Sunday, May 28, 2017


Welcome to another installment of the TRASH BIN, where we watch the worst movies Hollywood has to offer, according to the critics, and give you our thoughts, good or bad. This week, Robert reviews Vin Diesel's second outing as spacefaring badass Richard B Riddick, in 2004's THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK.

I'm sitting down to write this review on the same night I posted my thoughts on the third trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming. If you read that post (thanks, Mom) you know I didn't exactly gush over it. It feels a little weird to be getting ready to show praise to a movie so popularly derided immediately after throwing shade on a movie millions are eagerly waiting for, but I'm nothing if not a man apart in the world of movie fandom. So, like the song says, here I go again.

The Chronicles of Riddick is the second movie in the Riddick Saga, following 2000's Pitch Black and preceding 2013's Riddick, and it's a sneaky little picture. At first glance it looks like another loud, dumb action movie aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator. The movie isn't perfect. There are a few examples of line delivery that could probably have stood another take, and the story makes an unfortunate chronological jump near the end that's a bit jarring. But the thing I love about the Riddick universe is the amount of world building behind it, and with this movie, we get what remains our best and deepest look into a universe just begging to be explored.

Like any self-respecting sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick assumes that you've put in the time to watch Pitch Black. It may not be required viewing to understand the events of this movie as such, but it's absolutely essential so that you understand why this story plays out the way it does. Pitch Black contains, for example, the reasons why a growly, violence-prone loner like Riddick would give crap one about someone like Keith David's (sadly short-lived) character, a peace-loving holy man about as much a polar opposite to Riddick as you can get. That's the way sequels are supposed to work.

The plot is full on space opera, of the kind we rarely get in this country under a title that doesn't contain words like "Star" and "Wars". Seriously, the only thing missing is a robot. Some years after the events of Pitch Black, Riddick is reunited with the Imam (Keith David), and learns that Imam's adopted home world of Helion Prime is threatened by a crusading army called the Necromongers (literally "Death-Dealers", in case you wondered). Under their merciless and ambitious leader, the Lord-Marshall (played with great subtlety by Colm Fiore), the Necromongers journey through space obliterating every inhabited world they encounter, gaining trophies and converts to their faith as they seek a place called the Underverse, their idea of the Afterlife.

Not a fan of playing the hero on such a high-profile scale, Riddick initially refuses to help. But then the Necromongers invade, and Riddick sees first-hand their icy brutality as they reduce the beautiful city of New Mecca, Helion Prime's capital, to rubble in a shock-and-awe invasion that also claims the Imam's life. Losing the closest thing Riddick ever had to a friend, and seeing the uncaring arrogance with which the Necromongers treat these people who had done nothing to provoke the Necromonger invasion, Riddick decides this will be his fight after all. But he'll later learn that he has very personal reasons to see the Lord-Marshall brought down, as well.

The tricky thing about world-building is that you always run the risk of seeing the majority of that work lost in the background, and your story may come across appearing like it has no such work behind it at all. Usually all we can hope for are little throw-away asides that serve no purpose other than to spark Internet debate, like C-3PO's red arm in Episode VII, or Centauri's "Excalibur Test" in The Last Starfighter.

The Chronicles of Riddick has plenty of these Easter eggs as well, but they serve to enhance the story world overall. Many of these center around Necromongers, starting with the fact that their armada, which is not made up of excessively large ships, as far as we can tell, is still so massive that it can be seen from planetside, appearing as a comet. How many individual craft would that even take?

Another example is the character of the Lord-Marshall himself, and the way the movie uses him as an opportunity to provide glimpses into Necromonger culture. On the trivia track for the movie's DVD, Colm Fiore is quoted as saying that he envisioned the Lord-Marshall, not as a merely "evil" man, but as a great man, of the kind whose life and deeds have a significant impact on the course of history, like Julius Caesar or Napoleon. The Lord-Marshall's quest and his morality are reprehensible, to be sure, but he never comes off like a refugee from a Saturday-morning cartoon. Instead Fiore plays the character as a man of depth and cunning, brilliantly devious and supremely magnetic, and so brings to life the single most fascinating villian I've ever encountered in sci-fi.

There are plenty of other details in this movie that make it one of my favorites. The Chronicles of Riddick is the only time, so far, that we see there are creatures other than humans living in this universe, with the inclusion of Judi Dench as an air elemental. Also, while we don't know how far in the future these movies are set, it's pretty clear that Earth is long ago and very far away for these people. And yet you can apparently still find Menthol Kools, if you never kicked the habit. It's such a mundane and brilliant little connecting detail to ancient history.

I love this movie for its ambition, and its conscious connection to classic theatre. Thandi Newton plays the character of Dame Vaako in the style of the low-profile schemers found in ancient Greek plays or even, dare I say it, the work of Shakespeare. The Chronicles of Riddick doesn't quite live up to its goals, but it's still a rare and wonderful combination of popcorn-movie flash and meaty geek debate fodder. It's a shame that 2013's Riddick saw fit to return to the "marooned on a hostile world" setting of Pitch Black, and I hope we get to explore this universe on Chronicles' sweeping scale again one day, but for now, with the fouth film in the works, I'm glad we can look forward to spending more time in it at all.

The Chronicles of Riddick is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language.


Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Metacritic: 38 2/4 


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