A passion project for star Vin Diesel and writer-director David Twohy, 2013’s Riddick is the third big-screen outing of the titular character, scrubbing away the soulless PG-13 extravagance of The Chronicles of Riddick in order to get back to the spirit of the original movie, Pitch Black. Produced on a petite $38 million budget and armed with an R rating, Riddick is vehemently a back-to-basics endeavour, foregrounding horror elements and once again portraying the franchise’s namesake as a morally ambiguous badass with a penchant for brutal violence. The resultant picture is not exactly a masterpiece, but it is enjoyable B-movie nonsense, with strong craftsmanship rendering it a fun time-killer for both fans of the series as well as the uninitiated, even if it fails to introduce much innovation.

Unfulfilled in his new position as Lord Marshal of the Necromongers, Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) renounces his throne, hoping to set out in search of his fellow Furyans. Instead, he is betrayed and left for dead on a remote desert planet, where the wounded warrior learns to survive despite harsh conditions. With a monsoon approaching that will bring scores of deadly creatures with it, Riddick feels he has outstayed his welcome, subsequently hatching a plan to escape the planet. With an enormous bounty on the killer’s head, Riddick triggers a distress signal in a nearby supply bunker to lead ships to him, planning to steal a ship from whomever responds. The signal attracts a team of bounty hunters, but they are not willing to play ball with Riddick, who on the other hand is perfectly happy to pick them off one by one. Crashing the party soon afterwards are another group of bounty hunters, who want Riddick for more personal reasons.

In seeking to recapture the spirit of Pitch Black, Twohy and Diesel essentially just rehash the film, as Riddick adheres to a similar narrative: an alien planet, a group of people stuck with Riddick, and a bunch of vicious creatures hunting them. In fact, Twohy abandons all the developments found in Chronicles to return the series to square one. The plot is actually very thin, more of a succession of set-pieces without a cohesive through-line beyond the need to escape the planet. As a result, while entertaining, Riddick does feel a bit pointless in the long run, with Twohy doing little to progress the series in any substantial fashion. Of course, over-ambition did render Chronicles a convoluted, overdeveloped bore, but a bit more ambition would nevertheless be appreciated here. Strangely, Twohy’s screenplay seems insistent on hammering home the message that Riddick is a badass and characters should fear him, with repetitive dialogue that serves no purpose since this is the third film in the series and viewers should know who they’re dealing with by now. Even for those who are new to the series, such dialogue is too heavy-handed. Also odd is the fact that Katee Sackhoff’s character is a lesbian, but Riddick seems intent on changing that. This malarkey comes out of nowhere and feels astonishingly out of place.

2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick imagined entire new worlds, with its vast $100 million budget facilitating a large-scale science fiction epic. Here, Twohy had minimal budget on his side, and the financing was so meagre that Diesel actually mortgaged his house at one stage to keep production going until a bank loan came through. For a $38 million production, Riddick is visually ambitious, with vast digitally-created otherworldly vistas, CGI creatures, and a smattering of futuristic technology. Twohy creates a compelling look for the movie, with cinematographer David Eggby displaying a real talent for composition and lighting, creating an impressive sense of atmosphere. The effects of the creatures are not completely convincing (the canines look particularly cheap), but they are good enough to allow us to feel invested in the story’s occurrences.

The first act of Riddick is almost entirely bereft of dialogue, with Twohy observing Riddick’s day-to-day exploits on the alien planet as he deals with a broken leg, gathers food and raises a young alien pup. It’s often absorbing to watch due to the skill of Twohy’s visual filmmaking, but Diesel has limited range, and therefore has trouble effectively conveying whatever thought or emotion he’s feeling at any one time. Nevertheless, Diesel makes for a compelling enough antihero, with cold glares and a gruff line delivery working in his favour. He looks especially at home during the action stuff, when Riddick unleashes his brutal inner warrior in increasingly awesome ways. The supporting players here are fine for the most part, with Sackhoff the most notable simply because she’s more or less the only female in the picture (thankless extras notwithstanding).

If you liked Pitch Black and have been yearning for a true sequel that maintains the same spirit, then Riddick will likely satisfy you. Even the five people in the world who like The Chronicles of Riddick should enjoy this third entry in the series, as well. On the other hand, if you were not a fan of the prior flicks, then there’s no talking to you. Even though it’s disappointing that Riddick‘s plotting is far too slight, it is refreshingly stripped down after the overblown first sequel, with Twohy happy to merely let us revel in watching Riddick unchained. It’s R-rated matinee-style silliness, proficiently fulfilling its promise of delivering hardcore action and dark sci-fi thrills.

6.8/10