Since writing my own review of Riddick, I’ve watched it get hauled through the mud by the “serious professionals” and some things positively beg for rebuttal.
Criticism: The dialogue is horrible!
Answer: The dialogue is clever! This is a story about ex-cons, fugitives, criminals, bounty hunters, and soldiers. These sub-cultures have their own styles of banter, distinctive dialogue that you just can’t learn sitting around watching re-runs of Oz or rap videos on MTV. Confident and assertive, verbal sparring is the order of the day in this culture, and the verbal sparring here was every bit as good as the rest of the movie. It’s fine if this isn’t your sub-culture, but don’t go flaunting your ignorance at us.
For the Biblical purists, I’d like to point out a fair amount of trash talking by a prophet of God on Mount Carmel. The dude’s name was Elijah. Or, perhaps, we could review Isaiah’s depictions of the unrighteous. There’s this idea that good dialogue, or good people, wouldn’t speak this way. My experience is that most people who live on the pointy end of things tend to have a very similar sense of humor. I watched this movie with an ex-con and a special forces veteran, and they were both laughing their butts off at the dialogue.
If contemporary heroes and villains aren’t enough to convince a critic, I would point them to the great literature of history, the legends and epics from which our culture is derived in the first place. Read Beowulf or The Iliad sometime. Read Job in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Really smart, elite people talked a lot of smack for the majority of the world’s history. Until the last hundred years or so it was a mark of greatness.
Rebut Shakespeare, then Homer, and if you haven’t expired of an overdose of accumulated arrogance, we’ll talk dialogue among moderately-educated tough guys sometime.
Criticism: The World is Improbable.
Answer: It’s called dramatic exaggeration. No one wants to see Riddick crash down on a culture that looks a lot like techno-medieval peasants in a peacefully terraformed world. For one thing, that’s what Stargate: SG1 reruns are for. Additionally, Riddick is a fugitive with a keen survival instinct. It’s standard dramatic fare to place the hero in situations where their true nature comes to the fore, as it rarely does in PTA meetings.
Wolf-pack analogues aren’t improbable. They’re the norm in every inhabited country I can think of. They may be primates, or I’ve even read stories of feral squirrels attacking dogs in Russia, but pack predators are a de facto part of life.
Similarly, while I have voiced my own criticism of the films not depicting the rest of the ecosystem, that is not a complaint against predator swarms in and of themselves. Certainly, it seems that the rains bring nothing but an endless supply of monsters, but ancient documents about locust swarms made it seem that there was nothing but locusts alive in the world either. Hibernation and then swarming is a fair enough premise. I just wished that we had seen some birds or other mid-level analogues before we got to the Big Bad Gang Bang.
Now to specifically refute Plugged In’s review. (One of the reason that I started this blog in the first place was that I was sick of the hypocritical way that Plugged-In would exclude about 30% of the Bible for their puritan standards.)
Riddick is being called misogynistic by some reviewers, and with some reason. When women show up onscreen, they’re often shown as merely objects of sexual desire and/or targets of rape.
Um… nope. Women are talked about as sexual objects. Which pretty much makes this like every media presentation ever. For that matter, how much of the Old Testament talks about women outside their being desired, being married (back then that was not about the wedding cake), being desirable, or sexually faithful or not. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that about 80% of the Old Testament record would be disqualified here.
Yes, Riddick, king of the Necromungers, has multiple women in his bed. So did… well… Abraham, David, and Solomon, when they were the heads of their own states. God didn’t rebuke David for having a harem. He rebuked David for going outside of it. Is it ideal? The New Testament clearly states that it isn’t desirable for leaders in the church. Did we need to see it? Actually, Riddick was making a point that he couldn’t trust his own women (whatever title you want, none is given so I’m not going to assume they weren’t wives just so I can look down my nose at the film.)
But just like the Old Testament, the women in this series are not just sexual objects, though they may be pursued as such. And that happens in the Bible as well. (Dinah, anyone?) In Pitch Black and in Riddick, the women are among the most proactive, capable, and dynamic characters. Claudia Black’s tough pioneering character was working and fighting right alongside the other characters, to say nothing of Jack. In The Chronicles of Riddick both Jack and the elemental woman were bold, proactive, and capable in their own rights. People talked about them sexually. Yes. A lot. This goes back to the sub-culture criticism. If you’ve been near criminals, soldiers, and the working class bars, you’d know that what’s said on screen is nowhere near as bad as what reality really is. And one of the standards for things to think about is “whatever is true”, which this is.
Here in Riddick, Katee Sackhoff’s character may be a lesbian (who has sex with no one on screen, only claims that to rebuke sexual advances, and then proposes to Riddick at the end, which calls her actual lesbianism into question in the final scenes) but she’s also the best shot in the film, the team sniper, and apparently the second in command of the entire group of bounty hunters. if that’s only playing a sexual role, you’re going to be stuck watching a lot of Star Trek: Voyager reruns because Captain Janeway’s about all you’re going to find to suit your high standards.
Yes, the scummy bounty hunters apparently raped their prisoner. (Again, true to life.) But it isn’t seen, and we learn a whole lot about their whole crew when she’s killed. That’s one of the reasons to have a minor character in the first place, to reveal the main characters and to advance the plot. So, having shown that the first crew are a bunch of amoral predators, the second group of bounty hunters who show them up, fend them off, and take command are so much more the heroes in the film.
That taming/defending role largely falls to whom? Dahl (Sackhoff). Attempted rape and sexual predation is far too common, and I wish I could see more characters handle it as it so richly deserves, as Dahl does repeatedly in the film. Dahl’s one shirtless scene returns to reveal Riddick’s character just as a matching (though clothed) scene in Pitch Black does. Both times Riddick, the rumored worst bad guy of all, is alone and armed against a vulnerable woman who has no idea he’s there. It’s obvious Riddick is interested, but leaves without being discovered, and doing no harm to the woman. In Pitch Black he takes a piece of Claudia Black’s hair. In this film he takes a makeup compact that he uses as a tool to stay alive.
I want to return to my primary enjoyment of the Riddick films. It isn’t about the violence as such, and I grew up such a way as to become relatively immune to bad language.
I love the Riddick series because a world without shiny white heroes devolves to a very Biblical principle of evaluation: We are judged by our words and our deeds. We don’t just love Riddick because he seems like a prison yard predator. We love him because his predatory instincts protect instead of terrorize the innocent. He spares and defends the weak and helpless at the cost of his own safety and pain. He is big and bad, but so is White Fang, another one of my childhood favorites. When the chips are down, Riddick and several of his supporting characters are absolutely the sort of people you want by your side. They’re going to do what’s right no matter what it costs them, and that, not Sunday School language, or neatly pressed clothes, is what real heroism is about.
It also carries through an idea seldom seen in Christian music, books, or movies. That’s the idea of Romans 3:23. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. Here in Riddick that equality of sinfulness shows up right away, so that the faithfulness, kindness, use of strength to protect the weak, personal loyalty, and integrity to one’s word continue to shine so much brighter.
Is there violence?
Yes. Nowhere near as much as happened in Canaan. Riddick kills fewer people on-screen than King David does on-page, or King Solomon, Samson… I could go on.
There’s this concept that Christian men, or good men, are nonviolent.
Don’t know where that comes from. Our own Messiah is going to leave lakes of blood when he comes back.
It is in true strength that grace and mercy matters. No one cares that a field mouse does not bite you. It’s the lion who spares you that really gets your notice.
In these films Riddick is that lion, and a true anti-hero.
Once again, highly recommended.