Finally the stars aligned and I was able to make it out to see Riddick. I will be discussing the film here assuming that you have seen it, so if you want to remain spoiler-free, I suggest you stop reading now.
I loved the first 15-20 minutes of the film. They truly showcased the superhuman will to survive that has typified Riddick in the previous films. It was gritty, grim and ugly. I loved watching him figure out the planet on which he was marooned, finding the essentials of water and shelter, and doing gruesome triage on his injuries. I don't think the narration kicked in until at least 15 minutes had passed, which I also enjoyed. Silent, grim and determined.
I'm not sure that the film needed to be tied into the previous films, but I am thankful the backstory of Riddick and the Necromongers from the dreadful Chronicles of Riddick was kept to a minimum. That is one of those films you'd prefer to forget was ever made - like the fourth film in the Alien franchise or the fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise. In any event, I guess we needed to know why Riddick was on this awful planet, and since he came here straight from being the Necromonger King, I guess we had to hear about them some more.
I loved the dog. I loved the dog so much even though I know the dog was doomed. I wanted more of the dog in the film.
When Riddick calls for rescue from the bounty hunter station, I knew we were headed into Pitch Black redux. That was fine with me - I had heard the film was essentially exactly like Pitch Black so that was my baseline expectation going into the film.
A bounty hunting crew lands full of contemptible characters, demonstrated by the killing of the bounty-rape-victim-female they set loose and then shoot for sport after they land. The audience is set to detest them and cheer for Riddick to kill them all at this point. Also hearing the call is a military-style unit who also lands and offers the bounty hunters assistance. Interestingly, the leader of the military unit (Johns) is the father of the policeman/bounty hunter who had Riddick in custody from Pitch Black. Second in command is Dahl, played by Katee Sackhoff who I love from Battlestar Galactica and Longmire. Dahl is great - it's nice to see a strong female character amidst all the men in the film. I'd love to see she and Riddick team up in a future film.
Lots of characters. Lots of meat for Riddick to chew through.
As would be expected, he starts to pick them off one by one. He nabs the power cells to both ships and hides them and offers to give them one if they'd let him have the other ship. Just like in Pitch Black, there is a crisis moment coming -- a giant rainstorm which will unleash beasts buried just beneath the surface of the planet. So they've got to get their acts together by that point.
Eventually, Riddick's dog gets killed and Riddick gets captured. This was when the main plot issue I had in the film happened - they prepare to cut off his head but the power cells for the ships are still buried and he's the only one who knows where they are. It didn't make any sense to me. And when he breaks free and kills the guy who killed his dog, the guy died too fast. I wanted to see Riddick's feelings for the dog come out in his killing of the dog's murderer. But we didn't get that in the film.
More killing, rescuing of the power cells, and Riddick's survival instincts are showcased for the rest of the film. Surprisingly, the remaining characters (Johns, Dahl, and one of the bounty hunters) rescue Riddick (since when did Riddick need rescuing?), give him a ship and send him on his merry way.
I got the impression another showdown with the Necromongers is lined up for the next film. Frankly, I'd be happy to see that in a flashback scene while the film deals with something new and interesting.
All in all, the film was more than just a Pitch Black rehash. Riddick is great, as always, and Johns and Dahl exist as characters I wouldn't mind seeing again in the future.
Oh, and if you're a Riddick super-fan and have any idea where I can get my hands on the SciFi Channel's short film they made as a promo for Pitch Black called "Into Pitch Black", please let me know. I think it used to be available on YouTube but I can't find it anywhere. I remember that short film made the hair on the back of my neck stand up -- it made Riddick a truly terrifying character.
If you're a Riddick fan, you will enjoy this flick.