Title: Resident Evil: Retribution
Directed Be: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Millia Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer, Bingbing Li, Boris Kodjoe, Johanna Urb, Kevin Durand, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Shawn Roberts
Quality-wise, the “Resident Evil” franchise has been on the decline ever since the first film arrived back in 2002, but, let’s face it, was the series ever really about quality? “Resident Evil” is for action, monsters and Alice, and while the first four films of the franchise held on, they certainly started to slip, leaning far more on the excuse of stemming from a videogame than making the leaps necessary to turn a videogame into an enthralling moviegoing experience. But at least the first four films tried. “Retribution” abandons storytelling entirely for lame CGI and a desperate attempt at bringing franchise favorites together.
Alice (Milla Jovovich) is back – yet again. She escaped the Umbrella research facility, made it out of Raccoon City, came face to face with countless clones of herself and rescued her friends from a prison overrun with zombies, but her story isn’t over yet. “Resident Evil: Retribution” kicks off after Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and her Umbrella troops devastate the tanker Alice claims for survivors at the end of “Afterlife.” Alice wakes up in an underground Umbrella research facility where she’s interrogated by Jill, blasted with a mind-numbing sound, interrogated by Jill, and deafened yet again until the lights go out, a magic draw reveals typical Alice attire and the cell door opens.
On her way out, Alice bumps into Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) who informs her that she’s here to help and that there’s also a strike team on the way. While Alice and Ada try to go from the bottom up, Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb), Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) and a couple more are on their way down, hoping to rendezvous with the ladies and make their way back to the surface together.
Sounds all neat and tidy when I put it that way, right? You’re very welcome Paul W.S. Anderson because your script is downright nonsensical. “Retribution” opens well, recalling the final events of “Afterlife” by playing the tanker attack in reverse. It’s got a nice “Final Destination” feel to it. However, then Anderson continues his effort to get fans back up to speed and fill in the newcomers in the worst way possible; he lets Alice stand in front of a black screen and narrate the events of the first four films. If you need to devote precious minutes of your 95 minute film to a play by play of past events, your movie cannot stand on its own and, sure enough, “Resident Evil: Retribution” isn’t a story; it’s a maniacal montage of cartoonish battle sequences.
Of course there’s no way to know what was going through Anderson’s mind while writing the film unless he told you himself, but it likely went a little like this, “A silhouette of Alice would be cool here, Alice in Tokyo would be cool there, more Michelle Rodriguez would be cool here,” and so on. There are all these great concepts for visuals and fight set pieces, but there are far too many for the film and budget to sustain, and absolutely no sensible through line to connect them all.
The whole bit about Alice waking up as a suburban housewife with a husband and kid is fun at first, but when it amounts to little to nothing, you feel cheated. The extra helping of Rodriguez’s Rain could have been a nice treat, but Anderson devotes zero time to explaining how she got there. The crazy thing is, “Retribution” is absolutely drowning in exposition. There’s actually not much dialogue in it, but when characters do speak, their lines are often devoid of emotion and entirely geared toward explaining some silly detail of the story.
Naturally, this leaves the actors very little to work with. Jovovich still makes for a decent Alice and gives it her all, but it’s hard not to feel as though the character is completely tapped. We’ve seen her in all of these situations before and throwing in a cute kid (Aryana Engineer) isn’t enough to reveal a new side. Perhaps fans of the game will be thrilled with Ada Wong’s inclusion, but minus the obligatory spoken backstory, we get zero access to what she’s about. And how about Rain, One (Colin Salmon) and Carlos (Oded Fehr)? Are we just expected to believe that they’ve all been turned into mindless Umbrella supporters? It’s a wonder why an actor would take such a role because, other than Rodriguez, they’ve got zero room to stretch their legs and actually bring their characters to life. They’re merely standing there with guns for show.
And that’s really the case with everything in “Retribution;” it’s all for show and perhaps that could have worked had the action, the creatures and the environment been quality material. Sadly, everything here looks cartoonish. The hallway battle revealed in one of the film’s very first clips holds up well, but just about everything else looks entirely fake, a detrimental issue when you’re trying to sell two giants wielding massive axes and zombified Nazi-like creatures. As for the fights, again, who knows what the stunt choreographer did to prepare, but I picture something along the lines of a 5-year-old sitting down, twirling action figures in the air and smashing them together.
Yet again, another assumption, but perhaps had the filmmakers not adopted the “let’s do it in post” mentality, more resources could have been put towards the actual footage. There isn’t even that much of it, as a nice chunk of “Resident Evil: Retribution” consists of entirely digitized interfaces and characters. Just because a movie is based on a videogame, doesn’t mean it has to look like one, too, and for how many sets they seem to have built, it’s a wonder why so much looks so fake.
Even if they had achieved some degree of success with elaborate sets, flashy costumes, pricy special effects and more, it almost always comes down to story and in that respect, “Resident Evil: Retribution” is far too flawed to make due without being pitch perfect in every other department, and clearly, it’s not.