Resident Evil: Retribution is a movie that plays like an action-horror video game: bereft of genuine psychological scares and meaningful character interactions but is bursting with head shots, explosions, hordes of undead cannibals and co-op boss fights. If you’ve seen any of the previous Resident Evil movies then you know exactly what’s in store. If you’ve also seen films like James Cameron’s Aliens or Len Wisemen’s Underworld, “Retribution” comes across as a pastiche of science fiction survival movies without bringing anything new to the genre in terms of action sequences, narrative scope or thematic elements. What “Retribution” semi-delivers is as escapist entertainment that attempts to pay homage to the popular video game franchise of the same name.
The opening credit sequence rewinds, in bursts of slow motion bullet-time, the final moments of Resident Evil: Afterlife when Alice (Milla Jovovich), Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) attempted to escape from an air craft carrier under attack by Umbrella Corporation’s helicopter squadron. Leading the attack on Alice is Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), who last appeared in Resident Evil Apocalypse, now mind-controlled by a red spider-like metallic device attached below her collar-bone.
Alice is able to take out one helicopter however the subsequent explosion that blasts her into the ocean renders her unconscious. As actors and character names are introduced in the opening credits, fans of the video game will recognize the first appearances of Leon S. Kennedy (played by Johann Urb), Ada Wong (played by Li BingBing) and Barry Burton (played by Kevin Durand) in the movie series.
Returning to the movie series is Michelle Rodriguez as clones of Rain Ocampo. Seeing Rodriguez featured in the trailers was met with apprehension and skepticism. Rodriguez was annoying as Ana Lucia Cortez in TV’s Lost and barely tolerable in Avatar. In the spectrum of acting crutches or techniques there is George Clooney’s head tilt acting, Jack Black’s bug-eyed acting, Brad Pitt’s lip smacking and the ubiquitous open mouth acting seen everywhere from Pretty Little Liars to 90210.
For Rodriguez, she utilizes an all-purpose sneer whether conveying anger, frustration, homicidal glee, constipation or perhaps channeling Billy Idol. Her world-class sneer can go toe-to-toe with Katie Holmes’ lopsided half grin. In “Retribution”, Rodriguez plays two different versions of Rain. One clone is imprinted as a good-hearted suburbanite which in the world of Resident Evil is essentially a walking happy meal for the swarm of undead flesh eaters. The second version is a bad-ass operative of Umbrella working with Jill Valentine to recapture Alice; the exact kind of role that Rodriguez is typecast as.
The story picks up when Alice regains consciousness and finds herself in an enormous underwater Arctic base that Umbrella uses to simulate and test the effects of the T-virus on their cloned population. The set pieces include a simulation of Tokyo, Moscow, Suburbia (Raccoon City) and an actual submarine base. Helping Alice in her escape is former Umbrella agent Ada Wong.
To Alice’s disbelief, antagonist Albert Wesker survived the events of “Afterlife” and is also aiding her escape by hacking the facilities’ computer system from an undisclosed location. However, the artificial intelligence that is controlling Umbrella, the Red Queen, quickly overrides Wesker’s access. Alice and Ada are not alone in their battle. Wesker sends a team of rogues led by Leon S. Kennedy to infiltrate the base from the surface because Wesker believes Alice’s unique genetic attributes is the key to the survival of the human species.
The fate and whereabouts of Claire and Chris Redfield are not revealed in this movie. Their notable absence gives an opportunity for new characters to develop and kick butt. Unfortunately, “Retribution” could have taken a page from “The Avengers”, in how to give each character in an ensemble cast a chance to shine and a reason to be part of the story. Leon S. Kennedy is a fan favorite in the video games series but does nothing memorable in this movie and could have been replaced with any random generic character. Barry Burton spends half his scenes shooting behind a concrete pillar; the bullet holes on the pillar had more character development.
The little spark of possible romance between Leon and Ada wasn’t earned unless you’ve played the video game because the two characters had zero dialogue and barely any interaction with each other through-out the entire movie. Each character is poorly defined and the audience is never given a reason or moment to care about them. The only exception is Alice and that’s mainly because actress Milla Jovovich is compelling as a vulnerable house wife in post virus outbreak Raccoon City and as a leather clad sharp-shooter heroine. There is a subplot of Alice taking care of her deaf daughter Becky, which is reminiscent of Ripley’s relationship with Newt in Aliens; however there is no emotional resonance in their mother-daughter bond or for the audience anticipating the next action sequence.
In terms of action, aside from a couple of fights earlier in the movie, there was nothing that really stood out as cool or awesome. The 3D visual effects were not rendered properly, taking the viewer out of the movie experience. Some of the images looked like a Paper Mario 3D game with the action in the background disparate from the characters in the foreground.
Resident Evil: Retribution is exactly what you expect from an end of summer action-horror movie. It’s a mindless spectacle of fiery explosions, bullets in slow-motion and an undead wielding a chainsaw with a burlap sack over their head (an enemy featured in Resident Evil 4 video game). The previous Resident Evil movies are frivolous, guilty pleasures and “Retribution” is no different; it’s just a stop-gap until the inevitable next movie in the franchise. Check your brain at the theater door because it’s gonna feel like its being eaten alive.