If I had never seen a Resident Evil movie before, never heard of the Umbrella Corporation, or the T virus, or heck, even zombies in general – just decided out of the blue to pop my head in on the fifth movie in the series – I’d venture it would come as no surprise to me that the movie was based on a video game. Resident Evil: Retribution is about as coherent as watching your bored 12 year old cousin rampage through a game of Grand Theft Auto. Seriously, I’ve seen cat videos more tightly plotted than this.
Not that story has ever been a hallmark of the Resident Evil series. But before this instalment it at least looked like they were trying. There was a mythology. Characters mattered. There was an attempt to connect scenes together using some sort of… logical sequence of events. It’s a sad state of affairs when the brief plot recap at the start of the movie ends up feeling like wasted time.
Retribution is little more than a ham fisted mash up of increasingly more absurd action sequences (which is saying something considering we’re talking about a zombie movie here). It quickly blows right past the doom and gloom cliffhanger of the last movie into some half baked scenario where protagonist Alice has been captured and needs to escape some sort of underwater base in Antarctica… or Russia or something. It was cold, that’s all you needed to know. Apparently the Umbrella Corporation is still simulating the outbreak of the virus in the base (despite having some fairly decent real world data on the subject) and they’re using clones to do it (because a computer simulation would just be ridiculous).
I won’t go into too much detail about it because essentially the whole premise is there as an excuse for writer/director Paul Anderson to stage the action in just about any setting he wants to. If you’re wondering how that makes any sense at all, just know that it’s incredibly complicated and remarkably stupid. And all of it is explained in long expositional scenes that pretty much amount to the characters looking directly into the camera and telling you what’s happening.
But hey, that type of pure action might be exactly what fans of the genre are looking for. And I understand that, I do. There is certainly some great stunt work in this movie and despite some stilted dialogue (that could very easily be attributed to the script) I’m a fan of Milla Jovovich in the role of Alice.
My problem is that there just doesn’t seem to be any stakes to the action. Outside of Alice, the characters are so poorly constructed they basically disappear right off the screen. There’s no reason to care what happens to them. In fact, half of the characters are literally clones. They can die and show up again not 15 minutes later. Anderson tries to counter that apathy by throwing a kid into the mix (it’s all very Ripley and Newt for those of you who get that reference) but even that falls remarkably flat.
With so much action stacked on top of action, none of it ever really feels that important. By the end of Retribution, even the characters look like they’re bored with what’s happening to them. There should be something fundamentally wrong with you if you can beat back an entire army of gun toting Russian zombies without ever changing your expression. Unfortunately after an hour and a half of this movie, I kind of understand how monotonous that can get.