star Wars, Dune, Alien, The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy familiarities.
Worse, bland muscle guy Vin Diesel (Triple X) is the star. He's also a producer, which explains how a personality like Diesel ended up in a movie with an actor like Dame Judi Dench.
The villainous Necromongers, led by the evil Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), are on a mission to force everyone in the universe to convert - or die. Their faith represents a new way of seeing and feeling: The process hurts a little, but yields automatons, entirely subservient to the religion's self-appointed leader. The ultimate goal is to reach the Underverse, either a state of true nirvana, or underwear for literary types.
That brand of evangelism, of course, isn't welcomed by Riddick, a member of the Furion species and convicted murderer who can face down any crisis, whether defeating a roomful of Necromonger soldiers, breaking out of an underground prison or eluding a quick-moving wall of 700-degree heat.
Riddick, who also has the advantage of wild eyes, sometimes silver and sometimes opaque (they glow in the dark, too), is pursued by the Necromongers and by the persistent if luckless Toombs (Nick Chinlund), whose greed destroys him. During the film's opening sequence, one of its most compelling, Riddick singlehandedly wipes out a four-man crew of bounty hunters who have followed him into an icy cave. The quarry, instead, goes home with the spaceship, and leaveshis pursuers for dead.
Other characters, including Toombs, might have worked more effectively than Riddick as the center of the film, particularly because of Diesel's limited screen skills. Also integral to the story are rising-star Necromonger Vaako (Karl Urban) and his power-hungry companion (Thandie Newton), the Lady Macbeth of the movie. Dench is the wise "elemental" Aereon, who shows up every once and a while to drop some cryptic information about the future; and tough-girl Kyra (Alexa Davalos) is Riddick's former protege.
If you can forget the flaws, sit back and enjoy the fighting, admire the ingenuity of the $100-million-plus movie's best special effects - slinky, wolflike creatures that eat prisoners for lunch; the lightning-fast combat moves of the Necromongers and how Aereon enters and exits scenes as a wisp of light.
The Chronicles of Riddick
Director: David Twohy Cast: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Judi Dench, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos