Review: RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION Dares to be Anemic and Shallow

Featured Critic; Portland, OR
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Review: RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION Dares to be Anemic and Shallow

Since Resident Evil: Retribution starts with a slow-motion battle scene shown in reverse, the easy joke to make is something about how the franchise is moving backwards. Usually it's best to avoid the easy jokes, but this film is such a lazy, uncreative, wheel-spinning debacle that to write a clever review of it would almost be inappropriate. If the movie's not going to put forth any effort, why should I?

The fifth entry in the perplexingly profitable video-game-based series, once again written and directed by franchise mastermind and renowned terrible filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson, has the thinnest story so far. That is perhaps why the 95-minute film starts with a credit sequence, a recap, and a simulation zombie attack -- all totaling 15 minutes -- before the story actually begins.

Truth be told, I was somewhat glad to have Alice (Milla Jovovich) face the camera and deliver a summary of what has happened so far, and not because I had forgotten (though that is also true). Her description of the events, illustrated by clips from the previous films, gives the impression that the previous films were exciting and fun. Knowing that to be untrue, I smile at the craftsmanship involved in making me think otherwise.

Retribution is set in a vast Umbrella Corporation facility in which Alice is being held prisoner, entirely naked except for two dishtowels tied to her front and back. Assisted by company-spy-turned-freedom-fighter Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), Alice acquires weapons and manages to slip into a more suitable outfit of skin-tight black rubber and lycra with a lot of buckles.

Ada and Alice are guided by Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), another corporate turncoat, who appears on a computer monitor to tell them what to do -- exactly the way a character in, say, a video game might do. Their mission is to reach a rendezvous point where a team of fellow resistance fighters will meet them.

Along the way, of course, there are a lot of zombies and monsters to shoot. To ensure that we enjoy these sequences as much as possible, Anderson presents them in slow motion. That's as far as he went, creativity-wise. Alice and Ada shoot zombies; meanwhile, the extraction team making their way to the rendezvous point also shoot zombies; meanwhile, Umbrella Corporation honcho Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, whose acting is so comically bad that I suspect even porn directors would not cast her) tries to prevent everyone from escaping.

The one thing Anderson does well is use the camera. Plenty of Retribution is mediocre even in that regard, but there are also moments of surreal, gleaming beauty amid the green screens, backdrops, and CG effects.

One thing he does not do well is write dialogue. (He also apparently lacks the ability to hire actors who can deliver it.) Whether it's Ada filling the role of perpetual exposition machine and explaining everything to Alice, or an ally arriving with a getaway car at the last second and coolly saying, "Waiting for a written invitation?," or somebody saying "The Red Queen knows we're here" immediately after the Red Queen announces that she knows they're there -- whatever the situation, you can bet Anderson has slapped together some inelegant, barely functional sentences to keep us informed.

"Can you get it back online?" asks one of the resistance fighters with regard to Umbrella's computer system. "Not without the access codes!" comes the reply. Yes, it's the classic "can you get it back online?/not without the access codes" exchange, as heard in dozens of other apathetic movies made by people who assume you don't care about the dialogue anyway.

Resident Evil: Retribution is for the hardest-dying diehard fans, the ones who have seen the other four movies and feel obligated to stick with it until it's over. Any unfortunate souls who wander in with no prior RE experience will wonder how something this anemic and shallow was ever popular. You and me both, friends.

Resident Evil: Retribution opens wide today in the U.S. and Canada. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.

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Paul W.S. AndersonMilla JovovichSienna GuilloryMichelle RodriguezAryana EngineerActionHorrorSci-Fi

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IronsSeptember 14, 2012 9:12 AM

To be fair, Sienna Guillory is a fine actress (and was pretty good in RE2) who is here given terrible lines and a muddled character arc. Paul W. S. Anderson would make Jack Nicholson sound like an amateur.
And though the RE films are goog guilty pleasures for me, I wonder why a classy and versatile actress like Li Bing Bing would chose such a film for her debut in Hollywood

Juan Andrés ValenciaSeptember 14, 2012 10:51 AM

I agree, he's not a very good writer (Event Horizon was amazing but that's it) but at least he haves a great visual style and his films aren't boring or annoying for 75% of their runtime (I'm looking at you Michael Bay).

As for Li Bing Bing... maybe she needed a english debut feature that wasn't particularly complex or elaborate.

And yes, I'm definetely watching this, since as you mentioned, they are entertaining guilty pleasures.

PeterKapowSeptember 14, 2012 11:26 AM

I've always found the RE films to be immense guilty pleasures. Anderson's films are always without pretension, and entertainingly stoic in their shlock.

His biggest problem is that his films always seem to tease a large set-piece without ever committing to fully executing them. He likes ending his films just at the precipice of a seemingly more exciting climax...
The only time this characteristic has ever really worked well for him is in the immortal Mortal Kombat's final moments.

Monsiuer HulotSeptember 14, 2012 11:52 AM

Agreed. Event Horizon was quality genre entertainment. Everything else
Paul W. S. Anderson has touched has been garbage. As noted in this
review, it is just stupefying that somehow this particular franchise has
made any money......yet it has.........alot of money........and they
just keep making them.........pumping out more and more milquetoast
garbage. Love, love, love the source material/video games.........but
the films couldn't be any farther from those games, in tone and
entertainment value. You really can't blame anyone, except for those
who keep paying to go to the theaters to see these "films". Dumb
audience, dumb films. The obvious comparison..........the market
audience for this franchise would seem to mimic the brain dead
antagonists of these movies.

VyceVictusSeptember 14, 2012 2:26 PM

The audience of these films is the same loyal fanbase of the games, so I dont know who you're really trying to insult. And really, the games can be gripping intense and visceral, but generaly speaking they franchise wears it's schlocky B-monster movie origins on i's sleeve. Shadow of the Colossus or even Metal Gear it ain't.)

ClumpySeptember 14, 2012 3:52 PM

Honestly, the moments of "surreal, gleaming beauty" and weirdly lateral approaches are pretty much what I'm on board for. A critic compared Resident Evil: Afterlife to Koyaanisqatsi, articulating the appeal I felt toward that film but couldn't explain up until that point. Somewhere between the murky, slow electronic music and slow motion rain and umbrellas of Afterlife's opening scene, the utterly silly and unexplained elements of the movie (why is Chris acting so suspicious if he needs to earn these peoples' trust? How did that big zombie get the enormous axe and bondage gear?), and the occasional artful use of 3D and set designs, I started to realize that this movie was actually BETTER because it was flawed.

It wasn't a masterpiece of visual design, acting, or really anything at all, but like Koyaanisqatsi the point was less the journey and more the fact that it's impossible to predict the next nonsensical bit of dialogue, unnecessary setpiece or completely random image (Alice pouring a bunch of quarters onto a desk and sorting them into uniform heights to be used as shotgun ammo, for example). I can only reflect a difference of experience - I thought that all big-budget action movies with Marines were as vapid and grating as Transformers, for example, but found G.I. Joe's absolute untethered lunacy really enjoyable.

DustinDoppsSeptember 14, 2012 4:41 PM

I'm not "dumb" and I watch these movies. I find it amusing when people think "If someone doesn't agree with me, they must be intellectually inferior!" It shows just how limited their own thinking is.

Trym JonsenSeptember 14, 2012 5:33 PM

Paul W. Anderson is the american equivalent to germany's Uwe Boll?

BelmontHeirSeptember 14, 2012 8:54 PM

Paul W.S. Anderson seems like he's reaching after the same critical and fan acclaim that guys like James Cameron and Chris Nolan receive, yet he just does not have a good script in him. He does have a pretty great eye for visuals, though, so he toils away and makes these halfway entertaining 3D B-movies every two years.

Keith LiSeptember 14, 2012 11:00 PM

I understand and actually somewhat agree with your point. But dumb people generally don't think they are dumb, so saying "I'm not dumb and I watch these movies" doesn't prove anything.
Also, having one smart person enjoying these movies do not disprove the statement "dumb films are supported by dumb audience".

DustinDoppsSeptember 14, 2012 11:18 PM

Would it make you feel better if I said something like "I'm not dumb - I graduated in the top of of my class at Harvard." or "I'm not dumb - I got a perfect score on my SAT's."?

I could make plenty of claims, but we don't really know each other so I can't really prove anything. Instead, why don't you take the fact that I can write in complete sentences with correct punctuation (and grammar and spelling...) as proof that I'm not dumb. Deal?

Trent DorkmenSeptember 15, 2012 7:27 AM

Movies are much like the people in my life. Some are flawed, some are beautiful, some are dumb, some are wonderful, and some are perfect and I enjoy them all. What a boring state would my life would be in if they were all the same.

JFLSeptember 17, 2012 6:18 AM

Dissing Paul W.S. Anderson is one of the lamest ways of trying to express ones alleged superiority in film taste. The reason why his films are so popular is because they are in their own way perfect, maybe even genius. They pose an ideal blend of fanboy pulp, pop cultural influences and high-brow self-reflexivity packaged in mainstream accessibility, which results in an refreshing anything-goes spectacle. A prime example is Resident Evil: Extinction which combines influences from Mad Max, Cyborg and even some tentacle-heavy hentai with the premise of zombie apocalypse, but plays all the elements not as a quote-spotting quiz for fanboys, but as highly accessible pulp for general audiences. Besides, he also makes some of the best videogame-films (along with Neveldine/Taylor) – not in terms of adaptations but in regard to absorbing the narrative principles and mechanics of videogames. Best examples are Death Race and the underrated DOA: Dead or Alive.

Hiroaki JohnsonSeptember 17, 2012 8:21 AM

He's British, unless you're talking who distributes his stuff.

Hiroaki JohnsonSeptember 17, 2012 9:20 PM

Nicely put.

Monsiuer HulotSeptember 20, 2012 3:16 PM

I love "schlocky B-monster movies". This franchise reflects Z-grade acting/writing/lack of entertainment, with big budget backing. And honest to god, I'm not trying to insult anyone, just stating my opinion. Me saying that the audience is dumb, in no way makes the audience any more or less dumb than they already were. They shelled out money to see the first, second, however many of these crap films there have been.......that is why we have another one. That is why this director is still making "movies". In my opinion, yeah that's real dumb. Also, I would definitely challenge the statement that "the audience of these films is the same loyal fanbase of the games". That doesn't account for any of the mainstream movie-goers who are pulled in by every trailer that has fast editing and mainstream/abysmal metal put to it. These movies are in the same league as any Uwe Boll video game movie.

Monsiuer HulotSeptember 20, 2012 3:22 PM

Alright, I take it all back. The audience for these films is entirely made up of intellectuals and geniuses. The Resident Evil series is the crowning achievement of cinema, and puts both Citizen Kane and....and....Vertigo to shame.

Todd BrownSeptember 20, 2012 4:32 PM

I know people that have done special effects on Paul WS Anderson films and LITERALLY the only note they ever got back from him was "Make it dumber." I am not making this up.

VyceVictusSeptember 20, 2012 5:37 PM

Right, I was referring to the game franchise as being cheesey as well, not just the movies. As far as target audience goes, they both are aiming for the teen boy blow shit up demographic, they always were. As much as you might love the games, there really wasn't any deep thematic through-line in any of them, so why expect the movie to have one. It seems the natural extension, not a betrayal of the source material.

george 11October 5, 2012 7:30 PM

WOW! its so "easy" to say that Sienna Guillory was bad -especially when she litterally had only a couple of lines in the whole movie!! Why i even read this thing...? i don't fucking know!So pathetic.