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The Riddick trilogy has one thing no other sci-fi franchise can match

With all three live-action Riddick movies on Netflix and Riddick 4 currently in the works, there’s no better time to talk about Vin Diesel’s other big franchise.

In the early 2000s, few actors were groomed for franchise superstardom the way Vin Diesel was. Within three years, he starred in three future series launchers: the mysterious, ruthless Richard B. Riddick in the sci-fi/horror film Pitch-black; the muscular everyman Dominic Toretto The Fast and the Furious; and as the nü-metal-infused James Bond archetype Xander Cage XXX. All three films enjoyed varying degrees of success, with XXX make a lot of money, but fall apart because of the sequel and Fast and the Furious becoming one of the highest-grossing series of all time.

Pitch-black‘s success, on the other hand, led to two sequels of different quality and genre, with a fourth Riddick film now in development. (Plus a little-loved animated interlude from Centuries of Flux director Peter Chung: years 2004 Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury.) But the Riddick series is by far Diesel’s most interesting franchise. In fact, the storytelling approach is still a refreshing outlier among most franchise stories, even if the whole thing is highly inconsistent at best. The arrival of the three films on Netflix offers a great opportunity to look back at a trilogy with an experimental energy that no other sci-fi franchise can match. Driven by the passion of the lead actor and director, the series is admirably unpredictable in an industry usually driven by numbing regularity.

Image: Universal Pictures

The late ’90s and early ’00s were ripe for sci-fi cinema: The Matrix, Balanceand even mega-budget fare like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace And Spider-Man certainly vary in tone and scope, but have much in common. Usually they are all deeply sincere on a conceptual level. Whether it is the relationship between the online and the real world of The Matrixthe silly devotion to gun kata Balanceor the aw-shucks comic book emotions from Spider-Manall these films wear their heart on their sleeve.

Pitch-black also shares this, even if it is remarkably stripped down afterwards. While it captures only the tiniest details about the new universe it introduces, it firmly establishes the cold-bloodedness of its protagonist, Riddick, who will transform from feared criminal to savior over the course of the film. Going back to films like those of John Carpenter Escape from New York – stories that are based on simple, atmospheric stories and great anti-heroes – it lives and dies based on how involved a given viewer is in the idea that Riddick owns it. And here more than any other film in the series, Riddick does indeed own. Often bathed in shadow and speaking with gruff directness that thankfully never descends into forced one-liners, Riddick is appropriately badass.

It helps that the plot is one of the most reliable in Hollywood: the imprisoned villain gets a shot at freedom when he teams up with some good guys, making him more of a good guy himself. Escaping a crashed ship and surviving on a planet full of terrifying creatures gives Diesel and director David Twohy plenty of opportunities to show off Diesel’s action potential. Combine this with the movie’s horror leanings (there are some nice bits of gore and suspenseful sequences, even if the movie’s CGI is dated), and you’ve got yourself an impressive movie that you can enjoy even without the context of the sequels. to enjoy.

Opinions on the Riddick series as a whole are likely to differ because of those sequels. Thanks to Pitch-blackbox office and Diesel’s rising fame, the film was given a sequel, 2004’s The Riddick Chronicles – which drops the rating to a PG-13 instead of Pitch-black‘s R . Chronicles is an exercise in building a world that seems rather unnecessary, viewed immediately after the restraint of the first film. Not content with just letting Riddick do it again, Twohy and his co-writers instead give the audience a lesson in lore and backstory. Now one of the last survivors of an ancient warrior race (and possibly the answer to a prophecy), Riddick must help stop a universe-conquering cult/army known as the Necromongers. Riddick travels across multiple planets with a mix of returning and new characters, evolving from reluctant criminal to full-fledged superhero: Luke Skywalker in a muscular tank.

Riddick (Vin Diesel), dripping with blood and clad in gray steel armor, sits on a throne with his head resting on his hand in The Chronicles of Riddick

Image: Universal Pictures

It’s an abrupt shift: In Pitch-black, the closest we get to consistent sci-fi motifs is some aliens and Riddick’s genetically altered eyes. Suddenly in Chronicles, he races around lavish sets, is named with mythological reverence, and fights a horde of dudes in big, plastic armor. Riddick himself is also getting the requisite franchise glow: He now speaks almost entirely in T-shirt-ready quotes, his quirky, vicious streak in Pitch-black transforming into the face of an action figure.

Knowing that Vin Diesel loves Dungeons & Dragons and his habit of reaching for the creative reins of his franchises, it’s no surprise that he was behind an IV Chronicles with broad fantasy elements. And the fact that it’s a passion project is probably the only reason Chronicles doesn’t fall into green screen delirium and retains at least a little bit of the charm of the first film. It’s the exact opposite of most franchise trajectories, which make the actors and creatives feel like little players in a world they’ve popularized while the studios build around them.

Franchises also often play it safe and focus on successful trends rather than experimenting with tones, genres or approaches. It’s what has led the Fast and the Furious movies to continually seek the pinnacle of the revealing Fast Five, only with increasingly ridiculous set pieces. It’s also what made Diesel’s eventual retaliation against Xander Cage in 2017 XXX: Return of Xander Cage feels so relatively light. Nothing feels like it’s changed much in the 15-year gap between the former XXX and the sequel. The template was set well in advance and the most intensive work was figuring out how far the cars will jump.

That is not the case in 2013 Riddickthe third film in the series, which attempts to reconcile Pitch-black‘s thorny barbarity and Chroniclessci-fi grandeur. Here we see that Riddick is now leading the Necromongers, a role he is not comfortable with. So he makes a deal to leave everything behind and go find his house. Along the way, he is betrayed and dumped on an isolated desert planet, where he battles with the local supernatural wildlife and eventually teams up with or kills some mercenaries.

Riddick (Vin Diesel) holds a serrated, blood-covered knife to the throat of a man in metal armor covered with rotating saw blades in 2013's Riddick

Photo: Universal Pictures

Basically, it’s a pseudo reboot of Pitch-blackbut with the added knowledge that was revealed in Chronicles. The film leaves viewers alone with Riddick in a hostile environment for an extended period of time, which allows him to get a little wilder than the enlightened champion of the previous film’s ending. And his R-rating means Riddick can rip through opponents with confidence, rather than stab at dudes wearing space shoulder pads. But the third film is not as visually inspired as Pitch-blackand the mishmash of dull browns and grays in the sets spills over into the constant CGI.

Again, the constant in the series is Diesel’s enthusiasm (he was willing to lose his house to finance the film), even when Riddick’s dusty machismo and candid brusqueness start to feel pretty corny by the third time. It’s hard to find another series that’s expanded so greatly only to cut every possible loose end in favor of a back-to-basics story. Chaotic box-office returns certainly helped narrow the potential scope of the Riddick series, where today’s franchises, from the Matrix movies to Star Wars and the Spider-Man series, have all been characterized by an explosive increase in sales. things on the screen that needed to be digested. .

With the fourth Riddick movie currently in pre-production, it’s hard to guess where Diesel’s character will end up next. proposed title of the movie, Riddick 4: Furyahints we might be lining up for another Chroniclesstyle extension of the scope and the mythos. The Furyans were Riddick’s warrior race, as revealed in Chroniclesand Furya was what Riddick was headed for in the beginning Riddick before his crewmates made the foolish decision to try to kill him.

However, given the history of the franchise, this movie can be approached in different ways. That’s part of the fun about the Riddick movies. They don’t follow the typical arc for a sci-fi series, let alone the arc of the other series that made Vin Diesel so prominent in the action movie world. Instead, thanks to his input and Twohy’s, we’ve got three films that are vastly different from each other. It’s unclear if anyone cares about Riddick as much as Vin Diesel does. But if that means we have one action franchise where no movie ever quite matches the success of the last, so much the better.