Written and Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory and Michelle Rodriguez
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“My name is Alice, and this is my world."
There’s a scene in Resident Evil: Retribution where Alice (Milla Jovovich) stumbles across a factory farm that’s full of her own clones steadily streaming across an assembly line. Such an image is apt because it succinctly mirrors a Resident Evil film franchise that’s similarly churned out five films in a decade, with each of the films operating like clockwork. By this point, director/producer/writer Paul W.S. Anderson has refined the formula in the same manner McDonald’s has refined the Big Mac: by slapping it together in a gaudy package and coasting on a familiar flavor. In this case, Retribution feels like a warmed-over offering that Anderson’s had sitting under a heating lamp since Afterlife was released.
We pick up, of course, with the final scene from that film, where Alice, Claire (Ali Larter) and Chris (Wentworth Miller) were set to ride out the zombie apocalypse on their sanctuary ship until Umbrella agents descended upon it. A reverse slo-mo sequence during the credits reveals that Umbrella obliterated Alice and her crew, and the corporation finally captured its pet project. After the obligatory monologue that recaps the series, she awakens in Umbrella’s premiere facility, an underwater structure that’s serves as her prison until Wesker (Shawn Roberts) organizes a prison break with a ragtag group headed by Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Ada Wong (Li Bingbing).
Yeah, that Wesker--the guy who’s been trying to kill Alice for the last few movies. Last seen exploding all over the ocean in Afterlife, he’s somehow back here and playing a reluctant good guy since he needs Alice for his own purposes. Per usual, he’s resigned to showing up on monitors and being snarky. Meanwhile, Alice--now teamed up with Ada instead of Claire, who has all but disappeared--has to fight through a horde of Umbrella’s mutations to meet up with Leon and his crew. Obviously, plot is pretty expendable and only occurs in the form of exposition dumps that last as long as Anderson can resist shoving another action sequence in your face. In fact, it takes almost twenty minutes for anything resembling a storyline to emerge, as Alice has an extended dream sequence that finds her a suburban housewife with a husband (Oded Fehr) and daughter (Ayrana Engineer). The idyllic existence is shattered by zombies and the cruel reality that Umbrella is actually keeping her under lock and key.
When Alice finally breaks out and the film is underway, Retribution becomes a pretty good replication of the video game experience. Such a criticism has become pretty passé lately, but it actually feels like you’re watching Alice and Ada advance through different levels since the compound simulates outbreaks in different cities. The film’s tagline is “Evil Goes Global,” but everything’s actually confined in this facility that sees Alice and Ada run through the Tokyo level, the New York level, the suburbs level, etc. Meanwhile, Leon and company get stuck in the Russia level, which is apparently stuck in the 80s since they encounter Soviet zombies in a rare bit of ingenuity since Nazi zombies are a little played out. The various action sequences are as cool--and meaningless--as ever since Anderson clearly has a passion for this much at least, but even it’s all old hat. There’s only so many times you can see a rain-soaked Milla Jovovich dual-fisting guns and pummeling zombies to the tune of a fine Tomandandy score before you start to desire something more--like a plot--to keep you engaged.
For his review of Friday the 13th Part 2, Roger Ebert somewhat infamously insisted that it could stand for any other entry in the franchise. I’m resisting the urge to say the same about Resident Evil: Retribution, and I’m trying to meet it halfway; the only problem is that it looks pretty content to stand pat. I mean, the last one is ostensibly “the one where Alice and her buddies escape from a prison,” while Retribution is “the one where Alice and her buddies escape from an underground facility.” Whatever wrinkles that do emerge are callbacks to the previous entries or better movies. Plenty of characters from previous movies appear in various forms: Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) is now a brain-washed Umbrella operative who gets to growl one-liners, while Michelle Rodriguez and Oded Fehr return in multiple roles as avatars within the Umbrella simulations. Both have the enthusiasm of actors deigning to reappear because they need new cars or something. Also in the simulation is a little girl, so Alice--who is I guess this generation’s Ripley--finally gets her Newt, as Retribution goes for cheap “child in peril” beats.
Fans of the video games will also finally get to see Leon, Ada, Barry Burton, and even those chainsaw-wielding bastards appear, but I’m not so sure they’ll be satisfied. Like recent entries in the franchise, there’s a lot of visual fidelity to the original source--these characters sure look a lot like their videogame counterparts, but it’s all surface-level imagery designed to appeal to a fanboy desire for familiarity, seemingly tossed in to give that audience a bone. Gnawing on it for more than a few seconds will reveal its hollowness--even for this series, Retribution feels like an empty retread that only exists to setup part six, which the final scene hints to be the “beginning of the end.” In Paul Anderson terms, that probably translates to “as long as it takes for the box office well to dry up.” In my review for Afterlife, I jokingly suggested that Retribution could be like the Fast Five of the series, but that’s what Resident Evil 6 will so desperately try to be, only it’s destined to fall flat since none of these characters--save for Alice--have been given a chance to resonate. Instead, I suspect the next one will just be 90 minutes of this film’s final image: a Paul W.S. Anderson wet dream, a cacophony of digital sound and fury signifying--in 3D, of course. Rent it!
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