(David Twohy, 2013)
The first act is unexpectedly magnificent. Twohy and Diesel's Conan-in-space, Richard Riddick, finds himself marooned on an inhospitable planet; left for dead by the Necromongers from the last, wildly ambitious movie about the character, the overstuffed Chronicles of Riddick.
Injured and vulnerable, he survives through ingenuity and sheer badassness, taking on various creatures, the elements and the landscape as he does so. This sequence is largely wordless but for a spare noir-ish narration in Diesel's gravelly croak, and Twohy excels with this pure cinematic storytelling; Riddick in survival mode is utterly compelling.
In the second act he activates a beacon at a remote Bounty Hunter station, summoning two separate teams of hardened killers who come for his head (literally). Jordi Molla is all hissable villainy, while Matt Nable offers a more heroic character (along with a nice link with Pitch Black). Their teams fare less well - Riddick picks them off one-by-one, until the third act reruns Pitch Black, forcing an unlikely union against vicious alien beasties.
There's little original here then, but Twohy understands this material so well, and delivers it with such brio and wit, that Riddick actually constitutes one of this years better genre entertainments. It is stripped down and sleekly efficient - characters are swiftly defined, action drives the plot forward, tension is nicely sustained and set-pieces all deliver. The design and visuals are familiar too: this is a planet filtered with a sort of burnt sepia, and the tech is all battered and gritty in the usual post Star Wars fashion, but it undoubtedly works.
Diesel has yet to find another role as well-suited to his persona as this one, and he seems to thoroughly enjoy himself throughout. The supporting cast - Nable especially - offer vivid readings of various macho stereotypes
In this era when most spectacle movies are really b-movies with big budgets and bad scripts, it is a relief to see a b-movie that is honest about its status, made by a filmmaker who understands the genre. And in the first half hour here, he has made something exceptional.