Friday, September 21, 2012

A Frank Review of "Resident Evil: Retribution 3D" (2012)

The Short Version? The Matrix with zombies in 3D. Yes, still. Moreso, even.
What Is It? Action-Horror
Who Is In It? Leeloo, Letty, Helen of Troy (TV version,) General Dix Hauser, Ardeth Bay, Will St. David, Ni Chang, Fred Dukes
Should I See It? Maybe.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think that the Resident Evil film series is a big stinky turd that doesn't even deserve proper reviews on geekcentric movie sites like CHUD and Ain't It Cool News, and those of us who don't want to be judged for our slummy affection. Well, that's a tad hyperbolic. There's probably a fairly slender sliver of the planet's total population that know what Resident Evil is and have any strong opinions about it. Sort of like how this movie's tagline is "Evil Goes Global," when 99% percent of it takes place in a single isolated complex. Cards on the table, this is an objectively bad series, but like an especially toxic street drug, it hooks into addicted users' pleasure centers in such a way that they don't care that the credibility of their opinions is covered in scabs and their taste is wasting away before their friends' eyes. Retribution is as pointless and nonsensical as its title, going deeper into the rabbit hole within its own navel. It will get the junkies lit as fuck, and send the uninitiated into a convulsing fit.

The title sequence involves an epilogue/prologue that picks up the threads of its predecessor, Afterlife, more directly than any prior episode in the series. This one actually illustrates the consequences of the series' typical cliffhanger ending, but of course more directly swipes the innovative trailer to the video game Dead Island without any of the nuance or obscured meaning that toyed with viewers' perceptions. Here, shit just runs slowly and backwards, which for a popcorn flick showcasing 3D gimmickry is perfectly acceptable. Clearly seeking to broaden its appeal, the action is emphasized and gore and nudity minimized. A lengthy monologue from series star Milla Jovovich offers the basics on Alice's story, illustrated by scenes from prior movie presented in chronological disorder and lean on detail. By this point, we should all know that Alice is the only person that matters in these things, and everyone else is zombie fodder or attempts to elicit some semblance of emotion from viewers through threat of same. No need to dwell on anyone else, so long as Alice looks sexy while fighting the evil corporation and/or monsters.

Returning to formula, the movie re-starts with another cold opening, because a fully oriented audience is more likely to catch the ever present plotholes. Alice gets involved in a restaging of the first scenes from Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, then gets really meta by spending much of the running time lifting from the original Resident Evil movie which is most noteworthy for being a completely unoriginal collection of swipes from other movies. It's like a samurai sword composed of derivation folded hundreds of times over into itself. I think writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson decided to summarize everything people loved about the film franchise to date and showcase it in 3D, without regard for the resultant literalizing of the rampant genre copycatting and its rendering nearly every prior plot point moot. Is it any wonder the Umbrella Corporation is utterly nihilistic when their resources are so vast that they could surely end the global epidemic if it wasn't so much fun, then repopulate the Earth with assembly line efficiency? Also, Anderson has reached the point of borrowing from such non-classics as Sucker Punch and the Matrix sequels, so a nonchalant viewpoint of genocide is understandable, and the lack of pretension elevates the thief above the victims. The world could have done without Newt II trading jackhammer jaws for tongues and facehuggers for robot spiders, but the imperiled kid doesn't get much screamtime, so it evens out.

While Milla never gets naked in this adventure, she's in her most luscious battle uniform to date, and there's a titillating tease early in. Milla remains head and shoulders the best actor on screen, but a reunion of favorites from early installments are welcome. Michelle Rodriguez is great fun in a dual role, neither of which being a duplicate of Rain. Oded Fehr has less to do, but does it well. Sienna Guillory never worked as Jill Valentine in Apocalypse, but she's fine as a totally unrelated blond amazon rarely referenced by name. Colin Salmon could have been the black James Bond, but instead has a smaller cameo here than he did in Devil's Playground. Boris Kodjoe's Luther West fares much more poorly here than in Afterlife, with Kevin Durand's Barry Burton getting all the moments that you would have expected from the returning character. Even J Pop Girl and the Japanese businessman are back from Afterlife. Johann Urb is execrable as Leon S. Kennedy, bearing virtually no resemblance to my favorite character from the games, nor any charisma to speak of. Bingbing Li on the other hand stepped right out of the game, although she and Shawn Roberts' Albert Wesker remind me of why a truly faithful adaptation of the voice acting from the games is more a comedic premise than a thrilling one.

The stunts and fighting choreography in this episode look swell, especially when contrasted against an all white background in certain sequences. Unlike most movies I see in 3D, the filmmakers maintain conscious recognition of the illusory depth of field throughout the running time. Where that sort of calculated reminder might distract from more civilized cinema, novel junk like Retribution demands that kind of attention to profitable detail. Thanks to poor planning, erratic schedules, boom and bust cycles, etcetera, the Resident Evil films may be the most comic book-y ever in their inconsistency, dated trend hopping (ooo-- dubstep,) fidelity to unwieldy concepts, and the overall effect of making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. By extension, the devoted should squeal over the fan service dutifully delivered here, while normal people will only shake their heads at our detachment from a meaningful shared reality.

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