Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Movies - Resident Evil Retribution review

Milla Jovovich Michelle Rodriguez Sienna Guillory Resident Evil


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Aryana Engineer,  Li Bingbing, Michelle Rodriguez, Johann Urb
Running Time: 95 mins

Reading the gaming community's reactions to the recently released Resident Evil 6 demo makes me wonder whether Capcom are slowly trying to transform their game series into something closer in tone to Paul W.S. Anderson's movies. The games started out as relatively slow paced survival horror, based in and around single locations which, for all the unashamed absence of real-life logic, were a puzzle unto themselves. This might have been the case for the movies too, except horror supremo George A. Romero was fired after the studio disliked his version of the script, which stuck closely to the games' mythology. Anderson was the man to replace him, and discard virtually everything from the games (bar the villainous Umbrella Corporation, existing here in name only) in favour of a global-scale, high-tech action arms race.

Capcom's Resident Evil 6, meanwhile, appears to have also abandoned its roots in favour of a flashier approach. Resi 4 was the first to push the series closer to action than horror, but 6 increases the character count, broadens the scale of the threat, and significantly heightens the action. Fans are complaining that the series has lost any trace of its identity. By contrast, Anderson's movies know exactly what they are and who their audience is, and have settled into a rhythm which allows them to make good on their modest goals.
The first thing you have to know about Resident Evil Retribution is that not a single minute of it makes a lick of sense. Even the title is meaningless, since no-one at any point performs any action which could in any way be described as retributive. Characters from the game appear, dressed in completely inappropriate outfits - Ada Wong wears her skimpy red dress throughout, despite the movie being set entirely in the Arctic - but are given nothing to do except act as a fop for anyone paying a visit off the back of the games. The plot appears to have been written for the single purpose of pushing protagonist Alice from one action sequence to the next, and though she's described as having lost her powers as a genetically-enhanced warrior, fights in the same hyper-stylised way as she has in the four prior movies.
For a story which could be scribbled down on a napkin and still leave room to spare (Alice has to escape an underwater Umbrella base), there's a staggering quantity of superfluous material, notably the addition to the cast of a little girl with a maternal link to Jovovich's heroine. She's also deaf, which is also true of Engineer in real life, although this creates a number of its own continuity problems: if Umbrella is cloning these people (if that sounds like a spoiler, it's immediately obvious what's happening - plus, you're watching the wrong movie if you care about these things) to gauge the reactions of the general populace to zombie invasion, surely a deaf child would be considered somewhat atypical? And where did Alice, the 'real' Alice as opposed to cloned 'mother' Alice, pick up sign language from? The mother-child dynamic is clearly supposed to evoke Aliens, right down to an unfortunate and inexplicable climactic cocooning, but never has a shred of relevance to what is going on.

I'm ashamed to say I slightly enjoyed the movie regardless, although can't work out whether this is due to any merits on its part or my peculiar affinity for really stupid movies. At least one thing working in its favour is Anderson's handling of the action sequences. It'd be a stretch to call him an artist - if anything, he's a competent technician - but it's still a relief to see someone shoot action with a still camera and the actors' full bodies occasionally in frame for the benefit of the choreography. His placement does lead to some difficulty in spatial awareness, working out who is attacking from which direction and where, but it's easy to keep up with the fights in terms of the action beats. When such sequences take up almost the entire running time, that basic level of competence becomes a matter of vital importance.

As with many so-bad-it's-good movies, there's an endearing flavour to Retribution's stupidity. I love how Albert Wesker (turned into a good guy, for whatever reason) looks exactly like the cheesy '80s villain he was in the early games. His line delivery is fantastically smarmy, his hair looks like it has been slicked back with superglue, his sunglasses never come off, and when Alice finally meets him in person, his body movements seem to mimick the stiff animation of early-90s gaming. Sienna Guillory's Jill Valentine is equally compelling, because the actress seems to lack even the foggiest idea of how to deliver a line. She pitches every single one at completely the wrong tone, and subsequently makes her every appearance a gem.
The character has also been transformed into the mind-controlled Jill from the Resi 5 game, one of many out-of-place nods to the game series which has been steadfastly ignored to date. Supposedly it's because fans have been demanding it whenever Anderson goes to promote his movies at conventions, and for that he deserves credit. If he's going to make brainless actioners, at least he's showing an interest and respect for his audience, which is more than can be said for the Transformers or Pirates Of The Caribbean franchises at this point. Admittedly, the likes of Leon Kennedy and Barry Burton are only there for the sake of making those acknowledgments, and a few small in-jokes (their famous costumes are recreated and yes, Barry has his revolver), have nothing substantial in common with the characters from the games. More difficult to work out is why old characters from previous movies return, such as Michelle Rodriguez and Colin Salmon, as it's hard to imagine anyone being invested enough in them to care. It's probably just for names on the poster, although at least Rodriguez gets the rare honour of dying several times in the same movie.

The only fair way to judge a movie like Retribution is to ask this question: would I enjoy it if I were drunk and munching a takeaway? Critics might turn their noses, but the answer is yes. The action's constant and passably directed, there's hilariously bad acting by the metric tonnage, it's visually varied - the Umbrella base allows for holographic simulation, so the movie bounces from suburban streets to New York to Tokyo and beyond - and doesn't outstay its welcome. I like how the villain is a huffy six-year old girl, and the threat level of creatures from the games is increased by no more refined means than turning them gigantic. Anderson's previous movies have tended to be fun in theory, but a slog in practice, and Retribution at least has a bit of zip. Its goals could not be set any lower, and if you aren't drunk, it almost certainly isn't worth your time. That said, it's occasionally amusing and never boring or insulting (there's a big difference between being stupid and holding your audience in contempt), and never pretends to be anything but the lowest-common-denominator entertainment it is. Fine by me. [ 6 ]

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