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Riddick Review: Come For The Badasses And Space Monsters, Leave Because Of The Hideous Misogyny

By TK | Film Reviews | September 6, 2013 | Comments ()


riddick2013.jpg

2000’s Pitch Black was for all intents and purposes the perfect B-movie. A dark, pulpy sci-fi/monster thriller with some noirish crime elements thrown in, it featured the ultimate anti-hero, Richard B. Riddick, convicted murderer with a code of honor and some vicious knife skills. It was a solid success in the theaters, but found even more life upon its DVD release, leading to an inevitable franchising. It featured a prequel in the unusual form of a video game, the extremely satisfying console FPS Escape From Butcher Bay, an animated film, Dark Fury, and a theatrically released sequel, The Chronicles Of Riddick. It was there that writer/director David Twohy’s ambitions got the better of him, taking a character that had been so satisfying in a small-scale, darkly comic storyline and thrust him into a grandiose, utterly incomprehensible space opera replete with galaxy-spanning repercussions, pseudo-science, magical elemental beings, and an utterly ridiculous army called the Necromongers (!) who looked like heroin-addled castoffs from the set of Krull. The film made decent returns, but received cripplingly negative reviews (rightfully so), and now sits with a dismal 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Unsurprisingly, the once-promising character seemed dead in the water. But give Twohy and star Vin Diesel credit for never abandoning their cause or their rather vociferous fans, and nine years later, the sparsely-titled Riddick is upon us. Dumping the unfathomably pompous trappings of Chronicles, Riddick instead attempts to recapture what made the first film so intriguing in the first place. After a brief bit of voiceover and a couple of minutes of clunkily expository flashback, we see how Riddick was betrayed after becoming Grand High Wiggle Waggle of the Noogie-Muffins, presumably for refusing to wear enough eye shadow. He is dumped on a barren planet filled with a variety of nasty, deadly creatures, forced to survive using only his wits and his pecs, until a pair of warring groups of mercenaries arrive to claim the bounty that still exists on his head. Once the awkwardly set-up bridge between the two films is done away with, Riddick begins in earnest. How you judge it will be an interesting experience, because while it’s got a few solid elements that gamely try to make it enjoyable, but then it also has a couple of horrible aspects that ultimately destroyed any goodwill the film managed to build.

Riddick wisely eschews all of the goofy mythology and idiotic operatic elements of its predecessor, and instead returns to its roots. It’s violent, gory, vicious and often surprisingly gripping. Twohy does a solid job of building a knotty tension between what essentially becomes the four deadly elements that will inevitably all clash simultaneously — the two mercenary groups, one lead by the vulgar and pigheaded Santana (Jordi Mollà), and the other lead by a more noble, but still-sinister character with a link to Riddick’s past (played by Matt Nable) and his second-in-command, Doll (Katee Sackhoff). The other two elements are the savage creatures that are slowly creeping towards the camp they’ve set, and of course Riddick himself. All of this combines into a wild and often wickedly entertaining version of Ten Little Indians, as people are picked off by any one of the various deadly options. It’s a far cry from great cinema, but it does effectively allow us to relive what made the first film so satisfying, even though it does so by essentially aping the majority of its plot points.

Character-wise, there’s little to work with, but the cast of B- to Q-level actors all gamely seem to be enjoying themselves. Diesel is, of course, made for this role. It’s comic booky to the extreme, and Diesel’s throaty declarations of sinister intent and morbid philosophizing all work as well as one can hope. It’s a role and a performance reminiscent of Wesley Snipes’s Blade, a character that only works if you allow yourself to be taken by the overall silliness and pulpiness. The same goes for the rest of the cast/cannon fodder — there’s little in the way of development or nuance, but much like its story, Riddick’s characters also correct the mistakes of Chronicles in that they are occasionally actually fun. Amid all the darkness and fury and violence, there’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to it that prevents it from taking itself too seriously, which is part of the initial charm of the original.

That said, there are two glaring, brutal problems with Riddick that essentially derailed the entire venture and left a decidedly sour taste in my mouth. The first was already mentioned, and that’s that it hews so closely to the first film that it’s practically a remake more than it is a sequel. All of Pitch Black is there — Riddick escaping and hunting, a group in conflict, a scary and unknown army of toothy terrors in the night, a quest to recover the fuel cells for the ship so they can get off the planet, a sudden change of heart/redemptive arc. It’s missing a holy man, a child, an antiquities dealer, and not much else. This is disappointing and distracting, as if Twohy really only has one story to tell, and realized that since his grander plans fell through, he’d just retell the first one. And that’s not fair to the viewers. While there is great joy to be found in watching these factioning groups tear each other apart, there’s also the acrid taste of repetition burning in the back of the throat throughout the entire affair.

But that’s not the worst problem. The worst problem, unquestionably, is the way the film deals with women, which is quite frankly unconscionably awful. There are six female characters in the film - the first four are shown, naked and mute, in the gauzy flashback scene as the concubines of Riddick back when he was the Grand Master Ding Dong of the Necco-Monkeys. The next one is a prisoner on Santana’s ship, and it is not-so-subtly alluded to that she is essentially there to be occasionally raped by the captain when he gets bored. She sobbingly begs for mercy, is released, and then shot dead as she runs away, to be left lying in the dirt bleeding while Riddick calmly watches from the shadows as the life drains from her eyes. The final female character is, of course, Katee Sackhoff’s Doll (I repeat, her name is Doll, because IRONY, RIGHT?). The character is an unrelenting badass, a sniper and fighter and all-around tough chick, and that’s terrific. Except that in her first interaction with Santana, he sexually harasses her. She tells him that she’s a lesbian (so thanks for going with that old standby, Twohy), and then kicks his ass.

This is good, right? A strong, tough female character who takes no shit? Except that a couple of scenes later, he once again makes a crude, degrading pass at her. And yes, she kicks his ass again. Which, as distasteful as it was, should really have been the end of it. Except that a couple of scenes later, he flat-out tries to rape her. While Riddick, who has been spying on the mercenary group, lays in hiding and watches. The rape is not successful, but it’s also worth noting that immediately prior to that, Doll had her very own version of the naked shower scene, that also featured Riddick watching her. And then, because the degradation of the character wasn’t quite complete, when Riddick is captured and is telling everyone how he’s going to kill them all, he makes a delightful reference to her breasts, and follows up with how she’s going to beg him to go “balls deep” in her before all is said and done. This is our protagonist, folks. As most of us know, if something happens in a film, generally it should happen for a reason. We know that Santana is a bad guy, because it’s practically stamped on his dirty, sweaty forehead. We know he’s a worse guy because he keeps his own personal rape-slave on his ship. So all we need to know has been established. The rest is simply repugnant, misogynistic garbage. It serves no purpose other than to degrade the only remaining female character, even if it’s done under the auspices of empowerment and showing her toughness. You want to show her toughness? Have her start a fight. Have her fix an engine, save an animal, shoot a bad guy. Have her be tough independently. Have her be tough just because she’s f*cking tough, just like the rest of them. Don’t make having to fight off a rapist and endure being leered at and insulted by the man we’re supposed to be rooting for — anti-hero or not — be the reason she’s established as strong.

So there’s the pickle. Riddick is capable of being a fun, gruesomely delicious slice of sci-fi wackiness, with monsters and gunfights and lots of gray area when it comes to its good guys and bad guys. Unfortunately, it rips off its original almost wholesale (and fills in its blanks by swiping from Aliens), giving us too few new ideas and too many re-purposed old ones. Worse yet is its abysmal treatment of women, something that I’m stunned made it past the first draft, let alone into the final product. It effectively derailed the entire film, preventing me from becoming fully engrossed because I was too busy fuming at its rampant sexism and tasteless humor. It’s a pointless plot-point, designed for some warped version of titillation, and it ultimately ruins what could have been a decent, if derivative little B-movie.



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • tg

    Her name wasn't "Doll" it was Dahl.

  • mfg

    Just saw it. Wow, was it a big fuck you to queer women. Doll never showed any interest in Riddick, but he is so macho that she must eventually overlook him being an insulting peeping tom and even her own sexuality. Gross. Why, Katee Sackhoff, why???

    Also I loved that the nastier of the two groups (under Santana) were made out to look like ignorant, superstituous, greedy Latin bandits while the other group could represent the more intelligent, tech-savvy Amercans *SPOILERS*(complete with a black guy & Native Amercan guy - though they're the only ones to die from that group). Sure Santana has a naive white kid, but he's a good luck charm. And in the end, he and the 2 other white people are the only ones to live to rescue Riddick.

    This movie is SO full of wrong.

  • puppetDoug

    I don't mean to be contrary, though I always am, but the point is, and the fans of Riddick are fans for this reason, that Riddick isn't an antihero. He's a villain. He's simply, quite often, the lesser of two evils. Part of the badness of Chronicles was Riddick being a PG-13 anti-hero. Those scenes are there to re-setup that Riddick is a bad guy. I also think, much like Wolverine, he suffers when he's made the main character. "Doll" should've been our POV, and perhaps the girl from the first movie should be the POV of Chronicles.

  • Batesian

    I read the character's full name as "Riddick B. Riddick," and then felt sad that's not the case.

  • Joseph Howe

    Yes, a movie based on mindless violence and you find sexism the objectionable part. Gotta love liberals.

  • Ruthie O

    So, you are proud of the fact that you have been tricked into believing that all perspectives can be boiled down to liberal vs. conservative? Like, you actually want people to know that? Wow.

  • pandapants

    "back when he was the Grand Master Ding Dong of the Necco-Monkeys"

    I laughed so suddenly and violently that I choked on my dinner. I think I have part of a lima bean still stuck in my nose.

  • BlackRabbit

    *snort* Bean garden....

  • bangarangbaselinewubwub

    'when I watched this movie I didn't expect the rag-tag group or murderous dumbass mercaneries hunting a muderous shiney eyed man to be mean to women - however, that's just what I got. And frankly i'm not happy about it.'

    What is it with all the 'misogyny' and 'blurred lines' articles recently anyway? I'm not going to be bothered about this movies treatment of women because i expect it to be dumb - men are going to be treated as meatbags to kill in interesting ways and women will be treated as tits. both suck, but i don't expect anything less from a movie of this calibre.

  • Clarp Clomp

    This is a movie about vile and vicious people, it would seem weird if they weren't misogynistic. Don't you think it would be disingenuous if the blood thirsty, maniac, bounty hunters were all perfect gentlemen?

  • Wow

    So the options are either a) perfect gentleman or be) rapists and misogynistic woman-haters, with absolutely no middle ground? Is there a reason why the bloodthirsty maniacs have to ALSO be rapists? Shouldn't them being bloodthirsty maniacs be sufficient to demonstrate their badness? No, let's throw in a little attempted rape and female degradation, too?

    Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to rape culture 101.

  • Clarp Clomp

    "rape culture" WTF? Anyway, The rapist in this movie were bad guys, there was no attempt to justify their actions or to condone what they have done. So should we as a society pretend that rapist don't exist?

  • Salieri2

    So it's either justify/condone or erase? No middle ground? Yeesh. Google "rape culture."

  • Clarp Clomp

    What would be a middle ground to you?

    ". Rape culture is a concept which links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society,[1] and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape"
    -quoted from Wikipedia

    At what time did I condone or excuse rape in my comment?

    Even the movie itself frames the rapist as a person to hate. So using "rape culture" is off base.

  • Salieri2

    No. Wow covered it pretty succinctly, so I'm not sure how to make it clearer. Try Drew McWeeny's "The Bigger Picture: What happens when we find 'The Line' as viewers?"

    http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/mo...

    [Rape] can't just be one more item on a checklist of atrocity. If that's what you're doing, then ask yourself why. What do you think any audience will get out of that? Are you doing it to horrify them, or do you feel like that's what the audience wants and you need to give it to them? And if that's the case, do you really want to feed that appetite?

    I think it is absolutely the responsibility of an artist to look into darkness without blinking. I think it is important that we talk about morality and character and the way we dehumanize one another. But I also think the point has been more than made on film that rape is a terrible thing, and at this point, if you're not contributing some new idea to the conversation, then you are literally just using it as a button, something you push to get a response..."

    Check me if I'm putting words in your mouth, Wow, but in this case the part of the normalization of rape is its explicit usage as a lazy shortcut for characterizing Bad Guys. Rather than any focus on what the rape means to the women involved, the rape is a narrative device to move the male-centric plot forward: the women are "fridged" in service of the male storyline.

    I haven't seen the film yet, though I was fully planning on it because the first one was buckets of fun, but here are my questions:

    1. Do any male characters object to any of the others' sexual aggression, or is it expected?

    2. Of the six women in the film, how many does the director choose to show us naked or partially naked? Is it expected? By whom? Do I need to see Dahl in a shower?

    If the film is as described, there are two things being normalized here: within the narrative, sexual violence against women as an expected part of generic bad guy evil, and as a moviegoer, a good solid look at Katie Sackhoff's bare bits. The point is that just making the rapists the bad guys isn't a Get Out Of Jail Free card for the filmmaker's own construction of rape as inevitable and women as eye candy for dudes. Try "The General's Daughter" for an especially egregious example.

  • Clarp Clomp

    The entire movie is about dehumanization and violence. Obviously sexual assault is a monstrous act, and it shouldn't be taken lightly, even in a movie. But any brutal act committed by one person against another is reprehensible. To separate the sexual brutality from the other acts of violence in a movie like this, seems a bit strange to me.

    If i'm not mistaken, the rapes in the movie are implied (not shown) and attempted (not completed) Yet the deaths are all on screen, and in gory detail. So let me ask this, which is more dehumanizing?

  • kucheza

    men aren't being murdered at the rate of 1 in 6. at some point can the reality of women's lives matter to the debate about violence in media?

  • Ruthie O

    I have not seen the movie, but I think the problem is that you are taking the movie in isolation, as if the woman-shows-her-strength-by-surviving-sexual-assault trope is not a constant, recurring theme in action, horror, and sci-fi films. It's easy to cop-out and not see the larger context that surrounds our cultural narratives, but doing so willfully ignores the social factors that shape the directions of our stories and our material reality.

    Okay, enough pretentious academic speak. Lemme boil it down to this: many women are sick and tired of watching the characters who we are supposed to relate to get raped. Of course, women get raped. All the damn time. And it bloody sucks. But it isn't the whole of our experience as women, and it's exhausting and demoralizing when the main story that gets retold is one that portrays us as the ultimate victim, finding strength only because we were violated to begin with. There is so much more to being a woman-- and frankly, to being a survivor of sexual assault. We want more. We deserve more.

  • Dominic

    I think puppetdog has hit on the answer for you in this thread . Riddick is more of a villian than a hero , but he wouldn't treat women like they have been in these type of movies . THEREFORE , if you want to cinematically show the audience somebody even more villianous than Riddick , you can get lazy and write them as rapists too . It's just typical Hollywood filmmaking . Like in Dune , how they turned the Baron into a repulsive pus-dripping fatman , instead on the suave but still vicious character Herbert wrote ..... Don't go see it don't buy the Bluray . Then write the studio and tell them why ...

  • BlackRabbit

    That's a good question. I may not agree with you, per se, but I'd like to hear the answer. Is there a scale of atrocity?

  • MrFroggie

    I saw it last night and enjoyed it. The misogyny bits bothered me but I guess I didn't read into it as deeply as you. For example, I didn't think Dahl was a lesbian, I just figured she was telling that to Santana to shut him up with a badass line. So Riddick "converting" her didn't occur to me.

    And the take away I had from the "Santana tries to rape Dahl scene" was that Riddick wasn't "watching" it. He was getting ready to intervene. He pulled out a knife like he was getting ready to attack and then there was a cut and we find out later Dahl kicked his ass again so Riddick didn't need to step in. Either way, the scene is, to put it bluntly, not remotely needed or good. But at least in my reading the protagonist isn't standing by while someone is raped. Again: terrible scene, but it's not like Riddick was standing in the corner wacking off while watching.

    It's also not a flat-remake of Pitch Black. It's got A LOT of elements to it but it's more like Twohy took the pieces and rearranged them. There are three clear sections of the movie: Riddick surviving alone in a wasteland. Riddick picking off mercs (from their perspective) and then a sped up version of Pitch Black with getting power cells and fighting monsters in the dark.

    But yeah, that misogyny was real hard to sit through. Everything else about the film I enjoyed a lot. Including Riddick's dog. And SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS: Riddick fighting his way up a hill with rocks and shivs while the Pitch Black theme comes in was appropriately epic.

  • George Tarleton

    It's also not a flat-remake of Pitch Black. It's got A LOT of elements to it but it's more like Twohy took the pieces and rearranged them.

    So, pretty much what the review said? Yes, I believe so.

    Also, what you're essentially saying is that all that rape was annoying but what the hell, you still had a great time.

  • MrFroggie

    From TK: "Unfortunately, it rips off its original almost wholesale."

    This sentence makes it sound like the entire movie is a retelling of Pitch Black blow for blow. It's not. Hence why I disagreed. Sorry for confusion on either your or my part.

    As for this? "what you're essentially saying is that all that rape was annoying but what the hell, you still had a great time."

    Where did anybody say this movie contained anything that could be described as "all that rape?" It was a terrible scene that had no place being in the movie. I even said so. But TK made it sound like Riddick was a creeper in the corner watching as someone was sexually assaulted. Because of that scene and several cringe inducing moments of sexism I'm supposed to write off every other aspect of the flick? It's a movie where a killer kills killers and killer monsters. When it was doing that I was enjoying it, which is what 95% of the movie is. It's not a masterpiece by any means but I'm not looking for high brow stuff when I go see a movie starring Vin Diesel and Bautista. I'm sure you haven't/won't go see the movie which is your right and you'll get no argument from me to go see it if you don't want to. But don't describe a movie as being filled with "rape" when it wasn't and you haven't even seen it. if you have seen it and stand by your assertion that the film had copious amounts of/was glorifying rape, well then I don't know what you watched, good sir.

    And I'm goddamn offended at your implication that I'm dismissive of rape and it's horrifying effects on its victims because I enjoy Riddick fighting aliens on a mountain top.

  • IngridToday

    He was a creeper watching someone shower

  • Dominic

    I guess Katee needed a payday ....

  • rinnieroo

    I'm a female and not sure what makes that misogynist. Can someone explain? Women get hit on--even tough women. Tough women are not as tough as tough men, hence the guns which are equalizers. These facts are not misogyny, they are just facts. Guess what? Kids are not as strong as adults, either, and sometimes they are abused.

  • Icey

    "Tough women are not as tough as tough men"

    How's that? If toughness = physical strength, then I can buy that, but my definition of toughness includes mental strength and drive and determination and pain tolerance and things other than just physical strength.

  • Lucy

    Wow, you read an article about a movie that has only six women, most of whom appear naked, one is held captive to be raped, another women is almost raped, secretly watched as she's showering, and not hit on-but threatened with rape..(none of these things have anything to do with plot) and you're response is "these are just facts", it's not sexist.
    Also,..

    What do you mean "Kids are not as strong as adults, either"? I feel the implication that women -like children- aren't very strong compared to adults (you mean men).

    You are truly a pillar to our gender.

  • Some Guy

    Yeah, but there are only twelve characters all together. One of the main characters is a woman. Of all the actors to show up in this movie women comprised almost an entire third.

  • lowercase_see

    This had nothing to do with whether or not women are as tough as men and everything to do with the lazy writing involved utilizing that trope for proving strength. It's an extension of Women in Refrigerators.
    Want to show that your female character is tough? Subject her to sexual violence! So not only does it narrow her down to simply what's between her legs, it's fucking trite as hell.

  • Ruby

    Exactly. It's a problem a lot of books/tv shows/movies have with writing female characters. Writers don't know what to do with female characters beyond having them threatened/attempted/rape or be kidnapped and have to be rescued.

    Female characters -especially in action/fantasy/scifi- have to constantly prove that as a women they can fight, unless their the love interest, then they stand around until they're kidnapped/held hostage.
    I'm personally getting tired of threats/attempted rape. It's lazy writing and the long term psychological issues are hardly ever dealt with or even acknowledge.
    Also 99.99% of the time it's not even important to the story or characters beyond showing someone as being evil.

  • Fredo

    Are you surprised at the rampant misogyny in this movie? This movie is aimed squarely at the heart of every idiotic, self-centered, tight-T-shirt-wearing bro who thinks of women as nothing more than either "sluts" (if they were lucky enough to get in their pants) or "bitches" (if they were the vast majority and told them to fuck off). To this audience, characters like Riddick are awesome because they identify with being all dark and giving no fucks about anyone. They forget that Riddick is a cheap knock-off of Snake Plissken and The Man With No Name (anti-heroes who lived by their own code) because they probably have never seen those movies.

    In short, Twohy made a movie for the audience he expected would be excited to see this film: assholes.

  • Some Guy

    This.

    Is the most retarded thing I've read in a long time.

    You Win.

  • MrFroggie

    Hey, Fredo. Thanks for making grand generalizations and lumping me (a Riddick fan) in with that group. Really love those snap judgments and labels.

    And just for the record: the misogyny bothered me too.

  • Fredo

    I figured I'd give as much nuance and thought as the movie seems to give.

  • amusedmuse

    'THIS MOVIE WAS REALLY SHITTY SO I WILL BE REALLY SHITTY TOO'
    Who's a clever birdy?

  • Helo

    Vin Diesel will win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress before Jordi Mollà and his crazy Catalan eyes EVER get cast in an English language film as anything other than a dyed-in-the-wool villain.

  • More like Riddickulous AMIRITE?! Eh? Eh?

  • Mrs. Julien

    Does the eel serve some purpose other than making me screech in my cube?

  • John G.

    that's the cube screecher eel. He's only doing his job.

  • He's going "eeh? eeeeh?" like someone does after a terrible joke.

  • Guest

    Well, it looks like he's telling a bad joke, so he became a meme: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/...

  • Mrs. Julien

    Ooooh, thank you.

  • PaddyDog

    The eel looks pretty scared of you too.

  • Mrs. Julien

    The screeches are quite shrill.

  • *cough*

    Yes. This sounds awful.

  • PaddyDog

    It’s missing a holy man, a child, an antiquities dealer, and not much else.

    Well that sucks. Because as a loyal PBS viewer, I would have gone to see this for more of the antiquities dealer. Looks as if Mr. PaddyDog is flying solo on this one.

  • Samuel

    Actually, Santana's group had a young teen boy who was also their "good luck charm" holy kid, so there's your holy man and child rolled into one.

  • fightchess

    This seems relevant here.

    http://www.empireonline.com/em...

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