Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by Paul W.S. Anderson
For schoolchildren, September heralds the end of an enjoyable epoch – the end to all of the carefree hedonism and devil-may-care attitudes of summer vacation. In its place are the daunting expectations of school, the angst of making new friends, and the apathy towards uninspired subject primers. September is a dreadful month, but, for most kids, the year only gets better from that point on.
For critics, September has the exact same connotation. September heralds the end of summer movies, the end to all the pyrotechnics and computer generated delirium of big-budget commercial blockbusters. In its place are studio afterthoughts (movies deemed too rubbish to be lumped in with the aforesaid), which are consequently dumped in mid-September, on unassuming audiences without apology or impunity.
Yes, September marks the spectre of terrible movies, and nothing typifies this more than an intermittent reincarnation of the Resident Evil movie franchise. The fifth installment, Resident Evil: Retribution, the third by writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson, is a gigantic load of old toss, and represents a low-point in the year of 2012. But, at the very least, the year can only get better from this point on.
The last movie, Resident Evil: Afterlife/Afterthought, followed Alice (Milla Jovovich) in her quest to free some of her friends from the evil Umbrella Corporation. At the end, when she does, they stand on top of an oil tanker with a hord of hostile helicopters bearing down on them. This is where Retribution starts off, and if you were expecting the story to continue from there, you’re dead wrong.
Like someone playing a video game without a memory card, Retribution hits the reset button and wipes the slate clean. The old narrative is immediately abandoned and made meaningless (that’s right, you spent good money to see a film that the filmmakers have deemed arbitrary) and the movie makes up a new one.
In Retribution, Alice is captured by the Umbrella Corporation and taken prisoner. Held in a facility that recreates the virus outbreaks in previous movies, Alice must escape with the help of a new character named Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) and her comrades; sent by Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), the former head of Umbrella who we thought was the bad guy and dead in the last movie, but is now alive and a good guy in this one.
Fighting against her former-friend-now-enemy Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Alice fights through more zombies and henchman while also trying to save a daughter she apparently had, Becky (Aryana Engineer). Confused? You’re not the only one.
Although Ms. Jovovich is married to the writer/director, she herself has a hard time understanding the narrative arc of the franchise as well. In an interview with Metro, she says, “Literally, I think up until last year I totally thought Alice was the bad guy. And Paul [W.S. Anderson] was like, “No, but don’t you remember in No. 1, the whole flashback sequence?” And I was like, “Are you sure?” And he’s like, “I wrote the script. I think I’m sure.”
Not even his wife can claim to understand the story in his movies; and she’s the bloody main character! So how the hell does Mr. Anderson expect us to? Simply put, he doesn’t. Spectacle is the modus operandi of this movie, not story. It’s as if Mr. Anderson approached the project with a storyboard instead of a script (if that), and made the story up as he went along – like a confetti and fireworks filled parade thrown for no discernable holiday. Retribution reuses the same tropes as its predecessors (sometimes literally) and is inept to the point of hilarity. There’s no syntax, just set pieces.
In fact, in the same interview, Ms. Jovovich continues, “Pretty much there is no script. Michelle [Rodriguez] and I like to say that Paul just has a video camera and presses record. So it’s pretty much like reality TV.” Just to reiterate, by admission, Resident Evil: Retribution is “pretty much like reality TV”. So where Jersey Shore has ‘gym, tan, and laundry’, Retribution has explosions, guns, and zombies. Where Keeping Up With the Kardashians has Kourtney, Khloé, and Kim, Retribution has Alice, Ada, and Jill. They aim for mindless sensation, and it’s dismaying how mindless they can be. Well, it’s not like they’re exactly the same. Retribution is in 3D.
Resident Evil movies are the definition of diminishing returns. They’ve tended towards zero since its inception, and now, they’ve exceeded rock bottom. The franchise freefall is so breakneck and centrifugal that it might just inspire a slightly enjoyable sense of vertigo. The plummet was amusing for a while, if only as an ironic assessment of how each installment can outdo each other in terms of being pure drivel, but Resident Evil: Retribution is that point in the study where we can finally conclude our research. The experiments have been repeated, the results duplicated, the hypothesis finally proved. Resident Evil is bollocks.
– Justin Li