– Summary –
Director : Paul WS Anderson
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer, Johann Urb, Kevin Durand, Li Bingbing, Oded Fehr, Boris Kodjoe, Colin Salmon, Shawn Roberts, Mika Nakashima.
Approx Running Time : 95 Minutes
Synopsis: Milla Jovovich’s Alice character returns to take on the ubiquitous Umbrella Corporation and the hordes of undead plaguing the Earth.
What we think : Featuring far too many climaxes for a single film, and with an overabundance of self-important plotting, Retribution might just challenge Apocalypse as the worst of the Resident Evil cinema releases. Lacking even basic entertainment value, this dirge of a thing seems more intent on setting us up for the inevitable sequel than it does telling a story on its own merits. Cameos and reappearances from franchise alumni do little to bring any energy to this by-the-numbers entry into what was once a relatively enjoyable series of B-grade trash movies: just finish it already!
Time to move residences, I reckon.
Five films in, and the cracks aren’t only showing, people are disappearing into them like giant sinkholes in the Earth. Resident Evil’s wafer-thin original concept, stretched to snapping point and beyond with Milla Jovovich’s return for Afterlife, is utterly obliterated by a dearth of originality in Retribution, a film so awkward and lacklustre it’s hard to imagine it came from the mind of the same director. Even for a Resident Evil entry, this is a standard-issue bomb of a film, the kind of sound-and-fury ineptness that hamstrung Apocalypse, and nearly killed Extinction as well, only this time, I think we’ve well and truly hit the nadir. It’s the kind of film where logic, common sense and even rational thought have no place, and whereas the rest of this franchises’ films were content to be cheesy, attention-diverting entertainment only on the most basic level, Retribution (I’m sorry to say) doesn’t even match that. Even the title is stupid: at no point does anyone in this film seek “retribution” in any meaningful way. It’s like they’ve chosen a title just because it sounds cool. Should I be surprised? No, but I’m a smidge disappointed.
After escaping the events in Afterlife, and seemingly free on the Umbrella Corporation cargo ship, the minions of the corporations attack the survivors once again, plunging Alice (Milla Jovovich) into yet another fight for her life against the undead hordes. Waking again inside an Umbrella facility, set deep beneath the Arctic ice in the Russian wilderness, Alice teams up with Albert Weskers (Shawn Roberts, from Afterlife) top agents, Ada Wong (Li Bingbing), as they try and make rendezvous with a insurgent team of rescuers, led by Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and filled out by Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand). Alice discovers that clones of people she thought long dead – Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) and Todd (Oded Fehr) are around to hunt her down, as is the cloned “daughter” the Umbrella Corp gave her for testing purposes. Alice’s daughter, Becky (Aryana Engineer) is partially deaf, and has no memory of being a clone. With time running out before an explosion causes the entire facility to be flooded by the ocean above, Alice and her allies must race against the clock, their pursuers led by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), and the Red Queen computer system to escape certain doom.
If it’s possible for a movie to feel more like watching an out-of-control computer game being played, I haven’t seen it. Resident Evil: Retribution often feels like a series of game cutscenes, with little value other than to get from one plot point to the other. Retribution’s inane dialogue and horribly wooden characters offer equally little value, delivering the script’s tin-eared sense of importance with as much gusto as one might swallow vomit. The script (if one can rightly call it that) is the brainchild of director Anderson, although in his rush to bring the franchise’s central protagonist back to being “fully powered” (after having her regenerative and enhanced physical abilities removed in the previous film) he’s overlooked one crucial factor – this film needs a decent story first. It’s no good having an endgame in play if the journey there seems more like an obstacle to overcome than a genuine creative desire. You get the sense that while making this one, Anderson was more interested in what he’d be doing with the series next, and this lack of focus is increasingly more apparent as the film progresses.
Typically, in films such as these, one looks for a sense of gleeful entertainment in order to overcome the lack of characterization or plot. Even Apocalypse – the much maligned poor cousin to the original film – at least tried to keep Alice’s story moving forward, bring in new characters and give us a fully fleshed world (the end result didn’t quite have the impact the filmmakers wanted, but at least they tried!). Retribution can’t even be bothered doing that. As a film, it’s more interested in simply re-treading old plots, old characters, and finding new and uninteresting reasons for Jovovich to jump through the air firing multiple weapons in ways that defy gravity; there’s nothing new here. The reappearance of Sienna Guillory (who debuted in Apocalypse, and had a small end-credit cameo in Afterlife) offers nothing but a token female villain – and a poor one at that – while Michelle Rodriguez (who was killed off in the original film) and Oded Fehr (who appeared in Apocalypse and Extinction) are given little to do but shoot guns and look concerned that they’re even back in this franchise.
You know that scene at the very end of the first Resident Evil, where Milla Jovovich wakes up in the hospital wearing nothing but two A3 pieces of paper held together by fishing line? Anderson does that little trick again here. Sweet. You know the Red Queen’s omnipresent video feeds, which supply some information to the audience as to locale, temperature or other plot device? Anderson does that little trick here again too, although too often, with too little payoff. You know that red thigh-split dress Alice wore through the first film? It returns, although it’s given to a different character. You know how Alice can fly through the air, firing guns and kicking zombiefied humans into the netherworld? Repeated verbatim here. Coupled with all the returning characters, this film is essentially one enormous cribbing of its predecessors. Even the giant, axe-wielding monsters from Afterlife make a return here, as unstoppable as ever. The only thing different about this film is that for the first time in the entire franchise, I found myself watching the clock, waiting for it to be over.
The core problem with the story, and the central reason I found it all so abominable, is that the characters within it are all entirely reactive. From Alice, down to the no-name task force members sent into the complex to retrieve her, not one of these people does anything to propel the story – they all react to external events, making the entire film simply one long expositional endurance test. Revelatory moment after revelatory moment does little to stem the creative vacuum Anderson provides, and with each pronouncement or “reveal” of a plot twist, my care factor dropped even further into the sub-basement. Most films can only handle one or two major plot twists well, yet Anderson tries for a good bakers dozen of plot turns that transcend legitimate storytelling techniques. And it all just feels like lazy film-making, the kind of “if the audience buys this, they’ll buy anything” mentality which has ruined many a good cinema yarn. Reactionary plotting does nothing when the climactic fight scenes kick off – because it’s yet another reaction. There’s no advancement of the plot through Alice (supposedly the central character), it all occurs around her.
Milla Jovovich does her best to remain in character, although you do get the sense that even she’s struggling to understand exactly what’s expected of her. Alice has become less a character and more a caricature, a far cry indeed from the vulnerable-yet-committed Alice of the first film. In this respect, it’s indicative of where the Resident Evil franchise has gone since the original; instead of a spooky, atmospheric pulp film with genuine genre appeal, Retribution represents the decline and decline into style-over-substance soullessness which has become so prevalent of Hollywood these days. It makes Afterlife’s rise in quality seem more of a fluke. Retribution’s obnoxious soundtrack, lack of interest in compelling plotting or narrative, and witheringly indifferent creativity makes this one of the weakest of the five films thus far; all does not bode well for the sixth entry, considering the perfunctory final “twist” scene, and the now-expected long pullback shot revealing hordes of undead clamouring at the gates, ensure this story isn’t ending here. The entirety of this film seems designed simply to move people into position for the next instalment, which is disappointing indeed.
If you’re not already a fan, this film isn’t going to change your mind. It might validate concerns you had in the first place, in fact. The action is slick, empty, bullet-ridden nonsense, the story moves with the fluidity of a Rubick’s Cube, and you would be wise to ingest a couple of headache tablets prior to commencing; Resident Evil: Retribution is vapid, hackneyed film-making at its most obscenely stupid. Approach with caution, both fans and non-fans alike.