Thursday, September 20, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution - Theatrical Review

Release Date: September 14, 2012

Alice has returned to dual wield her way through hordes of the undead and other monstrosities as she once again must fight her way out of yet another underground facility.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 16 Tyler Galleria
Time: 12:01 am September 14, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 56 min
Studio: Sony Pictures

Loves: The Resident Evil video game franchise, zombies
Likes: Horror films, action films
Neutral: The entire cast of all the Resident Evil films
Hates: The Resident Evil films
Fact: There is supposedly only going to be one more of these things....thank goodness.

After a very shameful and confounding ad placement for Capcom's next big entry into the "Devil May Cry" video game series (why not for "Resident Evil 6" due out in less than 3 weeks?), we find Alice (Milla Jovovich) living the simple life in rural suburbia with her husband and little girl. Problem is that this meek existence isn't real and neither are half the things you were led to believe about this fifth installment into a series that has long outstayed its welcome.

In a strange way, the "Resident Evil" films have begun to actually mimic their video game brethren, but that isn't a good thing in this case. Just like the popular game franchise, the films have lost their way and don't know what they are supposed to be or where they are supposed to go anymore. Eschewing its horror roots, these now more action oriented films are seemingly stuck in a narrative loop that goes nowhere, they can't even come up with original ideas anymore and must re-use characters and plots from the previous entries.

Suburban life ain't like it used to be.

Things do start off well enough though with a rather clever and well executed opening sequence where we see the conclusion of a very elaborate set piece but all done in a reverse time cycle. While not very original, it is shot in such a way where the reveals had more impact when shown in that manner and it certainly looked cool. Unfortunately (and you will see that word used a lot during this review) the effect is lessened when we eventually see the scene play out in real time and the film begins to fall back into a woefully predictable pattern of kill then move forward, kill some more and move forward again, but instead of moving forward it is sadly staying safely in the same place it has been in for the past three films now. But that seems to be the theme of "Resident Evil: Retribution" (RE:R from this point forward), clever set ups with decent execution but horrible follow through and a total lack of logic.

Those thrill seekers looking for a boat load of action will still find many things to keep their interest in what is going on in "RE:R", others however will find themselves lost in a sea of confusion as even the extremely long-winded opening narration doesn't do a damn thing to introduce any of the characters or events in a comprehensible fashion. Fans of the series will no doubt have little trouble keeping up with the convoluted and poorly constructed string of events that go down, but this series seems to only be catering to the hardcore fans anymore and has decidedly chosen to limit itself to their rabid fandom. In short, if you have never seen a "Resident Evil" film before (even if you are familiar with the games) you are better off just skipping this all together.

Is it me or does that evil red robot on her chest really bring out her eyes?

The backdrop this time around centers on (possible spoiler for anyone who cares) this gigantic underwater facility that supposedly was the testing grounds for the evil corporation Umbrella before the outbreak. Large sections of famous cities such as Moscow and New York have been recreated to astounding (and unbelievable) perfection, complete with a few thousand clones to populate them with for their tests. The reasoning behind this is explained away as some sort of auction house, where Umbrella would demonstrate their biohazard material to the highest bidders, but let's face it, this entire set up is simply to create a plausible scenario (which it isn't) to bring back some long dead and forgotten characters/actors.

Returning from the grave are some familiar faces like Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), One (Colin Salmon) and Carlos (Oded Fehr) while other surviving fan favorites also return such as Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts). Even some brand new characters show up to make their feature film debuts, Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb), Ada Wong (Li BingBing) as well as one of the granddaddies of the video game franchise, Barry Burton (Kevin Durand). They all help to make this the most jam packed spectacle for "Resident Evil" fans so far which makes the absence of the Redfields, Chris (Wentworth Miller) and Claire (Ali Larter) sort of puzzling, especially considering they were with Alice at the end of the last film.

Whoah! Check out that 3D!

With so many recognizable characters it's unfortunate (there's that word again) then that writer/director Paul WS. Anderson still approaches each of these films as though he was given a list of key characters from the games and asked to throw them in somewhere. Not only has their inclusion been problematic since the outset (the original film did not feature any known characters from the franchise), but the timeline of the films has always been out of sync with the timeline of the games which in turn has all the characters being tossed in haphazardly. Most easy to please casual fans will be happy that their favorite character(s) was included at all, but true fans will scoff at the lack of love they are given and anyone else will just view them as poorly implemented and disposable side characters which is unfortunate.

Alice is still the frontrunner for the films though as she once again feels the need to dual wield everything and kill everything she comes across. It's odd how after five films now that she still seems to lack any real sort of identity or dimensionality beyond her need to take down Umbrella for using her as a lab rat. In one of the films more successful moments we get to see a representation of a zombie outbreak in downtown suburbia (the "Dawn of the Dead" remake did this much better) but that entire sequence is more or less just an elaborate set up to give Alice a new challenge to conquer, being a mother. Faced with this new reality of suddenly becoming a mother and protector, she no longer must fight to save herself, but also the life of this little girl.

Leon warms up to Alice a bit.

As ridiculous as this sounds, it isn't handled nearly as poorly as you might think, but it still reeks of a last ditch effort to humanize a character that up to this point has only existed to kill shit. This story arc of having a woman forced to protect a little girl and having her paternal instincts kick in is a noble attempt to add some much needed dimension to her character ("Aliens" did that story arc much better as well). but it all comes off as feeling extremely half baked and underdeveloped in the end which is unfortunate because these films really could use a change of pace or some new angles.

The series as a whole has been on a steady decline in quality from the get go though (and never had a great start to begin with). The last film, "RE: Afterlife", was quite honestly one of the most atrocious movies in the series, so it isn't too much of a surprise that this one felt a little more solid. The story is a complete retread of the first film (the Red Queen returns to torment Alice and her companions once again), the gimmick of bringing back many of the characters from the past films works but doesn't really add anything new to the mix and there is of course a ton of over the top action with explosions everywhere done in typical slow motion to maximize the coolness that fans of the series crave.

Hold on, is that Alice dual wielding there?....yep, sure is.

But it all still feels very stale and inconsequential, mainly due to how many times we have been at this point before with Alice battling, killing and destroying some evil scientist/computer/mutation, getting captured and having to break free. These films are supposed to be about the end of the world, yet it feels like we have been at the brink by the end of each entry only to restart again in the next one.

It's a tough call but if you found yourself entertained by the previous installments in this series then chances are you will have a decent enough time with this one too. Just don't expect anything else beyond what the series is known for and you should be just fine. Everyone else however should steer clear and just go play the video games instead, they are much more entertaining in every way possible.





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