Resident Evil, iconic name in gaming, is one of the most acclaimed, respected and long-running franchises in the industry. The high point of the series, Resident Evil 4, was a landmark in storytelling, pacing and blockbuster production values. When Capcom gifted the rights to bring the series to the silver screen back in 2002 to Paul WS Anderson, anticipation wasn’t exactly at an all time high.
What Anderson managed to deliver was a reasonably solid slab of horror/action spectacle. While it will never be considered an classic, the film was received well enough to greenlight a multitude of sequels.
Now a decade after debuting on the big screen, Resident Evil returns for another stab at redemption in this, the fifth (and yes, I did have to look that up) iteration. And much like that other husband and wife series Underworld, things just keep on getting worse.
Retribution takes place immediately following the cliffhanger that ended 2010’s Afterlife (which, like Retribution was also filmed in 3D) with heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) and a ragbag of survivors facing an armada of Umbrella gunships bearing down at their sanctuary on an oil tanker.
An incredible opening sequence played in reverse sets a high bar for the rest of the movie that unfortunately not only isn’t matched, but is almost wiped clean out of memory with the jumbled mess that follows.
The problem isn’t so much in that the audience needs to be familiar with the previous movies or the gaming series, indeed Alice gives a brief summary of what has gone on previously after she is blown off of the oil tanker and into a convenient unconsciousness, it’s that each movie “feels” so distinctly different than the ones before.
Alice awakens in yet another Umbrella lab and soon finds herself racing through Moscow, New York and Tokyo attempting to outwit a resurrected Red Queen, reunite with lost loves and survive an army of undead and mercenaries alike.
Compare this to previous adventures in a sand-filled Las Vegas, the frozen Alaska wilderness and the top of a downtown skyscraper and things just feel thematically inconsistent. This might have been explained with a change in cast or crew, but things have remained intact for virtually the whole series.
Retribution also serves as a reunion of sorts for major cast members who have previously expired and unlike Alice, the fate of these returnees is completely in peril; none, apart from a sparkling Michelle Rodriguez, register more than a whimper on the excitement meter though.
Where the first Resident Evil was steeped in tension and actual narrative drama as the audience felt that Alice was in actual peril, as time and sequels have passed, the stress that Alice was mortal has dissipated and Retribution really doesn’t put Alice into any situation that you don’t think she will survive.
Indeed with no sense of urgency, despite the amount of running that poor Alice does, the movie doesn’t pick up pace that the narrative Mcguffin requires. Things aren’t helped by a sense that all the dialogue the characters let loose are catchphrases and sometimes it even seems like the actors aren’t even talking to each other while uttering them.
It’s a shame really; Milla Jovovich as Alice has become the badass killing machine that the genre requires out of her, and alongside Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, shows that the fairer of the species can kick ass as hard as any man. It’s a pity that the series has refused to play things with a bit more tongue-in-check and has kept the franchise pumping out as a serious dramatic entry in the zombie apocalypse, where something like Zombieland has shown just how much fun they could have.
With an admittedly spectacular conclusion, setting up the inevitable, allegedly final chapter in the series, Retribution is bookended by the two best moments in the film. Pity then, that the rest of the film is such a drag.