By Adam Bunch
Resident Evil: Retribution
Seen in: Imax 3D
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer, Oded Fehr, Bingbing Li, Boris Kodjoe, Johan Urb
Resident Evil: Retribution is the 5th movie in the successful franchise based on the Capcom video game, Resident Evil. The film brings back Alice (Milla Jovovich) in her quest to rid the world of the Umbrella Corporation, who’s bio-weapon, the T-Virus, has turned the planet into a population of zombies.
Immediately picking up about 1 minute after where the last movie (Resident Evil: Afterlife) left off, Retribution begins with Alice floating in the ocean, then backtracks with a nicely done title/credit sequence playing in slow motion reverse to the moment where the previous movie ended. What sounds campy and contrived actually works nicely to set up and show off both the 3D effects and scope of Imax.
For a film on it’s 5th installment, it smartly gets the audience up to speed with an explanation of where we are in the R.E. storyline, told from the perspective of Alice in what equates to a “video log”. This recaps all previous movies presumably to not alienate any new viewers and is a decent refresher since the series’ story lines have swung all over the place in the 4 previous movies, so far. Now, if this is a series you have been watching or following since the beginning or have at least watched the last few movies, what you will find here is a movie that is doing things quite differently than before, and it’s not a pleasant switch.
The problem with Resident Evil: Retribution isn’t that they set out to make a movie and did a poor job, it’s that they set out to make a movie that either wasn’t thought out or at least could be made with the least amount of thought and effort possible. Now, the Resident Evil movies are based on the video games of the same name, but they have always taken their own route, acknowledging their beginning as games while standing alone as movies. With this installment, all we get is a retreaded plot already seen in part 1, cues and visual elements taken from other films/games and slapped together hoping that the fan boys won’t mind. This is nowhere more obvious than in the introduction of several characters that are shoehorned very poorly into this movie because the director (Paul W.S. Anderson, Jovovich’s husband) decided to ask the video game’s fans what characters they wanted to see in a movie. It is not as if the series hasn’t had characters from the game inserted before (Ali Larter’s Claire Renfield, Wentworth Miller’s Chris Renfield & Sienna Guillory’s Jill Valentine have all been in the movie series), but those characters had a role in the overall story and it made logical sense for their characters to be there. In Retribution, some of the characters from the games, like Leon Kennedy (Urb), Ada Wong (Li), & Barry Burton (Durand), just arrive on scene and you are given no chance to care about what they are doing there. Leon isn’t even called by name until the end of the movie, so if you don’t recognize the “man bangs” his character sports from the game you won’t even know who he is. This all comes across as a desperate attempt to throw in some new faces hoping fans of the games will simply show up for the film.
Character development (or lack of) not withstanding, this film would still work in its own way if it wasn’t for the abysmal storytelling. All this movie does is come across as a replay of the 1st Resident Evil movie. Alice is trapped underground and has to escape to the surface with the Red Queen (Umbrella Corp.’s security system who has been completely absent since part 1) trying to stop her. Unfortunately it also plays out like it is suddenly a video game and not a movie. This idea might work if the series had already been going this way, but this is the FIFTH movie in a series, so from the time you see an image of the facility Alice must escape from (looking very similar to the Cobra base from G.I. Joe) all separated into different zones (cough, Hunger Games, cough), you start to think, “What now, are they going to have me watch them go through different levels and have Boss Battles at the end of each?” Yes they are and if that wasn’t bad enough, they are all Bosses we have seen before.
You might be saying to yourself, “Movies like this aren’t known for story, development, & compelling characters though”, right? “It is all about seeing a visually appealing, fun, popcorn-action movie”, right? Well Amigos, I agree and that is what I get out of most other R.E. movies…except this one. The backgrounds are insultingly obvious, cheap looking models or matte paintings. Due to the very poor way the 3D is presented, the action scenes are done in slow motion. All of Them. Once in a while, sure, slow-mo action works. It can show off some wire work and cool effects, however in this film it’s very clear that it cannot have any type of action at full speed without the entire thing getting choppy and jumpy. For a movie that has an action beat about every 10 minutes, this is completely unacceptable and shows a lack of effort in not only creating the movie but more importantly a lack of respect for the audience paying to see it.
With a final scene that hints to this series being wrapped up in the next 1-2 films, this is clear: it’s about time. It is not like this film had no entertaining elements; from the previously mentioned opening sequence, to Michelle Rodriguez playing against type with some very funny results, and a suburban zombie horror sequence that draws you in, there are some smiles to be had. That said, they are so overshadowed by the rest of the film that it feels like a chore to have to sit through this movie until the credits roll.