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Sunday, May 26, 2019

VIDEO GAME MOVIE MONTH: Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

You can really tell where the priorities of the “Resident Evil” films are by looking at their posters. What did the graphic designers, paid to create the promotional material for these movies, choose to emphasize? Was it the zombies? The monsters? Brave heroes hiding from unspeakable horrors, waiting in dark rooms? Nope! Instead, every single main one-sheet in this series is devoted to Milla Jovovich posing with a gun. The exact number and size of the gun or guns varies but, otherwise, all the elements are present. “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth entry in this improbably long-running franchise, was no different in that regard. The posters tell you nothing else about this movie other than Alice is a gun-toting bad-ass standing against evil forces in a post-apocalyptic world. Hey, people bought it the last four times. Why mix things up now?

The heroes’ victory against Albert Wesker and the Umbrella Corporation last time was declared prematurely. Alice and her friends are attacked and she is captured. She awakens in a massive Umbrella testing facility, a former Soviet submarine base under the Siberian ice. The Red Queen program is now in control of Umbrella and is determined to destroy all of humanity. The human resistance, ironically led by Wesker, sends Ada Wong to rescue Alice. Now, the two must fight their way out of the giant compound, fighting zombies, monsters, and a team of evil clones led by a brainwashed Jill Valentine.

Since the second film, interesting ideas have existed within the “Resident Evil” films, struggling to survive against the juvenile action impulses that primarily drive the series. “Retribution” is no different in that regard. The fifth film really runs with the concept of clones, allowing familiar faces — such as Michelle Rodriguez’ genuinely bad-ass and much missed Agent Rain — to return. By the end, even Alice is unsure if she’s the original or not, presenting interesting ideas about identity the film in no way addresses. “Retribution” is also one of the few video game movies that uses a game-like structure in a positive way. Alice and Ada work their way through a number of testing areas, based off various famous cities. This allows the story to keep moving but makes the setting varied in a way the other movies were not. Even Paul W. S. Anderson’s direction is getting better in some ways. The film opens with a pretty cool reverse sequence, showing Alice and friends falling to a sneak attack by Umbrella.

Another common habit of the series, by now, is the inclusion of a scene that actually functions like a zombie movie, in-between countless shots of Alice being a God-mode action hero. After that reverse motion opening and a lengthy “Previously on Resident Evil” montage, there’s a sequence of Alice living an idyllic suburban life with a husband and a daughter. This peaceful existence is suddenly interrupted by the zombie apocalypse, forcing normal-person Alice and her daughter to sneak around, flee, and fight in a more panicked, realistic manner. Though a blatant rip-off of the opening from Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead,” down to certain shots being replicated, it’s an effective sequence. It also gives us some rare insight into Alice’s personality, suggesting this stern-faced mega bad-ass secretly longs to be a normal person. The rest of the movie resists this character development — aside from a few quibs, Alice remains a soulless killing machine — but it does keep the daughter around, allowing Milla Jovovich to show some human empathy for once.

No matter what little growth “Retribution” allows the “Resident Evil” franchise, this is still a Paul W.S. Anderson film. The action scenes and direction remain dumb and over-the-top in the least charming way possible. Slow-motion is continually abuse. The movie frequently stops cold for lengthy sequences of Alice killing zombies with a chain whip, double-shooting while leaping through the air, or doing backwards somersault kicks. (Keep in mind, she's not suppose to have super powers anymore.) As with the previous entry, “Retribution” was filmed in 3-D. So you sure as fuck know there is a shit ton of bullets and other stuff – giant axes, cars, chainsaws – flying into the audience's eyes. Anderson loves this shit so much that one moment has a bullet flying towards the screen, which then explodes into smaller bullets.

Ada Wong, by the way, somehow manages to move faster than these projectiles. Because, of course, the action scenes are dumb as shit. Characters drive a Rolls-Royce into a subway tunnel and it still works afterwards. Alice and Ada explode a car inches from their faces but are not burnt. A new breed of zombie, that can operate vehicles and fire guns, are introduced, essentially making the undead identical to regular action movie mooks. It all leads up to another protracted ending that exists just to set up the next film, “Retribution” practically concluding with “To Be Continued!” flashing on-screen. The movie's typical Anderson-esque dumbness can be best summed up in one moment. Before Alice and the mind-controlled Jill face off, Valentine activates her weapon: A telescoping spear that keeps on telescoping until little claws pop out of the ends. Because everything must be taken to its most kewl, most x-treme conclusion.

“Retribution” does earn some points for being the “Resident Evil” movie with the most characters from the games in. Jill, Ada, Wesker, Leon Kennedy, and Barry Burton all have fairly prominent roles. (“Resident Evil 4's” Las Plagas virus is also referenced, though the film version is totally different.) Part five is right around the time public opinion seems to have shifted on the “Resident Evil” series. All my hardcore movie friends started to praise the films as trashy fun, when previously they were only referred to as aggressive nonsense. As someone who loves trash, I just can't see it. “Resident Evil: Retribution” is an exhaustively excessive and senseless film. It is better than the first and second entry in the series though, which is something, I guess. [5/10]

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