Fighting Evil with Another Kind of Evil?

“In normal times, evil should be fought by good, but in times like this, well, it should be fought by another kind of evil”[1] is the voice-over of the ethereal, semi-angelic Aereon (Judi Dench) near the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), the sequel to Pitch Black (2000). She has just described the evil of the Necromongers. An evil crusader army bent on conquering the worlds of the galaxy.  The cosmic conquistadors forcibly convert some of each planet’s people to their warped religion and kill all the rest.

Against this interplanetary menace, there seems to be one unlikely hope, a most unmotivated messiah. The antihero Richard Riddick (Vin Diesel) is a notorious criminal with a huge bounty on his head, a killer who just barely rises above total self-interest, and a most reluctant Christ figure. In prison, he had the back of his eyeballs “shined,” giving the pupils a metallic glow, so that he can see in low levels of light. He is of a “Furyon” race, and he is stronger, tougher, braver, faster, stealthier, more agile, more resourceful, and more cunning than any of his opponents...and he leaves a high body count in his wake.[2]

Throughout all of Pitch Black, he seems interested only in himself. When at last, at the end, he seems to actually care about a woman, she is killed before his eyes, and he can’t save her. The same thing happens to the woman he cares about at the end of The Chronicles of Riddick. Everyone who gets close to him, either enemy or friend, seems to die.

Riddick has a conversation about God with Imam (Keith David) a Muslim, who had been on a pilgrimage to New Mecca.  When things literally look dark, Imam wants to pray with Riddick, but Riddick thinks that would be pointless. Imam then thinks Riddick does not believe in God, but Riddick summarizes some of the suffering in his life and concludes, “You got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God. And I absolutely hate the fucker.” Later, when things go from bad to worse, Riddick says to Imam, “Where the hell’s your God now?” Riddick himself is quite antireligious, and Pitch Black has little surface sympathy for religion.

On the other hand, The Chronicles of Riddick is paved with religious metaphors...although sometimes the religious aspects, such as with the Necromongers, have gone horribly wrong. Riddick seems to be the one prophesied to kill the genocidal leader of the Necromongers and bring balance to the universe.[3] Indeed, as an infant, he mysteriously survived a Necromonger slaughter of young males on his planet in an effort by the leader to stop the prophecy. This is a startling parallel with King Herod’s slaughter of all boy babies in Bethlehem near the time of Jesus’s birth.[4]

Riddick is often seen with his arms outstretched in a cruciform position. A number of times he is thought to be, seems to be, or is reported to be dead, but of course he always comes back for more. He allows himself to be captured[5] and descends into the prison below the hellish, burning[6] surface of the planet Crematoria. From there, he liberates a woman he cares about (although she dies at the end). There is even a scene in the prison in which he tames a ferocious alien “lion,” paralleling the survival of Daniel in the lion’s den.

After a final harrowing battle, Riddick indeed kills the “Holy Half-Dead” leader of the vicious Necromongers and by default becomes the new Necromonger leader. Presumably he will save populations of multiple planets from what would have been their deaths—although the movie ends before it is seen whether he abolishes the religion, reforms it, or does something completely different.

Thus, evil has been overcome by “another kind of evil,” fulfilling the opening narration and arguing against the effectiveness of “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”[7] Kevin Miller described how this movie philosophy summarized how many people, religious as well as secular, seemingly think:

We have lost our faith in the power of good to overcome evil. When confronted by acts of terror, for example, we don’t even consider turning the other cheek. Instead, like Riddick, we respond with “a different kind of terror.” Although we often use the same means as the terrorists to achieve our goals—they bomb our cities, we bomb their countries—we feel such means are warranted, because our cause is just.... But if all we are doing is adding to the body count, I question how much good is really accomplished.[8]

It may be, unfortunately, that Riddick is the exemplary antihero for the post-9/11 “War on Terror” era.

[1] When Riddick’s angry, feisty companion first meets the Necromancers, she says, “I hate not being the bad guys.”

[2] His character in these two movies contrasts with the character in one of Vin Diesel’s earlier movies in which he is the voice of the violence-rejecting Iron Giant.

[3] The second movie ramps up the messianic metaphors and changing the character of Riddick somewhat in the process. Even Riddick’s “birth narrative” changes. In the first movie, Riddick recounts having been abandoned as a baby “in some liquor store trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck” (which sounds like on Earth), but in the second, Riddick is revealed as the child of prophecy who mysteriously survives a slaughter of the innocents on his home planet of Furyon.

[4] Matt. 2:13-18.

[5] In another change from Pitch Black, Riddick has seemingly enhanced fighting skills in the sequel. In the first movie, a single bounty hunter, Johns, is able to capture him and beat him in a fight, but in the second, Riddick easily evades capture by a group of bounty hunters (until it serves his purpose) and dispatches multiple trained Necromonger soldiers attacking him at the same time. The willing surrender to be taken to prison in order to rescue a former companion is somewhat parallel to Jesus surrendering himself without a fight in the Garden of Gethsemane (but without the suffering).

[6] 700 degrees on the day side.

[7] Rom. 12:21.

[8] Kevin Miller, “The Chronicles of Riddick: Review by Kevin Miller,” Hollywood Jesus 19 June 2004, 3 Mar. 2007

Copyright 2007 Mark D. Stucky.

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