Since I reviewed Pitch Black (2000), why not do the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)? Actually, there is an animated featurette called The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004) that is technically the follow-up to the 2000 science fiction horror film that was star Vin Diesel’s real big break. I saw it once, a long time ago, and thought it confusing. It is meant to be the bridge between the two films. At any rate, I find the term “chronicles” confusing when applied to a film like The Chronicles of Riddick. Being plural, you would think there would be more than one plot. Instead, it is just one story focusing on the title character, Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel). Maybe it should be called A Chronicle of Riddick? Anyway, on with the review.
What has our anti-hero with the shiny eyes been doing in the five years since he escaped the monster death planet in the first film, along with two others? The Chronicles of Riddick tells us that he had been hanging out on a snowy waste of a planet called U.V. He had been minding his own business, growing out his beard and hair, until one day a group of mercenaries, led by a man going by Toombs (Nick Chinlund), are sent to bring in Riddick. After dispatching the rest of Toomb’s crew, Riddick sneaks aboard the intruding ship and learns that a bounty had been placed on his head by Imam (Keith David), a Muslim cleric that accompanied Riddick off the aforementioned death planet. Hijacking the mercenaries’ ship, Riddick heads for Helion Prime, Imam’s home. Once there, Riddick confronts Imam, who tells the former convict that he is their only hope in defeating a greater threat to civilization than his lawlessness. This danger is a race of people calling themselves the Necromongers, and their leader, the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore), is going around the galaxy destroying entire societies. Imam’s message is reinforced by the arrival of a woman named Aereon (Dame Judi Dench), who is an “Elemental.” Imagine what you will with that title, but for our purposes it simply means that she can de-materialize and re-materialize in another place in a wind-like effect. In any case, she talks of a prophecy about a Furyan, who survived birth with an umbilical wrapped around his neck as did Riddick, who would be the one to take down the Lord Marshal and stop the Necromonger scourge. Riddick wants no part of this, and his only reason for emerging from his hiding place is to make sure that Jack (Alexa Davalos), a girl who had also been with him and Imam, is safe. Imam tells Riddick that she had gone looking for him, and that she ended up in prison. All these revelations come as the Necromongers invade the planet. In the ensuing chaos, Imam dies protecting his family, and the invaders make short work of the defenders. Riddick ends up with the survivors, and his defiance gains the attention of the Lord Marshal. It also gets the wheels turning for the ever-scheming Dame Vaako (Thandiwe Newton) of the Necromongers. Her husband, Lord Vaako (Karl Urban), is who she would rather see leading their people, and Riddick’s behavior looks like weakness on the Lord Marshal’s part. They then bring Riddick to their ship to attempt to convert him to the Necromonger way. When it becomes evident there that Riddick is, in fact, Furyan, the Lord Marshal orders his immediate death. Luckily, Riddick escapes, with a little help from a former Furyan among the Necromongers, going by the name Purifier (Linus Roache). Meeting him outside is another mercenary crew led by Toombs. This time they successfully capture Riddick and bring him to a prison on the super-hot/super cold planet Crematoria, which also happens to be where Jack is incarcerated. Their reunion is not a happy one, with her accusing him of lying about his past, which inspired her to become a bounty hunter and change her name to Kyra. O . . . kay. . . . Anyway, since there does not appear to be a jail that can hold our hero, he eventually contrives an escape when the jailors do not pay the mercenaries their agreed price for bringing in the infamous criminal. Riddick uses the ensuing brawl to lead a couple of inmates, including Kyra, over the surface to the hangar where the ship that brought him to the planet is waiting. Of course, the moment they arrive is when the Necromongers, led by Lord Vaako, show up in their pursuit of Riddick. Another fight breaks out, and Kyra ends up going with the Necromongers when she believes Riddick is dead. Our hero is saved by the Purifier, who tells Riddick that he must go and face the Lord Marshal. Again, Riddick only wants to retrieve Kyra, but it is back to Helion Prime for him where the Necromongers are wrapping up their conquest. Dame Vaako advises her husband to stay out of the expected duel, telling him to wait until the last moment to kill the Lord Marshal and take their leader’s place. Instead, it is Riddick that finishes off the Lord Marshal, but not without some timely help from Kyra that also results in her death. Still, it leaves Riddick sitting on the throne, which prevents the destruction of Helion Prime, so job done, I guess.
Actually, The Chronicles of Riddick is not that bad. At the same time, it feels like those responsible for its production, namely director David Twohy, thought it would be a lot more than the big, dumb action film that it is in the end. Where does one turn when you want to give your movie a deeper philosophical meaning? Why, to religion, of course. The Necromongers are portrayed as not being just a conquering people, but as carrying out a crusade. They are a faith rather than a society, though there does appear to be a social structure as well. The Lord Marshal is referred to as a “Holy Half-Dead” who has been to a place called “Underverse.” It is described by the adherents as another universe, and a heavenly paradise. The Lord Marshal is so keen on getting people there that if they do not wish to join him in the journey, he will murder them. This is why it is referred to as a crusade, I suppose. I am getting a little tired of the overuse of this term. Whenever it is used, it conjures for people images of Christian warriors ransacking the Holy Land in the name of God. It is yet another stereotype with which the Catholic Church must contend. The Crusades did see some bad things happen. Warfare, regardless of its motivation, is not a good thing, or in keeping with the tenets of Christianity. At the same time, there can be a positive connotation to the word, a zealousness that inspires people to do incredible things. Why not label Riddick’s quest to make sure Kyra is safe, despite failing, a crusade? Or Aereon’s desire to see the survival of humanity a crusade? But, no, in film, and this one is no exception, crusades are invariably associated with the bad guys.
The Chronicles of Riddick does not work only because they feature a mislabeled crusade. If taken in the context of its predecessor, it does not make a ton of sense. The previous film is basically horror, whereas this is an action-flick. Riddick is also more menacing in Pitch Black than he is in the sequel. Still, taken on its own, I can appreciate Riddick’s heroism. He may talk like a villain, but he does the right thing every time. If only he were not so violent, and it is because of that aspect that I do not recommend this for general audiences.