In the fifth movie in the Resident Evil franchise we find our heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) awakening as a prisoner in the midst of a top secret compound belonging to the Umbrella Corporation - whose bio-weapons caused the zombie plague that has all but eradicated humanity. After being helped by members of a resistance movement, Alice sets out to free herself from this compound as she learns more about her past and the intentions of the Umbrella Corporation.
What we thought:
Aside for small snippets, I haven't seen a Resident Evil film since the first film. I have to get that disclaimer out of the way out of fairness to the series' fans but, to be honest, it doesn't really matter. While we're on the subject, I may be a casual game player – as opposed to a hardcore gamer – but I've never played any of the Resident Evil games. Again, I mention this simply so that fans understand that it won't affect the review itself because a) I hear the game is really good and besides this is a review of this film, not the games it is based on and b) I know enough about games in general to talk about video gaming in a general sense.
As you may have guessed, I mention all this because I would be very, very surprised if my review of this fifth instalment doesn't very seriously piss off fans of the Resident Evil series of films and games. Sorry Evil Residents (that is what you call yourselves, right? How could it not be?) but I don't care – Resident Evil: Retribution is just that jaw-droppingly bad.
Actually calling Resident Evil: Retribution – and really, aren't they all kind of about retribution? – a "bad film" is almost definitely disingenuous. It's "bad", that much certainly is true, but calling it a "film" or a "movie" or even a "flick" is a bit of a stretch. Put it this way: If you scanned a comic book, enlarged its pages and glued it over the screen at your local cinema would you dare call that a "comic book movie"? More pertinently, if a movie studio put their latest blockbuster release, say The Avengers, onto a PS3-compatible disc, placed that into a PS3 disc case and sold it as a PS3 game, would you dare call that a "PS3 game"? Of course you wouldn't.
There are plenty of things horribly wrong about Resident Evil: Retribution (though oddly, for a change, not the 3D, which was pretty good) but nothing else compares to the biggest problem of all: Paul W.S. Anderson has completely and utterly failed to adapt a video game into anything other than a video game with really life-like graphics.
Correct me if I'm wrong (and don't worry, I'm sure you will) but the way most action games work is that the "gameplay" of running, jumping, shooting and generally misbehaving is interspersed with "cut scenes" that fill you in on the advancements in the game's plot. Not the game's "story", mind you, or its "narrative", but its plot – the distinction is crucial. This is not to denigrate video games, just so we're clear. It's a formula that works brilliantly for what video games are there for: An interactive experience. It is, however, not something that works at all for filmmaking – or any kind of linear storytelling medium, for that matter.
And yet, here comes Paul W.S. Anderson and Resident Evil: Retribution who seem to think that the only difference between video games and movies is that one if a mixture of CGI and real people, while the other is just straight up CGI. This might sound like an exaggeration, but its not. The only difference between this film and your average video game is that it uses live actors – live actors whose acting bares more of a resemblance to planks of wood than people, but "live actors", nonetheless.
It divides its time between slow-mo-riffic action scenes (where the gameplay is supposed to go) and info-dump-heavy plot exposition scenes that are usually delivered by a computer generated talking head, resulting in a film that literally feels like you're watching someone else play a video game for an hour and a half. The only remotely impressive and not brain-bustingly boring thing about this is just how much plot exposition they can pull out of so little plot. Otherwise, it is every bit as exciting and involving as watching someone else playing a video game for an hour and a half.
There's no point in going into all the film's technical failings (zero characterisation, zero story, a complete inability to stand alone as a film and, aside for Milla Jovovich wearing nothing but two A4 pieces of paper that almost-but-not-quite cover her naughty bits, fairly underwhelming special effects) because they're as obvious as the fact that die hard fans will inevitably jump down my throat for having the audacity to judge it as a piece of filmmaking.
To the die hard fans then, I have only this to ask: why on earth would you rather spend your hard earned cash effectively watching someone else play Resident Evil when you can actually play the game yourself? Really, enquiring minds want to know.