Resident Evil: Retribution is style-over-substance in every possible definition of the concept.
Since the debut of Resident Evil in 2002, the four part film series (loosely) based on Capcom's survival horror video games has secured almost $650 million in global box office ticket sales. Certain fans of the Resident Evil games still criticize the big screen adaptations for being overblown and hollow action flicks that bypass canon storylines in favor of convoluted Alice (Milla Jovovich)-centric film plots; however, audiences still turn out in droves for director Paul W.S. Anderson's over-the-top take on the franchise.
In fact, each subsequent Resident Evil film has delivered a higher box office gross than the one before - with Anderson's return to the franchise director's chair in part 4, Resident Evil: Afterlife, nearly doubling the global haul of part 3, Resident Evil: Extinction. Anderson is now set to deliver Resident Evil: Retribution, another in-your-face 3D action experience that, this time, brings back a number of familiar faces from prior installments, as well as new fan favorite characters from the game series.
As a result, does Retribution finally deliver a Resident Evil film that both fans of the games and movies will both enjoy?
Unfortunately, despite the film's closer adherence to the franchise canon, Resident Evil: Retribution isn't likely to win over any converts that had previously passed on prior entries in the series - as in general, its just another round of the convoluted storytelling and eye-popping action combo that Anderson has relied on since the first installment in the series. Similarly, the 3D will only be pleasing to moviegoers who judge a 3D experience based on the number of objects that fly out of the screen. Subtlety has never been the director's strong suit, and once again, nearly every story beat, character moment, and action set piece leaves little to the imagination or mind. That said, there are enough weird creatures, zombie hordes, and brutal kills to satiate some action fans - especially moviegoers who have enjoyed earlier Resident Evil films.
The Resident Evil: Retribution story picks up (literally) where the last film left off: Alice (Jovovich) and her allies are stranded on the Arcadia tanker with an Umbrella strike force ready to attack. After an explosive shootout, Alice is taken hostage by the Umbrella Corporation and moved to a secret facility - where she is interrogated by her former friend Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), who is under the control of anti-humanity super computer, The Red Queen. In order to rescue Alice, who holds the key to a powerful weapon, Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb), Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), and returning partner-in-zombie killing Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) lead a strike on the Umbrella facility - fighting through a number of "biohazards" (creatures and people that have been mutated by T-Virus and Las Plagas infections). However, as the team moves from one branch of the facility to the next, new horrors and even some long-awaited answers are unearthed.
While the movie does implement characters that are familiar to gaming fans, any new additions are merely cosmetic as Anderson makes no efforts to adhere to character backstories from the larger franchise canon. The patched in game characters work only as nods to longtime fans, and in some cases, actually work against the director's intended efforts - as certain gamers will no doubt find their inclusion distracting instead of satisfying. Despite semi-admirable efforts, the series is so far removed from the game mythology that it would be better if Anderson simply stuck to his vision - instead of trying for a hollow compromise.
Prior installments didn't feature particularly sharp stories, but the narrative this round is so convoluted that there are two separate expository scenes where a character essentially explains: a) the plot of the previous films and b) the overarching plot of the current film viewers are in the process of watching. While the earlier Resident Evil chapters were brainless but forgivable action experiences, Retribution buckles entirely under the weight of all the plot threads that Anderson and the other Resident Evil directors have introduced over the course of a decade (and five feature films). At one point the movies worked as campy popcorn flicks with enjoyable jump scares and slick (albeit cheesy) action beats, but Anderson's attempt to weave together a compelling overarching drama out of the franchise's copious dangling threads makes all the long-standing problems difficult to ignore. On top of downright stilted performances from most of the cast (as well as laughable vocal dubbing) Retribution is chock-full of ridiculous plot holes, hamfisted melodrama, and loads of narrative backtracking.
Of course, many moviegoers are going to see Retribution for the purpose of watching Jovovich snap necks and shoot creatures while dressed in skin tight leather and platform boots. For viewers who can forgive all of the film's shortcomings, and really only care about the hyper-stylized action beats, there are definitely a few redeeming moments. None of these scenes are especially memorable and several are anticlimactic (resolved entirely too quickly) but, as Alice and Co. plow through one biohazard after another, Retribution does manage to deliver occasionally intriguing combat. That said, for most moviegoers, the explosions are not likely worth stumbling through the overly complicated as well as underwhelming Retribution plot points.
As indicated earlier, the 3D in Retribution is unapologetic in its gimmickry - reserved almost entirely for bullets, axes, knives, rockets, blood, and other projectiles to fly out of the screen. It's hard to recommend that anyone who enjoys more subtle (and arguably inventive) uses of the format pay the 3D upcharge; however, so many of the action sequences are centered around the 3D ploys that it could be even more distracting to see the film in 2D and not experience the overly-obvious third dimension pandering.
Resident Evil: Retribution is style-over-substance in every possible definition of the concept. The plot only serves as an excuse to move the characters quite literally from one action "sequence" to the next, and the 3D is uncomfortable, off-putting, and (worst of all) will likely draw moviegoers out of the onscreen action. A number of later developments clearly show that Anderson avoided emotional character moments in favor of suicidal "bad-assery" at every single turn. However, in a time when amateur filmmakers can throw together cool action videos with blockbuster CGI special effects in their home office, context and competent storytelling are more important than ever. If Anderson doesn't care enough about his characters and story to make them anything but emotionless fighting and shooting machines, why should audiences care to sign up for further entries in his Resident Evil vision?
If you’re still on the fence about Resident Evil: Retribution, check out the trailer below:
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out the Resident Evil: Retribution episode of the SR Underground podcast.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Resident Evil: Retribution Spoilers Discussion.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
Resident Evil: Retribution is Rated R for sequences of strong violence throughout. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters.
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