Thursday, September 19, 2013

Riddick vs. Pitch Black


I went to see Riddick last weekend. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of Pitch Black, and I was very excited to see Riddick returning to the roots of the first film as a sort of survival-horror-sci-fi-type movie. Riddick was always best when he was morally ambiguous, mysterious, and seemingly one step ahead of everyone else.

But Pitch Black had more going for it than just Riddick’s brooding, anti-hero persona. It had an incredibly diverse cast:


  • Keith David plays a Muslim priest with two little boys (his children? Proteges? It’s not entirely clear what their relationship is…), also Muslim, are on a pilgrimage.
  • The leader of the group is a female starship pilot.
  • The film shows a surprising amount of creativity and progressiveness when it tackles gender normative behaviors and physicality by having a young girl disguised as a boy.
The previously mentioned revelation comes at a moment that in many other movies would be a moment of woman shaming. They learn that the reason the creatures are following them so easily is that they can smell blood--something established earlier--and the young boy, “Jack,” is actually a girl that’s menstruating.


Her reasoning for pretending to be a boy is not only understandable, but is keeping with a long tradition of women in combat situations--she wanted to be respected, and sadly, only boys get respect.

But more interesting is the fact that Jack is not shamed or punished for “being a girl.” Riddick, it seems, has known this for quite some time and possibly all along.  He, however, has treated Jack the same throughout the movie.  It's one of the best things about Riddick's character, and it's one of the things that humanizes Riddick and makes him more than just a murderous monster.  His understanding, kind-but-tough relationship with the kid is one of the highlights of the film.

Once the twist is revealed, the film seems to attack the idea of punishing Jack for being a girl head-on, with one character saying they should throw her under the bus.  Riddick wants none of this, and dishes out his own brand of justice for such thinking.

Jack's characterization isn’t entirely perfect, as when it’s revealed that she’s a girl, she seemed to become a bit more screamy and weepy, however, one could make the argument that by that point in the film, the situation has gotten a lot more dangerous and she feels more comfortable being herself around these people and doesn’t have to put on an act of being “tough.” But still...it is there. Take it how you will.

Anyway, I loved Pitch Black a whole lot.

Riddick...is not Pitch Black.

I haven’t seen The Chronicles of Riddick and decided I probably didn’t need to since the film seemed to be ignoring the previous movie for the most part, anyway, based on what I saw in the trailers.

The film starts with a short 5-10 minutes of bridging the previous movie with this film (although, it doesn't seem to answer any questions left open by the previous movie from what I've read online).

Then, the film has a long sequence of Riddick dicking around in the desert.  Given the direction that the film will inevitably take--as seen in the trailers, this sequence does nothing.  The pacing is glacial, and the longer it ran, the more annoyed I got because I wanted to know what the movie was waiting for.  Why didn't it just get started and introduce the other characters?  The only thing that happens is Riddick gets a dog that will most definitely be dead before the end of the film.

Finally, Riddick makes it to a bounty hunter waystation and activates a beacon summoning a ship of bounty hunters and the plot finally gets going.  It's structured similar to Pitch Black at this point, only instead of ground-dwelling monsters killing off the crew, Riddick is doing it, hoping to convince them by force that he should get one of their ships and they can take the other.  Everyone needs to get off of the planet because a big storm is coming that has a bunch of scary scorpion-like monsters in it.

Obviously, that doesn't happen, Riddick gets captured, the storm hits, and suddenly they need Riddick's special brand of skills to get them off of the planet.

This was the part of the movie that I'd been waiting for, and it had its moments where it was pretty cool, but for the most part, this part of the film felt kind of forced, like it was basically trying to recreate Pitch Black.

Individual elements of this film were cool: Riddick being abandoned and left to survive on his own on an unfamiliar planet, drawing out bounty hunters to try to steal a ship to get off the planet, introducing the father of one of the characters from Pitch Black to call back to the previous film, Riddick having to help a group of people out of another jam, this time with an oncoming storm approaching instead of a year-long night.  These were all things that worked.

However, the first woman we see in the film is a topless woman in bed with many others in the same state, and they are essentially fucktoys for Riddick's pleasure (he was apparently made king or something...).

The second woman we see is being held prisoner in much the same way that Riddick was.

This was exciting for me because I thought they were going to maybe introduce another murderer/prisoner like Riddick, but instead of having a heart of gold, maybe this woman would be a straight up sociopathic monster and Riddick would have to battle someone younger, meaner, and more dangerous.

Nope.

Instead, she is a prisoner of a group of bounty hunters...and the leader has been repeatedly raping her.  When someone touches her to let her go, she freaks out in an all-too earnest and realistic performance of panic in a movie that had, up until that point, been so cheesy I could have poured it over my chimichangas.  Then she's let go...and shot.  She's the only black person in this film.  Hooray.

The third woman we see is one of the significant characters.  I was excited to learn she was a lesbian.  True, she was extremely butch, at one point actually uttering the line, "I don't fuck guys.  I fuck them up," which really plays into some harmful stereotypes of lesbian women being violent and butch and essentially dudes with boobs.  But at least it was some diversity.

To be fair, the cast wasn't all white.  One of the teams of bounty hunters was largely hispanic.  However, they were essentially the bad guys, and so they all get killed off before the end of the film.  So...you know...White People win again!

Anyway, I was annoyed with the death of the female prisoner and the clumsy, stupid way rape was just dropped into the movie with no bearing on the plot beyond "yeah, that guy is so evil he RAPES," but I was willing to forgive the film if it could turn around.

Then, Riddick started acting so out of character that I could have sworn this was written by some other person and not the guy that wrote the original film.

Riddick spies on the woman character--named Dahl..."doll"...seriously--while she's in the shower.

Riddick, while mentioning that when he gets unchained, he's going to kill the douchebag mercenary leader, also mentions that he will "go balls deep into Dahl...and she'll ask for it."

Riddick tells Dahl he likes her nail polish because "it matches her nipples."

All of this, Dahl bears with a coy smile.  I kept hoping that this was just Riddick being kind of clueless and dumb--being on the run, you're probably not going to develop the best social skills--but I was oh so wrong.  At the end of the film, Dahl rescues Riddick from being eaten, by being lowered down onto him and straddling him like she's fucking him--and he grabs her ass LIKE A MAN!!--and later, he tells her to "keep it warm for me."  Her vagina, he means.  And she's totally into it.  The film posits one of the oldest stereotypes: "All lesbians are just straight women that have never had a good dicking."

Most of these things, if they were isolated incidents, I could have ignored.  But it piled on annoying douchebag cliche after annoying douchebag cliche.  I heard several dudebros cheering every time he came onto her.  See, this is why things like this piss me off.  It's not enough that they're being disrespectful to part of their potential audience, but they're reinforcing that "persistence will get ANY girl" to the types of guys that REALLY don't need that lesson.

This also annoyed me because I always imagined that Riddick was...maybe asexual?  This may be my own fault for not having seen the first film, but Riddick never seemed to be attracted to the starship captain.  He felt superior to her, and often condescended to her in a "I know so much more than you" kind of way, but he did that to everyone.  And by the end, when she went back into the dark to save him, he'd made a connection with another human being in a way that--I imagine based on his characterization--he'd probably never had before.  When she got killed off, he broke down and screamed, "Not her. Not for me! Not for me!"  That was an amazing scene.

This movie gave me a character I didn't even recognize.

Everyone has their own opinion.  If you liked this movie, I wouldn't take it from you for anything.  However, if you liked Pitch Black, I recommend you just watch that over again.  This doesn't do anything new, and it takes a severe step backward with characterization and casting.