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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Riddick review: men will be boys

Riddick red light Vin Diesel

Dispenses with all pretense that the modern action blockbuster is anything other than the confused, terrified power fantasy of a particularly sheltered and emotionally stunted teenaged boy.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): hate hate hate the other Riddick movies

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Gotta hand it to David Twohy. With this, his third outing with spacefaring sociopath Riddick, Twohy has decided to simply dispense with all pretense that the modern action blockbuster is anything other than the confused, terrified power fantasy of a particularly sheltered and emotionally stunted teenaged boy. I would say this is refreshing, but it’s mostly just sad. I mean, it’s nice to sweep away all the bullshit, but what’s left is just plain risible. Does Twohy understand what he’s done here? Is he consciously pandering to the weak and the powerless who don’t really understand what strength and power are, and consciously reinforcing those wrongheaded notions? Or does Twohy simply unironically believe that this is all so supercool awesome that no one couldn’t not want to be Riddick?

I’m not sure which is worse.

Here Riddick finds himself on a sere planet, kind of like Mars if it had some water and a bit of moldy scrub carpeting. He was on a mission with the Necromongers he ended up with in The Chronicles of Riddick, but now he wants to break free because, he tells us, he “got civilized.” (Twohy skips over this potentially intriguing personal development on Riddick’s part.) They try to kill him, but he runs, and now he’s all alone with no equipment on this dangerous planet. But that’s cool, cuz he’s Riddick: he’s a Real Man. He is a Top Predator, even on this planet of nothing but top predators.

Wait. Back up a bit.

Twohy’s Riddick movies have always had a problem with ecology and animal life, which drove me insane in Pitch Black and threatened to drive me insane here: you simply cannot have an environment with top predators and no other life. There needs to be a food chain. People need stuff to eat when they cannot get Necromongers or hulking badass on the hoof. (Not a spoiler: Riddick does not get eaten.) But I stopped caring — honestly, it was like physical relief — when I suddenly realized, about 20 minutes into Riddick, that this top-predator stuff was all metaphor. Stupid, unpleasant metaphor, but still.

See, cuz there are roving packs of wolf-jackal-hyena things, with tiger stripes and mohawks so you know how vicious they’re meant to be, and after Riddick fights off one of them, he tames another one of them. Raises it from a pup and everything. And there are swarms of a sort of rampaging lizard scorpion things that appear to be the product of a completely different line of evolution from the hyenas [no. stop. you don’t care anymore, remember?], and Riddick fights a big badass one of those and survives, because spoilery thing that I won’t reveal but I promise you, it’s is mega butch.

Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious 6) has been, up to this point, narrating everything in a low rumble that only elephants can hear, but the message, while unenunciated, comes through loud and clear: Riddick is the top predator, the one who kills the other top predators or tames them. This is what a real man is.

How do we know this is all about what a Real Man is? Because Riddick then gets the opportunity to measure himself against two different bands of mercenaries who’ve come to bounty-hunt him to death. Or, that is, we are supposed to measure Riddick against them. There is Santana (Jordi Mollà: Colombiana, Knight and Day), leader of the first group to arrive, clearly a weak, spineless coward: he kills their female prisoner because he’s gotten tired of raping her. Later, he tries to rape Dahl (Katee Sackhoff: Battlestar Galactica), second in command of the other, more professional group (and the only female character after the unnamed raped woman is murdered), but she beats him up because that’s what she does: She’s a gal who doesn’t “fuck men” but she does “fuck them up” sometimes.

We may compare this behavior to Riddick, who doesn’t need to rape. Back with the Necromongers, we cannot miss his mute naked concubines — four of ’em in his bed at a time! And he is so irresistible that even Dahl — who is either actually a lesbian or pretends to be so she’ll be left alone — eventually gives in to Riddick, who needs nothing but crude come-ons and sexualized taunting to make Dahl swoon.

Got all that? Wimpy guys rape women yet can, conversely, get beaten up by women. A real man just tells women, even women who don’t fuck men but do fuck men up, that they’re going to want nasty sex with him, and they do. It’s like magic! (Of course, “Don’t rape” is a message we should be sending to boys and men. But not quite like this. Because even in the Real-Man scenario, women don’t seem to have much volition of their own.)

There’s also some stuff about horse tranquilizers that I won’t spoil, but trust me: it is vital for illustrating what a real man is. As is, it would seem, cultivating a mystique that one may or may not be a sociopath. Twohy seems very intent on ensuring that we never quite know if Riddick is in fact guilty of all the terrible crimes attributed to him — the bounty on him is doubled if he’s brought in dead, we learn — or if that’s just other people badmouthing him for nefarious reasons of their own. Is Riddick a murderous criminal, or just a wrongly accused MacGyver? Only his court-appointed therapist knows for sure.

And one last tip: Don’t build your mercenary station on the dangerous planet to withstand the local elements — like the rampaging lizard scorpion things that come out in the rain — because decent engineering is for pussies.

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Riddick (2013)
US/Can release: Sep 6 2013
UK/Ire release: Sep 4 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated RM (contains instructions on how to be a Real Man)
MPAA: rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong bloody violence and strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • LaSargenta

    Christ on a cracker.

    Guess I’ll be rushing out to see that, won’t I?

  • RogerBW

    “Only sissies sleep with women.”

    Not that this was high on my list anyway — I thought the first one had its moments, but not many. I do wish Sackhoff would try some roles other than her standard troubled warrior type; yeah, it’s good that she’s getting work off the back of Galactica, but a different character would be nice.

  • I doubt Sackhoff feels that she has many options if she doesn’t want to play the supportive girlfriend or the wife who gets raped/kidnapped/murdered in order to make the hero feel something.

  • RogerBW

    Yeah, I know — she’s just as trapped as Rebel Wilson, except that she has the option of playing a conventionally sexy woman.

  • Maybe I’m just a lonely terrified teenager at heart, but every word of this review made the movie sound awesome.

    I shall see it at once!

  • MaryAnn have you watched BLOOD AND BONE yet? it’s available on netflix if you’re in the mood for a smart, badass action movie to wash this one out of your mind.

  • Haven’t seen it. I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks.

  • Imran

    I thought you liked Pitch Black. didnt you?

  • Imran

    i think the food chain on the planet in pitch black was those reptiles themselves. and the small glowing light creatures they used near the end. there may be other subterranean life which we didnt spend time enough on that planet to notice. there was water below the surface so maybe there were types of fish or other aquatic life and aquatic vegetation in underground rivers. i know i sound like im coming up with non-sennsical justifications but i really like that movie!

  • You could read my review (linked above). :->

    Spoiler: No, I did not like it.

  • halfmoonsevenstars

    Well, the good news is that she’s apparently been in talks with Marvel over her availability next year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll get her as Carol Danvers, because she would be absolutely perfect.

  • OMG! Katee Sackhoff as Carol Danvers?


    (Best thing is, Marvel Studios are cool enough to actually do it. I still remember squeeing when they first announced RDJ as Tony Stark – can you believe some people had doubts about that back then?)

  • Thomas

    Listening to a female review this movie is like expecting me to have insight into the female mind as I try and review “Hope Floats” or “Steel Magnolia’s”. Lady–stay out of male genre films, and more specifically leave your F****** feminist BS at home.

  • RogerBW

    Yes, it’s quite unreasonable that you should ever watch a film that isn’t personally tailored to your demographic.

  • Yhomas

    Go review movies that agree with your feminist take on life. These are movies made for men.

  • RogerBW

    Hello, sock puppet. Would you like a NO GIRLS ALLOWED sign at the cinema, like the one in your tree house?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That’s nice. You be sure to let us know when you’re old enough to type out the potty words.

  • David C-D

    Wow I never heard “Christ on a cracker” before. Excellent!

  • bronxbee

    really? that’s a fairly common expression around here.

  • OnceUponAStairwell

    I have a simple question. Why would you go see the third movie in a franchise, let alone write a review of it, if you, in fact, despised its predecessors with such a passion that you felt the need to write hate three times in your descriptor of your bias? It is not as if it had a new writing staff, or director, or lead. Nor had they even belayed that the film may have changed its formulaic approach to the genre. I do enjoy your knock upon men scattered throughout your review, in addition to the know on women which closes it.

  • Bluejay

    I have a simple question. Why would you go see the third movie in a franchise, let alone write a review of it, if you, in fact, despised its predecessors

    Simple answer: Because she’s a professional film critic. Her job is not to write only about films she likes. Her job is to write about films — whether she likes them or hates them — and to say WHY she likes them or hates them. It’s amazing how many people don’t grasp this concept.

  • I knock a film for its absurd ideas about what men are supposed to be, and I’m accused of knocking men.

    Sometimes I wonder why I even bother.

  • OnceJolly

    But MAJ is self-employed, and she doesn’t review *every* movie, so the idea that it’s “her job” isn’t a particular useful explanation either for why she reviews some movies and not others.

  • LaSargenta

    Well, in this particular case, I’d say she both saw and reviewed it because she’s a follower/lover/fan of spec fic in its many forms.

  • Danielm80

    It’s because she’s self-employed that she doesn’t review every movie. If she had more money and more time, I suspect, she would review just about everything.

    This movie says a lot about gender relations in the 21st century (whether the filmmakers intended it or not), so it fits perfectly with the topics MaryAnn likes to discuss on this website. It happens to be an awful movie, but that just gives her more to discuss.

  • Bluejay

    I’ll let MAJ explain why she reviews particular movies and not others, if she feels like it.

    I wrote my comment as a quick, annoyed response to what I thought the original commenter was actually saying: “This movie was awesome. If you didn’t like it, you shouldn’t write about it, and furthermore, you shouldn’t have seen it in the first place (i.e. it’s not for you).” Which seems to be the reaction of a lot of fans who are butthurt by criticism of the movies they love, and who don’t seem to understand that professional critics write about films for a living and are under no obligation to love the films they review. “It’s her job” was the easiest (if perhaps oversimplified) retort I could think of. Possibly I misread the original commenter’s intent. But I doubt it.

  • Meh.

  • CB

    It’s not like Pitch Black was even that good a movie, but ludicrous^3 ecology aside I sorta enjoyed it. The thing is that Diesel’s unrepentant psychopath wasn’t interesting on his own, it was the interaction with the pilot(?) who was the main character as far as I’m concerned, and also a normal person. The decision she’d made at the start of the film that wracked her with guilt was something he would have done without a thought. He represented the temptation to survive at all costs, with no care for who else died along the way. The best scene of the movie was when he was trying to convince her to get on the shuttle and take off instead of going back to rescue the others, and she breaks down at the bottom of the ramp because she really, really wants to but can’t be like him and not care.

    My point is that, to the extent that the character worked in Pitch Black playing opposite a normal human protagonist, it stops working entirely when they make him the “hero” of the story. Which they can only do by finding something even more horrible and psychopathic than he is. Um, an unstoppable army of genocidal space-nazis? Gee, I guess I’d root for Riddick over them.

  • CB

    Just like Michelle Rodriguez is fine with being typecast as the tough chick since the alternative is sex object. More power to ’em I say.

  • RogerBW

    Yes, that sums up very well how I feel about Pitch Black; Riddick is one of the least interesting people there, but as part of the ensemble he fills a necessary role. Making the film series about him feels like deciding that the most interesting thing about Star Trek is Chekov.

  • I’ve always made it my mission to examine what popular movies say about us as a culture. Which is why I try to review as many wide releases as possible.

    Also: traffic comes from reviews of popular movies that mainstream audiences have access to. I’m struggling enough as it is. I try to review as many small films as possible, too. But I have to get readers — and hopefully subscribers — from *somewhere.*

  • What meh?

  • Your whole hate-filled review of a “popcorn flick”.

    What a shame David Twohy didn’t add lots of pro-feminist subtext and develop the characters to Oscar award-winning levels just for you. Christ on a bike!

  • Danielm80

    What a shame David Twohy didn’t add lots of pro-feminist subtext and develop the characters to Oscar award-winning levels just for you. Christ on a bike!

    It’s not just for MaryAnn. It’s for anyone looking for movies with interesting, complex female characters. I suspect that describes most of the people who read this site, most women who are looking for work in Hollywood, and a significant number of moviegoers around the world. (I’d like to see interesting, complex male characters, too, by the way.)

    Also, I’m a science fiction fan, and I like to see movies that are more than just “popcorn flicks.” I read this review to find out which category Riddick fell into. Sadly, now I know.

    It seems odd to me that you want MaryAnn to change her reviewing style just for you, instead of writing the kind of review that’s helped her build an audience over the past sixteen years.

    But I do like the expression “Christ on a bike!”

  • “I’m a science fiction fan” LOLLERCOASTER!

    NERD! :)

    I wonder why you spend most of your Disqus commenting life whiteknighting for MaryAnn? It’s all “MaryAnn this” and “MaryAnn that” with you, isn’t it? Either you have some kind of weird crush or you’re a sockpuppet. Either way, you’re still an asshole.

    What career? In reality, until Liannespiderbaby plagiarised her, I’d never even heard of Maryann or this site. Nor for that matter had anyone much heard of mine. She’s just another movie blogger among millions of other movie bloggers, get over it.

    I would have replied earlier, but I couldn’t see this page again until today without paying for it. Pay to access a blog post? Not going happen. Not even for 25c.

  • If you want to comment here, please be civil. Or don’t bother to comment at all.

  • Tyler Foster

    Trapped, unless, you know, she likes playing these roles? You don’t have to like it, but I find it questionable when that leads to an assumption that they also don’t like it. (Which is not to say that you must assume they do, either…but, she did show up at an SDCC panel about tough women and was reportedly enthusiastic about this character and the type of character she usually plays, so until I hear otherwise, I have more evidence that suggests this is her choosing a career path rather than pigeonholing.)

  • Alexis Smith

    She gives a lot of hate filled reviews to a lot of movies and I have yet to see one that was positive yet

  • Dr. Rocketscience
  • RogerBW

    You may be right, of course; it’s worked reasonably well for Jason Statham. But I’ve never heard an actor say “I am really excited about this opportunity to play a character just like the last three characters I played”.

  • Followup: it was kinda bad.

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