In my last two posts, I talked about how terrible movies can teach you much about how not to write. This week, I’ll wrap up this three-parter with an analysis of the character of Riddick (the always-wooden Vin Diesel) in the fourth movie of the Riddick series, released in 2013 and named simply Riddick.
First, a synopsis of this epic tale. In the previous Riddick film, Riddick had been heading for his home planet, Furya, with an escort provided by his nemesis, Vaako. Naturally, this was a ruse to kill Riddick on an unknown planet; of course, the escort doesn’t double-tap, so this installment thus opens with Riddick waking up after having been left for dead.
Riddick gets himself together and ekes out an existence for an unspecified amount of time before discovering a mercenary station. He sets off a beacon, bringing two competing ships full of bounty hunters to catch him. Naturally, Riddick kills all but a few, all the while fighting escapees from the Tremors series. Of course, in the end, he escapes the planet with the help of the three surviving bounty hunters, including a lesbian mercenary (Dahl, played by the fabulous Katee Sackhoff) whom he manages to turn straight (at least briefly) with his manly charms.Now what’s going on with our hero in this movie? The writers have presented us with a seemingly tough-as-nails antihero who’s immune to all pain. You can stab him, tranquilize him, poison him, and leave him for dead, but like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going.
Riddick appears to have no heart; after all, doesn’t he kill almost all the bounty hunters while betraying no emotion? Oh, no, Riddick does have a heart, see, because he saves a dingo puppy, which then becomes his best friend. And when the vile Santana (a bounty hunter) kills that dog, well, all bets are off. Santana just pissed off the wrong guy!
Additionally, you wouldn’t expect a guy like this to live by any conventional moral code, but that doesn’t mean he’s amoral. Of course not! For he rescues Dahl when she is attacked by Santana (because a damsel can’t save herself); later, Riddick reveals that he previously killed the son of one of the bounty hunters to save a child. So he he does have a code – it’s just of his own devising.
Yes, Riddick is one manly man. Throughout the movie, he overcomes all odds, but, the writers hope we’ll surmise, what is he really fighting for? Sure, he wants to go home, but what is there for him on his home planet? He’s driven only be nostalgia for his mostly depopulated homeworld, as well as revenge against Vaako. Ah, such an empty, ultimately pointless life! (This, of course, is left unresolved so that the filmmakers can inflict yet another Riddick movie on the public.)
Variations exist on this theme: the bad girl with a heart of gold (Pretty Woman); beware the good man who goes to war (Braveheart); and, my absolute favorite awful theme, the bad guy who just needs the love of a good woman (Beauty and the Beast).Now, what can you learn about what not to do in fiction from this movie? Just about everything. The movie is riddled with character clichés. Riddick himself is a walking caricature: from carrying secret emotional pain disguised by a brutish exterior to his preternatural ability to escape death. This is just silly and unbelievable. With a few notable exceptions, such as the historical “mad monk” Rasputin, no one is actually this slippery. Yes, this is a movie, and we can suspend some disbelief, but readers of modern fiction are simply too sophisticated for this (unless your character actually has preternatural abilities, but even Superman had his Kryptonite).
It is possible to create an antihero with depth – for example, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in The Walking Dead. The key, which the writers of Riddick seem to have dropped down the Port-A-Potty, is to make your antihero a thoroughly complex character, with good and bad points and internal conflict more pronounced than an immunity to all pain but his emotional pain. Resorting to the “emotional pain” trope or the unkillable superman may be easy, but it isn’t believable – and it doesn’t make for a story that stands the test of time.