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'Riddick' review: Vin Diesel's character is abrasive but most moviegoers will find something to like

'Riddick' delivers an accessible and entertaining sci-fi action experience for those who don't know the previous movies, while longtime series fans will also be pleased. 'Riddick' stars Vin Diesel and Katee Sackhoff.

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As mentioned, the Riddick character is explored as well as challenged in a number of interesting ways this round. While some moviegoers unfairly dismiss Diesel as a one-note muscle head, the actor has kept busy honing his craft over the last decade – and it shows in Riddick. Diesel has injected (a few) subtleties into the character that the star could not have presented thirteen years ago. Consequently, this version of Riddick is the most interesting, honest, and outright believable of the series – making him even more terrifying (and at times humorous) than ever before.

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The supporting cast is a solid roster of characters that make for appealing Riddick (and monster) fodder. A few of the bounty hunters – most notably Santana (Jordi Mollà), an unscrupulous mercenary, and Luna (Nolan Gerard Funk), a devout Christian – fall into predictable arcs that provide a few laugh-worthy moments but never escape one-note cliche. Fortunately, the remaining crew is a bit more nuanced, most notably Boss Johns (Matt Nable) – who has complicated backstory to unpack with Riddick. Katee Sackhoff gives a welcome (but equally no-nonsense) dose of girl power into the team as Dahl. It’s another strong female role for the actress, and Dahl is instrumental in the success of the Riddick story (aided by fun banter between her and the titular antihero); unfortunately, the part doesn’t allow Sackhoff to stretch very far out of Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica) typecasting. Dave Bautista (soon to be seen in Guardians of the Galaxy) is another standout. A formidable presence with surprisingly keen comedic timing, Bautista offers slick fisticuffs as well as several big laughs.

Honorable mention goes to the Riddick effects team – who create one of the most believable CG animal companions in recent memory. A sizable dingo-like dog, the animal is instrumental in bringing out new sides of Riddick’s personality – resulting in some especially amusing moments. The alien threat this round is equally well-realized through convincing effects and imaginative creature design – even more intimidating than the Pitch Black Bioraptors that helped sell Riddick as a potential franchise antihero. As a result, audiences can expect that with a more formidable set of otherworldly monsters to fight, Riddick also delivers plenty of solid action set pieces that mix practical and digital effects (instead of the overly CGI environments and brawls that undercut The Chronicles of Riddick).

Riddick is also playing as an IMAX Experience and while the sprawling alien landscapes look (and sound) great in the premium format, most frugal filmgoers will likely find the overall presentation isn’t worth the added cost. In certain scenes, IMAX is actually a distraction more than a benefit – as the film quickly cuts back and forth between fullscreen and widescreen shots within a single sequence. Viewers who simply want a bigger and louder Riddick experience are the only ones that should spring for the higher price.

Despite some underwhelming adherences to stock sci-fi stories and characters, as well as moments of eye-rolling dialogue and a few indulgent character beats, Riddick offers a solid action-horror experience. A more experienced performance from Vin Diesel helps transition Riddick from an over-the-top action hero into a fully realized character that is actually capable of sustaining a quality film franchise. While longtime fans will surely enjoy seeing Riddick back on the big screen, the latest series installment should have no problem drawing in non-fans too – not to mention set the stage for further chronicles of Richard B. Riddick.

Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.

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