By Mark HadleyWednesday 18 Sep 2013
First there was Pitch Black, a small-budget 2000 film that took everyone by surprise. Then in 2004 The Chronicles of Riddick arrived packing serious star-power like Judi Dench and Karl Urban. Now, nine years on, Vin Diesel is back as the iconic anti-hero from outer space, and neither his deadly skills nor his worldview have been affected by the wait.
Riddick picks up some time after the notorious killer Richard B. Riddick has taken on the role of Lord Marshall in the Necromonger Empire. However his determination not to conform to these conquerors’ culture leaves him vulnerable to Vaardo the usurper. Riddick finds himself marooned on a desert planet where he has to rediscover his inner-animal to survive:
“Somehow I got sloppy. Worse, I got civilized. So now I’ve go to zero the clock. Find my edge again.”
The Riddick that emerges from this predator-infested trial is the opportunistic killer male audiences and gamers have come to admire. So when bounty hunters come calling to collect the huge reward attached to Riddick’s name, there won’t be many viewers in doubt of the outcome. But in an age where people pride themselves on the shininess of their mobile phones, why does a character like Riddick still have appeal?
Straight out, Riddick is the archetypical warrior figure many men aspire to be. He’s intelligent, indomitable, unconcerned about society’s niceties and living a life that’s stripped back to the bare basics: winner takes all. That might sound overly simplistic but my guess is there’s a fair percentage of men, hemmed in by the daily rat race and confused by an increasingly metro-sexual society, who will admire his example. Men have always appreciated the ‘man’s man’ – the Bible record’s Isaac having a hard time understanding why God might choose stay-at-home Jacob over his burly son Esau. In part it’s because the male heart aches to be the reliable leader and provider God has designed. In fact it’s worth noticing that as ‘bad’ as Riddick might be he never slips into amorality.
Riddick persists in painting the hero as a character well aware of right and wrong. Riddick might dispatch his enemies with brutal efficiency but it’s always a them-or-me situation, and he persists in looking out for those characters who’ve done nothing to deserve his distrust. In Pitch Black and Chronicles it was the girl Jack; in Riddick it’s the fledgling bounty hunter Luna. But like Esau, Riddick sees no reason to let God get too mixed up in his life. When the Bible-carrying young man starts praying through Psalm 19 and suggests ‘the Good Lord’ might be saying it’s time they left this planet, Riddick sets him straight:
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“Kid, leave God out of this. He wants no part in what happens next.”
This isn’t delivered with any hint of heavy-heartedness,as though Riddick recognized God had no part in bringing about the mess they’re in – quite the opposite. If there is a God Riddick sees him as far too distant to care or too weak to be of any use. Best leave Him alone and trust that He’ll return the favour. Riddick might draw his concept of right and wrong from some source that constrains even his brutality, but when it comes to getting things done you only have yourself to rely on.
Of course the problem with this sort of virile, red-blooded independence is that it overlooks the obvious. Neither Riddick nor any other man that’s lived can, however big their biceps, claim responsibility for their successes. Our lives are directed by factors beyond our control – Riddick’s lucky enough to find a distress beacon just when he needs it – and those that we can influence, like our intelligence or strength, rely on the bodies we were given at birth.
We were ushered into the amazing structures we inhabit without any input from ourselves and we’ll be evicted without so much as a moment’s notice. In one sense the strongest men should be the most humble, realizing they’re working with someone else’s tools. But however content Riddick appears, he’s actually engaged in a spiritual battle. Right back in Pitch Black we learn what really upsets him about God. Sure, his Creator has given him great endurance, just not the control Riddick wants:
“Think someone could spend half their life in a slam with a horse bit in their mouth and not believe? Think he could start out in some liquor store trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and not believe? Got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God… and I absolutely hate the [expletive].”
Rating: MA 15+
Release Date: September 12