It’s been almost 13 years since Pitch Black pleasantly surprised audiences with its smart spin on classic creature features and the charisma of its little-known star, Vin Diesel. The tense, sci-fi horror hybrid generated enough buzz to spawn a big-budget sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, but that film fell short of expectations, losing its way in the push to make everything bigger and better.
Diesel and writer-director David Twohy have spent the last nine years assuring fans that their goggle-wearing antihero’s story is far from over. In the new film, Riddick finds himself marooned on a planet filled with carnivorous creatures that make every moment a struggle for survival. After discovering an abandoned outpost, he broadcasts a distress call, knowing that it will bring hunters looking to earn the bounty on his head—and a way off the planet. With a massive storm on the horizon and the planet’s most dangerous inhabitants closing in, Riddick’s escape efforts soon become a matter of life and death.
Although Riddick is not a narrative reboot (the story advances the underlying continuity that runs through two live-action films, two video games, and an animated movie), it occasionally feels like a remake of sorts, tracing some of the same story beats of Pitch Black. From the film’s countdown to planetwide monster meltdown to a foot race through creature-infested badlands with glowing power supplies in tow (a sequence eerily similar to the third act of Pitch Black), much of Riddick likely will prompt deja vu for fans of the first film.
Still, the back-to-basics approach works for Riddick, even if it does follow a familiar blueprint. While it lacks some of the suspense and traditional horror elements that served Pitch Black well, its comfort zone lies in a gritty mix of sci-fi action and space-western tropes, full of big guns, tough-as-nails characters, and rampaging monsters. Diesel and Twohy have long insisted that Riddick would have more in common with Pitch Black than the much-maligned Chronicles, and thankfully, that’s another promise they followed through on.
Essentially, Riddick is to Pitch Black what Aliens is to the original Alien, with one a war movie about soldiers trapped behind enemy lines and the other a dark, moody thriller with occasional bouts of gory violence. That they share some of the same characters and set pieces is what makes unites them as a “series.”
And much like that other sci-fi horror saga, the appeal of Riddick’s saga has as much to do with the star as the story. Diesel continues to be the most interesting element of any scene in Riddick, just as he was in the earlier films. Throughout Riddick, he exudes a level of comfort in the role that makes everything unfolding around him a little more entertaining, and you can’t help cheering—for both the character and Diesel’s commitment to him—and hoping that this won’t be the last we see of Richard B. Riddick.