I’m gonna shoot straight with you Cellmates, I’m not the biggest Resident Evil fan. I haven’t been much of a gamer since my mid 90’s N64 days, and I never played anything past Resident Evil 2, so I don’t have that connection to the franchise that the long time players do. I do remember being less than blown away by the first two film installments though. They proved that a plot could somehow be incredibly thin and ridiculously convoluted simultaneously. They had running zombies, which have always rubbed me the wrong way. They featured everything I loathe about the way action sequences are shot these days. While I didn’t hate those two flicks necessarily, I didn’t bother going to see Armageddon.
Then, when I went to see Afterlife, something weird happened. I loved it! The series had completely dropped any pretense of being horror and gone balls to the wall into “Big Dumb Action Flick” territory. I’ll be damned if it didn’t work a whole lot better that way. That flick looked fantastic. I’m not a huge proponent of 3D, but Afterlife has some of the best 3D action sequences I’ve ever seen. It also maintained enough of a story to link those action scenes together. So, when EC3 Daniel asked me if I wanted to go to the 3D IMAX midnight premiere of Resident Evil: Retribution, I was expecting another passable movie with badass visuals. Unfortunately, what I got was a few badass visuals stuck into some of the most blatant filmmaking laziness I’ve ever seen. I’m gonna go ahead and warn you now folks, this review is gonna have some spoilers. That shouldn’t be a problem though, because no one in their right mind goes to a RE flick for the story, right?
I don’t remember exactly how the movie opened to tell you the truth. I know that Milla Jovovich, fills us in on the story thus far. Yes, it’s her floating head actually talking to the camera. I halfway expected that “TV Guy” voice to chime in with “Previously on Resident Evil...” We also pick up right where we left off in Afterlife, with the battle scene on the ship being shown backwards in slow motion. I honestly don’t remember which happened first. That’s now mind-numb this flick left me. Anyway, they then show the battle again, only forward at normal speed. Not only was that completely unnecessary, but it drove home exactly what is right and wrong with 3D action flicks, and some sad truths about the current Hollywood product in general. When the scene was shown in backwards slow-mo, it was brilliant. Seriously, I was sporting cinephile wood. Some of the shots were beautifully constructed to take full advantage of the depth of field allowed when you actually shoot in 3D. Slowed down, you got a chance to enjoy these shots. It was a visually interesting way of telling the story of the scene to have it unfold backwards. It was different. Different is good. I’ll repeat that for the benefit of the major studios; different is good! I was excited for the rest of the flick after seeing this scene. Then my hopes, and my wood for that matter, deflated. First of all, there was no reason to show the same scene again. I just watched it. It stopped the momentum of the flick cold. To me, it smacks of the filmmakers and studio assuming that the audience wouldn’t be able to figure out what had just happened backwards. Come on guys, give us a little credit. If you require the audience to think a little, then everything doesn’t have to be so damn basic all the time. What a concept! Second of all, the effect of the 3D was completely nullified by the camera movement and editing being so damn fast that you missed all of the detail. Slow the hell down for a second and let the audience take in all of the work you put into it. Backwards, it was outstanding. Forwards, it was just another scene to be forgotten as soon as the next one began.
Oh, one more thing about that boat battle scene; where in the green hell are Claire and Chris? When we left them at the end of Afterlife, they were standing with Alice on the deck of the Arcadia watching the helicopters approach. Now, when we pick up with the helicopters arriving, they’re nowhere to be found. At no point in this flick do they even bother to try to explain where they went either. They just vanished. That’s lazy writing. If those actors don’t wanna come back for this one, which would be understandable if they read the script, at least find a way to write them off instead of just pretending like they never existed. Come up with something. I was looking forward to some Ali Larter in this flick too. She’s real purty.
After all of that we see Alice waking up in suburbia. Apparently she now has a husband and child. Um, ok. For the next few minutes Alice, Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), and the little girl, Becky, run from the zombies. This was a pretty good zombie sequence. Yes, it had running undead, but I can forgive that. It reminded me of the first few minutes of the Dawn of the Dead remake. Good stuff. Then, Alice wakes up in an Umbrella Corp Facility.
Ok, hold on a sec. Is Milla Jovovich is going for some kind of record for the whole “waking up nearly naked not knowing where she is” thing? Is it in her contract that she has to do this at least once in every movie? How many times can one woman wake up wearing next to nothing with that “I have no idea where I am or how I got here” look? I mean, I used to do that sometimes, but who didn’t in their college years? She does it in almost every movie she’s in! Doesn’t that call for an intervention or something? How’s that for something to be known for? We need a chick to wake up wearing a napkin and some string looking confused as hell for this flick. Why don’t we call up Milla? No one pulls off the combination of blackout, sideboob, and amnesia like her!
Anyway, someone helps her escape, and through the most awkward and contrived exposition humanly possible, she discovers that she is in an underwater facility. We then see the map of all of the levels she has to beat to get to the end. Yes, I know that this is a movie based on a video game, but that doesn’t mean that the story of the movie has to be constructed like one. Seriously, the rest of the movie consists of advancing through the levels, complete with boss fights. There are a couple of cool enemies though, like communist zombies (Combies?) that look suspiciously like the Nazi zombies in Dead Snow and a gigantic Licker. Mmmmmmm, gigantic liquor…
The problem is that we aren’t seeing anything innovative or different. It’s just “more of the same.” How many shootouts can we see where all of the bad guys, who really ought to turn aim-assist back on, shoot thousands of rounds without hitting a damn thing while the good guys have a “one shot, one kill” ratio? How many times are we gonna rehash the Matrix “bullet time” gimmick? They use it about 10 times in this flick. That “slow down the punch until right before the moment of impact, then speed it way up” crap is played out. I’ve also had enough of that “x-ray view of the punch landing and the bone breaking” crap. Hell, Sherlock Holmes did it better than it’s done here. Milla is the undisputed queen of green screen wire fighting, but that “back-flip kick while shooting something “ trick is only cool so many times. All of the action just feels like a pedestrian retread of clichés that have been done better elsewhere. There’s a scene with two of the giant executioners on a city street that’s nowhere near as good as the scene from the last film with one in a bathroom. It’s not good when a franchise that relies solely on its cool action doesn’t deliver in that category. Some of it is undeniably cool looking, but nothing is fresh or really engaging.
If you’re going to fall down in the action category, you’ve at least gotta have good acting and story, right? Not in the least. The plot is non-existent even by Resident Evil standards. Retribution seems more like the product of someone having to quickly come up with a way to get from the end of Afterlife to the beginning of Resident Evil 6 than a movie with a story of its own. The acting is awful. Milla, who actually gets more gorgeous the older she gets (how does that work?), seems bored here. You can tell Michelle Rodiguez (also sexy as hell) has some fun playing different versions of the Rain character, but everything is so badly written that she can’t do much with it. The dialog is especially bad. I can’t really blame the cast for taking one look at the script and deciding to half-ass it. It’s like Paul Anderson filmed a dress rehearsal when everyone was going through the motions at half energy and decided “Eh, good enough. We’ll just add some CGI and use that.” Whoever that blond playing Jill was, she should never shoot a gun in a film. That weird gunslinger hip pose/dance thing she was doing looked just plain stupid.
The only person who put in a really good performance was 11-year-old Aryana Engineer as Newt, er, I mean Becky. You might remember her as the younger sister from Orphan. She’s awesome. Her character, however, was just that old “adding a kid for the hero to take care of counts as character development, right?” chestnut. With only minutes left to go until the whole place blows up, Alice has to go free Becky, who may not be her child but she feels responsible for her dammit, from the weird pod that the huge monster has encased her in. Hmmm, where have I heard this one before? I guess if you’re gonna lift a story whole cloth for your heroine, you could do much worse than stealing from Aliens.
RANDOM THOUGHT #1: The flick ended with one last kick in the nuts; dubstep over the closing credits. Jebus jumping Christmas shit, I HATE DUBSTEP!
RANDOM THOUGHT #2: Why is this movie called “Retribution?” No one gets retribution for anything. Retribution isn’t even a major part of the plot.
RANDOM THOUGHT #3: The rule about not wearing a band’s shirt to their concert to avoid being “That Guy” applies to movies too. Yes, dude in the Umbrella Corp. shirt, I’m talking to you.
Colleen, a Netherspawn that I ran into at the theater, called Resident Evil: Retribution “action porn.” As much as I’m hesitant to use that expression due to my hatred for the term “torture porn,” I can see what she means. You’re not there for the quality acting or story; you’re just there to get off on the visuals. To extend the porn analogy though, if the stars were still hot but the sex was lacking, then it wouldn’t wow you enough to ignore the other, more expected shortcomings. I realize that I sound like I’m expecting too much from this kind of flick. I’m really not. I don’t have a problem with style over substance sometimes. These kinds of flicks all sizzle and no steak, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. If you’re gonna do that though, you better have some killer sizzle, not just stuff we’ve seen done before and better…in THIS franchise no less. Basically, it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Wow, I just quoted Shakespeare in a review for a Resident Evil flick. I better wrap this up before I sound any more pretentious. One half severed thumb up. If you get a chance to see it in 3D IMAX, there’s enough cool stuff going on visually for Nathan to say check it out. Otherwise, don’t bother.