Resident Evil: Retribution is still an over-the-top movie which has people rappelling out of aircraft duel-wielding machine guns or a giant Licker roaming a faux Russia, but it’s a level of stupid action that isn’t inane or too fluffy; it’s just fun if you go with it and love that sort of thing. A bit more mature in some departments, Resident Evil: Retribution tries some new things which work while others, such as the addition of established game characters, aren’t pulled off successfully due to somewhat shoddy writing and character development. I don’t think Resident Evil: Retribution is an instant action movie classic, but it is good enough to have some fun with and it’s ultimately a continued improvement over past RE movies.
+ The plot is a bit different, but it has some nice callbacks to past entries in the series, and is more reserved in getting to the action.
+ This may be the fifth time she’s portrayed the character, but Milla Jovovich does a good job portraying Alice and adding new dimension to the character.
+ Action scenes may be shorter this time out but thankfully they’re still shot well as everything is captured without shaky cam effects.
+ Once again Tomandandy deliver an excellent soundtrack that adds a nice layer to the film.
+ Albert Wesker (Shaun Roberts) is awesome. Seriously, make a spin-off movie or game just about him and I’ll be there day 1.
- It’s cool to have Leon and Barry in the mix, but neither of them really does anything and they aren’t fully established as characters.
- The action oddly feels a bit shorter and a few sequences are missing an impact to fully convey what’s happening.
- The movie doesn’t feel unfocused, but at times it does feel like certain things were trimmed, though not affecting the meaning/impact of the plot.
- The directing and 3D effects are good but lack some of the flourish found in Resident Evil: Afterlife.
When a movie goes on to spawn sequels so much that it becomes an established franchise it’s hard to know what to expect. In some ways we as movie viewers know that a few returning faces will appear and that the action will remain same more or less (swashbuckling sword action/martial arts brawling), but in some cases sequels in a franchise can feel like completely new movies by having a different tone or style.
With Resident Evil: Retribution we have the fifth installment in the RE film franchise, which is either a good news/bad news situation for some out there. But just like the previous entries in the series, Resident Evil: Retribution evolves as a franchise and in turn provides an action movie experience that isn’t complete brain dead fluff as other action movies tend to be.
I know that the fact that we have a fifth Resident Evil movie in theaters may seem like it’s a great injustice since we haven’t yet had other video games adapted into films, perhaps surpassing the level of quality presented in the RE series. As much fun as it would be to see a Halo, Uncharted, or even a Castlevania movie, the Resident Evil film franchise has done an admirable job of not outright ruining the source material and in the process creating its own lore which at this point is as silly and convoluted as what we’re receiving in the actual Resident Evil games from Capcom. So with that said I was rather surprised in some ways that Resident Evil: Retribution managed to keep the momentum going in the wake of how over-the-top its predecessor, Resident Evil: Afterlife, was.
The thing about Resident Evil: Retribution is that it is indeed a sequel to Resident Evil: Afterlife but it doesn’t feel like the same movie. In some cases that may be a good thing if you hated that flick, but it kind of follows suit with what the RE film series does in reinventing itself more or less with each installment. We may have the same characters in the film such as leading lady Alice (Milla Jovovich), and a plot which has the Umbrella Corporation doing something dastardly which could ruin the entire world, but RE: Retribution doesn’t borrow the same exact action beats as the previous films. Such a thing creates an experience which does feel fresh despite treading in familiar territory but at the same time that doesn’t result in an overwhelmingly perfect experience.
Picking up directly where Resident Evil: Afterlife ended, RE: Retribution kicks off with a short but very sweet opening sequence which plays up the style and the action the series is known for having. Despite some glaring plot omissions at the start, the film doesn’t go into action overdrive but rather slowly builds things up while Alice, and in turn the viewer, tries to figure out what’s going on. Trapped at another top secret Umbrella facility, Alice finds herself trying to figure out what’s going on while a rag-tag crew, including Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb), Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), and Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), attempt to rescue her and bring an end to Umbrella’s reign of terror. The plot of RE: Retribution isn’t as direct right off the bat as what was in Afterlife, but eventually it’s Alice and friends vs. the hordes of Umbrella yet again with a few surprises thrown in here and there.
I was honestly a bit turned off by where the plot was going initially, but that’s likely because the film has a slow build to everything. I know it may sound surprising that a Resident Evil movie actually attempted to let things simmer instead of going full blast, but as a whole the movie does have a different tone to it. Longtime viewers of the Resident Evil films may know Alice, but in Retribution we truly see a different side to her as she’s not the same tough as nails hottie as she was in the previous four films.
This time out Alice is more vulnerable as the effects of her engaging the Umbrella forces, both human and bio-hazard, have an effect on her. The wounds Alice receives isn’t the only new character trait as she becomes more maternal, thanks to an odd encounter with an Umbrella creation that doesn’t want to kill her. I won’t ruin too much about that plot development, but I’ll say that it’s addition isn’t completely wretched as it adds another level of character motivation beyond “I’m going to kill them all”, which at this point who hasn’t Alice killed?
Far from being a masterpiece of narrative in an action movie, Resident Evil: Retribution does a good job at laying out the threat at hand, but at the same time it’s filled with some rather gaping plot holes and logic that is a bit confounding if not filled with obvious retcons to appease the fans or merely play up a would-be cool plot element. Things such as where Chris and Claire Redfield (Wentworth Miller, Ali Larter) disappeared to are never explained, nor is it laid out how a certain villain returned and all of a sudden has a change of face. It is annoying to never get these answers, but in the end I guess one just needs to chalk it up to how logic in the RE movie universe works – nothing is ever what it seems and characters can simply do whatever the plot at the time dictates they do.
Perhaps the most videogame centric plot to appear in a RE movie, Retribution literally has the heroes going from level to level in an Umbrella facility, which as fate would have it features three distinct environments for the action to take place in. Besides two small driving forces to motivate the characters, the plot of Retribution simply has enough excuses, if that, to keep the action going and why these characters would be there blowing stuff up; basically coming across as a simple video game plot except in live-action form and minus the user interaction.
Having a barely there or coherent plot may be a tradition in the RE movies, but it does have a setback as the secondary characters, such as Leon and Barry, barely have any character to them or moments to shine. It was certainly cool to see Leon and Barry fighting the Las Plagas, who appear as crazed Soviet soldiers, since both actors look the part, but neither of them really get to do anything other than shoot stuff in slightly boring gun battles and then ultimately make a quick exit, almost amounting to a “we barely knew you pal” type incident. The only new character that does get to shine or have an ounce of background added is Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) who assists Alice in her journey to escape the Umbrella facility and destroy it.
What’s odd about the plot of Resident Evil: Retribution and the new/returning characters it features is that stuff is hinted at but never really expanded upon. Subtle hints are given as to the background of Leon who seems to be a merc, has a history with Ada, and ends up working for the “President” more or less, but none of that is expanded in a brief character moment highlighting Leon. Instead we simply get some minor interactions which are ultimately left up to the viewer to decipher or understand, which if you ask me is a bit odd since the RE movies usually have no direct connection to the actual lore of the games.
A nice nod is made to previous RE movies in the return of characters such as Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Carlos (Oded Fehr), and One (Colin Salmon), but again it’s a case of them not having much to do or say. Seeing those faces return to the franchise was nice but in the end it ends up being nothing more than a nod to the fans than an actual plot development that has an impact on what’s happening. The return of the Umbrella controlled Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) isn’t poorly handed as it mirrors what we saw in RE5 more or less, but save a few appearances she isn’t exactly the main foil for Alice up until the very end of the movie.
The way the characters in RE: Retribution were handled may be a bit disappointing, but all the actors do a good job with the material they have, except for Johann Urb who is honestly a bit stiff as Leon, perhaps in part due to some of the dialog he’s given but I was honestly feeling shades of Dolph Lundgren in his early days upon some of the inflection Urb gave his lines.
The slow build Resident Evil: Retribution has creates an experience whose eventual bursts of action have more of an impact at times, but in general some of the sequences do fall a bit flat. Director Paul W.S. Anderson doesn’t reuse all the tricks he utilized in RE: Afterlife so there’s not a feeling of been there done that, but generally speaking it may have been a bit tough to top the profoundly dumb yet entertaining sequences from RE: Afterlife such as the Alice clones attack on Umbrella Tokyo HQ and the end Wesker fight which was an homage to RE5. That’s not to say RE: Retribution doesn’t bring it as Alice does some rather impressive acrobatic feats to dispose of zombies that involves doing flips and kicking empty ammo clips at their heads, but a lot of the action in Retribution comes in shorter bursts which end abruptly just when things are starting to get cool.
Anderson’s directing style in Retribution thankfully doesn’t see the film go into shaky cam galore, but outside of a few brief sequences it doesn’t have the same initial oomph that RE: Afterlife featured. There are some rather stylish sequences that don’t employ slow motion to show off how cool the scene is, and there’s also a moodier and dare I say it scarier vibe compared to some of the past RE movies. Terrifying or jump out of your seat sequences may be absent in Retribution, but the film does evoke feelings of the slightly dark and claustrophobic environments of the first Resident Evil movie, which is fitting since Retribution is a throwback of sorts to the first entry. Watching Retribution I couldn’t help but feel Anderson played it a bit safe from a directing standpoint and didn’t go all out as he did in Afterlife, which while a bit slow motion heavy was ultimately fun since the action was so dumb at times yet composed in a way that was easy to track and comprehend.
Resident Evil: Retribution may not have the same immediate in your face feel as RE: Afterlife or the scare factor of the first Resident Evil movie, but it does an admirable job at blending both things to try to create something new rather than just doing the same routine. Things may start off a bit slow but ultimately the momentum picks up and in the process delivers some cool action which despite being a tad short or devoid of instantly cool moments, still ends up proving what matters the most: entertainment.
I know the RE movies have never provided true cinematic quality as the plots are sketchy and honestly seem like they’re there just to have Milla Jovovich do cool stuff and look hot in the process, but just like RE: Afterlife the stakes are raised in Retribution and the overall quality is raised as well, Once again not everything is perfect as the addition of iconic characters from the video games fall a bit short as they don’t capture the same magic found in their digital counterparts. That aside, Resident Evil: Retribution manages to provide some flashy action which doesn’t become pointless since nothing becomes repetitive; it's either really cool or simply ok. More importantly, the end cliffhanger of Retribution provides a tantalizing tease of what could be a truly epic finale for the series as it could become the best RE movie if it gets made.
Things may still be a bit rough around the edges and true RE fans may hate what goes on in the movie, but Resident Evil: Retribution offers enough thrills to be fun and ends up being one of the better video game movies released so far.