I finally got around to checking out Resident Evil: Retribution, this year’s entry into the Resident Evil film canon, and the fifth movie in the series so far. It’s also the second return for Director Paul W.S. Anderson, who took the second and third movies off from director duties but came back for the fourth, and now this one.
My relationship with Resident Evil is one even I don’t fully understand. On the one hand, I kind of hate the movies. They make little sense if any at all, willfully bastardizing the stories and lore from the Resident Evil game series to funnel a whole lot action sequences onto film. They’re each an order of magnitude more ridiculous and insane than the last. They’ve documented a zombie apocalypse that just won’t end, one that resulted in the desertification of the world in the third film but which doesn’t seem to continue to hold true for the rest. And they contain almost nothing but schlocky, idiotic dialog.
On the other hand, those action sequences can be pretty awesome. In fact, the fourth movie, Resident Evil: Afterlife, is a pretty remarkable feat of zombie beatdowns, giant monster fights, slow-motion gunplay and more.
Earlier this year, I spent some time researching the Resident Evil films for a book project called The Unofficial Resident Evil Trivia Challenge, and during that time I learned a lot about the series. Chiefly among them, Resident Evil: Afterlife, the first 3-D entry into the series, is actually a pretty commendable effort. The movie set a few bars in terms of 3-D photography, led the development of some new techniques, and actually is pretty impressive in terms of the medium.
Retribution continues a lot of those same ideas. Lots of slow-motion, particle-heavy scenes and photography for cool 3-D effects, for one. The movie largely takes place in (spoiler) a giant Umbrella testing facility that re-creates a number of locations and situations using clones. It’s not an idea that makes any degree of sense — like whatsoever — but it does afford Anderson a chance to move back through some pre-apocalyptic locations and revisit some earlier characters from the series.
Largely, none of those things are really used to great effect, although Michelle Rodriguez gets a pretty good return trip the franchise. Really, it’s kind of strange how little Anderson does with a bunch of notable, name characters from the game series. The entire movie is a sprint from one end of the facility to the other, with zombies and/or gunfights interspersed throughout. It banks mostly on “bigger version of something we’ve seen before” — quite literally with a giant licker monster, more figuratively with Alice taking on two Axe Men creatures at the same time.
And then there’s the situation of its antagonists, of which it really doesn’t have any. There’s the returning Jill Valentine, who, as in the games, has been mind-controlled into being evil. There’s the return of the homicidal AI known as the Red Queen, but none of what happens — the computers motivations, the Umbrella facility itself, what anyone else is up to — makes any sense. It doesn’t even make the cursory sense that it made before. The second film saw the entire besieged city scenario as bioweapons testing; the third had Umbrella pursuing Alice to use her blood to create a T-virus cure. Even the fourth movie at least posited that the homicidal antagonist Wesker was using surviving humans to further his own power. What the hell are the motivations of anybody in Retribution, other than “die as awesomely as possible?”
There are none, although, really, we haven’t come to expect much at this point. Resident Evil: Retribution is certainly slick-looking, which is nice, and packed full of crazy, huge set piece moments, which are also nice. It channels Aliens to an almost worrisome degree, but that, at least, gives the characters one or two seconds of humanity between all the shooting. The RE films are progressively getting more and more ludicrous, though, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. For the most successful video game-to-film franchise out there, it’s disappointing the bar is continually being set lower on story and higher on arbitrary things, like “gun-wielding zombies killed while also riding motorcycles.”