Vin Diesel and his growl in Riddick.

Vin Diesel is back—and growling more than ever—as Riddick, the character that made him a star, in the creatively titled Riddick. The third movie in the shiny-eyed franchise is a decent-enough return to form—and much better than most of those vroom-vroom movies Diesel has been in lately.

Director David Twohy gave us the original—the above average Pitch Black—back in 2000. Diesel’s performance in that film remains perhaps his best ever, although that’s not saying much.

Then came The Chronicles of Riddick, an awful, bombastic PG-13 spectacle that felt silly after the barebones, R-rated horror of Pitch Black. Many of us who enjoyed the original were appalled to see a big-budget blockbuster showing the gritty Riddick hanging out with Judi Dench.

Riddick proves that producers understand how legions of fans were severely pissed off by the costume pageantry of the second film: Twohy and Diesel have taken the character back to his bloody, monster-movie roots.

The movie has a brief, costume-pageant prologue in which Karl Urban makes a brief appearance. Then, in a blink of an eye, Riddick is stranded on yet another alien-infested planet. The monsters are scorpion-like buggers that will eat their own guts if given the chance—and they love the rain.

A good chunk of the film features a lonely Riddick in survival mode. In a rather sweet touch, he rescues a dog-like creature, and they become friends. Realizing he won’t be able to fend off the scorpion things forever, Riddick sets off a rescue beacon, alerting bounty-hunters to his presence on the planet. Two groups show up, and the movie then becomes a series of scenes of macho guys (and Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff) growling at each other.

So, Riddick is two movies in one, with both of those movies riddled with monsters. One is basically Riddick in a variation of A Boy and His Dog, in which he’s hanging out on a barren planet, eating gross food, and talking to an animal. The other is a film starring a typical ragtag group of posturing meatheads, trying to determine who’s in charge of the whole “catch Riddick” thing.

I preferred the movie in the early goings-on, with Diesel and his dog. It’s cute, plus it has an occasional monster attack. As for the bounty-hunters, they felt too familiar, like something out of Pitch Black. The film even repeats that moment with Riddick in chains, rhythmically thumping his arms and getting off on the mayhem that is about to ensue.

Of the bounty hunters, I liked Santana (Jordi Mollà) the least; he looks like Andy Garcia after a meth bender. He’s one of those characters who should just shut up and stand in the background—but instead, he’s a major character, and he gets plenty of annoying screen time.

Another character, played by Matt Nable, has an interesting connection to a character in Pitch Black.

Thankfully, Twohy overcomes the film’s flaws, for the most part, delivering good monster action on a relatively small budget. Riddick’s dog is a reasonably well-done CGI creation, as are the scorpion-like creatures that are out to kill everybody. While I did prefer the quieter moments with the dog, the best scene in the film is the initial monster attack on the bounty-hunter station. Many characters meet their demise in slasher-film style.

Internet scuttlebutt says this movie happened only because Diesel really wanted it to happen, and because Diesel returned to the Fast and Furious movies. I reckon those films will never stop, so as long as Diesel shows up to mumble lines while driving really fast, perhaps the Riddick movies will continue as well.

Riddick is playing at theaters across the valley.