The thoughts and work of Sam Witt

Breaking Riddick

I’m a big Riddick fan – there’s something about the big oaf that I just find extremely likable. The new movie is a return to the hardscrabble feel of Pitch Black, with Riddick struggling to survive in a hellish environment. It’s totally over the top, completely crazy (fixing a broken leg by jabbing giant pins into it is BADASS, but really . . .), and everything I was looking for in a Riddick movie. Except for this one thing.

Vin Diesel knows what we’re looking for when it comes to Riddick, the guy totally gets what makes this character cool. He understands what we want to see when we sign-up for another dose of Furyan badassery and he does what he can to provide it. Which is why Riddick is awesome for  fans of the character, right up until it isn’t.

Without going into spoilers, there’s a scene where Riddick is explaining how he’s a 20th-level Badass compared to the 10-th level Mercs who’ve captured him. He needles the mercs, digging at their weaknesses, poking at their pride, showing them that he knows more than they do, that he’s going to outlive everyone in the room. It’s classic Riddick and it ratchets the tension up to just the right point.

Then he turns to the one female character in the movie, Dahl, and says the weirdest, oddball shit we’ve heard yet from these movies. It’s only a couple of lines, but they were so ridiculously creeptastic I had to spend a few minutes trying to process what I’d just heard. I get that Riddick is not a nice guy, but he’s supposed to be the guy we root for, not the lecherous slimeball we hope gets a knife to the groin.

Riddick is an antihero, sure, but he’s got a code that’s been fairly well-established in the movies. He’s a monster, but he has his own sense of honor that puts him a step above the ‘civilized’ mercenaries who hunt him. Basically, Riddick is Conan with a coat of paint and blater rifles. Hell, in the first half-hour Riddick shows us that this character doesn’t indulge himself in typical sexual power fantasies that lead to the downfall of lesser men: When offered a bevy of necromonger sex slaves, he choose to sit on his throne and drink.

Which is why the weirdo rapey shit an hour later totally threw me out of the movie. It didn’t make sense for his character and it didn’t add anything substantive to the scene.

To compound the problem, in the last few minutes of the movie, Riddick and Dahl have a tender moment, during which we find out that not only did his weird rapiness not freak her out, she actually changed sexual orientation just so they could fulfill this rapey sexual whatever together. That’s right, Dahl was established as a lesbian earlier in the movie, but Riddick’s offhand rape threat turned her straight and drew her right into his lap.

I just don’t even . . .

This pair of scenes occupies literally two minutes of screen time, but it serves as a very important lesson for writers. Pay attention to what your characters do and say, because you can be damn sure your readers do. And nothing turns them off faster than having a character they really dig turn into some creep out of the blue. Stay true to your characters, because your fans love them.

You can do better than that, Vin. Your fans deserved better.

About Sam

I am the author of the popular Pitchfork County series of horror novels. I also write a newsletter with great reading suggestions and free fiction.

  • That scene definitely stood out for me as something I needed to think more about. An unsolved issue. I was toying with the idea dahl (i.e. “doll”) was merely stating she was lesbian because she wasn’t interested in the guy and to just take it off the table as an option. Sort of like if she stated she had a boyfriend already. That would at least make more sense than a sexual orientation change just because he is so unresistably male. 🙂

  • Sam

    I guess my problem with it is that if we assume that Dahl was playing the lesbian card just to deflect male attention, it weakens her character. Also, it doesn’t work and she ends up having to punch people in the throat anyway, which I’m sure would have come up more than once in her career. The whole thing is just so weird – if you take out the lesbian stuff and the rapey comment, the movie improves immeasurably. So why would they leave them in?