From his very first scene in Pitch Black one understands Riddick as a feral, disturbed individual. Animalistic in his lust for both sex and blood. Ruthless in his dispatchment of anyone who would seek to impede him from whatever it is he pleases to do. In the beginning narration of Pitch Black‘s sequel, Chronicles of Riddick, we are explicitly told that Riddick isn’t just bad, but evil; what the character tells us himself through his own inner monologue seems to fall in line with the presupposition that he isn’t exactly fond of humanity.
[upon being forced to return to civilization]
“So now it’s back to the brightness… and everything I hate.”
Implying of course that he hates civilization. In the third installment of the film series, simply titled, Riddick, our titular protagonist/antagonist says,
Somewhere along the way, I lost a step. I got sloppy. Dulled my own edge. Maybe I went and did the worst crime of all… I got civilized.
A murderer, a (suggested, though never stated) rapist, a misanthropist and stalwart enemy of all that is orderly and lawful. Clearly, Riddick is not a particularly amiable individual. But even despite these flaws the character is widely beloved, particularly by men – how can this be?
To answer the question we must turn our attention to the way that men are treated in modern day civilization (here we will confine our attention to the primary audience of the films – the Western industrialized nations). With the rise of numerous factors, including feminism and critical theory, a general idea has pervaded the western nations, chiefly that since men are the primary drivers of political conflict (which is true), they should be denatured, that is, stripped of any and all masculine attributes. Not only that, but additionally, men – those damnable patriarchs – must, wholesale, give up their place at the head of the table of civilization and cede all hitherto obtained status and characteristics to women. In this way, the beast that resides within the souls of Man is caged and glorious and caring Woman takes the helm to right the sinking ship. This is bad for two primary reasons (though many more as well), namely: 1. women and men willfully weakening the character and even the very spiritual nature of their male kith and kin will, if successful, leave them horribly vulnerable to those other nations and countries who have maintained their warrior ethos and their, dare I say, patriarch structures. 2. Perhaps even more fundamentally, it is psychologically – and thus, physically – damaging for young men to be, at every turn, denied both accept and outlet for their masculine natures.
Naturally, it should not be assumed that this is problem which all men face – one should not allow one’s self to descend into hysterical hyperbole on these matters like many segments of the MGTOW movement – and doubtless, many young men get along just fine, able to resist the increasingly shrill daggering of the matriarchal pulpit-pounders and genderqueer crusaders. That being said, for those whom it does effect, it imparts a soul-crushing malaise.
The Riddick series, and the character himself, it is my contention, achieved their popularity because they maintain and uphold the tradition of the warrior ethos, that is, the man who, rather than fleeing from his selfsame masculinity embraces it in a attempt to harness its effervescent energy. He is a man who will go to any length to protect both himself and all those whom he holds dear. He is also a conqueror and leader of men who agrees with the ethic of the Necromongers, the theocratic, galaxy conquering, principal antagonists of Chronicles, “You keep what you kill.” At the end of Chronicles Riddick himself ascends to the throne of the Necromongers and becomes their equivalent of Caesar, The Grand Marshal.
Just like other popular characters, such as James Bond, Riddick is also quite popular with the ladies (whether or not they, themselves, admit it – they usually don’t). In the films, his effectiveness with the opposite sex comes – in both friendship and sex – comes from both his domineering, take-charge attitude (which most women find, to some degree extremely appealing; especially given such behaviors increasing rarity) as well as his extremely protective nature (when one of his female compatriots is imprisoned, in the second film in the series, he travels across the galaxy to break her out of a massive underground prison-complex on a planet that is so hot that, even should a prisoner escape the complex, he or she would be evaporated upon reaching the surface – now that’s dedication!). In the third film in the series, Riddick, such a show is made of Riddick’s sexual prowess that he even manages to woo a gruff-yet-beautiful no-nonsense lesbian whose personal creedo is, “I don’t fuck men. I fuck them up occasionally if they need it.” It is a rather silly convention but the lack of heavy-handed sexual politics within the franchise was imminently refreshing, especially since nearly every major film features some kind of Mary Sue.
Riddick’s antisocial nature and odd, glowing eyes (which allow him to see perfectly in the dark) offers wide appeal to those men who feel socially isolated and unable to actuate their own potential. Riddick is a survivalist who is so self-sufficient that he (generally) does not even require the slightest modicum of help to achieve his ends. He braves a frozen world so far-flung that it receives only a numerical designation (you can always tell in sci-fi films whether or not a planet is important to the plot by whether or not it is named – if it just has a bunch of numbers in place of name one knows instantly it isn’t very important), with nothing but a pair of knives, the clothes on his back and his googles, he survives a desert planet teeming with ferocious, venomous monsters; he escapes from every cell into which he is thrown and pays back his captors, two-fold. It would seem that there is no corner of the universe and no threat, he will not fling himself unto with steely abandon. Indeed, such are his virtues that, were Riddick a more sociable and less wrathful and petulant individual, he might well have become a great leader of men (if he were a man – he is member of an ancient, alien species called Furyans).
Such a archetype (similar to, say, the Punisher or, The Man With No Name) allows a outlet for pent-up male frustration – what virile young man, after all, would not wish to be able to sally forth around the galaxy, would not wish to be able to effortlessly live off the land of even the most dead and hostile of plants, would not wish to be able to be so alluring in their patriarchal splendor that even the most ardent of lesbians want to share their bed? Very few. Hence the popularity among men. The characters popularity among women can be found in simply revisiting what I previously wrote; for most women, whatever they might say, are looking for a man who will take charge, take control and who will expend every last ounce of energy and power to look after and protect her (as was the case with the character of Kyra from the first and second films in the franchise).
Despite what the characters in the film series say, Riddick is not evil as he does not seek to cause needless suffering. He is merely a man, ruthless and powerful, who has absolutely no respect for weakness, a man who understands, to perfection, the natural and inescapable laws of human order – that women need men like men need women; that violence is inevitable and best prepared for; that the strong may rule the weak, but that the clever rule the strong.