Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Resident Evil: Retribution

After so many installments, it is getting harder and harder to overlook some basic problems with the Resident Evil franchise.  With the fifth (I know!) volume, Resident Evil: Retribution, I have to point out upfront what has ruined my suspension of disbelief: I have a hard time buying into an international evil organization, hell-bent on ruining the world that manages to keep finding glove-tight leather outfits for Milla Jovovich to kick ass in.  We're four movies into a global zombie apocalypse, and they still have someone working a bondage/tailoring shop?  Sure, it's obviously a solid investment when the zombie apocalypse comes a-knocking --- What would Milla wear, otherwise?  Capris? --- but you think somebody would at least brag about having the foresight for this eventuality.  If this was my movie, that would be the only thing discussed in the trailer.

***DISCLAIMER: The plot of Resident Evil: Retribution is pretty damn ridiculous, so forgive me if I simplify or gloss over some of the finer points in this plot summary***

When last we left Alice (Milla Jovovich), she was on an aircraft carrier, about to take on the forces of the evil Umbrella Corporation.
This picture perfectly encapsulates all Resident Evil plots
The next thing you know, Alice has woken up to an idyllic suburban life, where she has a husband and a child.  But then zombies happen.  Again.  The next thing you know (again), Alice wakes up in an unnecessarily bright and clean room, wearing only a small towel.  Why a towel?  Did she slip and hit her head coming out of the shower?  Are her hot pants at the cleaner?  Is this just a subtle clue that the zombie virus began with mildew accumulating in Milla's towel because she can't be bothered to hang it up like a grown damn woman, and I sure as shit don't need to keep picking up after her --- if she really respected me, she wouldn't be so thoughtless in the shared space of our bathroom, right?
Stained-glass floors.  Classy touch, evil corporation.
Actually, that stupid idea is only slightly less reasonable than the shoulder shrug reasoning of the actual script.  Although having the entire Resident Evil franchise be the concussed dream of Alice, after a bathroom-related head injury, would be pretty hilarious.  Anyway, the villain of the last four films, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), has taken the time to bleach his hair.  Almost as importantly, Wesker tells Alice that he is no longer part of the evil Umbrella Corporation.  Now he wants to help humanity, which makes as much sense as anything else in this series.  It seems that The Umbrella Corporation has been taken over by a virtual intelligence called the Red Queen.
Note: the worst CGI in this series is for a computer-generated character

Umbrella and the Queen have captured Alice and cloned the crap out of her and a lot of other people (many we have seen in previous Resident Evil movies), running simulation after simulation, and using Alice's unique physiology (I think) to perfect the zombie disease.  Wesker wants to help Alice escape the of-course-it's-underwater Umbrella station she is in, so he sends in some help, in the form of Ada Wong (Bingbing Li).  All the two of them have to do is fight their way across three city-sized zombie experiments and meet up with Wesker's extraction team. 
That sounds easy enough

There are a lot of returning characters to Resident Evil: Retribution, but the acting is at the level the series is known for (hint: the bar is not set high).  This is actually Milla Jovovich's best work in the series to date, as she not only kicks ass and looks sexy, but she also manages to deliver a few one-liners.  It's not impressive work by most standards, but for an actress as wooden as Jovovich, it is worth noting.  How about the rest of the cast?  Well, there are some newcomers.  Bingbing Li is pretty and wore some fantastically inappropriate clothes for fighting zombies, but it all of her dialogue was dubbed over in post-production.  And it looked like it, too.
An evening dress is a solid choice for outrunning zombies, right?
Aryana Engineer was adequate as the completely useless little girl that Alice took with her, but she was less of a character and more of a plot device.  Johann Urb played Leon Kennedy, the main character from the fifth RE video game, and he has a little less characterization than your average video game character; in case his haircut bothers you, that was also inspired by the game.  Kevin Durand also plays a character from the games.  While his role in the movie seemed somewhat minor, I thought Durand did a solid job as an unnecessarily macho character.  The returning cast sees Sienna Guillory, Shawn Roberts, and Boris Kodjoe survive the last film, with Michelle Rodriguez, Oded Fehr, and Colin Salmon having their now-dead characters cloned, with Fehr and Rodriguez doing double duty as both "good" and "bad" clones. On the whole, there is less "acting" in this movie than there is "shouting until something explodes," but that is to be expected.  Nobody (except for Li) was embarrassingly bad, but this is a movie about a supermodel who fights zombies in a leather bodysuit --- good acting was never in the cards.
Thankfully, "posing with weapons" was

Luckily, writer/director was well aware of that fact, and made a movie that played to both the franchise's and his own strengths: CGI action sequences.  If you're looking for ninety minutes of mindless action sequences, Resident Evil: Retribution may be the film for you.  Anderson has a knack for making Jovovich look like a formidable action hero, and his production of action scenes is some of the smoothest in the business right now.  That doesn't make up for his shortcomings as a screenwriter, but at least he's not spending a lot of time trying and failing to have these characters force emotions or a lot of hammy jokes.  
Although a "women driving" line would have been good here

After watching this film with Danny O'D, we both reached the same conclusion with regards to Paul W.S. Anderson's talents: it's not that he's a good director or anything, but it is nice that he keeps making action movies for Milla Jovovich to be a sex object in.  She's not exactly old here, but how many other 37-year old actresses have this kind of opportunity to kill fake things and be ogled by audiences in genuinely profitable films?  The answer, obviously, is "not enough."  Hollywood has failed to generate a new generation of dumb action heroes as Stallone and Schwarzenegger have aged into irrelevance, so why not make some scripts for aging (by Hollywood standards) beauties that may or may not have acting talent?  Just retool an old Chuck Norris movie for someone like Jennifer Love-Hewitt or Jenny McCarthy and have them fight Communist zombie ninjas.  How hard is that?  It's obviously working for Kate Beckinsale.
Note: I would also watch Michelle Rodriguez fighting Nazi alien terrorists

Okay, so Resident Evil: Retribution isn't a legitimately good movie.  How is it in terms of action movies, or at least the other Resident Evil movies?  The action certainly looks good in Retribution, and there is an awful lot of it.  But there is also a lot of stupid plotting, despite the fact that this movie feels like an hour and a half of mindless action.  Did this story need to keep tabs on Leon Kennedy and the other gun-toting "characters" that were meeting up with Alice?  Absolutely not.  Did we need Alice to care for a child?  Lord, no.  How about changing the villain in the series out of absolutely nowhere?  That was only slightly less stupid than filling the cast with recognizable actors who were "only" clones, and therefore perfectly expendable.
  Look, the less attention you pay to this horrible excuse for a story (example: whatever happened to Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller after the last movie, anyway?), the better off you are.
More of this, less of deaf children
However, even glossing over the plot doesn't make this film a must-see.  The best action movies have cool heroes doing cool things that kill bad guys.  The action scenes in Retribution are very smooth and generally look pretty good and lots of bad guys die, but these scenes don't always make a lot of sense.  That wouldn't be a huge knock on the movie, but Alice is a dull heroine.  When you add zero charisma to nonsensical action and a terrible plot, you get a sub-par movie.  Still, this is a movie about a zombie-killing woman in a vacuum-sealed catsuit; it may not be great, but it at least plays up what it does well. 
Within the Resident Evil series, I would say that Retribution is slightly worse than Resurrection, but still a little better than Apocalypse.  Given the $220 million Resident Evil: Retribution has made, it looks like we'll be seeing a sixth Milla RE movie soon.  With any luck, it will be a little less idiotic and a little more sensational.  And then, most likely, we'll see a reboot two years later.

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