Riddick was a mediocre movie, but perhaps its biggest misstep was how badly they dropped the ball with their lady badass character, Dahl (Katee Sackhoff).
It's not too much of a surprise; lady badasses are rarely implemented well in movies. Mainly it's because of the same problems that tend to plague all women in movies: bad dialogue, paper-thin motivation, no depth, fetishization of virtually everything they do....
Somebody could greenlight a movie about a super-heroine whose power is that she kills bad guys by vomiting owl pellets like a machine gun and Hollywood would still find a way to both frame the vomit as a sexy game and have her boyfriend save the day.
The badass archetype in particular seems perpetually out of reach. Directors always seem to make the same mistakes and end up creating dull-as-dirt sociopaths. ("No, no, you don't get it! My character is just so amazing that nothing ever phases her! She never feels any emotions whatsoever and can kill anybody at anytime! It's a totally clever and original new idea I had just now all on my own!")
Dahl was a character that seemed promising. To set the stage, she is a member on one of two mercenary teams that come to a deserted alien planet to capture the elusive Riddick. Dahl is presented as the second-in-command of her unit - the only woman in the movie (practically) and the resident Tough Chick.
Right off the bat, she functions less as The Woman and more as just part of her team. She has some shitty dialogue - but no shittier than the rest of the characters. She fits right in, as she is equally capable as the men if not more so. She balances her tough-as-nails, take-no-shit demeanor with a cautious respect and fear of Riddick's reputation. We get the sense that she can be made vulnerable and is aware of her own mortality - just like the best badasses.
Some tension starts between her and one of the
Latin stereotypes other mercs, a sleazy dude named Santana. They have a few arguments here and there, mainly over whether or not Santana is going to take orders from (gasp) a woman!
This comes to a head during one of the best moments in the movie. Santana tackles Dahl and pins her to the ground, saying creepy rape dialogue and sweating all over the place. The movie cuts to an exterior shot of the building where this fight is happening. By the time we revisit Dahl and Santana, they're standing upright and the movie acts as if nothing has happened. A few beats pass and one of the guys points to a puddle of blood on the floor: "Where did this blood come from?" Dahl smiles, points at Santana, and says, "I had to teach him a lesson."
It's a great piece of storytelling that is executed pretty well. It's subtle - at least compared to pretty much anything else in Riddick - and builds up a healthy mystique around Dahl.
So what does Riddick do with a generally well-realized character like this? Well... they have her constantly remind everybody that she's a lesbian, make goo-goo eyes at Vin Diesel as if she's going to fuck him, run around in terror, take off her shirt, and eventually just sit on the sideline while the men run off and do stuff.
I just don't get it. Did you think we couldn't accept that a woman might be a competent mercenary unless she was a lesbian? Is the implication that Riddick is just such a man that he can turn gay women straight? And if all of his sex talk is just him being a dickhead, why does Dahl take it from him instead of kicking him in the balls the way she does with all the other characters? Why does Dahl end up not shooting any alien brain-munchers at the end of the movie? Why does she just babysit the random preacher dude (Nolan Gerard Funk, an actor with a far better name than his character deserves)?
The sad thing is, of all the dumb shit Dahl does in this movie, I can actually empathize most of all with the gratuitous nude scene wherein she decides to take a shower. After all, it's a gross desert planet and everything's all hot and dusty.... A shower probably would feel pretty good.
But when your dick-kicking tough chick runs off to spray a shower nozzle on her breasts and that's the least of your problems, then you know you've screwed up somewhere.
It's strange to see a movie that gets so much right and yet still manages to be such a let down. It feels like they got stuck in the screenplay phase and gave up. Don't any screenwriters have wives that can give them some feedback?