“The belly of the beast.”
By now you either hate these films (I wouldn’t blame you) or you find them to be extremely fun guilty pleasures (I wouldn’t blame you). I’m still here reviewing them so you can probably guess that my feet are firmly planted in the latter camp. Resident Evil: Retribution is full of the series usual ridiculousness but this time it’s turned up to 11. This is what allows the movie to finally show what this series can be; it’s a bad film but it’s a lot of fun, and even the filmmakers seem to realise that now.
Retribution has an awesome opening. Picking up a few seconds after where Afterlife ended (as is par for the course in these films) the destruction of the tanker and Alice’s defeat is played backwards, in slow motion. It’s a startling way to begin the film and the improved special effects really carry it off. Teamed with the awesome score by tomandandy it’s actually pretty great, and certainly took me by surprise. It’s clear from the first 5 minutes that the CGI and score are both huge improvements on the last film too. Afterlife looked and sounded bad with dull visuals and abrasive butt-rock, Retribution looks awesome and the more orchestral soundtrack makes it feel grander. With that being said, after the cool backwards opening scene, the filmmakers decide to play the whole thing forward again and it almost ruins it. Almost.
An elevator pitch for this film would be something along the lines of Resident Evil meets Westworld. Alice finds herself in an Umbrella testing facility that runs simulations to recreate the effect of bioweapon attacks. The only way out is through these scenarios. So she has to go through a bioweapon test in Shibuya Square in Tokyo, one in Red Square in Moscow and one in Suburbia. Each one sees her fighting different biohazards. At the same time she is being pursued by a mind controlled Jill Valentine and cloned versions of old familiar faces. Colin Salmon from the first film is back, as is Michelle Rodriguez and Oded Fehr. They don’t really get much to do, beside Rodriguez, who gets to play two versions of herself in a few scene. One is the macho Latina that we’ve seen a million times before (hey if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) and the other is her playing against type as a quiet suburban housewife. It’s not a huge part of the film but it was cool to see her playing against type.
As well as Jill Valentine, Retribution sees the appearance of quite a few favourites from the games. It’s been a long time coming but we finally get to see Leon S. Kennedy and Johann Urb sure looks the part, with the exact outfit and floppy hair of Resident Evil 4 Leon. We meet Ada as well and she is visually very similar, and her weird relationship with Leon is copied from the games pretty successfully. Though with that being said they don’t get any development besides this. It’s like the filmmakers think because we’re aware of the characters they’re based on, they don’t need any backstory. But maybe I’m expecting too much. We also meet Barry Burton played by the always reliable Kevin Durand. Like the other characters, he resembles his namesake visually but little in the dialogue or actions make you think of them as the same characters. Still it’s nice to see these characters brought to life and despite everything I still enjoyed seeing Leon kicking ass.
Wesker is back too. In perhaps the oddest moment in the series, he’s (sort of) the President now. At least when we meet him he’s taken the Oval Office for himself. Also he’s a good guy now? The characters are so far removed from the video game characters on which they’re based it’s hard to really care about the changes. These are different characters doing different things who just happen to dress exactly the same. I would have liked more Wesker in the film. He’s the hammiest one there but he’s fun to watch. Along with that, I would have loved more Chris in this one! He’s not even in it. He was the best part of Afterlife and his presence would have been welcome. I just hope they explain his disappearance in the next one, I am trying my best to wrap my head around the canon.
But you’re not here for story or three dimensional characters! You’re here for the action! And I can report that it is excellent in this film. Paul W. S. Anderson has always directed action stylishly and it’s better than ever here. The shootouts have some punch to them, the car chase feels real. All of the enemies are so well designed, from the Russian Las Plagas to the Umbrella death squads in their gas masks and lether trench coats. The final fight in the snow is great and there are some surprisingly cool visuals. In particular the image of one character being dragged below the ice by zombies. The fighting can get a bit gimmicky at times, with a weird Mortal Kombat x-ray finisher for some reason. To the films credit the practical effects are great, the zombie makeup is amazing. And if the practical effects won’t cut it then the vastly improved CGI does the trick. Compare the Licker in this to the ones from other films and you can really see the improvement.
It’s the little moments in Retribution that make it feel like more care went into it than perhaps went into previous instalments. After an explosion in the suburban sector the smoke rises up to the sky, until it hits the ceiling of the fake environment and the sky pixelates. Sure the plot is ridiculous and the underwater Umbrella base is insane, but the filmmakers want you to believe it.
Like every film in the Resident Evil franchise, it’s difficult to say if this is the worst or the best. I think by simplifying the story down to just the characters having to get from A to B, it takes away a lot of the convoluted story that holds the others back. That continuity is still there, it’s just less prominent. Alice gives the usual exposition dump at the beginning but even that seems to be getting shorter. The characters and references to the games are still more or less pointless but it’s cool to see Leon and Ada even if they’re not handled the best.
Action is what you watch these films for and it is far and away the best and most stylish in this one. And it’s all contained within a really cool sci-fi idea. It’s more of a guilty pleasure than ever.
Next time – Join us again when Resident Evil: The Final Chapter hits cinema screens nest year and this wild ride either ends, or comes hurtling off the tracks once and for all.
Reviewed by Jack