I’ll give Paul W.S. Anderson this much: he’s made the best-looking film of his career. From the opening sequence—an explosive action scene that picks up about two seconds from where Afterlife left off, played in reverse and slow-motion (a reference to Memento, perhaps?)—Resident Evil: Retribution is absolutely gorgeous. Sure, Anderson slams his fist down on the Magic Reset Button yet again (Evil! Jill and her mercenary army gun down all those prisoners Alice fought so hard to save), but what else is new? At least the shot of Alice drifting beneath the waves, silhouetted against the sunlight dancing on the surface, is really pretty.
And then our overpowered protagonist looks directly into the camera and delivers a recap of the entire series—accompanied by clips, of course—that lasts approximately half an hour (okay, more like 3-5 minutes; still way too long). It’s around this time you’ll realize that the only true zombie here is the franchise itself.
Alice awakens in an Umbrella Corporation prison/underwater testing facility controlled by the Not-Quite-Dead-Yet Red Queen and her brainwashed lackey Evil! Jill. Asian superspy Ada Wong and her impractical wardrobe take time off from costarring in the sixth video game to rescue her, and with the aid of unexpected ally Albert “I Want Damage Reports!” Wesker (whose overacting remains an oasis of joy in this dry, dry desert of a franchise), they make their escape through state-of-the-art facsimiles of Tokyo, New York City, suburbia, and Moscow. Along the way, they battle the undead, various mutated bioweapons, and Umbrella’s private security force—including Evil! clones of Alice’s slain friends and allies: Evil! One (Colin Salmon, who does nothing), Evil! Carlos (Oded Fehr, who does nothing), and Evil! Rain (Michelle Rodriguez, in a slightly juicier dual role). Luckily, Wesker has sent backup to meet the Action Gals halfway: Leon S. Kennedy, Barry “Jill Sandwich” Burton, Luther “The Basketball Player from the Fourth Movie” West, a Russian dude, and some guy with a ponytail (guess which ones are only there to feed the zombies)—and since they spend a significant amount of time away from the Director’s Pet, these supporting characters are actually allowed do cool stuff for once; a cigar-chomping Barry gets a particularly epic moment in the spotlight, much to my delight.
Sadly, the same old mistakes prevent the fifth Resident Evil flick from becoming anything more than another hilarious misfire. Anderson once again abandons inconvenient narrative threads, namely K-Mart and the Redfield siblings. New plot developments raise problematic questions: Does Umbrella clone all of its employees? Were the “original” Rain and Carlos and One clones all along? Is “our” Alice just one more clone, for that matter? And does that mean the Super-Alice clones were clones of a clone? Finally, and most frustratingly, the story ends on another cliffhanger… a cliffhanger that will no doubt be ignored/retconned when the inevitable sixth installment hits theaters.
Resident Evil: Retribution is both educational (“How Not to Write… Anything”) and entertaining for all the wrong reasons, but moviegoers seeking legitimate thrills and chills should look elsewhere.
[Originally written September 14, 2012.]