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THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK

2004, dir. David Twohy
93 min. Rated R.
Starring: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Judi Dench, Thandie Newton.

Review by Justin Patterson

Tonight, I gathered the regulars to go and see THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. There were Glenn, Rich and Chris (of PRISONER OF AZKABAN fame). Magge begged off because she doesn't like to go out on school nights. Her loss. I will readily admit that I was one of roughly 14 people who really dug PITCH BLACK. It had plenty of shortcomings, but I liked the way the whole thing was laid out. As Glenn said, it's really something when a movie that falls short spawns a sequel, based entirely on the performance and writing of one of the actors.

Oh, yeah. Spoilers aplenty. Caveat emptor.

PREVIEWS!!! ALIEN VS. PREDATOR looks completely badass. Fans of the comics from Dark Horse have been waiting for a long time, and it looks like the film is going to come through on the promise that many of us saw. Humans find themselves as vital players in this unfolding drama: that of bait. I think, however, that BATMAN VS. PREDATOR is still some way off.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Billy Bob Thornton plays a high school football coach in a town where football is everything. It's like VARSITY BLUES meets REMEMBER THE TITANS, or so it seems. "We will be perfect!" Yeah, whatever. I went to Parkview/Brookwood games all the time. This is nothing new.

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING: This looks interesting. It's a prequel to THE EXORCIST, which brought us Captain Howdy and a new appreciation for pea soup. What happens when an archaeological dig unearths the very place where Lucifer landed when booted from Heaven?

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY: Looks like more of the same from Matt Damon and Franka Potente, but I think that the production team has a little better feel for it. I think it should be interesting.

And now, our film! First off, I would like to point out that this movie is NOT a prequel. I can't count the number of people who keep saying that this movie takes place before PITCH BLACK. It doesn't, and anyone who tells you it does is a blithering idiot. Go ahead and tell them. They'll get over it.

The film is introduced by Dame Judi Dench, who states that some kinds of evil cannot be countered by good. They must be countered by another kind of evil. This is a little misleading, as I don't find the character of Riddick to be evil. Instead, he's someone who chooses his loyalties and does not play well with others. There is a difference. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it really came to bother me as the film moved along. No, Riddick isn't the most likeable guy you could meet. That doesn't mean he's "another kind of evil." I'm sorry that he didn't elect to save your sorry ass, but he's an anti-hero. What do you want?

It's five years after the events of PITCH BLACK and Riddick is hiding on Hoth's kinder, gentler sister. He's being pursued by mercerenaries. It seems that someone has placed a hefty price on his head, but it's only payable as long as he's alive. He finds the man responsible and discovers that he's being relied on to save a planet full of people he doesn't know (read: he doesn't care about). There is a race of nice people called the Necromongers destroying planets and their harbinger has been sighted above the planet Helion (call it New Mecca). He also finds that Jack, the girl-disguised-as-a-boy from the first film, was lost once Riddick chose to leave five years before.

The Necromongers arrive, decimate the planetary defenses in one day, and make a simple demand: convert or be destroyed. They are members of a religious group intent on working their way to The underverse, a universe parallel but separate to our own. See Superfriends reruns if you don't understand. Their leader, the Lord Marshal (played in his spare time by Colm Feore) is the one among them who has been to the Underverse and returned, gifted with some interesting little powers. His First Among Commanders is played pretty well by Karl Urban of LOTR fame (recognize the eyebrow Aaron Neville mark). Commander Vaako is largely driven by his wife (Thandie Newton), who sees her husband taking command of all of the Necromongers.

It turns out that the Lord Marshal is deathly afraid of Riddick. It's not a personal thing. It's just that there was a prophecy that a Furian (Riddick's planet folk) would come back and kick his gothic ass. We come to find out that LM overreacted before the film and tried to kill every single Furian on the planet. Supposedly, only one lived.

Riddick gets away from Helion, but is captured by mercs who want the price on his head. He's sent to Crematoria, where he reunites with Jack (now known as Kira). The two of them get away, only to be recaptured by the Necros. Riddick realizes that the Lord Marshal is the person responsible for destroying everyone he has ever cared about, from razing his planet to killing the person for whom he lost five years of his life. Battle ensues and Riddick . . . well, he ends up in a different situation.

This film has done a much better job of fleshing out the character of Riddick. He's not just an anti-hero. He's a force of nature. If someone could put defiance and rebellion into human form, Riddick is it. The whole film seems geared to showing us the raw will that has allowed him to survive to this point. Every aspect of this movie is designed to let us know that Riddick, unlike others, is going to make it because he has purpose. He survives mercerenaries, murder attempts, a planet with a 700-degree surface temperature, countless bad guys who want to kill him and a rather rabid admirer in order to fulfill a mission that was dropped on him at childhood.

The plot of this film flowed much more naturally than the first. The character of Riddick is given much more depth and feeling, especially in relation to Jack/Kira. We come to realize what drives him, really, and are given a chance to empathize with him. Gone are the two-dimensional images of the anti-hero. Those are replaced by someone who has been horribly hurt in the past and is determined not to go through that again.

Generally speaking, I think that this movie is far superior to PITCH BLACK. The characters are given more definition. We understand why they do what they do. The plot is one that invites more interest. The special effects are used to further the plot, rather than to replace it. The graphic design is astounding, bringing forth images of Giger, THE MATRIX: RELOADED and LOTR Kings of Men. It's a horrid vision of religion and war, and the paths that both may take.

I cannot guarantee that you will like this film. Instead, I think it's safe to say that you will be engaged by it.

"Keep what you kill."

One last question: if you believe that you can keep what you kill, is it wise to fight to the death when you command the galaxy's greatest army?

TRIBUTUM AUT BELLUM!

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