Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth but likely not final installment in the Resident Evil movie franchise, opens up with a lot of promise. After an infuriating opening title scene—we have to watch a whole action sequence in slow motion, backward, before seeing it again in normal speed and forward—Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up to find herself in the suburbs. Her husband is Oded Fehr‘s character, Carlos Olivera, and they have a deaf daughter, Becky (Aryana Engineer).
Where’s this going? Well, a zombie outbreak happens, Carlos dies, Alice runs into Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), and eventually blacks out, waking up in a white room with the Umbrella Corporation’s symbol on the floor. Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) is running an interrogation, but soon enough, the computer system is hacked and Alice is freed. She finds out from two people—Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) and Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts)—that she’s in an Umbrella facility below the ice in Russia, and that she’ll need help from both of them in order to escape.
From there, we go through one big set piece action scene to another. There are some interesting locations—Umbrella built replicas of some famous cities, inside of this facility, in order to test their virus—some fun moments, and a few characters that show up that I wasn’t expecting. Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Luther (Boris Kodjoe) are leading a team to break out Alice and Ada, while Jill, Rain & Carlos (a different Rain and Carlos; not the ones we ran into earlier), and James Shade (Colin Salmon) lead a team of faceless soldiers to try to stop the escape.
I know you’re wondering a few things at this point. (1) How are Rain, Carlos, Colin, and Wesker all still alive? (2) Why is Wesker helping Alice? (3) What’s the point of involving even more characters from the Resident Evil games in the franchise? (4) What happened to Chris, Claire and K-Mart? The only simple answer can be given to the last two. “Who knows?” pretty much sums it up for both of those.
As for how these characters are all still alive, well, we get an explanation. Inside the facility, multiple clones were made of pretty much all of the primary characters in the series. They are implanted with memories and then run through viral simulations. It’s cheaper than capturing a bunch of actual people, I guess. So, Rain, Carlos, Colin and so on all have evil clones that a brainwashed Jill uses as foot soldiers. How did Wesker survive? Well, he’s Wesker and basically gets to do what he wants, which in this film is to aid Alice’s escape.
He won’t explain why, and you won’t find out until the end, but he wants Alice alive. Something about human extinction or something. The Red Queen is behind it all, and she wants Alice either captured or dead. Jill is tasked with that. It’s all an excuse to go through various slow motion action sequences anyway, but at least you get to know the reason behind it all.
Resident Evil: Retribution is a Resident Evil movie through and through.
Is that story convoluted enough? I think it is, and yet, it’s all oddly simple. Alice is in a containment facility and needs all the help she can get to break out. That’s it. But there is so many reasons for everything to happen, reasons that, at this point in the series, we don’t really need. Does it surprise anyone that Umbrella has a lot of clones? It’s a big shock to everyone here. If you’ve been with the franchise from the beginning, nothing in the story will give you a jolt.
I talk so much about the story, however, because there’s nothing else to mention. It’s a Paul W.S. Anderson movie, so you basically know what to expect. Lots of action, little character interaction, Milla Jovovich framed in the best light possible, and some pretty visuals on a relatively tight budget. You get it all here, and by now, nothing about the film should surprise. It has almost created its own formula, and it follows it to the letter. The only difference from this film and the first one is that the first one tried for a little bit of horror and had fewer large set-pieces. This one doesn’t even think about being scary, instead wanting to be a relentlessly paced action movie. It succeeds.
The only character relationship that receives any development is the one between Alice and Becky. Alice more or less adopts her, even though it was really an Alice clone that was her “mother.” It’s much like the mother-daughter relationship in Aliens, except without any of the tenderness. At one point, Becky gets captured—which makes no sense, by the way, as the thing that captures her killed everything else it touched—and, of course, Alice has to go save her.
Slow motion action scenes in native 3D can look good. It’s overdone here, and it makes a brief movie that’s filled with less content than its running time allows for, which is unfortunate. You could have some relationships develop, and you could let these characters grow, but that can’t happen because of how short the film is. (The original running time was reportedly 117 minutes, which was cut down to 97 later on, either to allow for more screenings during the day, or so that a director’s cut will be produced for home video. Either way, more should have been in the final release.)
Resident Evil: Retribution is a Resident Evil movie through and through. It has a lot of action, a bunch of characters from the video games, some gorgeous visuals produced on a relatively modest budget, and absolutely no depth to anything other than the convolution given to its universe. If you’ve stuck with the series through to this point, you’ll want to see this one, too. If you haven’t, this isn’t the film that will make you want to go back and see the others.
Conclusion: Resident Evil: Retribution is a greatest hits celebration of the first four movies.
Recommendation: If you’re still watching these, you might as well finish at this point, right?