“Like I said, it’s not me you have to worry about now.”-Richard Riddick
Vin Diesel will always be known as the rugged, romantic race car heisting family man Dominic Toretto and for good reason. The Fast and The Furious films are blockbuster hits and summer film launching gems that have gotten better with each entry. In the business of make believe, the role that nets the studio the most cash brings you the most acclaim. That’s why Harrison Ford is known as Indiana Jones and Star Wars instead of his best role, Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. With no disrespect to the soulful nitro powered hero Dom, Diesel’s best role is Riddick, the criminal steely eyed killer who can tangle with desert serpents like we put together a bowl of cereal.
It all started back in 2000 with Pitch Black, a relatively low key science fiction action thriller with a unknown Diesel, Cole Hauser and Radha Mitchell being stranded out in a futuristic kill zone with the planet’s worst inhabitants(think Aliens mixed with Starship Troopers). Pitch Black was a great time at the movies because it didn’t take itself too seriously and allowed Diesel to use every ounce of his charisma, action hero brutality and gifted use of one liners.
The film was also one of those proudly low key indie horror flicks with its mind set on producing thrills and giving the audience little room to overthink the experience. The effects weren’t over the top but not genuine at the same time. Diesel captained it all, playing a born survivor with a killer instinct yet a man who lived by a code that didn’t include killing kids and women. Classic action anti-hero territory that Diesel made fresh, like blowing the dust off an old canister of coffee. The entire juice of the plot revolved around the planet the group was stranded on going dark for a full year, which made the humans easy prey for the creatures. Nothing better than hearing Diesel’s Riddick tell the others calmly, “You’re not afraid of the dark are you?”
Diesel became enamored with the character and got the studio to greenlight a sequel, which sounded great until the trailer arrived and the movie painfully delivered on bad expectations.
The sequel, Chronicles of Riddick, was an abomination. It took the plot and action off the planet of creatures and into a different world of soldier armies led by Colm Feore and Karl Urban. The film added Judi Dench to class things up but the gimmick didn’t help and stuck out like a sore thumb. The action was over stylized and didn’t come off as dazzling or fresh as the original film. Why abandon the premise that made the first film work so well?
Luckily, the third film, Riddick, returned the action to the rugged planet of darkness and deadly deeds, while adding some muscle to the cast in Katie Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Matt Nable, and Jordi Molla. The results created an even bigger spectacle and level of enjoyment than the first film. When I saw the film in theaters, I didn’t like it all. It took a few viewings on cable on my couch to fully grasp the concept of what director David Twohy was doing here. He was closing the epic journey of Riddick with a finale that brought together elements of the first film, sealed the lackluster sequel’s plot and opened a whole new bag of tricks.
The first 25 minutes of the film center on Riddick escaping from the army he led at the end of the second film and this doesn’t work at all without Diesel’s ability to captivate. Badly injured and in need of aid, Riddick finds a pal in a pup wolf(who later departs in one of the worst animal death scenes ever) and fights a sea monster. More than anything, it’s hanging out on a dangerous planet with Vin Diesel and he makes it work.
He also connected Cole Hauser’s mercenary from the first film to the third film, entrenching the man’s father(Nable) to track down Riddick and get answers as to what happened to his son 10 years ago. Molla and Bautista are another group of mercenaries hunting Riddick for a huge reward. This sets up an even better game when the planet goes black, the creatures come out and it’s a three way battle to see who gets the noads(the electronic engine that powers the ships) first before the creatures get them.
If you aren’t a fan of Diesel, you don’t appreciate great action heroes. Please don’t confuse them with real actors like Daniel Day Lewis and Tom Hanks. Action stars are built on presence and stature along with the ability to convince they can truly destroy things and look good doing it. If a chef is crafting them in a kitchen, think 2-3 spices instead of 5. More one liners than monologues. That’s for a good purpose. We didn’t pay money to see Arnold and Sly talk us to death. We paid to see them shoot us a funny one liner, beat up a bad guy, and rock ripped up t-shirts or tanks. Save the day and we are happy. Action stars are exactly what their title reads. Men of action. Diesel personifies that in the Furious films but he is at his best here as the unpredictable killer who can see in the dark. The bald dome. The tank top covered by armor. The all black exterior. It just works.
Just watch Riddick start to rattle his chains and laugh as the mercenaries freak out over the incoming attack of serpents.
It’s all juice dripping from an action lovers barbecue pit. Diesel, more than any other role, feels completely at home in this characters skin. No one else could do it as well as him. It’s a combination of swagger, presence and authenticity. Diesel and Twohy take the viewer to a whole other world in their films, and as it did in Pitch Black, Riddick thrills and chills but more than anything, it’s entertainment.
While he may be known for other action films, Riddick is Diesel’s bread and butter. Watching it with my dad months ago, he said there’s something about the movie that just makes it rewatchable and he’s right. Sometimes, the best picture winner at the Oscars isn’t exactly a movie you want to watch over and over. Movies like Riddick have great stand alone scenes and a good all around thrill vibe that makes them easy to revisit. There’s also this guy driving the ship.