kicked off the summer with Fast & Furious 6 and now he's kicking off the big budget fall lineup with Riddick, a film expected to take in roughly $20 million at the box office this weekend. While that's not Avengers money, it's still on par with September's undead mainstay, the Resident Evil franchise, which made roughly $21 million last year.
What's surprising about Diesel is how his star power has always been there, but he's just getting to the point where the majority of Hollywood is treating him seriously. He's been the part of stellar ensemble casts in the past, largely thanks to the Fast series, but for the most part he's been treated as an afterthought: In the past it was related to his racial ambiguity, but in the early-to-mid 2000s it was mostly due to the fact that he was someone who was more youthful than the sophisticates of Tinsel Town. He was into extreme sports. He played video games. His sense of humor wasn't adult. He wanted to replace James Bond with Xander Cage in XxX
Now, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is about to decimate Lee Daniels' The Butler, the first film to do so in four weeks at the box office.
What's great about Riddick, the indifferent, murderous anti-hero with the evolved ability to see in the dark, is how it embraces the machismo tropes set by earlier action movies and simultaneously has the ability to prove its relevance today. In a world where Diesel is also voicing Groot, a talking tree in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the majority of blockbusters are also in the same Marvel/DC vein, Riddick's reliance on the cliches of his forefathers - , , and - miraculously comes across as original in today's Gotham-and-Metropolis day and age.
That's especially the case with director 's Pitch Black, a film where meteors cause a spaceship to crash land on a sun-scorched planet and forces its survivors to battle monsters that appear during an eclipse. While it wasn't necessarily lauded on horror and sci-fi top 10 lists, it was still a surprisingly visceral experience whose simple B-movie plot are completely welcome now. Most importantly, upon re-watching the film, it reaffirms why Vin Diesel is still here - with his booming, yet flat voice - and why has unfortunately been delegated to wannabe Ripley.
The film's sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, still doesn't fare as well. While it tries to take Riddick and place him in a larger mythology and universe, the film still feels bloated, which is surprising because it still treats Diesel as a brooding loner. More than the film, it's Diesel's commitment to the character and video games that kept Riddick alive. Escape From Butcher Bay and Assault on Dark Athena.
Escape From Butcher Bay was especially adept at taking the character - and Diesel's voice acting - and placing him in a FPS world with RPG elements that were pretty revolutionary in 2004. Split across 30 levels, the story had ties with its film character, but what made it so special was that the game boldly decided to not rehash the story of Chronicles, allowing the character to grow in a new medium. The stealth, hand-to-hand combat, and straight up action was almost enough to forget the ludicrous plot points of the Necromongers in Chronicles.
While I'll personally miss with flowing metal dangling from her ethereal costumes, it's nice to see Diesel returning to the series roots with the third installment in the series, Riddick out this weekend. If Chronicles was the series' version of John Carter, complete camp and over the top, Riddick shows that scaling back can be a good thing even if you're knee deep in camp. Instead of Chronicles' human-like race in drag garb taking over planets, the survival of this third film serves as a reboot for Pitch Black: Mutant hyenas look like CGI puppets alongside creatures that are in one sense velociraptors from Jurassic Park and Antie from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
While something like The Expendables is obviously rooted in nostalgia, Diesel's phoenix like ability to bring a character as bizarre as Riddick back is thoroughly enjoyable and necessary for breaking out of the comic book mold.