Paul W. S. Anderson directs Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth entry in the Resident Evil series and the follow-up to 2010’s Resident Evil: Afterlife. Anderson also wrote the screenplay, which is based on the video game series of the same name.
It’s interesting to note just how video-gamey this movie is, complete with seeming “levels” for the characters to go through as part of a broader simulation. This could be seen as a way of classifying everything this series has come to stand for so far or it could be seen as a way to collect a pile of bad guys for the good guys to mow down. Either way works.
Milla Jovovich is back as Alice and she’s captured by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), who has been working for the Umbrella Corporation on account of a brainwashing device. Alice is hauled off to an underground facility and escapes to find herself in a simulation, where Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) assists her.
According to former Umbrella head and current sunglasses aficionado Wesker (Shawn Roberts), the company has been taker over by the artificial intelligence Red Queen (Megan Charpentier). Alice tries to escape the facility, while a rescue team also works to get her out.
Resident Evil: Retribution weaves a more effective yarn than its predecessors because it commits to itself. While Resident Evil: Afterlife was stunningly inert and Resident Evil: Extinction seemed stuck in the mud, this picture does move and does count.
Some of that has to do with a lighter touch, as there are some actual jokes and a healthy dose of humour to develop the characters as fixtures of interest and not mere avatars. Better still, Resident Evil: Retribution does a neat job of catching people up in the series so that newcomers can jump into the storyline.
And Jovovich is given more to do, at least in terms of emotional resonance. Her backstory crystallizes, with a deaf daughter (Aryana Engineer) playing a critical role as part of the delineation of Alice’s suburban romanticism. Michelle Rodriguez’s Rain Ocampo also factors in.
None of this is to say that Anderson’s decipherable aesthetic takes a backseat. But while Resident Evil: Afterlife insisted that the look and feel of the movie was more important than the movie itself, Resident Evil: Retribution has its shit together long enough to build the variables into something more important.
The fight scenes run through the same slow-motion paces, with the opening scene having the audacity to run backwards and in slow-mo. Somehow the action is more kinetic and the fights have a little more snap – even if Anderson does get carried away with “bone-crunching” sound effects when Alice and Jill face off in the finale.
There are beasties galore, most of which amount to the bosses at the end of a given level. There are clones, a group of diseased goons known as the Las Plagas Undead, more zombies, two axe-wielding goliaths, and something known as a giant Licker. Don’t ask.
Resident Evil: Retribution is satisfying. It’s light, well-paced, action-packed, and amusing. It still labours under the accoutrements of Anderson’s direction, but there’s enough gas in the tank to overcome many of its shortcomings. The bar may be low at this point, but the film’s not that bad.