Short Summary: The Riddick franchise is a series of a sci-fi films focused on a mysterious escaped convict with artificial eyes named Riddick and his various adventures.
The Riddick trilogy – barring the future films that will inevitably come over the years – is one of the few movie trilogies I’ve seen where each installment has worked on me to various degrees. Only other ones that come to mind at the moment are the original Star Wars trilogy, Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy, and The Cornetto Trilogy. It’s pretty damn tough to maintain a franchise interesting for three films because the first one usually sets up the ideas, the next installment exploits the ideas, and the last installment tends to be a money-making scheme with few unique ideas to go on because the second thing already used most of them up. But whilst that’s sort of the case for the Riddick trilogy, each film still manages to be fun on their own and the critics can stick their negative reviews up Hannibal Lector’s sphincter.
Pitch Black is the first installment and mostly doesn’t bear the Riddick name because similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark before it unexpectedly made Lucas and Spielberg richer than they already were, the film was made before Vin Diesel decided he wanted to exploit his character’s ego. It focuses on the horror side of things by being focused on a group of survivors ala the human characters in Planet of the Apes and portrays Riddick as a mysterious man who they are forced to rely on in order to survive whilst not being sure whether he can be trusted or not. Most mainstream audiences like this film the most because despite Riddick’s “is he a good guy or not” aura, he’s portrayed as a flawed man with actual human traits and thus more interesting than most wanted criminals. Personally, it’s my least favorite of the bunch because whilst it’s true that Riddick is most complex in this installment, the actual plot is kind of typical in regards to survival stories.
Whilst Vin Diesel is a large part of why I like this trilogy so much in general, seeing him in a typical space survival story where the only major thing that stands out (aside from his character) is how everything resolves is hardly the most exciting thing ever and the film only ended up decent at best. That said, it’s a good movie for people who like this sort of thing and it provided as a nice segue for my favorite installment of the franchise: Chronicles.
Now this film got the biggest amount of critical/fan backlash out of the trilogy, mostly for the reasons that I love it so much. Okay, the fact that it’s PG-13 whilst the other two installments are R-rated is questionable. But otherwise this film is pretty much made to exploit both Vin Diesel and his Riddick character as some hardcore insane badass rather than the flawed mystery man from Pitch Black. Not too much of a problem for someone like me who loves Vin Diesel and unexplained chaotic insanity as long as said insanity is entertaining enough on its own, but I can see how those die-hard fans who wanted the third film to be more horror and less Star Wars.
But like most people, despite the fact that the crap vastly outweighs the good at this point, I love Star Wars. And this film capitalizes on what makes it so great way better than the prequel trilogy did with its evil empire and Riddick being the prophesized one who will destroy them, along with cool-looking planets, decent action scenes, and nice callbacks to the first film. Plus, the ending where Riddick accidentally ends up in even deeper shit (in a different way) than he thought possible was one of the best sci-fi endings I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see more stories end with the main dude accidentally becoming ruler of the enemy army he was supposed to destroy.
Which brings us to the final film up to this point: Riddick. Because the fans demanded it, it was basically Pitch Black with a bigger budget, except since we’ve been privy to Riddick’s thoughts and characters in the second film – and we’re still privy to his thoughts in this one – it’s not as suspenseful in regards to whether these new guys can trust him since we’re mainly supposed to be rooting for him. Despite being more flawed story-wise, I actually loved this third installment – moreso than Pitch Black. The fact that it was a retread of the lesser film disappointed me at first when I saw it in theaters, but upon rewatching it with an open mind, I really love the methods Twohy used to make the whole space-horror setup bigger, from the alien creatures to the brutal way people die (that machete scene). And it turns out that the extended edition even added a cool sequel hook where Riddick comes back to the empire he wanted to get away from in order to get the truth. I’m totally interested in seeing that sequel. Just please don’t wait another ten years before your release it. Also, please ignore the fans and make the fourth installment more like Chronicles. I just don’t see the “can Riddick be trusted?” formula working a third time.
Verdict: The Riddick trilogy should be the next big sci-fi franchise to take the movie world by storm. Instead, it’s just a cult phenomenon that deserves way more love than it gets.
Note: I have not seen the Sergio Leone trilogy, can’t remember Back to the Future, and Neverending Story’s sequels sucked major balls.
Further Note: I have not played the games, nor seen Peter Chung’s cartoon films.