Resident Evil: Retribution is the fifth installment in the seemingly unkillable movie franchise, based on the equally durable video game series, and it may well be the best one yet. That is a textbook example of “damning with faint praise.”
The original intention before tackling this review was to sit through all four preceding Resident Evil films. ”It’s for context,” I would foolishly tell myself before realising what a fool’s errand I had embarked upon; this series disregards continuity in the same way the Friday the 13th movies used to. This series is pure brain poison. Paul W.S. Anderson’s original movie was a passable waste of time but I lost the will to live during Alexander Witt’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse.
I reservedly enjoy Russell Mulcahy’s Resident Evil: Extinction, it’s a Resident Evil movie so it still has a lot of cardboard characters and nonsensical plotting, but it’s a Mad Max/monster mash-up with some proper zombie make-up effects and a borderline gonzo conclusion with an army of Milla Jovovichs. What’s not to love about that prospect?
Anderson’s return in Afterlife gave the series a visual shot in the arm but the already convoluted narrative was now drowning in effluent stupidity. Mere days after re-watching it, I cannot tell you what that movie was about, other than it spending the first 20 minutes of run time effectively rebooting every cool development in the previous film.
The opening of Resident Evil: Retribution is played out in slow-motion and reverse, depicting a massive assault on an oil tanker. It’s a visually dynamic sequence, with some fantastic scoring from tomandandy, but what purpose does it serve? Literally none, as shortly after things return to regular old forward motion and we have to sit through the entire thing again. That the scene has next to no relevance to the rest of the story is another damning note. It’s style for the sake of style.
This segues into a lengthy monologue by Milla Jovovich’s Alice, recounting the story so far. When info-dumped in one convenient paragraph, the saga of Resident Evil seems to lose its shambolic charm. It just sounds so boring. This is surprising, as the story for Resident Evil: Retribution may be scattershot nonsense and contain more false starts than an amateur athletics race, but it’s never boring. Far from it, this might be the most concentrated dose of Resident Evil yet, while previous entries in the franchise had long stretches of frustrating inaction, Resident Evil: Retribution feels relentless by comparison; it has a sort of bull-headed commitment to building towards the next big, illogical set piece that makes it almost admirable.
The film’s story reveals that the nefarious Umbrella have constructed giant underground replica cities, used as a testing environment for their latest designer plagues, like a madman’s vision of Synecdoche, New York. It’s a big, brash sci-fi concept that’s utterly daffy on a conceptual level but points must be awarded for a shred of originality in a series that usually values slow motion back-flips over characterisation and story structure.
The action is solid enough, Anderson’s eye for visuals have unmistakable panache but his storytelling skills are only a few notches above Uwe Boll. Cool images and slow motion clumsily positioned into sequences that have little sense of geography or dramatic follow through; things simply happen to allow the next cool thing to happen. This is the thread of reasoning that Paul W.S. Anderson operates on and you either roll with it or you don’t. After four movies you should know what to expect from Resident Evil, making a big deal about it seems like a waste of time.
At least it’s better than Underworld.