A year before he began to establish his signature character, the charismatic Dominic Toretto from the “Fast and Furious” franchise, Vin Diesel began to build his formidable screen presence via the character Richard B. Riddick.
It started with the TV movie “The Chronicles of Riddick: Into Pitch Black” in 2000, which served as a prelude to the first theatrical release featuring the Riddick character, “Pitch Black,” that same year.
In “Pitch Black,” Diesel’s Riddick is a dangerous convict who is being transported on a space vehicle with 40 other people when it crash-lands on a desert planet. There, the survivors discover that dangerous beings come out at night, primed to devour the people. Not only that, a long eclipse is about to occur, leaving the planet in darkness. Thus it is Riddick’s survival skills that become vital.
In the followup film, “The Chronicles of Riddick” in 2004, the character, now a hunted man, finds himself in the middle of two opposing forces in a major crusade and finds himself reaching into his own humanity.
Eventually he becomes a lord marshal, but he is clearly out of his element.
As “Riddick” begins, Riddick is fed up with ruling and wants to go to his home planet of Furya, but is betrayed by “Chronicle” holdover Vaako (Karl Urban) and left for dead on a desolate planet.
As Riddick says in a voice-over when he assesses his current situation, “There are bad days, and there are legendary bad days.” Yet you get the feeling that even as he has to fight for his life from beasts that look like a cross between a jackal and a dingo, and serpents that hide in the rare spots of muck, he really is content.
Capturing one of the jackal-dingo beasts as a pup, which grows up to become a faithful pet, Riddick sets out on foot and eventually comes to an abandoned outpost, where he is able to send out a beacon, hoping to attract a ship he might be able to obtain one way or another and escape the planet.
Two teams of bounty hunters arrive, one a freelance mercenary group lead by Santana (Jodi Molla) who has among his men Diaz, played by the former professional wrestler Dave Bautista. The other group seems to have some sort of government backing, arriving with a lot more weaponry and led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable), who has a personal stake in that his son William J. Johns (played b y Cole Hauser) was killed by Riddick in “Pitch Black.”
At this point, the movie takes on a familiar form of a story in which one person is out-manned and outgunned but is able to use patience and knowledge of the elements to prevail, usually picking off foes one by one.
Fortunately, the script, co-written with Jim Wheat by director Jim Twohy — who also penned the earlier Riddick adventures — takes time to explore the two bounty hunter teams, establishing competitive tension between the two, including the exchange of verbal zingers and fisticuffs — the latter delivered by Dahl (Katee Sackhoff from “Longmire”), who does not take anything from anybody.
Riddick does outwit these people a few times, but in the end even he is upstaged by the CGI-created creatures that prove to be far more deadly than Riddick.
There are no real surprises here since it is inevitable Riddick will continue to survive until the paying movie audience renders Riddick passe by no longer showing up to see him. Until then, this Diesel character, a man of few words but huge presence, is fun to watch.