Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution

You might have seen the headlines proclaiming that Resident Evil: Retribution was top dog at the box office this weekend. I admit I was among those who contributed to its financial success, and I admit that I did so knowing full well that I was going to see the fifth Resident Evil movie.

With that in mind, I don't feel that my usual PROS/CONS/VERDICT will be sufficient to relay my experience watching this movie. And while I tried to resist the urge to just bash on this movie with snark and disparaging but (hopefully) humorous remarks, I've been unable to resist any longer. So below you will find a post that is a kind of mutant itself; cobbled together from prose, objective criticism, and all the things I found worth making fun of in Paul W. S. Anderson's latest entry in the series.

I give you...

Resident Evil: Regretribution

So as I mentioned, I went to see Resident Evil: Retribution over the weekend. Now, I'm not about to sit here and tell you I expected anything good to come out of that movie. All I really cared to see were some entertainingly choreographed fight scenes and hopefully some gore. A recent Cracked.com article raised several points about how the films are objectively better than the games, and while I didn't whole-heartedly agree with a few of its arguments, I was completely on board with its attempt to call out people who rip on blockbusters just because that's what's "in" these days.

That's a thing people do now, I guess. Sorry, Michael Bay.

"You are forgiven."

And to give credit where credit is due, there were a couple of fight scenes that definitely kicked ass. My favorite is this one where Alice (Milla Jovovich) takes on these zombies coming at her 2 and 3 at a time with a pistol and a makeshift meteor hammer - double teaming them with a little bit of that high choreography type of thing Go-Go Yubari employs against The Bride in Kill Bill: Volume 1. It's fun stuff - majorly fun stuff.

But there were some things about that movie that were so bad, so unexpectedly and unnecessarily bad - even for a movie like this - that I found myself genuinely surprised; despite my low expectations for this movie from the get-go.

First off, I don't know what was penned on the heavens ages ago that says "And whither he goes, he shall enter into theaters and they shall be empty. And he shall find a comfortable seat, and lo, he shall have plenty of room on either side of him. Then shall they come to the place where he is, saying, 'We have surveyed this empty theater and wish to rest ourselves where he is.' And though the rest of the theater be empty, many throngs shall rest themselves next to him - forsaking all other empty seats in the building. And up from their midst shall arise a clamor, such that none will be allowed to speak without shouting over them. For behold, they make their chatter known from the beginning of the little thing at Regal Cinemas where you ride a virtual roller coaster all the way until the credits roll. Yea, this shall he find whither he goes. And whence has been born uncomfortable sitting situations, he shall keep his elbow on the arm rest - lest they should be taken from him. But verily as it is written, so shall those sitting next to him be passive-aggressive losers without so much as the balls to just ask him to move down a seat. And in their distress, they shall make grand gestures with their arms, ironically flailing them about straight out in front of them so as to make him feel guilty for not giving them the arm rests. But he shall not give up his arm rests, he shall not cave to their passive aggressive attitudes, because seriously - screw those guys. And it shall come to pass that those sitting to his left will rise up, and in a fervor, step over him to take another seat elsewhere. But mark this, how they go not out of earshot, so that he might hear the exasperated sighs and frustration of those he hath prevented from stealing his arm rests. For he had the foresight to arrive well in advance of the start of the showing. For he had the foresight to choose a seat apart from all others, so as to maximize the potential to avoid such unwashed masses. And verily, he shall not be punished for their misdeeds. And seriously, screw those guys."

I don't know where that's written, but I'd like to have it edited to include less of everything.

That had nothing to do with the movie, I just wanted to get it off my chest.

Now moving on to the movie itself. To begin with, they've always been poorly acted. Not terribly acted, just poorly. Resident Evil: Retribution apparently thought, "You know what? All that mediocre bad acting needs to be replaced with some super terrible acting now...let's go for broke!" Milla can do drama when she has to - the film Stone is a great example. She's not gonna win an Oscar, but she can pull it off in a pinch. In the opening moments of the Retribution however, you'd never know it. There's an establishing scene where one of her clones finds herself under attack in the middle of a city which we soon find out is just a simulation that the evil-for-the-sake-of-being-
evil Umbrella Corporation uses to test the effectiveness of their completely ridiculous viruses. But Milla's strongsuit is action movie stuff, holding guns at the screen while looking coldly into the camera, punching the lights out of her enemies and then standing over them in that comic book heroine pose that says "I'm tough, but I'm also open to potentially spending a night with you and your vintage Princess Leia Golden Bikini costume." 
"Hehehe...I'm doing excellent feminism."
What she's not good at is basically anything else she does in the movie; screaming and fleeing in terror. Not tip-toeing through her house while holding a baseball bat like Shelley Duvall (haha, women!) in The Shining and shaking it so violently to indicate she's "scared" that you can practically hear Anderson off screen going "Milla. Milla? Milla! Yeah, Yeah. Just shiver a little more, shake your hands so we see how scared you are of that potted plant....Yeah, yeah, like that!!!"

With a few of the characters - particularly Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) - apparently Anderson saw The Room and thought: "Yeah, post dubbing is always a good idea!" and decided to do just that. ADR isn't always a bad thing with the right actors and the right sound technicians, but neither of those applied here apparently. The worst actors in the film are the only ones whose lines end up re-dubbed in post and they're all the worse for it. Like...almost Tommy Wiseau levels of that-line-doesn't-even-match-their-body-language bad.

Integrating your exposition can be difficult as a writer, I'm no stranger to that. And a lot of times you have to hide exposition in little details and conversations to keep the audience up to speed...zis is common in ze movies. Anderson didn't even try. Or...maybe that was him trying...hrm...
Alice wakes up in a holding cell wearing nothing but - I kid you not - two pieces of surgical paper on either side of her body that just barely covers everything needing to be covered - you might recall them from Resident Evil: Apocalypse. But here they're even smaller. Don't get me wrong, Milla is a gorgeous woman in my estimation, but she looked ridiculous. 
Feminism strikes again.
 So moving on she wakes up in that state, and is then basically broken out of her cell by as-of-yet unidentified characters. But not before her cell door slides open with - gasp! - armor and equipment for her to wear. Because the last thing you want to do is leave your enemy without properly ridiculous tight-fitting clothing that conveniently pops out of the wall as soon as someone comes to break them out. Then she ends up in a big open room and one of the characters of both franchises, Albert Wesker, appears on a large screen staring into the lens with all the villainous charisma his hair-slicked-back-and-wearing-sunglasses-indoors look can afford him. Up to this point in the series he's been a bad guy, but circumstances necessitate him joining forces with Alice under the whole "enemy of my enemy is my friend" thing. A twist! She asks where she is, he launches into an explanation that includes a brief history lesson about her location (no lie), including the fact that it's a former submarine facility from the Cold War. Completely unnecessary, but he drones on like it'll have some importance to the film. Spoiler, it doesn't. She asks what's going on, and he then launches into "The Exposition Part of the Movie" where there's literally a shot-counter-shot of Alice on the ground staring up at Wesker on this big screen. She asks a question, he pontificates. For about...10 minutes this goes on without interruption. Ya know, because Alice doesn't have a clue what's going on, so neither does the audience, and someone has to tell her!
"Hehehe. I'm doing excellent screen writing."
I'm not being too hard on Anderson here; he is genuinely capable of more. The first 15 minutes of the film catches the entire audience up on 4 films' worth of material in a way that was both innovative and entertaining. So, no slack for you!

Later on, a "Strike Team" consisting of just a couple of other characters from the film and game who have no canonical reason to know each other arrives to help Alice. Amongst them is the protagonist of RE4, Leon S. Kennedy. He looks like a video game character in the game, as he should. Which is to say he looks like this:

Paul W. S. Anderson saw that design and thought "Yeah, that totally wouldn't look ridiculous in the real world!" and rendered him thus:
That's him there on the left, with the ridiculous hair falling in his eyes - obscuring any attempt he makes to take a clear shot at advancing hordes. Seriously, his middle-parted superbangs get in his eyes so often in the movie it literally defies physics that he survives when Umbrella assassins and zombies drop like flies. I'm not ragging on long hair here, but you won't see me wearing it like a pair of stringy sunglasses at midnight: hideous, in my eyes, and completely unnecessary. And look at that expression: basically the one expression he wears the entire film. Yup, that's him...  good ol' Leon "Here Comes the Smoulder...*fart*...Haha Whoops, I'm So World Weary" Kennedy.

Let's take a closer look at that scene, shall we? In the above image, Alice is arguing with Leon (who really needs a cough drop, or is apparently obsessed with his own really really bad Batman impression) about going after this little girl who was just dragged away by a monster. This is actual dialogue, I kid you not.

Leon: "Don't do this."
Alice: "I won't leave her."
Leon: "You're more important than she is."
Alice: "That's where you're wrong."
Leon: "This is a mistake."
Alice: "That's what you think."
Leon: *Gritty Face*...*Constipated Face*...*World-Weary Mercenary Face*

Bear in mind we're talking about a little girl who was literally just dragged away kicking and screaming calling for Alice by the name "Mommy!". Oh, and did I mention she's deaf? So one of our heroes in this movie would rather let a deaf child perish in terror and anguish than just let someone else go after her. A little deaf girl who was alive and kicking (pun totally intended) not 20 seconds ago. Yeah Leon is supposed to be this hardened badass, but I mean c'mon....He basically said "Naaah....forget that kid." to a woman who has rescued him (and everyone) in the movie multiple times. But maybe he was afraid he wouldn't be able to find her in the sea of tall grass he has to peer through the whole movie.
 "Is anyone else having a hard time seeing through all this grass? It's everywhere, like...oh god I think it's attached to my head!!!!"

In all honesty, no hyperbole in this statement, the little deaf girl is the best actor in the whole movie and most of what she does is scream and run holding Alice's hand. I will give Anderson props for figuring out that little emotionally manipulative trick: kids = pathos, usually. Special needs kids = pathos, always. So I cared about this kid and what happened to her; I wanted her to survive all the improbabilities. But her little subplot with Alice had less to do with the overall arc of the film than the characters of the franchise who don't even show up in the film.

So amidst stringy-haired anti-hero types that flex whenever they're on screen (take a look at that second Leon image again), to women like Ada Wong who fight their way through hordes of assassin's and undead in a red dress and stiletto boots, to some of the most wooden acting and dialogue this side of a gritty Pinocchio reboot...Resident Evil: Retribution proves that movies you expect to be pretty bad can be even worse.

Also, I love slow motion. I really do, especially in a movie like this. But I would be willing to bet that about 20 minutes of run time would be shaved off the final tally if everything was played back at normal speed. No exaggeration, no lie; this movie would be notably shorter without the slow motion. Though frankly, the slow-motion fight scenes were what I came to see so that's not technically a complaint. 

Am I sorry I contributed to Resident Evil: Retribution's #1 spot at this weekend's box office? But for the philistines and troglodytes in attendance with me, no I'm not. And I'll probably go see the next one when it comes out. But there's a difference between being bad in all the right ways and just plain bad. Retribution tries to be the former, but hilariously falters and falls on a whoopee cushion in the latter category. The 3D looks fantastic, the visual effects are pitch perfect, the fight scenes are thrilling and when Milla is doing her "gunslinger girl" thing she's pretty good too. But trying to find anything else even marginally acceptable in this movie is like trying to make "fetch" happen.

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