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Vin Diesel Is Back to Basics in 'Riddick', but with a Dog

If Riddick isn't an antihero, exactly, he's kind of an anti-antihero, checking off the boxes of legendary narrative in order to get him back to his ol' alone, angry self.


Director: David Twohy
Cast: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff, Nolan Gerald Funk, Dave Bautista
Rated: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-09-06 (General release)
UK date: 2013-09-04 (General release)

"There are bad days. And then there are legendary bad days." As usual, Riddick (Vin Diesel) is at once laconic and loquacious, barely speaking to anyone in his own world, but plenty willing to tell the rest of us everything he might be thinking, his cynicism matched only by his pile-on of clichés. Just so, at the start of Riddick, third film installment in his life story, he explains that one more time, he's been "crossed off the list and left for dead" on a planet that's about as harsh as you can imagine, all toxic desert, full of creatures whose job is to kill every other creature, including and perhaps especially him.

Riddick isn't about to go quietly, of course, and so during the first few minutes he emerges from beneath the surface, fights off wild dingo-looking dogs, re-breaks his own ankle and inserts pins into his bloody tattooed flesh, all so he can go fight some more, with an assembly of giant lurchy scorpions with alien-like multi-jaws. That Riddick takes all this unpleasantness in stride -- briefly limping -- is to be expected, and the effects are feeble enough to remind you constantly that you're watching effects. But still, it's hard not to love his observations on all the chaos and woe. Though he was hoping, he says, to have been dropped off at home, back on Furya, he was instead deposited by his enemies -- it hardly matters who they were this time -- onto this prison of a world, "someplace called Not Furya."

Riddick's gift for phrasing aside, the first part of Riddick is all about his having no one to talk to. Alone on Not Furya, he raises one of the wild dogs, a puppy whose mother he probably killed, to be a loyal and brilliant best friend, something of a four-legged version of Riddick, mimicking his postures and expressions, echoing his growls and grunts. Even as you know their boy-and-his-dog business is a set-up for another plot point, one leading Riddick to the most brutally righteous of brutally righteous vengeances, the mirror imagery is charming and perfectly weird in its own right, as the savage Riddick is able to share savage pleasures with his doppelganger beast self.

It's too bad that their idyll must be interrupted, but of course it must, and so Not Furya is invaded by bounty hunters, two crews in pursuit of Riddick for their own reasons. For the most part burly and hairy and mean -- the terrific exception being Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), her face gaunt and her gun cocked -- the crew members serve as deserving victims of Riddick's violence, especially the boastful bully Santana (Jordi Mollà). Announcing on his arrival that he means to take Riddick's head in a box (a large see-through box he brandishes during this oh-so-foolish self-introduction), Santana is further characterized by the prisoner (Keri Lynn Hilson) he's had chained up on his ship in order to rape whenever he wants; these off-screen horrors overshadow and yet are shaped by the image of Riddick watching as she dies in front of him, a bit of bait Santana is foolish enough to hope will draw out his quarry.

Here and elsewhere, Riddick's eyes -- ever gleaming, all-seeing, perverse and ominous in every way -- serve as the film's (and the franchise's) key metaphor. The eyeshine is an effect of his creation as monster and inmate, his elective surgery to survive an endlessly dark imprisonment. It's also a sign of his forever otherness, his rejection of definitions, whether by race or politics, his understanding beyond experience, his experience beyond knowledge. Riddick is one of those anti-heroes made essentially unkillable because, as he suggests, he's been killed so often. His survival is less his own triumph than a price to be paid, perpetually, apparently, by all those who want so badly to be done with him.

Santana is instantly added to this list of shortsighted bad actors. The other bounty hunter crew head, Johns (Matt Nable), has his own issues, namely, a personal history with Riddick. If his alliance with Dahl grants him a small bit of emotional leeway (on your part, anyway), his efforts to contain or recapture or destroy outright his opponent are so plainly silly that it's hard to feel sympathy for his longstanding, increasingly irrational upset. This in contrast to Riddick's upset, which is with all the universe that is Not Furya, a function of his life and his anticipation, his profound grasp of depravity and ruthlessness.

In this sense, certainly, Riddick returns the character to the moral environment of Pitch Black, and removes him from the excessive budget and narrative and longing for community that marred Chronicles. Here he's not putting up with any religious mouthings (courtesy of a believer of a bounty hunter played Nolan Gerard Funk) or tats and piercings (displayed by everyone else). For all his appreciation of a good joke and his own wit, the social part of existence has never appealed to him; he does need other people around him, people who need to be punished or otherwise disposed of, who need to be ridiculed and humiliated: when he calls one of the various thugs a jumoke, as explanation for what he deserves, it's an acknowledgement that you know what he knows, enough said.

This process of elimination is not so much to extol Riddick, who knows better than you how little he warrants such celebration. Rather, this process -- lumbering, predictable, sometimes downright dumb -- is a means to deliver and also critique the route by which heroes are ordained. If Riddick isn't an antihero, exactly, he's kind of an antiantihero, checking off the boxes of legendary narrative in order to get him back where he always has to be, alone and angry and aware.


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