Three things in life are certain. Death, taxes and the thundering inevitability of a new Resident Evil movie every couple of years. I’ll begin by admitting something that the previous sentence probably already made clear, I’m not a fan of this increasingly dog-eared franchise, and I’m even less enamoured with its primary creative figure, Paul WS Anderson, who has either directed or produced every entry in the franchise thus far.
I’ve always found these movies to be infantile, creatively sterile and so far removed from the games that inspired them that it’s maddening to see them share a name. However, I’ve decided to give this latest entry a fair shot, not expect a faithful adaptation of the video game, not expect a story that makes sense, to just try and enjoy it for it is meant to be, dumbass, lightweight action porn. So here goes…
Unlike the movies preceding it, Resident Evil: Retribution actually attempts a level of continuity with its predecessor by starting at the precise moment the last film ended. It’s a welcome move, previously the movies had seemed very separate despite a handful of recurring characters, there seemed to be no true through line connecting them. Unfortunately, like anything positive in these movies, it doesn’t last, and an image of our unconscious heroine Alice is swiftly replace by her waking up in another place and time entirely, apparently safe and living in lush, suburban harmony with a husband and young daughter. This new scenario is then replaced by another very familiar one, a zombie onslaught. It is not however familiar from the Resident Evil films, always strangely undead light affairs, it is instead cribbed so blatantly from the Zach Snyder/James Gunn Dawn of the Dead remake that lawyers should probably be involved.
Then, in another, final attention deficit switcheroo, Alice awakes (again…) inside an Umbrella corporation holding facility. Swiflty escaping with the aid of the inappropriately dressed rebel Ada Wong, Alice must battle her way through various Umbrella training zones made up as major cities like Tokyo, New York and the suburban paradise of the previous zombie attack. It’s half lazy, half masterstroke on Anderson’s part, he’s always been fond of switching manically from one mad scenario to another with little rhyme or reason, now he’s made it an actual plot point. Touche. Another sneaky plot contrivance sees these training areas populated by expendable clones, allowing for some of the franchises more famous, more dead cast members to be resurrected, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Salmon and Oded Fehr all returning as villainous Umbrella mercenaries. In turn, Alice is backed up by some fan favourite characters such as Leon Kennedy and Barry Burton, and the next hour or so is dedicated to a series of slick but soulless slow-mo shootouts and punch ups between these characters and a few undead nasties, including, lord help us, machine gun wielding Russian zombies on motorbikes (the slow-mo button is leaned on so heavily during these scenes that the movie would last about 20 minutes without it). None of it makes all that much of an impact though, when I don’t care about even one character the outcome is really of no interest, which is a huge problem. The fight scenes are impressive to a degree, the fight choreography all in camera rather than faked in the edit, it’s a very welcome approach, but I’m still not invested in the outcome of these frequent skirmishes. The performances are partly to blame, Bingbing Li, Johann Urb and Shawn Roberts are stunningly wooden and awkward, the script plays a part, but cannot account entirely for how dire they are. Only two performers make it out unscathed. First up is Kevin Durand as Barry Burton, he’s a quality actor playing a fan favourite character, and as such is able AND Allowed to invest a little more personality and wit than the other cast members. The other shining light is Milla Jovovich, who’s dedication to these movies cannot be understated. She’s given little in terms of a real character arc, but in terms of her physical performance and straight faced dedication to an increasingly daft story, she’s this series resolute backbone.
I can honestly say that I didn’t hate Resident Evil: Retribution, it came dangerously close to entertainment at times, diverting is the word I would use to describe it. Fans of the previous entries will be satisfied. Fans of the games will need to wait a bit for a serious minded, horror themed reboot, this ball is going to keep rolling for the foreseeable future.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writer: Paul W.S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez
Runtime: 96 min
Country: Germany, Canada, USA