Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up in her home in the suburbs with memories of her past adventures in the battle against the Umbrella Corporation. She goes along with it, surprised at the presence of her husband and daughter, but soon enough zombies are everywhere, killing, and turning the panicked living into the hungry undead. Alice learns that is all a simulation. Under the Russian ice, there is a base specializing in projecting environments, like Tokyo and New York, so that the corporation can study the biohazard and learn how to control it. Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) and her crew, working for Albert Wesker, who happens to be one of Alice’s former enemies, come to our heroine’s rescue.
I have got to hand it to the “Resident Evil” franchise because each time a new installment begins, I find myself very frustrated with having no memory of its direct predecessor (the flashbacks do not help) and yet its images, CGI or otherwise, almost dare me to keep looking at the screen, hoping that somehow it will all make sense by the end. Of course, they never do. I have played the game only once on the original Playstation but I did not get very far.
“Resident Evil: Retribution,” written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, begins with a statement that it is going to be mindless, action-packed, and beautiful to look at. During the opening credits, most of us will have no idea why Alice seems to be floating dead on the water or why there is chaos all around involving a ship, a helicopter, and men being showered by bullets. I enjoyed it on the most basic level: playing in backward slow motion, it is obvious that some actual thought is put into how the scene is going to unfold and where the camera should be placed in order for us to see the most gore and violence.
That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I do not mean for it to be. Unlike its two immediate predecessors, the action scenes are easier to follow here. First, the editing is not as hyperactive. We are able to appreciate the stunts especially how Alice seems to defy laws of gravity when she is under attack. Second, perhaps more importantly, the screenplay takes advantage of the fact that the franchise is based on a video game. The characters are made aware that they must go through stages in a form of test environments to get to a certain location for safety. For example, when in a New York City simulation, in order for Alice and Ada to get to the next simulation, they must fight a villain (or villains), not easy to kill, to get to the next one. They are even put under a time limit.
The plot is thinner than the pia mater of our brains on autopilot but the writer-director attempts to play upon his strengths. When he leaves his comfort zone, however, the picture gets tired and boring. Of particular disappointment are the men in the rescue team. Not one of them is given a distinct personality we can remember or feel sad toward when he is killed. All they do is shoot guns and display random acts of “macho heroism,” in quotation because the more appropriate words are “stupidity” and “stubbornness.” They might as well not have been in the film and it probably would have been better paced.
“Resident Evil: Retribution” falls into the category of mindless entertainment that I find tolerable. It does not pretend to be anything else. In fact, it manages to connect the screenplay to the nature of its video game roots. It does have technical merits: a lot of the images, especially the monsters, and half of the chases are nicely done. Does it set up a sequel? Yeah. Am I excited for it? No, but I wouldn’t say I’m against it.
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Nothing much happened in “Resident Evil: Afterlife” other than the fact that Alice (Milla Jovovich) continued on her seemingly interminable quest to shut down the Umbrella Corporation. After hearing a hopeful transmission that promised food, shelter, protection, and no infected individuals, our protagonist hoped to find refuge in a place called Arcadia. But when she reached the promised land, she found nothing but a beach and abandoned helicopters. Meanwhile, off the coast of California, Alice and Claire (Ali Larter) landed their helicopter on a prison where other survivors (Boris Kodjoe, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Kim Coates, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere) hoped to be rescued as they kept a man (Wentworth Miller), who promised to divulge a secret passage that led outside if released, captive. I didn’t expect the film to be insightful or groundbreaking in any way. But I did expect it to entertain. I wasn’t entertained. I was confused during the first thirty minutes because Alice had the ability to be in multiple places at once. For the rest of the time, I grew impatient as the material delivered the run-of-the-mill deaths from our not-so-colorful group of characters. There was only one scene I liked which involved a duel between Claire and a giant man wielding a massive ax. I was at the edge of my seat because I felt like Claire was in serious trouble considering she didn’t have any superhuman powers. And I think that’s the problem with our main character. Alice didn’t feel human so we couldn’t empathize with her when she had to face danger. She was capable of sacrifice but it didn’t feel like she cared for the people she seemed to protect. It felt like she was more interested in the challenge of shooting as many zombies as possible. The only fun fact about her was she liked to stack quarters on her spare time. But she even did it so robotically. Just because the material was inspired by a popular video game, it didn’t mean that each aspect of the film had to feel cold and calculated. When the characters met their demise, I didn’t care. I thought about who was next to be eaten or shot. I also wanted to talk about the zombies. It’s never a good sign when the zombies from television shows like Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead” look better than zombies in a movie. I don’t mean “better” as in more attractive; I mean “better” as in more convincing, more menacing. The franchise had about eight years to master its tone. Not once did I see that Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer and director, attempted to use mood to suspend his audiences in suspense. If Anderson had found a way to balance science fiction, action, and horror (with occasional humor), “Resident Evil: Afterlife” would have breathed new life into the series. It should have stayed dead.