September 23, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse, Now

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I really would like to proclaim that Paul W.S. Anderson’s new addition to the Resident Evil saga has set a new benchmark for video-game-adaptation-sequels. I’d love to fawn over the complexity and coherence of the plot, laud the emotional depth of the characters, and delve into the subtle, poignant themes that the film confronts. I’d even like to conclude that the dialogue was on par with the reading level of an individual over the age of six. Unfortunately, I am unable to do any of these things.  Aside from some admittedly impressive visuals, Resident Evil: Retribution is an unreservedly awful exercise in pandering, specifically to the zit-popping packages of hormones and rage otherwise known as teenage boys. The film barely even sustains the standards that have dragged this woefully worn-out series through the last 10 years.

The film opens in rewind and slow-motion, as our airbrushed and spandexed protagonist, played by the seemingly ageless Milla Jovovich, is dragged out of the ocean with guns blazing onto a ship where some evil-looking guys in black outfits are machine-gunning other, more friendly looking guys in white outfits.  The slow-motion is dazzling, but it it is clearly being used to distract us from the vapidity of the actual events taking place — plus, absent this effect, the film would have been closer to a more bearable 15 minutes.

After a Sportscenter-style recap of the last five films, Alice, or rather a soccer mom version of Alice, awakes in a suburban home, complete with a dapper husband and a deaf daughter. (Aside: next time you put a deaf girl into a film, try not to have her cover her ears every time something loud occurs.) Sadly for her and for everyone watching, her moment of bliss ends when the zombies arrive in suburbia to drag us all back into the stupidity that drives this film.

It gets even dumber when we find the “real” Alice scantily clad and tortured in an unnecessarily massive white cylinder. With the help of some unknown entity, she escapes, only to find herself in downtown Tokyo. Here, she inexplicably stares at a small Asian woman walking by her in slow motion for a solid 20 seconds (the first of many laugh-out-loud bizarre and awkward moments). The Asian woman then attacks Alice, and the rest of zombified Tokyo joins in. She escapes the city and fights them off with another series of slow motion moves, this time in a white hallway — because blood always looks better in a white hallway — and makes her way to the control room where the utterly brainless premise is revealed.

Apparently, Alice’s escape has been facilitated by her long-time frenemy, Albert Wesker, who wants to help her escape the Umbrella Corporation to enlist her help in the fight against zombies.  In order to do so, Wesker lays out a plan strongly reminiscent of a rather macabre episode of Dora the Explorer. In place of an excursion through “Strawberry Mountain” or “Candycane Alley,” Alice has to travel through a series of virtual, zombie-infested mini-cities that were ostensibly built to test the efficiency of the living dead in hunting for brains. To aid her escape, Alice is equipped with cartoonish allies who, like the humanoid contents of Dora’s talking backpack, speak with the linguistic nuance of a toddler. Most of these allies are employed by Wesker, who hires an elite task force of fighters that seem to belong in the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good. The aforementioned deaf girl also tags along with Alice, who finds her in the “Suburbia” section of the base. Clearly, the idea of a badass woman teaming up with a helpless child is ripped off from Aliens, a far better film.

From this point, Alice descends into — well, you don’t care about the wooden characters or the insipid plot, do you? For most people who can actually bear to watch this sort of film, what really matters is blood, violence and action, or better yet — bloody violent action. And, to be sure, there are plenty of scenes where this sole requirement is fulfilled.  From zombie communists to undead mailmen to a giant, skinless creature with its brain in full view, Alice and her friends have their handful of baddies to contend with.

But almost every single battle scene lazily treads on the same path that action-horror fans have been exposed to since the inception of the genre. We already know what will happen, from when the little girl is hiding in her bedroom closet while the monster lurks outside to when Alice steps out to “surrender” to her attackers telling her to lay down her weapon.  Nothing feels new in any way. Given Resident Evil’s roots as a video game, it’s not surprising that watching the film is akin to watching a friend play Xbox: sure, it would be fun if you were doing it yourself, but after 20 minutes of seeing him fight the same bad guy over and over again, you just feel like going to sleep.

Original Author: Sam Bromer