Director: Paul W. S Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Aryana Engineer, Sienna Guillory, Li Bingbing, Michelle Rodriguez, Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Kevin Durand
Plot: Alice (Jovovich) finds herself trapped in an Umbrella testing facility, where old friends and enemies are out to get her.
Resident Evil has always been a film of two halves. On one half, it is a good old-fashioned zombie romp, more focused on action than scares, but still holding a decent amount of undead thrills to amuse. On the other half, it is a stylised action as Alice takes on the Umbrella Corporation, an endlessly heinous organisation who are intent on hatching evil, world-ending schemes (apparently, no more customers is great for business), every so often. While the zombie side of things is grounded in some form of reality (bearing in mind, the later instalments of the game are hardly lessons in gritty realism), the action is a laborious chore to get through, over-choreographed punch-ups, often involving clones that remove the stakes from the stunts and nonsensical plot devices. It is easy to see which side of Resident Evil is more appealing. Sadly, with Retribution, the survival in a zombie apocalypse side of things is erased completely and the whole of the fifth movie is spent taking on the Umbrella corporation in their underwater Russian base.
The entire movie acts out as everything wrong with this Resident Evil series. It starts off by removing the cliffhanger from the fourth film. Other than an explosion that knocks Alice unconscious, there is no explanation as to what happened to Claire, Chris or K-Mart. Instead, the movie starts with a clean slate. I am not against this narrative device, because the audience are quivering with anticipation at what happened to their favourite characters. However, when the clean slate is used to give us Retributions’ storyline, it is hard to not feel slightly cheated. Alice is imprisoned in a testing facility, where the Umbrella test out their T-Virus weapons, on clones of people they have in their database. Cue Alice making her way through the Red Queen’s holographic corridors, chased by cameo appearances from Rodriguez, Colin Salmon, Oded Fehr… The excitement of the return of old faces is a deceptive trick. They bring little more than familiarity to the script and as Rodriguez’s clones rack up a high body count in themselves, it is hard to wonder why we are meant to be rooting for each new appearance from the actress. As Alice makes her way through the facility, she encounters not only characters she recognises but monsters too. The movie plays out like a Greatest Hits album, all the most successful zombie bosses returning for another chance at butchering Alice. Only now their appearance feels so artificial. When the set-up is the Red Queen pushing a button and another tough zombie boss walks around the corner, it is really tough to feel anything but monotony towards the result. It means that when we are watching a fairly well put together action sequence where school buses are destroyed in a torrent of nail-biting slow-mo stunts, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. It only makes you want to try them down in their original appearance earlier on in the franchise. This whole film struggles to capture the glory days of the franchise, apparently forgetting that their greatest entry was the original, a movie that played it simple and focused on heart, rather than superficial stunts.
Retribution is simply trying far too hard to administer fan service. It is ironic that whenever the movies try to throw back to the original game, like dragging Jill Valentine’s character into Apocalypse, even when Jovovich didn’t really benefit from a female co-star, they end up losing a slice of quality from proceedings. They have managed it before, Claire and Chris Redfield being written into the story independently and thoughtfully, so their characters felt three-dimensional and necessary to the story. Realising that he is running out of time before his final sixth movie, Paul W. S Anderson simply dumps the known faces from the game into the story all at once. While Alice breaks out of the facility, a crack team of survivors are planning to meet her on the other side. Enter Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong and Barry Burton. Thankfully, Luther West, an actual character rather than a video game incarnation, joins them to add some form of depth to their scenes. I am not against this development, but each actor is asked to adopt a few traits from the game and never evolves the performance from there. Again, it is hard to tell which actors are terrible at their job or simply directed to talk like they are in a video game. They are merely written in to add more bullets to the fight scenes, asked to mow down hordes of zombies that now know how to use rocket launchers and machine guns. Again, it is all senseless violence with little depth. Occasionally the odd stunt or character death impresses, but on a whole, it boils down to a bunch of fight scenes stapled together, filmed and edited into a movie. Skip.
Final Verdict: Resident Evil has always threatened to hit rock bottom. Here it finally does, a dull smattering of fight scenes with minimal plot attached.