After the small acorn that was Pitch Black, this sequel, in what would become the Riddick franchise, quickly lets viewers see that they're being given a mighty oak this time around. The first few scenes are grandiose, in terms of both visual style and the setting up of a premise that will allow people to learn more about the universe that vicious anti-hero Riddick (Vin Diesel) inhabits, and writer-director David Twohy clearly wants to go in a different direction from the enjoyably down 'n' dirty first film.
Starting off with narration that explains the Necromongers, a ruthless race who have been moving throughout the universe, killing or converting everyone on the planets that they conquer. We then move on to a man being chased by bounty hunters. That man is Riddick, and the bounty has been placed on his head to get him back to Helion Prime, the world next to be targeted by the Necromongers. It's not Riddick's fight, so he wants no part of the whole thing, but details eventually surface that make him reconsider. Details that also reveal more about his background and his feral nature.
With everything being so much bigger this time around, it was almost inevitable that The Chronicles Of Riddick would disappoint many people. It didn't set alight the box office, and it probably knocked a few people sideways who hoped for something more in line with the first film. Thankfully, people eventually warmed to the film, and the whole franchise idea, when they had the luxury of viewing the movie in their own home, and with a better idea of what they were getting into.
Diesel is, once again, the rock at the centre of the whole thing. He's effortlessly cool and intimidating as Riddick, embodying one of the great anti-heroes in modern cinema and loving every minute of it. Keith David reprises his role from Pitch Black, while Alexa Davalos takes over the role of another survivor from the first film, now going by the name Kyra. David is okay, mainly used for exposition and to set wheels in motion, but Davalos has the better role, and does well with it. Dame Judi Dench is an unexpected, though pleasing, addition to the cast, playing an ethereal character named Aereon, and the main villains are portrayed by Colm Feore, Karl Urban, Linus Roache and Thandie Newton. Urban and Roache both do good work, with the former being an actor who I've never seen give a bad performance, but Newton is sadly flat in a role that many actresses would have really had fun with. Feore, however, proves even more disappointing. He's the Lord Marshal, the big bad, and should be able to emanate power and menace whenever he's onscreen. He doesn't, which affects the film on a number of different occasions.
The script and direction from Twohy is solid, if sprinkled liberally with minor failings, such as the relatively weak villains. The special effects and visual design elements are impressive, despite a few key creations already showing their age compared to what can be done now, one decade on. The action set-pieces are sometimes fumbled, with some unfortunate over-editing making it hard to keep track of who is where onscreen, but the film continues to impress whenever the camera moves back, taking in grand landscapes, star systems, and giant spaceships. The fact that the focus remains on the expansive, as opposed to intimate, moments is what saves the film and makes it such an enjoyable sci-fi viewing.
The director and leading man may make mistakes on the way to getting their movie finished, but they always do right by Riddick and his universe. And that, for me, makes up for a hell of a lot.