Yes, another Resident Evil music video, er, movie. Beginning back in 2002, Paul W.S. Anderson (never to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson) decided to take on transitioning the classic survival horror 1996 Playstation game and exploding franchise to the big screen. The results, although providing some fan service, were mostly disappointing, as the movie was not taken on an angle of horror as much as a straightforward action film. Well, ever since then, there has been a “progressing” story (really it seems they make it up as they go along) of the evil Umbrella corporation and their control over the zombie apocalypse, which apparently according to this movie now contains all kinds of monsters straight out of Doom. Is it safe to say that the story only grows more preposterous with each sequel iteration? Yes. Is it safe to say that Anderson no longer has any real regard to making these movies match the video games in any sort of cohesive sensical regard? Yes. Is it safe to say that these movies have become an unwatchable horrific mess? Not entirely. Video games aside, the RE film series has established its place in the film industry as just ol’ fashioned stupid and brainless entertainment. And thankfully enough, this sequel still has enough direction to give us at least that much.
Retribution once again stars our slick and cool gorgeous heroine Alice (played by model Milla Jovovich…FYI to the RE noobs: Alice is a film-exclusive character), and it picks up right where the last film, Afterlife, left off. Yet if you think there is any sort of real connection story-wise between the last films, you will be sorely disappointed. Disappointing considering all the past films did have significant ties to the ones previous.
Alice opens clad in a skimpy top and underwear (at least we know the demographic aim here) as a typical suburban housewife with a husband and young daughter. Surprisingly enough, her husband is played by Oded Fehr, who was a soldier fighting the undead, helping Alice in the first three RE movies. The opening is akin to the remake of the Romero classic ‘Dawn of the Dead’ which released in 2004, where the undead are taking over suburban America. Of course this is some sort of “implanted” memory by Umbrella due to them using Alice as a project to test her as she was the only one immune to the T-virus. That virus being what Umbrella created that began the entire zombie mess. Here RE film fans will notice that yet again Alice still hasn’t changed the serious monotone expression on her face; but her slick looks make that more forgivable. Things go from weird to ridiculous as we learn that Alice is now part of a sort of computer program which puts her in program scenarios a la The Matrix in order for Umbrella and, sort of, villain Albert Wesker to see how she reacts to zombie attacks. Something that as been going on with Alice clones (yes, clones, made by Umbrella) to show these outbreak scenarios to other other nations, to SELL the virus to other nations, all for reasons completely unknown to us. Furthermore going back to Alice, a team of rescuers are sent (by Umbrella themselves for no reason whatsoever) to retrieve Alice and save her. Umbrella is now ultimately controlled by the Red Queen, a computer program with the voice of a young girl that has become self-aware is and bent on the destruction of the world. Why they keep testing Alice and send in reinforcements for her EXPECTING her to kill all the undead anyway is anyone’s guess. All of these scenarios and ideas were never even hinted at in previous films, which makes all of it harder to swallow than Yoda as a superhuman gymnast. Like I said, making it up as they go along.
Director Anderson sadly attempts to give the gamers some fan service by implementing classic RE characters Ada Wong, Leon Scott Kennedy, Jill Valentine, and Barry Burton, all giving absolutely horrific performances by what seem like B-movie actors from low budget 80s films. And when I say horrific, I mean, my gosh… but at least they all look good. Ok, moving on. In terms of fan service (nevermind, not moving on), these character backstories are nothing but an afterthought, and the actors do nothing to emulate the actual game characters except dress like them (in what seem like costumes more than outfits), and brand their names, with chemistry so bad I won’t even say it’s zero but right into the negative number line. And all for the *cough* attempt to bring in more game fans. Yet at this point we all know better. And again for the *eye roll* RE noobs, Leon and Barry never actually meet in any of the RE games, which makes this collaboration completely pointless, but at least we get to see Barry’s awesome revolver at one point (too short a scene at that); and chemistry between Leon and Ada is something that must be of value considering they have a very intriguing relationship in the games, so for it to be as bad as it is in Retribution is simply offensive to us longtime RE fanatics. Particularly in one last inane scene which proves to me that Anderson has never actually played an RE game in his life, but perhaps just heard of basic story elements from his friends who did. Anyway, we know what to take from these films – brainless, stupid fun, remember?
As we go on we get plenty of flashy explosions, gunfights, and disappointingly, not enough actual zombies. Instead, we get lots of zombie soldiers which look more like Nazi’s than anything else, perhaps those who died during Inglorious Bastards and need some extra cash. They run, jump, fire guns, swim, drive cars and motorcycles, and are even quite handy with an RPG. Zombie credibility in modern films has surely gone the way of the Dodo… I miss George Romero zombies. REAL zombies. Oh, and I guess in this world there are no zombies over the age of 30.
Now, to make the story even more preposterous, Umbrella sends a resistance to “kill” Alice, but they come in the form of former RE film characters (programs to give us some nostalgia, and Alice… some… nostalgia?), one including tomboy badass Michelle Rodriguez, who not only reprises her role as the soldier she played in the first RE film, but also as a suburban American who was programmed into that fake computer zombie simulation world (yes, two of her, not that I’m complaining, she actually looks really cute as her suburban self). Ironically, she’s an anti-gun activist who fought against the NRA, but now needs a weapon in order to survive (see Mr. Obama, this is why we need our assault rifles!). But a small twist here comes along when that little daughter Alice had in the beginning is back, and is there to instigate from us as the audience some sort of character compassion. Eh, doesn’t really work as things are too far-fetched and plain silly to begin with. In one funny scene, the little girl is captured by the licker monster and instead of being killed, is cocooned. Why not killed? Well, she’s a kid, you can’t kill a kid in a movie, that’s just mean! So anyway, more guns, more explosions, more stylized killings ensue, and all I have to say is, actually really well done slick looking entertainment. And that, thankfully, is Retributions’s saving grace.
We finish off in a final act of a bombastic fist fight when the “Las Plagas” virus is injected into a character giving them crazy super human strength, as well as the ability to take bullets with no damage, manipulate them mid-body, and release them through their fingertips. No, you didn’t read that wrong. That specific Plagas virus is simply shoehorned into the script as another dumb attempt at fan service to whoever played Resident Evil 4 (noobs, at least play Resident Evil 4, seriously, I’m sick of people asking me if the games came first. OF COURSE THEY CAME FIRST!!!). That last act is the best part of the film, and even though we don’t care much for these characters, I simply cannot deny that Anderson has gotten so good at directing stylized cool looking violence, that even if the rest of the movie is complete trash, it still holds itself up enough and doesn’t fail to entertain, if pointlessly. At least I was.
So we end the film and it becomes completely obvious that Anderson, after 5 films, can only go and give us 5 more, with sub-titles that will eventually get so confusing he’ll seriously have to start using numbers here. Actually, you know what, no, as using numbers will attach these too much to the games. Yet maybe at least sub-titles that have actual relevance to the story itself. And I for one am… honestly not upset about it. Why? Well, because even though any hope for a real survival horror RE film which gives the classic games their just do is at this point completely obliterated (perhaps JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon can collaborate for a reboot?), Milla Jovovich always looks great at Alice, and looks awesome kicking zombie butt, action is always fantastic looking, and the movies all look great lined up in my blu-ray shelf collection.
At the end of the day, what we have here is a brainless dumb action film, with gorgeous women (gimme more Jill Valentine, please), men, and action that looks very unrealistically clean and eye-pleasing. The action and cinematography looks so good in fact that the thing does give us a decently fun popcorn experience for an hour and a half despite its numerous flaws. Very numerous. Anderson also does have a talent for killer final establishing shots which tease for yet another sequel. Even after 5 films, the sequel teasers still are good enough to make me want to see where they go with this.
The presentation is great, and action has fun top notch production value. So if you can look past the ludicrous story, dumb characters, laughable acting, action that repeatedly defies the laws of physics, cheesy overused CGI, and face-palming chemistry, you can find a pretty fun experience buried underneath. It’s not a complete loss. Since I purchased the 3D version, and do plan on a 3D TV at some point in the future, I am excited to see how dumb my entertainment can get in three dimensions. At least this is watchable enough to warrant a 2nd viewing.
My tips to Anderson – STOP making these movies solely a visual contest of outdoing yourself and create actual character studies. Or at least ones with some sort of comic relief like the previous films. Since Jovovich and Anderson only got married during the last film, and this is their first film as a wedded couple, we can surely look forward to a slew of more films until Milla just get too old to do such impressive backflips. Oh, and STOP the CGI blood, it completely takes us out of the experience!
On technicalities, the blu-ray transfer is great, but there were a few scenes where grain was visible. A bit annoying but for the most part everything was clean and what you’d expect from a brand new blu-ray HD quality movie. It only helps that the film itself is so colorfully vibrant. Sound-wise, while things were balanced, many harder sounds like gunshots were a bit underwhelming. While I understand trying to keep a more balanced volume overall, many action fanatics may find it a bit disappointing. Still, the presentation does hold very well.
Behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes, game trailers, behind the scenes with a fan who plays as a zombie extra, and character backgrounds. Decent stuff that we probably did not need a 2nd disc for, but I’d rather pay for two discs than just one, especially since the artwork on them is so nice.
Final Verdict – I give this film 2 out of 4 umbrellas. As average as it may stand as a film, the action was good enough to warrant 2 stars and a… well, weekday night viewing. Save your Friday night for something better. May I suggest George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead from 78′?