The Chronicles of Riddick
The Chronicles of Riddick sees the return of Richard B. Riddick, a character first featured in Pitch Black (2000). Pitch Black was a low-budget horror film that contained one of Vin Diesel’s (Riddick) first mainstream performances. Anyone who has seen Pitch Black may be expecting more of the same from David Twohy (director for both it and Chronicles) and Diesel but Chronicles is a whole different kind of film.
Chronicles involves a story about a threat from a race called the Necromongers. Necromongers travel from planet to planet on their trek to reach the ‘Underverse’, a kind of heaven in their faith. When they reach a planet they invade then either convert or kill all of its inhabitants. All this information is given by an Elemental (Dame Judi Dench) in a rather bumpy introduction. She informs the viewers that sometimes it is necessary to fight evil, not with good, but with another kind of evil. This is where Riddick, a psychotic and convicted murderer, comes into play.
As the story progresses it throws up more mythic and religious elements, both of which are too heavy for this kind of film. The desire to create a Star Wars- or LotR-style epic is obvious but is never quite achieved. The plodding, disconnected nature of the script in an effort to create this myth does not do any favours for the film or the actors. In another film the director may have lightened the tone with the protagonist having some fun on his trek to the conclusion. Here, however, Riddick remains dark and brooding throughout. This does not sit well with the large amount of violence he indulges in. The fight scenes are all rather cartoonish and elaborate and this does not fit with the brutal psychosis that is meant to be contained within Riddick. Other scenes of violence performed by the villains are handled in much the same way. For people supposedly acting on behalf of their faith they do not have the crazed devotion that is associated with fanatics.
This periodic cartoon violence does not seem to offer any relief to the other actors either. No one seems to be enjoying their roles very much except, unbelievably, Dame Judi Dench. She wanders through the film maintaining a straight face admirably well during all her ‘destiny’-style dialogue but often has a twinkle in her eye. Out of all the leads she is the only one that appears to be taking things a little less seriously. Even Vin Diesel, in a role he was dying to develop, does not seem to be having fun.
The character of Riddick is not a stretch to play and Diesel occasionally comes across as bored. There are no flashes of the Diesel that featured in Pitch Black or The Fast and the Furious. Diesel is quite a good actor when pushed but this role demands his sculpted features rather than his acting talent. Riddick could have been a tragic character or a smart-ass, Die Hard-type hero but he comes across as a bad mixture of each. Diesel does however inject a high physical energy into the performance and watching him kick ass is quite a pleasure.
The rest of the characters are hampered by stereotypes and a clunky script. In an effort to make the Necromongers frightening they are armoured to the hilt and are merciless with those who refuse to obey them. They are, however, mostly a failure. Their ships and weapon designs are rather gothic and heavy-metal inspired. There is nothing subtle about them and their desires and motives in the film are too petty to make anything they do scary. On saying this, the Necromongers do have some good moments; the conversion of conquered planets and flashes of what is done to the ‘converts’ have a definite sinister edge. This is an area that is sadly underdeveloped and could have had more of an impact on the plot development than a single Necromonger’s feud. The lead Necromonger is ham-strung in his performance by being interchangeable with the others of his ilk. Another Necromonger is brought to life in a surprisingly stilted performance by Karl Urban, best known as Eomer from the Lord of the Rings. He suffers from the double indignity of a ridiculous haircut and a wife (Thandie Newton) who is a wannbee Lady Macbeth.
In the end Chronicles is a bog-standard film. It is not good, it is not bad, it is just rather confused. There are enough set pieces to keep anyone interested. The main thing is not to engage your brain whilst watching (and to take some earplugs, some parts are incredibly loud). If you do not want to be taxed in your viewing and like explosions and people in tight clothes then this is the film for you. Plus, if you like Vin Diesel, then the sight of him chained up is worth the entry fee alone!
Overall – 6/10