Milla Jovovich. Zombies. 3D. Resident Evil: Retribution. You can probably fill in the rest.
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS! SOME SIDE EFFECTS MAY OCCUR!
The preternaturally-skilled Alice (Milla Jovovich) continues her crusade against the Umbrella Corporation and their hordes of T-Virus undead, starting exactly where she left off in Resident Evil: Afterlife. Forming an uneasy alliance with the defected former Umbrella leader Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) and his associate Ada Wong (Li Bingbing), Alice must escape Umbrella’s base of operations before she is captured and/or killed by the brainwashed Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and clones of Alice’s deceased allies Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) and Carlos Rivera (Oded Fehr). And, of course, hordes of undead stand in her way, as well. That’s it. No, really. Plot? What’s this “plot” you keep talking about?
If anything in the previous paragraph doesn’t ring any bells, don’t worry. Milla Jovovich takes plenty of time after the opening credits to get you up to speed in what has become the series’ obligatory “My name is Alice” scene. Even if you miss that, the first act is full of great big gobs of exposition, so there’s no need to be intimately familiar with the previous films or even with the Capcom video games they’re based on. After all, the films have never been too concerned with fidelity to the games, which is more than likely intentional. While that makes the film highly accessible, it also leaves it lacking a strong identity.
Never bring a gun to a dogfight.
Writer/director (and husband of Jovovich) Paul W. S. Anderson knows what he’s doing. Anderson specializes in crowd-pleasing action absurdities, from the surprisingly entertaining Mortal Kombat to the off-the-wall-and-out-the-door The Three Musketeers. In fact, he’s the one who started the whole RE film franchise back in 2002, also as writer/director (and future husband of Jovovich). Anderson has served as writer and producer for the entire series, stepping back into the director’s chair for 2010’s Resident Evil: Afterlife.
That being said, Retribution‘s lack of clear identity is even more inexplicable. Aesthetically and tonally, it matches Anderson’s other directorial efforts in the series, which is a welcome thing. Apocalypse and Extinction both lacked Anderson’s wit, taking themselves far too seriously. Anderson is a master at making slick, often darkly humorous action sequences, like a mash-up of Dario Argento‘s Grand Guginol excess and the logic-and-physics-defying melees of Asian martial arts films. Considering that the film is comprised of roughly 75.291% action sequences and approximately 10.54% plot (measured by weight, not volume, some settling may occur) this works out to mostly a good thing.
Excuse me, I’m looking for Patient Zero.
However, the lack of plot weighs the movie down, making the constant battles eventually feel tiresome. Of all the films in the RE franchise, Retribution is by far the most like a video game. After the opening scenes, Alice awakens in the middle of Umbrella’s prime testing grounds, unarmed and unclothed, aside from a couple of strategically-placed hand towels held together by dental floss. The entirety of the plot revolves around Alice getting equipped and getting out. There’s a time limit, items to collect, NPCs to team up with, boss battles and several different levels that vary in look, but not in structure. Umbrella’s created several absurdly sophisticated arenas to test the T-Virus’ effects on a large population, including a cheery suburb and a re-creation of Afterlife‘s opening scenes in Tokyo.
In fact, a good portion of the film seems like a re-creation, a kind of blood-and-brains strewn clip reel. However, except for Jill Valentine, almost nothing from the 2nd or 3rd films is referenced. Oded Fehr appears as a cloned version of his character from previous films, but he has little screen time or dialogue, and the only monsters that make a return appearance are the Axeman and Plaga zombies from Afterlife. It’s as if Anderson wants us to forget those middle films even happened, kind of like how Highlander II: The Quickening is usually swept under the rug (a film directed, oddly enough, by Extinction‘s Russell Mulcahy). Anderson turned Afterlife into a quasi-reboot, eliminating a number of plot threads from the previous films with the opening scenes and contriving a way to remove Alice’s superhuman abilities, so the lack of callbacks to the 2nd and 3rd films aren’t entirely missed and weren’t necessary in the first place.
Oh, man…did I shoot a lot of zombies last night?
With its lack of proper story, it’s up to the cast to give the film life, and Milla Jovovich is more than up to the task. The RE franchise is largely responsible for cementing Jovovich’s status as “the reigning queen of kicking butt,” and she doesn’t disappoint in that respect. Anderson keeps the fight scenes cleanly edited, both to highlight the fight choreography and to highlight the fact that Jovovich does all her own fighting and stunt work. Jovovich also gets to flex her acting muscles more than perhaps any of the previous RE films thanks to an Umbrella simulation that finds an Alice clone re-born as a typical suburban housewife, complete with a hunky husband (another clone of Carlos) and a precocious daughter (Aryana Engineer). When Alice Alpha returns to the suburban simulation and finds the daughter still alive, the two bond in a kind of Ripley/Newt relationship that doesn’t seem forced or arbitrary.
While a number of characters from the previous films make appearances, the most welcome is Michelle Rodriguez as Rain Ocampo. Rain died at the end of the first film, but like so many others in the film, she comes back as a pair of clones. The “Bad Rain” is a tough-as-nails badass with an enormous rifle (aka “The Michelle Rodriguez Character”), while the “Good Rain” is the polar opposite, a bleeding-heart liberal who hates guns, drives a hybrid with a “no meat” sticker and wears sensible high heels. There’s a good deal of humor in seeing Rodriguez in such an atypical role, and both Anderson and Rodriguez herself seem to acknowledge this. Rodriguez is very good at satirizing her own image, both in Good Rain’s differences and in Bad Rain’s exaggerated similarities. Shawn Roberts also does well as Wesker, exuding an undeniable charisma while simultaneously projecting a smarmy arrogance (he also fills out a turtleneck quite nicely). Sienna Guillory isn’t called on to do much as Jill Valentine, seeing as how she’s essentially a puppet of Umbrella for most of the film, so she lacks the fun and energy she had from Apocalypse.
Who are you and what have you done with Michelle Rodriguez?
The new characters are a mixed bag. Several prominent characters from the series show up, seemingly just to be sure that they’re actually in the films. If an actor’s playing such a character, they’re highlighted in the opening credits (such as “Sienna Guillory as Jill Valentine”). Granted, it’s not all a bad thing, and it won’t mean anything to anybody not familiar with the games. Of the new characters, the most interesting happens to be Kevin Durand as Barry Barton, part of a rescue squad that includes Afterlife‘s Luther Kane (Boris Kodjoe) and Leon Kennedy (a very pretty, but very bland Johann Urb). Durand has charisma to spare, not to mention killer biceps, so it’s a shame that he doesn’t get more screen time. Li Bingbing makes a welcome addition as Ada Wong, and with her insanely smooth skin and fashionable-but-wildly-impractical high-slit cheongsam, she looks like she could have stepped right out of a video game. As equipped as she is to make a welcome sidekick for Alice, what keeps her from fully connecting is the fact that her voice sounds just…not right. It’s unclear if Bingbing had her lines dubbed over or not; she may very well just be fully and accentually bilingual, similar to how Utada Hikaru speaks English and Japanese equally and fluently. However, there’s an odd disconnect between her voice and her face, and it takes away from Bingbing’s otherwise exciting performance.
Fashion-forward and ready for battle.
All of this may sound like I’m bashing the film, but that’s not entirely the case. Retribution does what it sets out to do: provide about 90 minutes (83 minus credits) of gory, escapist action. It’s clear that the film is merely connective tissue between Afterlife and the sixth and final film (Resident Evil: Zombieland, maybe?), but that doesn’t excuse the lack of plot. You can barely go 5 minutes without asking yourself “Wait? What?” during some of the story developments/plot contrivances. If you’re a fan of the film series, this is more of the same, but in surprisingly well-executed and produced 3D. If you’re not a fan of the series, this won’t change your mind in the least. But then again, sometimes you just need to turn off your brain and enjoy some good old-fashioned ultraviolence. Mmmm…brains…
Rating: 5 out of 10 / C
JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and a devout Jovovichian.