To say that Paul W S Anderson’s series of Resident Evil films is bad would be generous. They’re mostly glorified fan fiction, increasingly expensive appropriations of an already too-large series of zombie video games, adapted into CG heavy spectacle starring Milla Jovovich as the world’s most infamous Mary Sue. But they’ve always made money, for some reason, and that’s automatically made them the most successful game adaptations around, especially in franchise form. So now we land in movie five, where most franchises have already long since died or gone straight to DVD.
What’s interesting is that Resident Evil seems to not only be carrying along same as ever, but picking up steam. Like every movie, Retribution opens with a recap narrated by Alice (Jovovich), an Umbrella-agent-turned-psychic-superhero who has been the heroine through the past four movies. These recaps are absolutely necessary, because if you’re like me you bother to watch these movies once when they hit theaters (if that) and then forget about them until the next one comes out. And even then, the recap is hitting ridiculous lengths: a full five or six minutes of the 95 minute movie is spent telling you what happened in prior films. That’s to say nothing of the exposition dropped in the movie itself once it gets moving. This is just the cover charge.
So the movie begins where the last one (Extinction? Does anyone remember these subtitles without looking?) ended, with Alice fighting a whole army on a boat. That concept is quickly dispensed with in the opening credits to get everyone moving, and Alice is deposited once again in a nondescript Umbrella facility, dressed once again in some form of not-quite-revealing paper gown that manages to evoke The Fifth Element without actually evoking The Fifth Element. This sequence, involving sound torture and a strangely abstract passage of time, quickly descends into a sort of art film version of Resident Evil where these movies are not only good, but they’re visually stunning on the level of a 2001 (or more just Cube 2: Hypercube). Nobody gets mileage out of white featureless hallways like the lesser Paul Anderson.
Soon enough she sheds the paper dress for this year’s model of vaguely fetishistic battle wear and proceeds to run afoul of laser grids and a strange constructed Tokyo environment nestled deep in an underwater Umbrella facility. A bunch of exposition later, and the story of this film becomes clear: Alice is locked deep in Umbrella HQ, the Red Queen computer is running the show, and she and Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) have to fight their way through a bunch of themed testing areas and increasingly strange sets of bioweapons if they’re going to escape to join Wesker (who I thought died in the last movie, but what do I know?) to form the last stand of human resistance. And somewhere along the way a bunch of other people from prior movies (and the games) show up, including Leon Kennedy (finally!) and Barry goddamn Burton (Kevin Durand, who is way too buff to play Barry, which means he’s perfect).
If all this sounds like nonsense to you, if you don’t know what Umbrella is or who the Red Queen is or what/who a Wesker might be, then welcome to the biggest problem with this whole franchise: it’s an increasingly obtuse series of movies based only loosely on games that themselves have wikis devoted to explaining their stories. The one two punch of obfuscation means that tons of time is devoted to exposition, and even then you feel kind of dragged along for a ride that doesn’t quite make sense so much as stuff happens and you become so numb to it that you stop questioning the plot holes because down that road lies true madness.
Which is to say that this is also, like the rest, not a great movie. But somewhere along the line something changed in these movies. This is the first movie in this series to come out in a post Sucker Punch world, and I feel like it shows. The movie embraces video game logic in a way the series never has, giving us a clear map and a set of themed stages, each with a new type of monster, for our heroes to go through on their way to their goal. And even the monsters are delineated with a flair for ignoring genre: soldiers dressed like faux nazis, massiveCG monsters, 10 foot tall giants rampaging down Times Square, Soviet zombies carrying rocket launchers, modern fast zombies with weird maw-faces (I know they’re from Resident Evil 4, but they’re still basically a riff on Blade II). In just going for not making much sense, the film becomes more visually rich.
But unlike Sucker Punch, Resident Evil: Retribution manages to avoid the gross sexualization that sank Snyder’s adolescent action wonderland. Alice and Ada are both made up like they’re going out cosplaying, sure, but all the focus is made on them looking badass and none of it on gratuitous male gaze filmmaking. And Jovovich, still throwing down the action gauntlet as she approaches 40, has carved out a successful action franchise predicated almost solely on how cool she looks shooting guns and murdering creatures without showing a whole lot of skin. There’s a restraint to what becomes an essentially women-dominated movie that’s refreshingly progressive without throwing up a sign announcing it (like a certain Lady Expendables that they keep threatening us with).
By the end of the movie, the major fight involves Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sienna Guillory all throwing down, and it isn’t even mentioned as a big deal. Even Rodriguez, who has banked her entire career on too-easy tough lady stereotypes, manages to get a weirdly rounded role that allows her to do some comedy before she punches a man so hard his heart stops beating. While everyone else is off wringing their hands, if nothing else Paul W S Anderson has given us a successful franchise with a woman front and center, and even if it isn’t always good there’s a unity of vision that most franchises have long since lost by this point.
So while Resident Evil: Retribution isn’t a great film, and it’s certainly not going to win over anyone who wasn’t already on board this weird train into insular fandom, there’s a certain freedom to going so deep down the rabbit hole that brings it out onto the other side into almost-greatness. I have a bunch of fun with these movies, knowing full well they’re messes through and through. And the movies themselves know it: this movie, despite supposedly again being the ‘last one’, is predicated on a cliffhanger so ridiculous that I’m ready, right now, to sit down and see what’s next. How many franchises can say that as they creep towards a half dozen films?
Note: Since the movie was shot in 3D, I saw it in 3D. This was a giant waste of money, since like the previous movie, there’s almost nothing that bothers to make use of the technology and everything that does is a hokey ‘throw something at the screen’ gag that was old years ago. Save yourself some bucks, treat yourself to a small candy, or give it to a bum outside the theater. Anything short of burning it would be a better way to spend that upgrade charge.
|news||DVD/Blu-Ray: December 18th||staceywi|
|review||A HAREM CONSISTING ENTIRELY OF MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ. (4 out of 5)||The_Raddest|
|review||If you loved the previous films, you will love this. (4 out of 5)||MasterPr0phet|
|news||Trailer: Resident Evil: Retribution||staceywi|
|forum||Trailer: Resident Evil: Retribution||staceywi|
|forum||Tron in Resident Evil||Sgtpierceface|
|news||Sony Presents Resident Evil: Sony Retribution, Presented By Sony, Starring Sony||Rorie|
|forum||Sony Presents Resident Evil: Sony Retribution, Presented By Sony, Starring Sony||Rorie|
|Name||Resident Evil: Retribution|
|US Release||Sept. 14, 2012|
|UK Release||Sept. 14, 2012|
|AUS Release||Sept. 13, 2012|
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|Alias(es)||Resident Evil 5|