“Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth installment of this video game-based series, was No. 1 at North American theaters over the weekend, while two art-house films — “The Master” and “Arbitrage” — attracted crowds in limited release, a reflection of how starved filmgoers are for sophisticated cinema like “The Master.” However, it’s quite perplexing that a movie like “Resident Evil: Retribution,” which stretches the boundaries of popular mediocrity, can continuously draw enough movie goers out to turn a handsome profit.
Sony’s latest “Resident Evil” movie took in about $21.1 million, according toHollywood.com, which compiles box-office data. That result was 20 percent lower than the opening-weekend total for “Resident Evil: Afterlife” in 2010, but these movies are primarily made as exportable products, with foreign ticket sales making up as much as 80 percent of their total box-office gross. Disney’s re-release of “Finding Nemo” in 3-D was second, taking in about $17.5 million, while Lionsgate’s “Possession” chugged away in third place, selling about $5.8 million in tickets, for a three-week total of $41.2 million. The Weinstein Company’s “Lawless” was fourth, with $4.2 million in sales for a three-week total of $30.1 million. “ParaNorman” (Focus Features) managed $3 million, for a five-week total of $49.3 million.
Though box office receipts for “Resident Evil: Retribution” marks the second-lowest debut of the franchise (behind only the 2002 original’s $18 million), “there’s little reason to believe that it’s the end of the franchise, as it is popular overseas,” says Tim Briody of Boxofficeprophets.com.
And with video-game versions out next month for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, “I’d expect a sixth film in the next two to three years,” Briody says.
Critics could probably wait longer. Just 35% of reviewers liked Retribution, according to pollsters Rottentomatoes.com. But 71% of fans gave the new “Resident Evil” film a thumbs-up, the site says.
Based on a series of popular horror survival games by Japanese company Capcom, the first film was originally supposed to be directed by zombie movie titan George Romero, who had directed a series of atmospheric commercials for the games in Japan. Instead, he was swapped out for Paul W.S. Anderson, who can charitably be described as a talentless hack, and had previously directed an adaptation of videogame “Mortal Kombat;” as such, gritty horror was replaced by a kind of cheaply lacquered Hollywood sheen. Ten years later and five movies in, Anderson is still at the helm (having sat out the second and third entries), and his latest concoction, “Resident Evil: Retribution” (in 3D, of course) might be the most impenetrably obtuse entry entry in the entire series. Which is really saying something.
In the original “Resident Evil,” we were introduced to Alice (Milla Jovovich), a pretty thin girl who awakens in a secret lab run by the ominous Umbrella Corporation, where a bio-weapon fuck-up has unleashed an army of undead ghouls and goo-dripping monsters. Since then, it has been discovered that she is also some kind of bio-weapon, that she was cloned (or something), and that the Umbrella Corporation is really, really, ridiculously evil. The scale, supposedly, has been upped as the series has strolled along, too, with the outbreak consuming the entire planet, but Anderson almost always chooses to stage action sequences in dimly hit hallways so you can never really tell the true scope of the zombie-pocalypse. The mythology of the series has gotten gummier and harder to untangle, so thankfully “Resident Evil: Retribution” (the subtitle is totally meaningless, and suggests some kind of revenge subplot that is never accounted for), opens with a recap of the events of the previous films in true Basil Exposition form – Milla Jovovich is looking at the camera while little monitors show scenes from earlier movies. Like most of the movie, it’s laughably clunky, but not in any kind of cathartic, good-natured way.
This sequence, besides being a huge waste of time since nothing that happened in earlier movies has much bearing on anything that happens in this movie, also serves as a reminder that the only halfway decent entry in the franchise was the third movie, “Resident Evil: Extinction.” That movie was energetically directed by underrated Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy, and overcame a typically weak Anderson screenplay by employing stark, neo-western visuals, and giving the entire proceedings some much-needed satirical edge by coyly commenting on the fact that they were based on a video-game (at the end of the movie it’s revealed that there are, in fact, multiple copies of Alice – possibly just waiting for another quarter to be activated). Mulcahy understood that he was essentially directing a television episode with a very big budget and he made the most of it – it remains the most fun and visually distinct entry in the franchise, a lone collection of earth tones in a series known for its cool blues and grays.
In “Resident Evil: Retribution,” Alice is forced to make an uneasy alliance with Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), the limp villain from the previous movies and former head of the Umbrella Corporation, who wears sunglasses inside and looks and acts a whole lot like a slightly more menacing Max Headroom. Alice is, apparently, trapped in an underwater research facility where Umbrella would test out different scenarios of the zombie virus – so there are giant warehouses that are exact replicas of Moscow, New York, etc. Assisted by a handful of mercenary-types that Wesker has sent in from the surface, including an actual guy from “Lost” (Kevin Durand, who played the villainous Keamy) and another guy who you sense the filmmakers are trying to trick you into thinking is a guy from “Lost” (Johann Urb, who looks suspiciously like Josh Holloway’s Sawyer). There are also a whole bunch of characters from the earlier movies, including Michelle Rodriguez, Oded Fehr and Colin Salmon, but this doesn’t really matter because you can’t remember those earlier movies and who their characters were and because, in this movie, they’re evil versions or clones or some bullshit.
This is the most nakedly video-game-y entry in the franchise, in the sense that the entire plot consists of a group of survivors are trying to get through these different domes (levels) and reach an elevator that will get them back to the surface. At one point, a character gives another character two “items” – a grappling hook that Batman would be envious of, and a pair of reading glasses that magically produce maps (rendered in cheesy low-budget 3D). We had to look down at our laps to make sure there wasn’t a controller in our hand. The structure of the movie makes for incredibly tedious and repetitive viewing, as the characters are repeatedly plunked down into a situation and forced to battle some malevolent foe (there’s a giant, snarling beast this time and what appear to be Cold War-era Russian soldier zombies). It gets real old, real quick.
Not even the considerable charm of Ms. Jovovich, who is wearing a buckled jumpsuit that looks like it came out of YSL’s Nazi fetish fall collection, can salvage this wreckage. For some reason, towards the third act, Anderson just says “fuck it” and starts ripping off James Cameron’s “Aliens,” for no good reason. What’s weird is that Anderson, who directed the abominable “Alien vs. Predator” movie, doesn’t just rip off the monster stuff from “Aliens,” but he also tries to replicate the relationship in that movie between battle-hardened Ripley and Newt, a young girl and surrogate for Ripley’s long-lost daughter. What’s even weirder is that the young girl in “Resident Evil: Retribution” is a clone, and at one point the little girl and Alice are in a giant warehouse, surrounded by conveyer belts shuttling clones of themselves through open space (it looks very much like the door chase sequence in “Monsters Inc.”). All the “Aliens” beats are accounted for in this section, including putting the little clone girl in a glistening egg for reasons that we still can’t figure out. It’s a testament to the movie’s lack of creativity that Anderson can’t even rip off “Aliens” and have it come across as anything less than totally boring. But don’t worry; by the looks of things, Alice will be back for more. We can hardly wait. [D-]
The action, meanwhile, is the usual stereoscopic 3-D hodgepodge of slow-motion flips, sprints, swings and bullet trajectories, which begs the question: If they ran these scenes at normal speed, would 95 dreary minutes become a much more expedient 20 to 25?
In the battle of the Paul Andersons at the box office, each one of them gets to be a winner in their own way. Paul Thomas, director of the fascinating new film The Master, is leading the critical pack with an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while Paul W.S. will be sitting happily on top of the box office with Resident Evil: Retribution. The fifth film in the franchise based on the video game franchise made $8.8 million on Friday, setting it up for a $23 million weekend and an easy #1 spot at the box office.
You can’t keep a good zombie franchise down; you can’t even keep a mediocre zombie franchise down. Hence, based on its financial success, you can expect that a sixth film in the franchise will be produced sometime in the very near future.