All we do is Vin, Vin, Vin, no matter what. Got Diesel on our minds, we can never get enough. And every time he shows up in the cineplex, everybody’s wallets open up! … AND THEY STAY THERE.
It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Vin Diesel in the flesh onscreen, but he’s back in this month’s Bloodshot. It’s also been a full quarter-century since Diesel’s short-film debut caught Hollywood’s eye and eventually launched an improbably enduring career that spans several franchises.
As famous for his multi-ethnic makeup as his (sometimes literal) monosyllabic musings, here’s our monthlong ode to a guy whose career gets great mileage. This is All We Do is Vin.
The Riddick franchise is easily my favorite set of films in Vin Diesel’s filmography. I have plenty to say about both Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, but the third film, simply titled Riddick, is a bit more intriguing as it attempts to combine the best elements of the first two films. We get the desolation and sci-fi horror of Pitch Black with a slight continuation of the sprawling Necromonger plot from Chronicles. Looking back at the film, I wanted to focus on why Riddick is the perfect character for Vin Diesel, examine the unique structure of the film and dig into Riddick’s problematic sexuality.
Riddick: The Perfect Vin Diesel Character
Dominic Toretto, Vin Diesel’s character from The Fast Saga (the preferred name of that franchise), is definitely the most popular character in his filmography. But I’ve always had issues with the “family”-obsessed VCR/TV combo thief turned superhero. It all started with Fast & Furious (the fourth one). In that movie, Diesel knocks loose a suspended engine block while trying to get some answers from someone. Just before it hits the man, Diesel grabs the chain (with one hand) and stops it just before it hits him. (Start watching at around the 0:50 mark.)
An engine block weighs at least 200 pounds and that’s bare-bones, so you know one from this franchise is going to weigh closer to 500. We’re just supposed to accept that this street-racing thief is this strong. From that point forward, Dom has progressed into a full-blown superhero with no explanation as to why he is so powerful.
I get that these films are not to be taken seriously in regards to physics and whatnot, but moments like that still take me out of it. I’m OK with Vin Diesel playing a superhuman character, but give me a reason why he is superhuman.
Enter Richard Bruno Riddick (yes, his middle name is Bruno).
In Pitch Black, Riddick is established as a being a general badass with the added feature of an eye-shine job, which allows him to see in the dark. He’s the strongest person in the film and the best fighter / survivor, but he isn’t superhuman. With Chronicles, it is revealed that Riddick was one of the last members of a warrior race known as Furyans. Based on his abilities in that film (and information from the novelization and online sources), it is revealed that Riddick is an Alpha Furyan, which gives him his special eyes along with increased strength and fighting ability, making Riddick a superhuman.
Aside from the eye shine and the rage-blast thing he does in Chronicles, Riddick seems to be on the same level as Dom. But the explanation of Riddick’s powers make him a more believable, and better, character. When I watch Dom survive some ridiculous shit, I just laugh and shake my head. I can’t take him seriously, and because of this I don’t care about the bullshit he spews about “family” in each film. Who is he kidding? Those films are cartoons at this point — admittedly entertaining cartoons, but cartoons nonetheless. I just don’t care about Dom as a character or his motivations.
Riddick, on the other hand, is vastly intriguing. His superhuman ability isn’t a distraction, it’s just part of who he is. So I can watch a film with him and sincerely want to know what motivates him and why. When he talks about God, I pay attention because it says something about his character; he isn’t just rocking a cross necklace because it looks cool like Dom. Riddick has something to say about the matter.
Despite their vast differences as realistic characters, Riddick and Dom seem to share the same values of family or, in Riddick’s case, people for whom he cares. Riddick doesn’t sip a Corona and give picnic speeches about family and friends; he suffers and lives in seclusion for them. This is a tragic character who was left in a dumpster as a baby. He comes across as someone who hates everyone, but he’s actually just afraid to get close to people out of fear for their safety.
Riddick is a hunted man to the point that it seems like nature wants him dead, too. So when he forges a slight connection to Imam and Jack (later Kyra), he realizes he needs to stay away from them for their own safety. And he’s right. Imam was probably going to die in Chronicles no matter what because of the Necromongers, but Riddick basically led them to Kyra. And his greatest fear comes true when she dies at the end. He knows she would be alive if not for his involvement.
By the time Riddick takes place, he is a shell of his former self because of this loss. He claims he has lost a step because he became “civilized,” but Necromonger life is hardly civilized. He is a shell because he has no one left for whom to care. His struggle to survive in Riddick revitalizes his will to live, and he eventually gets back on the path to find his home planet, which leads him to the UnderVerse, where he can possibly find Kyra again as well, since she died as a Necromonger.
I’ll take a tragic character like that over someone who mumbles the word “family” in every other scene. Not to mention, the Riddick character allows Diesel to do some of his best acting. He gets to be the same wisecracking bad ass that Dom is, but there’s also a depth of emotion and vulnerability to him, especially in Riddick. It’s crazy, but Dom has never been as injured or in danger as Riddick is in the first act of Riddick. This is because Riddick, even with his superpowers, is a real character. And when you watch Diesel in this performance, you can tell he feels much more strongly about this character than Dom.
In order to get the rights to the franchise so Riddick could be made, Diesel agreed to film a cameo in The Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift, signaling his return to the franchise. Dom is the character Diesel plays to pay the bills; Riddick is his passion, evidenced even further when Diesel reveals in a behind-the-scenes featurette that he mortgaged his home to cover some of the finances to get Riddick made. It’s easy to see why: Riddick is the perfect role for Diesel, and he knows it.
Three Films in One
Riddick can be easily dismissed as a retread of Pitch Black, and while that is true for a segment of the film, it’s also very dismissive of the surprising variety the film offers. Riddick is basically broken down into three segments. The first part is a survival film (and mini-sequel to Chronicles), the second part is a slasher flick with Riddick as the killer, and the final segment is a race-against-the-clock thriller (aka Pitch Black).
The first portion of Riddick is easily the most interesting. First, the direct continuation of the Necromonger stuff from Chronicles is intriguing, as it sets up Riddick’s search for Furya; it’s also nice to see Karl Urban return as Vaako for a scene. It’s a little disappointing that the search for Furya ends up being a betrayal in an attempt to kill Riddick, but that disappointment fades quickly as we get to see Riddick like never before — hurt.
The majority of the first segment plays out like a hardcore sci-fi survival show. Riddick battles the elements, fights off jackals, finds potable water, disgustingly sets his broken leg with some Necromonger screws, tames a jackal puppy, fishes for eels, milks crazy sci-fi scorpions for venom, micro-doses himself with said venom to build up a tolerance, makes kick-ass bone weapons, and eventually kills a giant crazy sci-fi scorpion to gain access to the good part of the terrible planet. It’s mostly wordless, save for voiceover or flashbacks, and it’s quite effective at conveying Riddick’s return to his natural, animalistic state.
When it’s revealed why the planet is abandoned — crazy scorpions are lying dormant underground everywhere, just waiting for a rainstorm to wake up so they can come out and kill everything in sight — Riddick has to activate the emergency beacon at a mercenary outpost, signaling the end of one segment and the beginning of the next.
The second segment is what makes Riddick truly unique. The main character for the first 40 minutes of the film suddenly disappears as two teams of mercs show up. The mercs become the main characters as Riddick becomes the (mostly unseen) threat, hunting them. He leaves messages in blood and watches them shower and everything. Suddenly, the sci-fi survival film has become a slasher flick, and all the mercs are the asshole camp counselors who deserve to die.
Plenty of films change protagonists or perspective (Waves comes to mind as a recent example), but I cannot think of a film that takes the hero and turns him into a horror villain a third of the way into the movie and brings him back as the hero for the final third. I suppose this is because Riddick is one of the few characters with whom you can believably do this. This is a prime example of why I love this film and the character overall. Even though Riddick is pretty much a good guy, he is still dark enough to become a Michael Myers-type mid-film.
Once Riddick turns himself in, the third segment begins, and while it may be the most action-packed and entertaining portion of the film, it’s also the reason why this film can so easily be compared to Pitch Black because it is essentially a shortened remake of that movie. The creatures are slightly different, and their domain is the seemingly endless rain instead of the seemingly endless night, but the premise is the same: People must begrudgingly work with Riddick to escape the planet. It’s not shot-for-shot , but there are too many comparisons to ignore; there’s even a holy man among the few survivors again!
The climax of the film is handled well, but the similarities to the first film are a bit disappointing. The director’s cut rectifies this by including a final scene in which Riddick returns to the Necromonger fleet. He discovers that Vaako is now a holy Half-Dead, and the film ends with Riddick staring at the threshold of the UnderVerse, knowing that he must go there to find Vaako, which will then lead him to Furya. With a fourth film in the works tentatively titled Furya, it would appear that they are still heading this way with the story.
The Odd, Then Offensive, Sexuality of Riddick
Watching the first two films in the series, I noticed something unique about Riddick’s sexuality. He doesn’t have sex despite being a bit creepy with women, e.g., smelling them and surreptitiously cutting off a lock of hair. That stuff is certainly off-putting, especially the oddly sexualized way in which he greets Kyra in Chronicles by lifting her up by the crotch and pinning her against a wall; that’s a weird way to greet anyone, but it’s fucking disturbing to greet the kid-sister type character who idolized you in the first film that way. At the same time, it’s refreshing that Riddick doesn’t have a love interest. Sure, women seem to want him — like the merc lady nonsensically straddling him or Dame Vaako throwing him serious vibes in Chronicles — but no one acts on it.
Then Riddick came along and fucked it all up. It seems as if Diesel looked back at the first two films and his ego got the best of him, so he told writer-director David Twohy to make sure Riddick gets laid in this one. We still never see it happen, but it is definitely implied that he regularly has sex with a whole Necromonger harem that keeps him too “distracted” to even sleep. The inclusion of the Necromonger women also marked a first for the series with gratuitous nudity. I just can’t think of another reason why they were included beyond Diesel worrying that his character needs to appear to be having sex whenever he wants it.
The nudity gets more pointless with co-star Katee Sackhoff’s shower scene, but that’s actually the least problematic element about her character. Dahl — and yes, I thought a character was calling her “Doll” the first time I watched this, but thankfully it’s just how her name is pronounced — is a lesbian, but that doesn’t stop Santana (Jordi Mollà, as the most disgustingly terrible character in the film) from making lewd comments and attempting to rape her at one point. Dahl can take care of herself, which is a nice aspect of her character. But then Riddick shows up.
He makes some very disturbing comments about going “balls deep” in Dahl (but only because she’s going to ask him to, “sweet-like”) and how her nipples match her toenail polish. First off, what the fuck?. Second, this confirms that he was watching her in the shower. This would be bad enough as is, but it’s revealed at the end of the film that she actually does have sex with him. This is lazy writing because there was very little interaction between the two to imply any kind of relationship was forming; she apparently wants to bang him because what woman wouldn’t want a piece of Riddick, am I right, ladies? The worst part of this is the fact that Dahl is a lesbian. Not to get all Chasing Amy-problematic here, but Riddick is such a sexual being that he turns lesbians straight? It’s simply offensive, and it’s completely unnecessary in the film.
Once again, and thankfully, I suppose, this sex scene is not shown. The fact that nudity was included in the film, and Riddick does have sex, makes it seem odd that it’s not shown in any way. I’m not saying I wanted to see Riddick have sex, but why make such a big deal about it in this film and then make it an offscreen interaction? And with Dahl, she isn’t even part of the ending; Riddick just tells Johns to tell her “to keep it warm for me.” Ew. So what is implied by her odd absence at the end? Did they really have sex? Did they have sex, but it got weird for whatever reason and she doesn’t want to see him again? Most likely, the implication the film wants to present is that Riddick is such a powerful lover that she needs to recuperate. All are terrible options, but the point of that ending moment is for Riddick to come off as a cool dude who gets any woman he wants.
Riddick is very much like a bragging high-school student. It’s more important that people know about him having sex than it is for him to actually have it. We’re just supposed to watch it and think, “Yeah, Riddick, you the man.” It’s such an outdated sentiment that it comes across as sad more than anything else.
Unfortunately, there is one more horrible sexual element to the film. When the first merc crew shows up, Santana orders the religious guy to let their prisoner loose. The prisoner is a woman who has clearly been raped many times by Santana (and possibly other members of the crew, as she is terrified at the idea of being unshackled). The religious merc assures her it’s OK and that she’s being released. He reasons with her that while the planet she’s being released to is desolate and miserable, it’s better than being a sex slave. She agrees and makes a run for it only to be executed by Santana as she runs away. He claims he was getting attached to her.
It’s a disturbing scene for so many reasons. The implied rape is the worst, but to prolong her death by giving her false hope at first is a close second in the awful department. Once again, this is all unnecessary. Sure, it solidifies that Santana is a piece of shit, but if you needed this scene to prove that, then you have serious cognitive issues. A behind-the-scenes featurette reveals a strange element about it. The woman (her character has no name and is credited as “Santana’s Prisoner) is played by Keri Hilson, who read for the part of Dahl. Twohy was impressed with her but didn’t think she was right for Dahl, so he created this part for her. I know being cast in a major production is a big deal, but what a miserable reward for impressing a director.
The fact that this role was created because of an audition highlights the most annoying part of the use of sex in Riddick: It’s unnecessary and tacked on as a horrible afterthought. Riddick is a perfectly fine, entertaining sci-fi film that didn’t need this odd infusion of sex that was absent in the first two films of the series. Why couldn’t they just continue to have Riddick talk a big game without ever following through? Why couldn’t they just have Dahl turn him down? It would have been an amusingly self-aware moment to have a female character respond to Riddick’s bullshit by turning him down. But no, it was more important to Diesel and Twohy to make sure there was no doubt about Riddick’s sexual prowess. It’s an unfortunately tone-deaf element in an otherwise interesting film.
IMDb trivia claims that Vin Diesel spent months in the woods to prepare for this film. Yeah fucking right. Who added that bit of trivia? Mark Sinclair?
So Riddick can make his heart stop to hide from predators? Add that to the list of Furyan powers.
Jackals, eels, crazy underwater monsters … this planet is gross and terrible.
I wish they didn’t use the voiceover in the beginning segment. I don’t mind voiceover in general, it’s just that the movie does a fine job of conveying what Riddick says, making lines like, “The whole damn planet wanted a piece of me” redundant. Though I do like the whispered, repeated “Why didn’t I see it?” Also, Vaako’s voice over of “Transcendence” at the end is a nice touch.
Riddick’s Lord Marshal crown (?) is just weird and nonsensical enough to work.
The Necromongers come off as even darker in this film, both literally and figuratively. I like it.
Vaako confirms that Riddick’s eye-shine is a Furyan trait, not the result of a prison surgery for 20 menthol KOOLs.
“This guy with the fucked up face …” Now that’s the kind of voiceover I can get behind.
I wish there was a subplot about Riddick becoming addicted to the creature venom with which he injects himself. Maybe a half-hour segment after he reaches the decent part of the planet with him shaking and puking in a cave while his jackal buddy takes care of him.
Imam’s presence in Pitch Black made sense because he was on a pilgrimage. The kid with the Bible makes no sense being on a merc squad. How does he reconcile his beliefs while also being party to keeping a woman on the ship as a sex slave? I’m guessing he’s more of an Old Testament guy …
Boss Johns is way too young to be Pitch Black Johns’s dad. (Also, fuck you, Riddick franchise, for making me type “Johns’s” multiple times.) It’s distractingly off. The actor is only three years older than Cole Hauser. They should’ve cast Stephen Lang or something. He’s old enough, and if he goes with his Avatar look, I would buy him as an older merc who can still get the job done. Or just include a line about how Boss Johns has spent so much time in cryosleep over the years that he’s 20 years younger than his actual age or something.
I’m not crazy about those motorcycle things that Johns’s crew has. They look OK at times, but that first image of them driving towards the camera doesn’t look right at all.
Johns seems mad at Santana about Riddick getting the nodes, but it was Johns’s idea to take the lock off to check on them. Just leave the lock on and keep an eye on the ships as a precaution. Johns is as shitty a bounty hunter as his junkie son was.
As if you didn’t already hate Santana for being a rapist (both attempted and actual) and a general dickhead, he also kills the dog so you know he has to die soon after.
I am all for a good decapitation scene, and this movie definitely delivers in that department. And the head box is a nice touch.
These movies are always good for a few images that stick out to me. For this film, they are Riddick flying the bike over all the creatures, the last stand on the cliff, and the final image of Riddick staring at what I assume is the entrance to the UnderVerse. It’s crazy that the final scene in the theatrical cut was just Riddick flying off. Ending the film at the threshold of the UnderVerse is so much better, and it left me much more excited for the next film.