With a line of successful videogames under its belt, the Resident Evil video game franchise is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Since Capcom's Playstation title came out in 1996, there have been books, movies and even Japanese theme park attractions related to the survival horror series. Resident Evil Retribution is the fifth installment in the video game based (loosely) film series.
Released in September 2012, the movie focuses on Alice's (Milla Jovovich) attempts to escape Umbrella Corporation's underwater base in the Arctic Circle. She meets resistance in the form of a brainwashed Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) as well as cloned versions of Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez), James Shade (Colin Salmon) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr). With Umbrella's brutal Red Queen AI pulling the strings behind the deadly T-virus outbreak simulations, Alice must now rely on the assistance of former enemies to get out alive.
It's not every day you get to see a seemingly maniacal AI serving as a film's main antagonist. For that, we give props to Retribution. However, the scope of the story is just too broad to even be remotely believable. Though this is a sci-fi movie, there was no need to throw coherent storytelling out the window. The mishmash of special effects, while a possible attraction for 3D movie goers, is not enough to entertain for the film's 96 minute runtime. Retribution's ambitious plot would have benefitted from showing a little more control, perhaps focusing on fewer ideas to explore.
With regards to the film's place in the video game universe, Retribution contains nothing more than a few superficial tributes. Jill Valentine's red scarab device is one of the few highlights, giving a nod to Resident Evil 5 fans. The series trademark of escaping by helicopter after the final boss fight is also a nice little detail.
We're not really big fans of Retribution's casting. Li Bingbing looks too girl-next-door to be Ada Wong, Shawn Roberts doesn't have the cheekbones to portray Albert Wesker, etc. As fans of the game, we prefer actors who actually resemble the video game characters. We aren't necessarily looking for A-List actors, just those that remind us of the characters they were based on. Remember Resident Evil's (video game) intro? Sure, it was cheesy. Actually, they didn't even have acting experience at the time, but it's hard not to appreciate them for their looks.
Perhaps it's just a case of high expectations. The source material, the resident evil games, already provide an extremely rich and full story that is already film-worthy -which makes fans cringe when they see the content not being maximized to the full potential. With fan favorite Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) making his first movie appearance alongside Resident Evil Gaiden protagonist Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), and film-only character Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), it's a lost opportunity. Instead of packing a punch, these guys were left skulking about in the background with few opportunities even for kick ass quotes. Fortunately, Barry Burton's Rambo style death scene was spot on. Milla Jovovich also does a good job of portraying the facets of Alice's personality. Clone Alice is shown to be a mother living the suburban lifestyle while the main protagonist remains to be the one woman ultimate weapon.
While the storyline may be a tangled mess, the movie's action sequences (as always) manage to be entertaining. Seeing the protagonists face off against formidable infected baddies is always entertaining to watch and evil Rain's demise is a cool bonus. That being said, Alice and Ada's tag team battle versus the Axeman almost makes up for the film's storyline flaws. Of course, the over-the-top, high flying action may not be for everyone, but Hong-Kong style kung fu/martial arts film buffs may just find something to smile about in Retribution. While we would never expect the RE film series to reinvent action movie cinematography in the same way that John Woo and Jim Vickers did, the film still manages to deliver an entertaining run (provided you can ignore logic while indulging yourself in the action sequences).
With the movie's finale comes a promise to set things right in the sixth film. Albert Wesker reveals the scale of their problems. As the scene ends, Umbrella soldiers and US Armed Forces are shown making a last stand against the abominations. Alice, re-injected with the T-virus, has her powers back. It's certainly going to be an epic brawl, but exactly how epic the delivery will be is dependent on director Paul W. S. Anderson's priorities. Will it still be style over substance? We'll have to watch the film series we love/hate to find out.