Vin Diesel returns to the role that first won him attention from Hollywood as a action star. In Pitch Black he made Riddick his own; in Chronicles, nothing has changed but the budget.
Riddick (Vin Diesel) is a murderer and all-around criminal in a future time, yet he secretly keeps a code of honor that extends to those who have wronged him or those he has chosen to protect. Years after he and two survivors escape a planet ruled by creatures that feast during full eclipses that last for months, Riddick finds himself in trouble again. Necromongers, a cult of conquering warriors that travel from planet to planet either killing or converting everyone they encounter, have arrived on their latest target. While Riddick’s personal code forbids him from taking sides on the conflict, enough bad guys give him an invitation to launch a risky plan for no other reason than to exact revenge specifically on those who deserve it.
Vin Diesel has repeated stated his love for the game Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game that allows average people to take on the roles of fantasy heroes to overcome terible dangers and defeat unbeatable enemies. In Chronicles he and director David Twohy have put together exactly that, but taken a decidedly more sci-fi edge to what is essentially a fantasy story. This isn’t any easier to do on film than it is sitting at a table: creating the environment and opportunity for a handful of characters to threaten a force or idea greater than themselves by finding (or lucking into) the right place to apply pressure and bring down the proverbial Goliath.
As ambitious as anything George Lucas has put up on the screen, Chronicle features four unique worlds and realizes all of them. Sure, we only see a space scape of the planet above or a long shot of a city, but that’s a real accomplishment when limited for time. The prodcution design is nothing short of incredible, from starships than unfold into palaces worthy of conqueres to ships that appear to bow before their leaders. Unfortunately and very much like Lucas, Twohy may have bitten off a little too much because of all the backstory required to pull viewers into the story; there so MUCH of it. The good news is that everything is there if the audience can keep up, but the bad news is whether or not many will want to make the effort of actually thinking while enjoying their ‘mere action film’.
Besides Vin Diesel, plenty of credibility is lent to the production based on casting alone, and that’s just from the women! First up is Dame Judy Dench as an Elemental, a race of airy creatures with a neutral tone that speak in prophecies to whomever will listen. Next is Thandie Newton as the manipulative female behind the throne’s power, but her part is almost too hands off and felt like it should have been bigger (and maybe will be next time). And Alexa Davalos as Kyra (who fans of Pitch Black will know formerly as Jak) holds her own next to Diesel as a action heroine who’s plenty believable as a up-and-coming killer with the wrong role model.
“Are you with me?” Riddick asks of those fortunate to be considered his friends, and viewers of this film will either get it or they won’t. Sure, there’s plenty of action and escapes and special effects, but all of that is really being driven by a story that’s part adventure and part mystery. Chronicles does not give up who Riddick really is, but there are plenty of hints dropped along the way of who he isn’t and of more to come. Here’s hoping the film can find the audience it’s looking for if only so we can see the sequels already in the planning.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)