Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

For F*** Magazine Singapore

Resident Evil: Retribution

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Li Bingbing, Johann Urb
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 97 mins
Opens: 13 September 2012
Rating: NC16 - Violence

Resident Evil: Retribution - ReviewVideo game movies have long had a bad rap, and one would be hard-pressed to name a flick based on a game that isn’t terrible, let alone any good. When one thinks of the bottom of the cinematic barrel, video game movies are often lining the base, from Super Mario Bros. to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. The Resident Evil film franchise is by far the most successful among video game films. That is, however, not to say these are good films by any stretch. Unfortunately, Retribution is nothing but further evidence of that. 
The film opens promisingly enough, with an interesting-looking-if-indulgent action sequence shown in reverse, of an assault on a freight tanker ship that results in the capture of Alice (Jovovich). She awakes in a high-tech prison cell as a captive of the Umbrella Corporation from the previous films, and it’s not long before her buddies come to break her out, characters such as Leon S Kennedy (Urb), Ada Wong (Li) and Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) numbering among them. Alice discovers her former ally Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) has been mind-controlled by the Umbrella Corp to turn against her, and unravels a conspiracy involving simulated arenas and mass cloning as she fights to preserve whatever’s left of the human race.

And then it’s pretty much downhill from there, the film proceeding to rip off all manner of science-fiction/action films that have gone before, relying on cheap tricks and lazy writing to shove the ‘story’ along, and concluding with an outright shameless bit of sequel baiting. Whatever life this franchise may have once had has well and truly been replaced with a sense of the undead. It’s rote, boring, and has an odd direct-to-video feel – at its worst, it gives off Uwe Boll vibes. We’re serious. For the uninitiated, the film includes an exposition dump near the beginning, with Alice talking directly at the camera, summarising the events of the previous movies while clips from those films play in the background. While it does provide some setup for those new to the series, it’s clunky, very on-the-nose, and just poorly-executed – setting the tone for what follows.

The Resident Evil films have gained a degree of notoriety among fans of the video games because Alice, the protagonist of the movies, is nowhere to be found in the games that inspired them. This has led many to the conclusion that it’s all an excuse for director Paul WS Anderson to show off his wife – and that he does once more in Retribution. It’s cold comfort to see other characters actually from the source material appear in the film, but the focus is still solidly on Alice and her scenes are even more proof that she’s nowhere as fun to watch as the others. Li Bingbing is so laughably stiff as Ada Wong that it’s not just bad acting – it looks like a parody of bad acting. The Becky character played by partially-deaf child actress Aryana Engineer, ostensibly a surrogate child for Alice to grow attached to as the film progresses, seems like a shameless rip-off of the Newt-Ripley relationship in Aliens, and to resort to putting a child in jeopardy to get a reaction out of the audience is a cheap and ineffective tactic. Michelle Rodriguez seems to be having the most fun out of the cast, playing “good” and “bad” cloned versions of her character, but even then she is prone to histrionics.

The film’s tagline, “Evil Goes Global”, is an utter misnomer. It is quickly revealed that the supposed globetrotting never takes place, and that locations such as New York, Tokyo and Moscow are merely simulated environments created by the Umbrella Corp to test their clones in – so it’s more like “Evil Goes Epcot Centre”. The action moves from each of these enclosures to the next, giving the film a videogame-like structure of multiple levels – a structure that just doesn’t work on the big screen. Our heroes run around level 1 killing zombies, then run around level 2 killing zombies, then have a car chase with zombies in level gets old really, really fast, and it almost seems as if the filmmakers actually intended to make audiences apathetic. There seem to be no emotional stakes, and while Alice and Co. get into jams fairly often, it won’t be easy to actually care.

All that said though, at least the 3D is employed effectively. There are several scenes where one can get a nice sense of depth looking down endless shafts and tunnels, and there is the occasional blade that flies out of the screen in quite convincing fashion. In a film like this one, it’s perfectly fine for the 3D to be gimmicky; it’s meant to be part of the fun. Ironically though, the good stereoscopic effects tend to expose the relatively weak CGI and visual effects work – you’re looking down a tunnel, sure, but you can easily tell the tunnel is made of computer graphics.

Ultimately, Resident Evil: Retribution is a very frustrating film to sit through. It’s not so much egregiously bad as it is a very, very unnecessary sequel, and it appears that absolutely nobody involved in this project put in any effort, instead content to churn out another mediocre instalment in their sleep. Also, the story goes nowhere, the whole film essentially setting up for yet another sequel. If Paul WS Anderson and co. wish to continue making these films, they had better rethink their strategy, because if this fifth instalment achieves anything, it’s in showing some sacred cash cows are probably better off slain.

SUMMARY: Resident Evil: Retribution clearly displays that the tired franchise has long outstayed its welcome, and that no matter how hard you try to kill it, it will still keep gnawing on your brain.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Jedd Jong


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