Resident Evil: Retribution
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson
Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Kevin Durand, Sienna Guillory, Shawn Roberts, Aryana Engineer, Colin Salmon, Johann Urb, Oded Fehr
How long is Resident Evil: Retribution? 95 minutes.
What is Resident Evil: Retribution rated? R for sequences of strong violence throughout.
A savvy, extravagant, ultraviolent video game you don’t get to play, from the lesser of two Paul Andersons.
This fall, two Paul Andersons are releasing films. Paul Thomas (or P.T.) helmed The Master, which looks to be a stylish, triumphant comeback for a slightly nutty Joaquin Phoenix (how about that rap career?). Paul W.S., purveyor of schlock and husband of beautiful badass Milla Jovovich, has gifted us with yet another Resident Evil movie. The saddest part of all this is that, while The Master is inching into theaters across the country, building anticipation with every new city, Resident Evil The Umpteenth opened nationwide with no great fanfare on Friday. It’s been ten years since the first (be honest, how old does that make you feel?), and there are three films between 2002 and the newest, Retribution.
Retribution’s opening credits scene is a study in simple tricks: an expansive, explosive battle played in reverse, with Jovovich (I’m convinced, the only woman in the world who can make running backwards look sexy) rising from the sea like a phoenix from the ashes. Following the admittedly captivating opening, Jovovich’s Alice, breaking the fourth wall, gives us a handy rundown of the events of the first four films. Basically: don’t worry, you didn’t miss much. Plot, character development, and continuity aren’t Resident Evil’s strong points.
No, Paul W.S. doesn’t tell a good story, but he does tell a pretty one. Like the last few films, Retribution is filled with jarring imagery and great framing. Less like the last few, Retribution is set up for us in the same way the eponymous Capcom games are. (I’m guessing here, having never been a gamer.) Alice inexplicably awakens in the mind of one of her clones, a suburban housewife with a deaf daughter – and she doesn’t survive the zombie apocalypse we all knew was coming. The real Alice awakens again to find herself trapped deep in the bowels of another Umbrella Corporation facility, a captured fugitive held hostage by homicidal A.I. the Red Queen. Along with former Umbrella operative Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), Alice escapes the holding pen only to find herself faced with a deadly obstacle course. In the process of creating a “biological arms race,” Umbrella built massive underground test facilities. There’s a New York testing area, one set in Tokyo (this will be familiar to anyone who remembers the first few films), one in an ambiguous Suburbia, and one in Moscow. To escape from the facility, Alice and Ada must literally beat each of these levels and meet up with a “strike team” arranged by Wesker, the films’ original villain. Each city offers a brand new nightmare scenario, from giant humanoid creatures that vaguely resemble Pyramid Head, to zombie Soviet henchmen inexplicably riding vintage motorbikes.
In Suburbia, Alice encounters her dead suburban housewife clone…and the deaf daughter who survived. Alice, a superhuman fighting machine with no apparent maternal instincts to speak of, brings helpless, handicapped Becky (Aryana Engineer) along to the next level. No one can resist a cute kid. More interestingly, though, Alice also encounters two versions of Michelle Rodriguez. Rodriguez, whose bad behavior has banished her from many a director’s set, returns victorious after a hiatus from the film series. She plays a sweet, slightly dumb woman who “protested the NRA,” as well as reprises her role as leather-clad, gun-toting Rain.
Throughout each level, the Red Queen shrieks a series of “off with her head”s, attacking our heroes and heroines with new and increasingly disturbing manifestations of biological warfare. The levels are conveniently mapped out for us by a camera that repeatedly swoops outside the ice-encrusted facility and depicts for us a grid representation of our protagonists’ next destination. Basically, the movie is a video game you don’t get to play. The mixture of the media is smart and savvy.
No, Resident Evil isn’t an exemplar of well-crafted story, subtle dialogue, or flawless continuity, but it certainly is fun to watch. During an impressive chase scene involving a colossal dog-like zombie creature thing, I grinned like an idiot, shaking my head at the implausibility of it while enjoying every second. The movie probably could’ve lasted 30 minutes, but Anderson stretched it to 85 using slow motion – and in this case, the slow-mo pretty much works. Jovovich is a force to be reckoned with at nearly 40, and ever since Girlfight Rodriguez has been one of the coolest female action stars out there. Boris Kodjoe, reprising his role as Luther West, surely is pretty. The monsters, as always, are impressive and ridiculous.
Paul W.S., unlike his namesake counterpart, does not make good movies. The only Oscar nomination Resident Evil: Retribution could garner would be for Visual Effects, and frankly, those probably aren’t extraordinary enough for that. It’s a huge, explosive, silly spectacle, and so long as you can appreciate it for that, you’ll not be disappointed. It’s full of the old ultraviolence, some near-nudity, and a lot of skintight garb. But if you’re reading this, you probably knew that already. Just go see it. All things considered, it’s a really fun way to spend an afternoon.