Resident Evil: Retribution

*1/2

Reviewed by: David Graham

Capcom's legendary 1995 PS1 game inaugurated the survival horror cycle that helped bring videogames into the adult mainstream and proved they could deliver at least as much suspense as the best cinema. Cannibalising classic Romero flicks and building a far-reaching mythology over the various sequels, the series should have been fertile ground for adaptation, especially with ol' George A at the helm as was initially planned. 10 years later, it's saddening to look back on that wistful optimism and sickening to survey the trail of piss-poor schlock that Paul WS Anderson has sprayed all over the silver screen. Five instlaments in, we're no closer to any kind of coherence, and the films have even begun to regurgitate themselves as opposed to just greedily feeding off their inspirations.

Alice has again woken up as a half-naked prisoner in a futuristic dungeon, where she once more finds herself an unwitting guinea-pic for Umbrella's sinister experiments. Breaking free from her cyber-cell, she must negotiate various life-threatening situations recreated in digital form by the haywire Mother computer system, where the danger to her physical being is very real even though the environments are not. Pursued by a possessed Jill Valentine and taking a maternal interest in the safety of a young girl trapped in the matrix, Alice finds various allies as well as deadly enemies on her way to a rendezvous with her rescue squad. The dastardly Albert Westker may prove to be her ultimate nemesis though, harbouring plans to use Alice's unique powers for his nefarious world-conquering mission.

An appallingly lazy first half hour is taken up with a series of false starts and simulations (even beginning with a 5 minute slo-mo rewind of a 30 second action sequence), immediately setting this up as one of the most infuriating movie-going experiences imaginable. Where the previous couple of installments (particularly Russell Highlander Mulcahy's Extinction) were unpretentiously straightforward and all the better for it, this new episode feels like a compilation of fanboy-baiting money shots without any narrative thread tying them together. It's like watching someone else play a particularly mindless and monotonous game, which we all know is never fun. In fact, watching the Resident Evil games is infinitely more enjoyable than sitting through this.

A few sequences are actually relatively well-handled - an almost frame-for-frame rip-off of Zak Snyder's Dawn Of The Dead intro hits the mark despite its familiarity, and Milla Jovovich's PVC-clad ass-kicking is crowd-pleasingly ridiculous - but before long the repetitive nature of the script robs the action of any sense of purpose, while the roster of recognisable characters contribute nothing except an ironic approximation of the games' deliberately wooden sensibility. There's some level of affection for the fans evident in the set-ups - look! Barry is back! Giant lickers! Leon's floppy hair! Ada's thigh! - but otherwise this is one of the most cynical exercises in a director indulging an audience as well as himself in recent memory.

Where previously she'd proven an engaging presence, poor Jovovich comes off worse than ever before; her conviction remains but she's getting a little too old for this schtick and it shows in her constrictive cat-suit get-ups and slightly stilted performance. Michelle Rodriguez returns in both good and bad roles but fails to register as either, Kevin Durand slums it post-Cosmopolis in a thankless meathead role, while a variety of no-name wannabes try to chew up the scenery while trying to avoid getting chewed up themselves.

Waves of ghouls appear from nowhere around every corner - including, bizarrely, a Nazi-esque undead platoon that's never been in any of the games or previous films - but very little of it has any correlation with Capcom's work and none of it generates any real excitement. There's also an annoying amount of dodgy collision detection that renders most of the characters nigh-ion invincible, an issue that most game programmers resolved around 20 years ago; avid gamers will find its resurrection in cinematic form especially irritating, even though it's a reversal from the all-too common experience of your heroes dying unfairly. A few moments of scaled-down peril provide effective jolts, and some of the elaborate sets are reasonably evocative, but considering what Anderson has to play with the world he's created is shamefully narrow. With the show-stopping set-pieces merely doubling or up-scaling previous enemies, fatigue soon sets in, and the sub-Matrix face-offs between unkillable super-humans elicit ever more unintentional laughter.

Not unlike Sucker Punch, this new Evil is content more than ever to flaunt its scantily-clad females in masturbatory battle, barely pausing for them to do anything other than look cool and kick butt. When the tide does occasionally part, mawkish displays of sentiment involving a deaf-mute NPC (how does Alice know sign language?) induce cringes, and bro-mantic exchanges further sour the mood. As if all this isn't bad enough, Anderson pilfers everything from far superior sagas - as if his Alien Vs Predator wasn't an insult to its source franchises already, he sees fit to further plunder them here - while the 3D feels flat and superfluous, especially in comparison to the fairly well-executed effects of RE: Afterlife.

It's not hard to see the kitsch appeal of these flicks, but audiences really need to wake up and put the nail in the Anderson Evil coffin once and for all. The first film may have been mildly diverting but this new effort is the lowest the series has sunk since the execrable Apocalypse, which at least stuck reasonably close to the source games. There's more fun and thrills to be had playing the 17-year-old original than wading through this lowest common denominator tripe - for the sake of everyone, please don't bother. You'll only be encouraging further Evil.

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2012
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Series heroine Alice fights for a resistance movement as the deadly T virus spreads around the world.
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Director: Paul W S Anderson

Writer: Paul W S Anderson

Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer, Bingbing Li

Year: 2012

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany, Canada

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