September 16, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

Resident Evil: Retribution is the stupidest movie ever made. My list of worst movies puts the four previous films collectively in the number five spot for worst movie in the history of humankind, the universe, and all matter and energy. Yet somehow, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson managed to make the 5th film even worse. I know people who hate Anderson's Alien vs. Predator because the movie's so dark you can't see anything in it. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) is what happens when an Anderson movie isn't dark enough to hide how hard it sucks.

Now, I've noted that the only fun to be had from a Resident Evil film is figuring out which film it's ripping off. Part 1 is Aliens with zombies and steals Blade's original denouement. Part 2 is a clone of Escape from New York. Part 3 is a retread of The Road Warrior. Part 4 is a badly-Xeroxed copy of The Matrix. This installment, however, is the most rip-off-errific of all. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, stitched together from bits and pieces of better films. It plays like a film school project: Put as many homages to other films into your movie as possible, only without any of the skill or artistry of the films you copy. The movie tosses in these steals at random, with no rhyme or reason beyond "I saw a talented filmmaker do this once in a film that was good", even when it's completely out of place.

For instance, the opening sequence is a direct steal from Memento. Yes, Memento, that action movie classic. Remember the opening sequence, in which Leonard's shooting of Teddy is played in reverse? (If you don't, by God man, go watch Memento again.) Paul W.S. Anderson does, because he starts his movie with a pale imitation of it that's only in the movie because he saw Memento and thought, "Showing things in reverse looks cool!"

"You're a big jerk, Carl Eusebius!" I hear you shouting to no one as you brush the Cheetos dust from your neckbeard and heave your enormous bulk forward to reach the keyboard to type out your absurd complaint on a blog no one reads. "Anybody can use reverse motion. It doesn't mean he ripped off Memento. That movie doesn't have a single shot of someone flying through the air whilst firing two guns! Who'd rip off that arthouse crap?"

Well, take a gander at this, my basement-dwelling friend! The opening sequence of RE5 consists of numerous flying thingies that are really, really trying to be the hunter-killers from The Terminator attacking a giant barge:
 1. The main character Alice, in reverse time, catches the pistol she tossed aside, just like the main character, Leonard, in Memento.
2. A spent casing, in reverse time, flies back into the chamber of the gun, just like in Memento.
3. Immediately after the entire sequence is shown in reverse slo-mo, it's then shown forward in normal time, just like...yeah, that's right, in Memento.
4. Oh, and this entire reverse sequence takes place while the credits are being shown; after the credits end, it's shown forward, just like...are you getting the picture now?
Watch these sequences back to back and tell me I'm wrong. No, really, I dare you. Ha! Sucker, that would mean you watched two minutes of Resident Evil: God's Judgement Upon a Doomed World.

By the way, the film opens with Anderson taking "A Film By" credit. This is no mere movie that Mr. Anderson was hired to shoot quickly and cheaply. No sir, this is "A Film By Paul W.S. Anderson". Take that, Hitchcock!

The film then segues into a recap of the earlier films to bring new viewers up to speed, a recap that's hilariously stupid for several reasons. First, since the movie is an epic 95 minutes long, you've got to burn up time somehow. This sequence does that, eating up at least 5 minutes of screen time showing Milla Jovovich narrating things most of the people watching this film already know. I mean, how many people thought to themselves, "You know, I skipped the first four Resident Evil films, but man, this fifth one just looks dynamite!" Zero, that's how many. The second funny thing is that for some reason some of this footage is re-shot, and some isn't. They got a number of the original actors from the first film back, but because it's been 10 years since that film was made, the actors are noticeably older in these re-shoots. The third and most triumphant aspect of this sequence is that it doesn't tell you anything you need to know. You find out about all these events from the first four films that have no impact whatsoever on this one, and you don't find out why the attack on the barge in the opening sequence was taking place! That kind of incompetence deserves a reward. How do you shoot a recap to explain what's going on for new viewers without explaining the unexplained battle that opens the film?

I'm being pedantic, of course. These films lack continuity of any sort. Oh, each film begins where the previous film's sequel bait ends, but events never follow logically from one film to another. (Well, events don't follow logically within each film, either.) Part I ends with Alice escaping the Hive where the zombies first appear in the nick of time before it permanently seals shut, only to see Part II begin with the Hive being re-opened. (I guess "permanently sealed" doesn't mean what I thought it means.) Part II ends with Alice seemingly having been programmed to work for the evil Umbrella Corporation--leaving  us with the cliffhanger "Project Alice activated" and Alice's irises changing into the Umbrella symbol--but Part III completely drops this plot thread, with Alice heroically fighting zombies as she always does. Part III ends with a shot of hundreds of Alice clones, every single one of which is destroyed in the opening sequence of Part IV. The last film ends with Alice and her friends sailing around on the barge offering sanctuary to any survivors of the zombie apocalypse and, as noted, this film begins with the barge being sunk!

Unlike the movie itself, I'll tell what you actually need to know from the previous films: Alice (Jovovich), the main character of the series, is an employee of Umbrella Corporation (essentially all multinational corporations fused into one--just go with it). Umbrella gave her superpowers so director Anderson could shoot Matrix rip-off action sequences and amnesia so writer Anderson didn't have to bother writing her backstory. Umbrella's favorite thing to do with its seemingly limitless power and wealth is to conduct illegal and highly silly experiments on human beings, like giving them superpowers, turning them into zombies, and turning them into zombies that have superpowers. One of their many, many experimental centers was The Hive, a massive underground complex built underneath Raccoon City. Scientists in the Hive created the T-virus that (wait for it) turns people into zombies, and when it started infecting Hive residents, Alice and some cannon fodder were sent into The Hive to investigate. To make a long story short (too late), the virus eventually got out of the Hive and spread all over the world. Civilization collapsed, and five years later the tiny remnants of humanity wage never-ending gun battles against 28 Days Later rejects despite there being no existing civilization to produce bullets. Also despite the collapse of human civilization and near-extinction of humankind, Umbrella not only continues to operate its extensive network of massive underground research facilities but also refuses to abandon its study of virus outbreaks in major cities that no longer exist. In fact, it continues to clone people for this very purpose, which is handy for the filmmakers in case they want to bring back people who died in earlier films.

As noted, Alice has the power to shift into the Matrix so that she can punch harder, run faster, jump higher, and shoot more accurately than any human being possibly could. In Part II she is injected with...uh, some red stuff that gives her even super-er superpowers, including both psionic powers and the power to instantly kill an entire platoon of masked machine gun-wielder stormtroopers when the director gets bored with all the Matrix-fu. In Part IV the villain injects her with...um, some more red stuff that takes away the powers the other red stuff gave her (though not the powers she had before), but I guarantee you won't notice. They make a big deal out of her getting and losing various powers, yet in every film she remains completely untouchable. Any time you see her get hurt or even fail to accomplish something, you can be sure it's actually a clone of her in yet another Umbrella research facility somewhere studying virus outbreaks in major cities that no longer exist.

Now that you have the appropriate background, allow me to briefly explain the plot of this movie. Ha, I kid, there's no way to explain the plot of this movie that isn't brief. Alice gets blowed up in the attack on the barge and is captured by the Umbrella Corporation for at least the third time in the series. What happened to her friends on the barge, two of whom have been her companions through two previous films? Don't worry about it; Alice certainly doesn't. The stone-faced mannequin that serves as the primary antagonist for this film is actually Alice's friend from the second movie, Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). The series is so desperate for ideas that it reuses plot points from the previous sequel by making Jill mind-whammied by a giant red bug attached to her cleavage, exactly as Claire Redfield was in the last movie. Jill is my favorite character, if only because the actress playing her is so terrible that I laughed aloud in the theater every time she spoke. (Anderson makes perhaps the only smart decision of the entire franchise by giving her fewer lines than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original Terminator.) The filmmakers prove to be fans of The Prisoner since they have Jill demand to know why Alice doesn't want to work for Umbrella anymore, and then security in this even more massive underground Umbrella research facility briefly goes off-line, providing Alice both a skin-tight black leather bodysuit and a chance to escape.

Alice runs outside to find herself in a Tokyo unaffected by the zombie apocalypse. After she loots a laughably huge pistol from a police car (man, Tokyo cops pack some serious heat), a disembodied voice announces the simulation is beginning, and people suddenly appear on the street and re-play the Tokyo zombie outbreak sequence from the last movie. Alice then runs back into the Umbrella facility and ends up in its control room, though not before killing approximately 3000 zombies that followed her inside. Suddenly, a lifelike humanoid robot in a tight high-slit red dress gets the drop on Alice. Oh, I'm sorry, that's Chinese actress Li Bingbing, not a robot, but when you see her acting, you'll forgive my mistake. She's in violation of Ken's Rule of Guns, though, so Alice quickly turns the tables on her. But the joke's on Alice, because this woman who was just pointing a gun at the back of her head is actually there to help her escape. Alice doesn't trust her because she's Ada Wong (how's that for originality?), the top operative of Wesker, the villain of the two previous films. Wesker is played by Shawn Roberts, an actor they apparently hired by auditioning for Hugo Weaving impersonators. Go ahead, watch any scene featuring Agent Smith and Wesker back to back and see if I'm wrong.

Wesker isn't a bad guy anymore, though. It's revealed that the Red Queen, the artificial intelligence that ran The Hive back in Part I, is now running Umbrella (how? why? since when?) and Wesker has turned against the corporation, having apparently only just now figured out that stopping the elimination of the human race by the zombies should be a higher priority than running simulations of virus outbreaks in major cities that no longer exist. Wesker himself appears on a giant screen in the control room and spits out a whopping 10-minute wad of exposition--where Alice is, why she's there, what the facility is for (you guessed it: running simulations of virus outbreaks in major cities that no longer exist), why he's helping her, and exactly how she is to escape. I know Resident Evil is based on a video game, but do we really need a "brief the player on the next mission" sequence that plays like it was taken directly from a video game? You know, maybe Wesker's escape plan should involve more, like, escaping and less droning on about Umbrella's business model.

Wesker exposits that Alice can only escape the facility by going through each of the four city simulations (Tokyo, New York, Moscow, and Raccoon City) one by one and then meeting up with a mercenary team he sent in to help her get out. Said team sets a bomb that will go off in two hours and trap them all inside if they don't make it out before then. The rest of the movie is a series of absurd action sequences, with only the briefest of pauses for additional bits of exposition.

I skipped over a scene earlier that I want to get back to. After Alice gets blowed up on the boat, we cut to her waking up in a house, with a husband and daughter and seemingly normal life. Now as I said, this series constantly toys with the notion that Alice will finally remember her former life. But I know this cynical cash-grab of a series for what it is, so I immediately suspected that this was, in fact, a clone of Alice in an Umbrella research facility, a suspicion that was confirmed when the ersatz Alice is killed by a zombie. (Credit where it's due: This sequence contains a well-crafted and genuinely startling moment that I won't spoil, the sole bright spot in this pile of crap.) This sequence intersects with our main story when Ada and the real Alice, having fought their way through the simulations of New York, Tokyo, and Moscow,  reach the Raccoon City simulation. They enter one of the houses and find the dead Alice clone. Since the daughter, Becky, was hiding in the closet when the Alice clone bought it, I instantly knew the following:

1) Alice would go upstairs and find Becky unharmed in the closet.
2) Becky would treat Alice as her mother, and Alice would reciprocate.
3) Alice would take Becky with her.
4) Becky would be captured near the end of the movie, and Alice would need to rescue her alone.

Sure enough, every single one of these things happens. I'm a regular Nostradamus! No, actually, it's just that I've seen Aliens, and so has Paul W.S. Anderson. In fact, the Aliens steals only get more blatant. Not only is the little girl captured, but she is captured by a monster (rather than a person, like Jill) in the midst of making the final escape just before the bomb goes off, forcing Alice to risk not making it out in time in order to go back and rescue her. One of the mercenaries--if you must know which, it's the one played by the guy you hire when you can't afford Sean Bean--declares he will accompany Alice, and I immediately thought, "Okay, he has to get injured so that he can't go, because that's what happened to Cpl. Hicks in Aliens." No sooner did I finish the thought than he gets shot and so he can't go. Alice goes back into the facility alone and quickly locates Newt Becky, who's trapped in some disgusting biological goo produced by the monster that Alice has to break her out of. Hmm, where have I seen that before?

I can't say the sequence is entirely ripped from Aliens, though, since Ripley didn't leap thirty feet into the air and defeat the Alien queen with a gunshot to the head in approximately three seconds. So where's your accusation of plagiarism now?

The climactic battle of RE5 sees Alice getting the shit kicked out of her by Jill while I fought against the urge to shout "Smash the giant glowing red mind-control bug on her chest!" at the screen. After 5 minutes of being brutally beaten by evil-Jill (as evidenced by the tiny red smudge of blood highlighting Jovovich's cheekbone), Alice suddenly remembers that this happened in the last movie and destroys the bug, making Jill almost immediately fine. However, one of the Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) clones (almost every speaking character in this movie is a clone) has taken some red stuff that gives her superpowers and she's laying the smack down on two guys from Wesker's merc team.

As I watched this scene, I realized with sadness that this movie is another example of Lead Actors are White. The fight between Alice and Jill looks exactly like what it is: Two spindly models who've probably never thrown a punch in anger in their lives slapping away at each other. The special effects people add all kinds of audio and visual wazoo, like Jill's punch causing Alice to fly 15 feet through the air, but all the FX wizardry in the world can't disguise that Jovovich and Guillory can't remotely carry off the tough gal vibe the director clearly wants them to project. I don't know what either actress is like in real life, but onscreen they look more likely to collapse from malnutrition than to deliver a blow that would knock a person down. Rodriguez, on the other hand, looks entirely credible taking on two beefy men.* I know Resident Evil is a godawful series and I shouldn't wish its lead role on my worst enemy, but in a world with any respect or human decency in it, Rodriguez would be playing the lead role in this movie. I've no idea if she can really act, but it doesn't matter since the role doesn't require acting. All she needs to do is look tough and hot. She's at least as hot as Jovovich and a lot more believable as an ass-kicker, but she's just got a little too much skin pigmentation to land the lead role in a crappy American action film these days. Gone are the days when Whoopi Goldberg could headline an action film. Angeline Jolie, Kate Beckinsale, Kristen Stewart, sure, but Zoe Saldana? Forget it. I blame Halle Berry's Catwoman.

Ah ha, but what about Ada Wong? She's right there with Alice, blasting zombies with aplomb. (I guess she has superpowers, too.) It's true that she starts out as something of an equal partner to Alice, but the scene in the house I talked about above is her last appearance before the last five minutes of the movie. That's right, despite being set up as Alice's sidekick, she abruptly disappears from the movie until the very end, when she shows up as Jill's hostage. Here's what happens: The Umbrella commando team sent to stop Alice (made up entirely of clones of characters from earlier movies, natch) fires a grenade launcher at Ada. In the split second it takes the grenade to reach the house, Ada recognises it's coming, grabs an assault rifle off the table, shoots a person-sized hole in the floor (yes, with a rifle), leaps into the hole and crouches down to avoid the explosion. She isn't seen or heard from again until the climax, when Jill surfaces the Umbrella submarine (what? Umbrella has submarines) underneath the fleeing heroes, and she doesn't play any part in the climax beyond serving as a hostage to be rescued by Alice. There's your women's lib: now chicks can rescue damsels in distress, too, as long as they're white. Considering the target audience for this movie, I'm surprised there wasn't a swell of romantic music and a kiss.

The denouement is taken straight from the "John Connor walks through his command center and then looks out over the battlefield" sequence that opens Terminator 2, assuring us there will be a Resident Evil 6. It's fitting, I suppose, that the film ends as it began: ripping off a better film.

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* Just like Vasquez looks entirely credible as a Colonial Marine in Aliens, which is why Rodriguez must play Vasquez in the remake I know is coming with the certainty of the grave. Her entire career consists of playing Vasquez in other movies anyhow.

2 comments:

  1. Even when I knew nothing about movies, I hated Resident Evil 1. My mum and I went to the cinema and watched this piece of crap. Good thing was we got free tickets. I fell asleep during the movie. I never watch the sequels since awful No.1.

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  2. The only passable RE movie is the 2nd. Even then I wouldnt even waste the time to go back and watch it, there are far better zombie movies and that is upsetting considering RE is one of the best zombie game series.

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