Fifth time’s the charm for the Milla Jovovich vs. zombies franchise?
Resident Evil might not be the best reviewed franchise around or even most beloved by fans, yet with around $675m netted worldwide for the previous four films, Paul W.S. Anderson (who has scripted the whole series) must be doing something right. And so we come to Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth in the series (if you discount the two execrable direct-to-DVD CG animated efforts) and, perhaps surprisingly, Anderson – on his third directorial seat of the series – has discovered some afterlife in the franchise. With the film’s structure meaning it plays like a Resident Evil sizzle reel, Retribution manages to deliver the strongest sequel to date.
Picking up immediately after the climax of Afterlife, which saw Alice (Milla Jovovich) set to escape from an aircraft carrier before a post-credits sting re-introduced a now Umbrella Corporation-controlled Jill (Sienna Guillory) ready to attack, Retribution kicks off with a stunning reverse slow-mo sequence detailing the aftermath. It’s an eye-catching opening, superbly realised, and is followed by a quick bit of exposition as Alice details the events to date which, unwittingly, showcases just how little story has existed in the previous three sequels. Still, this little niggle over, we’re launched straight into Retribution’s story which again sees Alice attempt to escape Umbrella’s evil clutches, albeit this time in a facility that is used as a test simulation facility allowing Anderson to bring back a whole host of monsters and previously dead allies. Although given how little the likes of Michelle Rodriguez and Colin Salmon are in the film, much like with the return of series favourites in Saw 3D, you half-wonder why they bothered. Especially as performances from them range from the woeful to the wooden, although it’s series newcomer Bingbing Li as Ada Wong who suffers the most from a script that essentially marks her as the exposition queen.
However, all this setup – they’re clones that Umbrella use for realistic reactions during their sales pitches of their various viruses to nefarious country leaders all intent on all-out biological mutual destruction – is just an excuse to re-run the big bads, such as the Axe Man, in a series of decently staged action sequences. With an excessive use of slow-mo that means the film probably lasts about 45 minutes in normal time, Anderson brings the style as Alice battles various undead while objects are flown towards the screen. Derivative it may be, but Jovovich is ever-reliable as the steely Alice and manages to make what is effectively a TV action replay in cinematic form, appealing and exciting… or maybe that’s just the PVC.
If this all sounds like criticism, it is, because, make no bones about it, Resident Evil: Retribution is a lazy film. What lifts it above previous entries in the series – except for the superior original – is that it knows exactly what it is and in doing so, knows exactly what beats to hit and does so extremely effectively. You want Alice battling zombies while dual-wielding guns? You got it. You want Alice running away from the Axe Man? Have two of them. Retribution is like watching a video game as it progresses through its simulated environments, but Anderson has rediscovered a sense of fun that the previously po-faced instalments lacked which, ultimately, makes it a fun ride on its way to the inevitable sequel-baiting ending. With $177m worldwide to date, it likely that soon it won’t just be the game series that has reached its sixth helping and, after this effort, we’ll be there to see it. Just don’t ask us how the hell Wesker (Shawn Roberts) survived the helicopter explosion at the end of Afterlife.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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