Pitch Black was an outer space horror film about a group stranded on a planet with some very scary creatures. One member of the group was Riddick (Vin Diesel), a convict being transported to prison. His ability to see in the dark made him the group’s best hope for survival.
In this vastly less ambitious sequel of sorts, Riddick (Deisel again) is once more the best hope for survival, this time of just about everyone.
As explained to us in numbing sci-fi blah blah crisply delivered with impeccable diction by Oscar-winner Dame Judi Dench, an evil race called the Necromongers is capturing planets as it moves toward its interplanetary version of something between Mecca and Valhalla. They offer the inhabitants of each planet two choices — surrender or death — and they don’t really care which one they pick. The leader of the Necromongers, Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) has been told that he will be killed by a member of the Furia race, so he has ordered all of them killed. But one remains — Riddick — and as soon as he says, “It’s not my fight,” you know he’ll be opening up a can of whup-ass on just about everyone pretty soon or it would be a pretty short movie.
It almost makes it as a brainless popcorn summer explosion movie. The movie’s graphics are very striking, especially the neo-fascist baroque of the Necromonger’s massive weapons, armor, machinery, and monuments and the enormous underground prison on a planet with temperature swings of hundreds of degrees. It’s nice to see someone thinking up advanced technology that is not computer based. Instead of digital read-outs there are some fascinating mechanical contraptions. There are also some good action sequences and some cool special effects.
But the script is a dumbed-down version of The Matrix, complete with characters who are hooked into soul-destroying machinery through their necks, with a little bit of The Wizard of Oz and (heaven help us) Battlefield Earth thrown in for bad measure. The names are so unimaginatively obvious they border on parody, with the angry race called the Furia and the hot planet called Crematoria. The dialogue is dreadful, both the faux portentious exposition (“They are a plague that now sweeps through the worlds of man leaving behind a trail of dead planets and towering icons, monuments to their unholy crusade”) and the faux tough-guy talk (“Sister, they don’t know what to do with just one of me.”) Thandie Newton plays the Lady Macbeth-style scheming wife of one of Lord Marshal’s henchmen with a space-age mullet. She looks lovely but gives a ludicrously over-the-top performance, swinging her hips until they almost smack into the walls on both sides as she walks. And the big finish is just a little too convenient.
Parents should know that the movie has intense and graphic violence for a PG-13, including people getting fried in intense heat and a lot of fighting. Characters are in constant peril and many are killed. There are a few four-letter words. A character speaks of being forced into prostitution. A strength of the movie is the diverse characters on both sides and the way it makes clear that the good guys stand for tolerance.
Families who see this movie should talk about the inspiration for some of the movie’s terms like Necromonger and Crematoria and some of its themes, patched together from sources like the Bible (especially the story of Moses and the Pharoah) and Shakespeare (especially Macbeth). They may also discover parallels between the conflicts in the movie and some historical conflicts between totalitarian regimes and those who fight for freedom.
Families who enjoy this movie might enjoy the Star Wars series and the R-rated Pitch Black, which introduced the Riddick character. They will also enjoy the R-rated The Matrix and its sequels. And they might enjoy the space-movie parody Spaceballs, which has more in common with this movie than one might think.