The Resident Evil franchise drives me absolutely insane. There’s nothing more frustrating to a critic than having to give a film a “pass.” Meaning, it’s literally impossible to review Resident Evil: Retribution on its own merits (unless it’s the only one seen) as it must be looked at in comparison to the prior entries. As far as a Paul W.S. Anderson Resident Evil goes, it was a mind-melting popcorn film gelled with insane amounts of action-packed eye-candy. A “good” movie? Well…
Retribution has a lot of great ideas that both hinder the film, yet help progress it (something I unfortunately can’t talk about with ruing the finale). The latest entry really focuses on the “clone” aspect of the franchise as Alice is now in the captivity of Umbrella, only to be freed by rogue Umbrella agents who have now learned that they were nothing more than “the baddies.” In order to save mankind, they must free Alice from the facility (with the help of familiar mercenaries). Said facility is a secret underground base that has various test scenarios built for experimentation on clones and the T-virus. This is how Alice goes “global”. In order to escape, she must battle through Moscow, suburbia, New York, and other major arenas. Along the way she comes face-to-face with her “daughter” who has no idea she’s a clone, too, and motherly instinct kicks in driving Anderson to rip-off James Cameron’s Aliens (he literally steals the dynamic between Ripley and Newt, copies the flashing lights, and even concludes with a big battle between Alice/Ripley and the Licker/Queen Alien).
The biggest issue with Retribution is that many of returning cast are clones, and that it (once again) doesn’t take place in any sort of “real” world (I want to see normal humans in peril – like in the first film – not a bunch of superheroes in slow motion). Anderson attempts to bring a bit of realism into this world by continuing the subplot where Wesker has taken Alice’s powers. He tells the viewer this by displaying Alice holding her stomach here and there, but somehow Alice still has super fighting abilities and can kick ass like no other. She suffers from “Superman syndrome” by appearing to be infallible (in complete irony, Aliens is amazing because Ripley is fallible, the one thing Anderson forgets to rip off).
While the script unsurprisingly suffers from Anderson’s cold grasp (after the opening sequence he spends a good 5 minutes recapping the entire franchise, which made more sense than anything I’ve seen onscreen the past 8 years), he does manage to dazzle with his visual effects work. The film opens in stunning reverse slow motion setting up Alice’s capture. There’s no lack of fight sequences, all of which are all beautifully orchestrated. And there’s a heft of sweet visual effects work that popped on the IMAX 3-D screen. It becomes obvious, though, that Anderson has a bit too much creative freedom as he goes a bit overboard by riffing on the Crank-esque X-ray shots that are so 2000 (you know, showing the bones breaking, and hearts stopping inside of the body).
Good or bad, it’s time to be honest – the sole reason any of us watch these movies is to see Milla Jovovich kicking ass in a skintight outfit. This time we’re also blessed with Sienna Guillory squeezed into a tight blue Jill Valentine costume (even though her acting was appalling). Still, I couldn’t help but wish that Michelle Rodriguez had a larger role. In fact, it made me wish she had a bigger role in everything. I can only hope that with the inevitable sixth installment she becomes “the” villain.
I wish Sony Screen Gems would just kick Paul W.S. Anderson to the curb and restart this franchise inside a house with a horde of practical zombies. With that said, Resident Evil: Retribution gets a resentful pass. It’s “fine” for what it is; it’s like watching a real-life videogame loaded with awesome creatures, nonstop action, and a jaw-dropping, massive scope. If anything, it’s the best Resident Evil since the first. At least there’s that, right?
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