Cinema Review: Resident Evil: Retribution

DIR/WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson  PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Don Carmody  DOP: Glen MacPherson  ED: Niven Howie  DES: Kevin Phipps  Cast: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer

Amongst numerous other problems (not least Uwe Boll), it’s shocking the casual disrespect video game adaptations have for their source material. Sure, the terminology and characters may be vaguely similar, but few directors have accurately emulated the tone and identity of the interactive originals. A handful of anime adaptations and Silent Hill (which, despite its admirable stylistic emulation of the games, still wasn’t very good) pretty much stand alone in their loyalty to their respective inspirations. Many, many others – from Mario to Final Fantasy – have been shameful bastardisations that have horrified fans and newbies alike. Imagine the Harry Potter films re-imagined Harry as a suave, trash-talking ninja. Actually, that sounds kind of awesome, but you get my general point.

Not that Resident Evil was ever particularly hallowed interactive source material, with its B-movie inspired thrills and farcically convoluted lore. But even in its more action-orientated instalments the game series has provided intense, claustrophobic survival horror experiences. The series has reliably scared the shit out of gamers such its inception in 1996. Since the first movie in 2002, however, the films have shown themselves entirely unwilling to reflect the tone and atmosphere of the game series, settling instead on derivative action sci-fi. The characters are there, the Umbrella Corporation is sufficiently evil and there are still zombies, monsters and axe-wielding giants. It’s Resident Evil alright, but not as we know it.

Despite a consistently low quality, the films’ baffling financial success has justified this fourth sequel (I had to double check what number we’re actually on). This time, series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) thinks she has escaped the pursuit of the dastardly Umbrella Corporation. Inevitably, the opening credits (presented alongside a pointless reversed action scene) have barely concluded before she’s caught yet again. Darn. Locked up in a secret Arctic underwater base operated by a demented A.I., Alice’s ex-friend Jill Valentine (an hilariously awful Sienna Guillory) cruelly interrogates our heroine by playing a mildly annoying tone. But Alice is promptly released by Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) who has organised a rescue team…

Oh, who cares? The filmmakers certainly don’t have much interest in the plot, so why should we? This is a pointless, nonsensical narrative that falls apart if you have the cheek to think about it. Basically an over-extended escape sequence, the film is almost entirely inconsequential and uninteresting. I’m not joking when I say the last ninety seconds or so are the only moments that have any real bearing on the series’ dull overarching plot. This is a filler song on an already awful album. A series of noisy action scenes, unconvincing CGI / 3D, a script riddled with clichés (the phrase ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ needs to be banned from cinema, effective immediately)… This film has very little going for it indeed.
There’s a suburban zombie attack near the start that is relatively intense, and in a rare break from tradition actually somewhat reflects the visceral tone and style of the game series. Alas, it’s still almost entirely pointless, and the rest of the action consists of grizzled superhumans firing a lifetime supply of bullets at undead sponges. There’s the odd burst of kung-fu too, rendered laughable by director Paul W.S. Anderson’s (always worth noting that it’s most certainly not that other Paul Anderson) penchant for lame slow motion and dramatic posturing. Jovovich seems to spend more time landing awesomely with guns drawn than anything else.

The acting is uniformly dreadful. It’s unfair to pick one cast member out for particular criticism, but Guillory impressively cannot even convince as a brainwashed & monotone automaton. Also, it is staggering how long it takes the other characters to figure out that removing that glowing red mind control gem from Valentine’s chest might be a good idea. If the good guys in this film were playing the superb Resident Evil 4, they wouldn’t have gotten past the first boss.

So yeah: this film is offensively worthless. It’s is simply a cynical, desperate attempt to justify yet another franchise entry (the sequel crassly teased in the closing minutes). I was going to end this review by providing rough estimates of how many more interesting films could have been made by efficiently reappropriating the budget for this series to date. But that’s a fun bit of mental arithmetic to keep anyone unfortunate enough to end up in a darkened theatre watching this trash occupied.

Stephen McNeice

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Resident Evil: Retribution is released on 28th September 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution –  Official website