Oh yeah, people, he's back, "back in black", as in "Pitch Black"! ...Well, at least that joke wasn't as cheesy as "The Chronicles of Riddick", which the makers of this film couldn't have even liked, seeing as how they're trying so hard to make you forget about that film that they took almost ten years to get this film out, and then simply named it "Riddick", as though it were the definitive sequel to "Pitch Black". Shoot, I don't know how much the makers of this film could dislike "The Chronicles of Riddick", because most of them were the same jerks who made "The Chronicles of Riddick", you know, seeing as how the last time they collaborated things worked out so very well. Yeah, yeah, I liked "The Chronicles of Riddick" just fine, but this is better, as well it should be, because, again, it took them almost a whopping decade to make this follow-up, and that's a long time between projects even for David Twohy. I don't know if I'm more surprised to see that Riddick is back or that Twohy is still alive, because the man hasn't done anything since "A Perfect Getaway", and it's not like he was on extended vacation or something, because as "A Perfect Getaway" and, to a certain extent, these "Riddick" films will tell you, some seriously dangerous stuff can go down when you're stuck in an isolated location. Granted, the events portrayed in "A Perfect Getaway" are a little more likely than a criminal/society leader with night-vision getting stuck on a desert planet with large alien monsters, but it doesn't appear that Twohy has gotten all that rusty when it comes to making bottle thrillers such as these. Yeah, this is pretty much the "Pitch Black" sequel that we've all been waiting a long, long, long, long time for, but then again, it's not like "Pitch Black" raised all that high of a standard for quality, and sure enough, this is a "relatively" satisfying action flick that is kind of like Vin Diesel's titular character: not without a good heap of problems.
This film takes a huge leap after the events of "The Chronicles of Riddick", and the coverage of the material within the gap between this film and its predecessor gets to be way too slam-banged for you to get all that firm of a grip on the expository to depth to our titular lead, who at least has more development than certain major supporting characters. Characterization isn't terribly undercooked, but it needs a little more weight, even though some of these characters are a little more familiar than they probably should be, not unlike other story elements, for although this film is not as formulaic as "Pitch Black" or "Chronicles", the betrayed potential for uniqueness makes lapses in originality all the more glaring. The film tells an ultimately familiar tale, and it does so kind of unevenly, outstaying its welcome, especially when we come to quiet, somewhat bland meditations upon little, if anything at all that get to be a little too subtle for their own good, even though subtlety is preferred for its carrying a genuineness that quickly goes when pacing picks too much up to sustain all that much depth or focus. The film is sometimes aimless in its pacing inconsistencies, and yet, as much as I complain about pacing problems in this film, they're no more serious than they were in the generally reasonably tight "Pitch Black" and "Chronicles", nor is the underdevelopment or familiarity all that serious. The ultimately somewhat underwhelming film makes plenty of missteps, make no mistake, but the final product's biggest problem isn't its problems, it's simply natural shortcomings, because as much as I give this film's story concept credit for bringing back the depth from "Pitch Black" and a little bit of the scope from "Chronicles", it's neither weighty enough nor dynamic enough for its execution to feel that much greater than an almost fillery, post-Summer action thriller. The film is better than I feared, sure, so much so that it borders on rewarding, but the point is that it doesn't quite make it to a rewarding state, as it has its limitations, stressed enough by somewhat light, but ultimately notable issues in exposition, uniqueness and tightness to just barely fall back into underwhelmingness. The film isn't quite what it could have been, but what it ultimately is is inspired enough to come close to that point, which is far enough in quality to keep you engaged through and through, at least as a visual piece.
Going back to the minimalist scope of "Pitch Black", this film closes up plenty of opportunities to display this mythology's distinct sci-fi that "Chronicles" explored a good bit of as something of a mini-epic, but it still has the money to flesh out production value more than "Pitch Black", and art director Jean-Andre Carriere is sure to do just that as best he can, presenting costume and production designs that are creative enough to sell this world, kind of like the digital designs, because even though the visual effects in this film have some hiccups, they're certainly a step up from the effects of "Pitch Black" and "Chronicles". The film is actually pretty visually creative, putting a little bit of the attention to production value that "Chronicles" boasted, but not without restoring the tasteful visual style that was lost after "Pitch Black" by calling "Pitch Black" cinematographer David Eggby back into action to deliver on photography that may not be consistently stunning, but seamlessly bonds lushness and harshness before a crisply well-defined, deeply lit lens in a uniquely lovely, sometimes modern video game-esque fashion that captures the film's techno-gritty tone. The film is well-produced and looks mighty good, and that's aesthetically pleasing, but it's still nice to sometimes cut out the taste and flavor up a gritty tone the old-fashioned way: with intense action that goes brought to life by tight, gripping staging and slick choreography, and further flavors things up by taking advantage of an R rating that "Chronicles" didn't have to put in a focus on violence that "Pitch Black" could barely afford on a limited gore budget. Backed by disturbingly creative gore, this film's action is not only viscerally thrilling, but reinforces a sense of consequence, as surely as fine visual style proves to be both aesthetically appealing and complimentary to the capturing of substance, and yet, sharp style and action are not the only things done well by director David Twohy, whose atmosphere gets to be kind of uneven with its breaking up high momentum with somewhat blanding limp spells, but is much more controlled than it was in either "Chronicles" or "Pitch Black", to where the slow spells are never too dull, and the heights in intensity are indeed pretty tense, if not rather compelling. Yes, people, I said compelling, for although this story concept is minimalist, it remains promising, carrying the adult attitude that was missing from "Chronicles" and wasn't explored too thoroughly in "Pitch Black", and is done a little more justice here by some surprisingly sharp moments in dialogue, as well as by the aforementioned more inspired directorial execution by Twohy that brings the final product to the brink of rewarding, even though it doesn't have enough power to push this promising effort over. The film is at least very decisively the relative best installment in the "Riddick" series thus far, and for that, credit is due to the unexpected carriers of this film, as well as to a certain expected carrier of this and preceding "Riddick" films, because even though this film keeps consistent with the decent supporting performances that were only sometimes seen in either predecessor, this is still Vin Diesel's show, and he once again delivers on the intense presence and charisma that made the Richard B. Riddick character iconic, while incorporating the occasional dramatic touch to reveal a vulnerable side to this lead that makes him all the more engaging. I can at least be agreed that Diesel hasn't gotten rusty when it comes to portraying this thoroughly memorable icon of a lead, who may once again be stronger than the film he's attached to, - even though this film is stronger than either "Pitch Black" and "The Chronicles of Riddick" - but is ultimately just one of several strengths that bring the final product to the point of being, not only entertaining, but borderline rewarding.
When it's all said and done, at least for the next nine years, underdevelopment, familiarity and uneven pacing are somewhat subtle missteps that go a long way in emphasizing natural shortcomings just enough to push the final product just short of the rewarding status that it surprisingly could have relatively easily achieved, but there's still enough impressiveness to the production designs and visual effects, good looks to the cinematography, thrills to the action and meat to substance that goes brought to life by unexpectedly reasonably inspired direction and an expectedly very inspired lead performance by Vin Diesel for 2013's "Riddick" to stand as a viscerally thrilling and often compelling comeback for a cult classic sci-fi saga, even if it still can't fully evade the underwhelmingness that claimed its predecessors.
2.75/5 - Decent