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In our Summer of Cinema 2004 feature earlier this summer I wrote this about The Chronicles of Riddick, “I hope that Universal doesn’t see this as something to exploit and become controlling over in the wake of the success of Lord of the Rings.” While I wasn’t right in my pre-judgment of the film, I wasn’t exactly wrong either. It seems as though all of the parts that made Pitch Black such an excellent sci-fi horror film have been broadened and broken down in creating a new vehicle to launch a new franchise.

The Chronicles of Riddick picks up six years after the final events in Pitch Black. Escaped convict Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) is once again being hunted by mercenaries for the bounty placed on his head. Riddick manages to escape capture and located the creditor who is offering the reward for his capture. This old friend brings him to New Mecca where Aereon (Dame Judi Dench), an elemental, pleads for Riddick to help her disrupt the reign of the Necromongers, a group of traveling warriors seeking out the Underverse, their promise land. The Necros jump from planet to planet, assimilating the inhabitants and destroying their very existence.

If the film sounds like it doesn’t have much to do with Pitch Black, you are reading correctly. The basic story elements of Riddick are left intact, and the characters that survived the first film are in this one, but newbies to the series, those who haven’t seen the first film, will find Riddick as easily accessible as those who loved the first film. This is where the movie’s major problem lies, Universal built the movie around Riddick this time, and the premise of the character is strong enough to support a trilogy of movies, but the writing in this film is so absurd in some parts that you almost wonder if this was from the same director.

I must give David Twohy credit though; he managed to do what Stephen Somers only dreamed of with Van Helsing, he created a film with amazing architecture, back-story, and sequel elements that will have science fiction fans clamoring for more for the next ten years. Somers could only accommodate 10 minutes of story laced in with his elaborate special effects and “liberties” that turned one of the coolest villains in cinema history into a Kindercare teacher. Twohy established Riddick in the first film, so the trick this time was figuring out a way to craft a story around him so that it would be believable for the character to return and not leave the audience laughing at the absurdity of it. Mind you, this is no laugh-fest like LXG, but you will still be chuckling to yourself at times when the story is suppose to be suspenseful and interesting.

As the story breaks down Riddick realizes that he is one of the only remaining Furions, a race of born warriors who wouldn’t bow to the Necromonger leader Lord Marshal (Colm Feore). After his escape from the Necro Flagship he is transported to a penal colony deep inside a boiling planet where the sun will burn you alive on contact, this proves to hold a bulk of the movie’s main story elements, including Riddick’s reunion with Kyra (Alexa Davalos) who previously went by Jack in Pitch Black. Still, Riddick’s biggest hook is his ability to see in the dark. This ability is drastically underused in the film because it simply isn’t needed. Not being stranded on a planet held in perpetual darkness doesn’t aid itself well to the story. But the screenwriters can’t make up their mind whether Riddick should wear the goggles or not. In Pitch Black we saw him flinch when light was shined in his eye, but in this film he walks through half of the movie without them, and the other half either taking them off or putting them back on.

Those with a keen eye will notice the Shakespearian undertones to one of the movie’s B-storylines which involves Vaako (Karl Urban) and Dame Vaako (Thandie Newton). The constant persistence of the female half of this union prodding her husband to murder his lord and take his rightfully place atop the throne of the Necromongers. For those wondering, read Macbeth.

I still have mixed feelings as to whether I really liked the film or if I was disappointed, and maybe when it comes time to revisit the Summer of Cinema Feature in September I will have different feelings, or maybe a few viewings on DVD will put my mind at ease. As it stands now, The Chronicles of Riddick brings back one of the coolest anti-heroes ever brought to the big screen, but whether the film is a success in the minds of moviegoers and fans remains to be seen.