I don’t get it.
At this point, the “Resident Evil” film franchise is for fans only, and no casual viewers need apply. The continuity from film to film seems to pick up mere seconds after the previous movie ends, and in the case of this latest effort, “Resident Evil: Retribution,” it’s a movie that seems to exist entirely as a phrase between two commas, a resolution of one cliffhanger, a ton of empty exposition, and another cliffhanger for the inevitable “Resident Evil: Boss Fight” or whatever the hell they’ll call the next one. If you haven’t been keeping up with the films, the opening of this one will be a case of a prolonged image that looks “cool” but that is utterly baffling on any sort of storytelling level.
Seems par for the course in this film, though. The opening titles play over a looooong series of shots of things runnings backwards in slow motion, with Milla Jovovich coming up from underwater, into the air, landing on a tanker ship that is under attack, explosions contracting into themselves, bodies flying up onto their feet as bullets race out of them. It’s all staged on a scale that is impressive to observe, and as this massive sequence finally builds to include what seem to be hundreds of airships racing away from the tanker, then pausing and reversing and beginning the attack in forward motion at full speed, it’s such a strange, pointless double-back that you could stop the film there and just embrace it as a perfect example of what to expect from the film as a whole.
“Resident Evil: Retribution” is a big fat exercise in how to make an entire franchise entry without advancing the series in any way and without telling anything like a complete self-contained story. After that audaciously pointless opening scene, Alice wakes up in a suburban bedroom, seemingly living a normal life with her daughter Becky (Aryana Engineer) and her husband Todd (Oded Fehr). Becky’s hearing-impaired, just as Engineer is in real life, and Paul W.S. Anderson spends just enough time ladling on the relationship between mother and daughter as a full-volume cheap sympathy ploy before zombies suddenly pop up, and Alice has to take her daughter and run.
Only… Becky’s not really her daughter. And of course, this is not her beautiful house, and this is not her beautiful life. Alice is in a simulation, and the zombies are part of that simulation, and they shake her out of this illusory existence and send her on a journey that obviously wants to exploit the same dynamic that made “Aliens” so memorable while also basically offering up an excuse to run through familiar settings that are every different, but all of them equally fake. As a team of ostensible bad-asses tries to make its way into the gigantic underwater simulation environment to rescue Alice, Alice is busy running around kicking or shooting things. She’s joined by a rogue’s gallery of characters from the other movies, either fighting with or against Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), Leon (Johann Urb), Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), and the mysterious Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts). Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) is a new addition to things, an uncomfortably stereotyped Asian dragon queen, and…
… you know what? I am worn out just trying to remember the details of this film a few weeks later. I was just plain disconnected while watching the film after a certain point, and even the bursts of stylized violence or the promise inherent to the idea that the endless number of Alice clones is the perfect example of a metaphorical representation of how video games work just can’t make this mess interesting. I thought the film was well-photographed by Glen MacPherson and well-scored by tomandandy, but I also thought it was derailed by some terrible performances. Guillory and Roberts are particularly terrible, tone-deaf and hammy and phony through and through, but I’m not sure any actor could look good in these circumstances. It’s a horror franchise that’s never scary, an action franchise without any ongoing stakes, a game adaptation that would make me actively avoid the games if this was all I knew of the “Resident Evil” world. Paul W.S. Anderson remains one of the most active genre directors for no discernible reason. I understand the need to occasionally indulge some fast food cinema, but this isn’t even fresh fast food. This is what you find in the dumpster out back two days later, and reheating these elements don’t make them any less rancid.
I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this film. For that reason alone, I can’t give this anything like a passing grade. If there was any justice, “Resident Evil: Retribution” would be the last film in the series, but I have a feeling it will remain undead for many more movies. God help us all.
“Resident Evil: Retribution” opens today.