Reviewed by John Hussey
This has certainly been a test of my patience and sanity, but here we are with the fifth film in the Resident Evil film series, Resident Evil: Retribution. I’ll be honest, I originally boycotted this film out of protest of how bad the last two films were, to which casually shat all over the Resident Evil franchise. But for the sake of this review series (and the fact I needed to watch it to better understand Resident Evil: The Final Chapter when watching it at the cinema) I’m going to bite my tongue and finally give it a go.
The very beginning of this film nearly made me want to give up completely. Like with Resident Evil: Afterlife, the promised epic battle from the conclusion of the previous film is quickly glossed over to progress the next chapter in Paul W. S. Anderson‘s broken down bandwagon. At least with Afterlife we got something. Here we are shown the events of the Umbrella attack twice, once reversed in slow-motion for a fancy-looking title sequence before actually showing us the events for the sake of it, topped off with another dull recap by Alice just as a further insult.
And even then it’s so fast passed that you barely get to see anything. I know the idea is it was never supposed to end well and that it would instantly become a cluster-fuck, but come on Anderson, at least put some effort into delivering some of your promises you trolling bastard. What ticks me off the most about this intro sequence is the absence of Chris and Claire Redfield. Where the fuck did they go? At the end of Afterlife they were clearly stood either side of Alice and now suddenly they have vanished into thin air without any explanation or reasoning (a running gag within this pathetic attempt at adapting a video game classic).
It’s utterly disrespectful to do this. I know Wentworth Miller didn’t give us the best performance as Chris but at least he tried, considering the fact he was given the shittiest material to work with. And now he’s given the boot because why not. It seems to me that Anderson thinks he can use these iconic characters when and where he wants and that’s completely fine within his books. Well sadly it doesn’t work like that and if you actually want to work on a film called Resident Evil then actually do your fucking research and stop pissing about.
With the unexplained absence of all the “apparent” important characters of the last couple of films I really didn’t know whether I could tolerate another second of this franchise. And then with a click of a finger everything randomly fixes itself. Retribution actually starts getting good and it made me feel rather confused. It doesn’t do what Resident Evil: Apocalypse does, in which it actually respects Resident Evil by actually attempting to adapt the events of the games, but rather finally decides to give the franchise an identity.
This was the major problem of this film series in which each film (besides Apocalypse) looked generic, bland, and never felt unique. With Retribution it has a clear voice and direction it wants to go in. It finds a nice fine line between adapting its source material whilst creating its own cohesive narrative. The film does an interesting thing at the beginning where we have Alice wake up to a normal life, and you get a sort of Inception vibe. Carols Olivera is her husband and she has a daughter called Becky. Suddenly things go wrong when a zombie outbreak begins, with Carlos being killed whilst Alice desperately attempts to protect her child.
Honestly, this is the best acting I have seen from Milla Jovovich within this entire series. She actually conveyed real emotion and I felt attached with her character. It wasn’t about how badass she could be, it was about her being a caring parent trying to protect her child by whatever means. And it felt very realistic and scary because you could fully relate with the situation, and instead of feeling generic it felt more appealing. Anderson cleverly leaves it so you aren’t aware what this section means until later on, to which it’s revealed that it was a training scenario that the Umbrella Corporation concocted to test out their bioweapons, with the people inside them being clones.
Alice is tortured for a period of time (barely clothed again – no surprise there) by Jill Valentine as she continues to be controlled by Umbrella. I like the fact that Anderson attempted to adapt Resident Evil 5 by using this particular story-arc and it really does add a lot of drama to the overall film. The enemy isn’t a mad scientist but rather an old alley being brainwashed. This becomes the major theme of Retribution as Alice has to continually face old friends from the past who have now been turned against her.
We have the return of Rain Ocampo, reprised by Michelle Rodriguez, who surprisingly adds a lot to the film despite being a brainwashed clone with no memory of Alice. An added element is having a secondary clone who is featured in the testing scenario, who goes on to help Alice out. It’s a nice contrast having Rodriguez playing the two different versions and seeing how they lend or hinder Alice’s progression. It is fair to say by now that this franchise is built on self-indulgence, particularly here where it belatedly calls back to the original events and characters, but it actually works in giving this film a back-bone to lean on.
On top of returning characters we also have new ones in the form of Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, and Barry “Motherfucking” Burton. Like with Apocalypse, Retribution really tries to incorporate them into the plot and make them useful. Though the film has to make-do with changing their origins to suit the backwards nature of the films, they at least feel like their video game counterparts in both mannerisms and look. It really adds to the film and creates a dynamic new team to play alongside Alice.
Speaking of Alice, Jovovich suddenly whips out some good acting in this latest instalment and that’s probably thanks to some good material to work off. This time it’s not just about being an action-bitch but rather a multi-layered character. This is done well with incorporating both Valentine and her clone daughter Becky. With Valentine she has a personal connection and it makes her struggle fighting against her all the more difficult. Whereas with Becky she is given the role of motherhood and makes it her duty to look after the confused child, who is unaware she’s a by-product of Umbrella’s twisted schemes.
For once Anderson delivers something interesting for us to stick our teeth into and the narrative unravels nicely. Despite it being simply a rescue mission throughout, filled with lots and lots of action sequence, it’s done well because of its unique environments. The Umbrella base is a testing facility and has different mocked up rooms, featuring New York, Tokyo, a suburban Raccoon City, and Moscow. Each room gives the film a new feel which features its own unique obstacle.
Remember how the Executioner was randomly used in Afterlife (despite being a one-off monster near the beginning of Resident Evil 5)? Well Anderson uses it again and attempts to make it feel like Pyramid-Head from Silent Hill. But it’s done interestingly. This time there’s two of them fighting against Alice and Ada within the New York mock-up and it’s shot stunningly. Yes, I’m actually complementing Anderson’s directing skills. I really liked it in particular when the Executioner is trying to get to Ada by slicing through a bus. It’s hard to explain but it just looked really nice.
Maybe the reasoning is because it didn’t look bland and generic. It felt like the Resident Evil film series finally gained an identity and pushed hard to make it apparent. I liked the inclusion of Leon, Ada and Barry and how they were brought into this exciting narrative and it all meshed together successfully. I don’t know if this was the intention or not but Retribution reminded me of an anime because of the way it looked and the style it displayed, particularly with the Tokyo setting and the character’s costumes, and simply the way it was shot and colourised.
It added a nice edge to the film and made me feel really entertained throughout. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I really enjoyed this film and found it to be my overall favourite. Anderson continued to incorporate elements from the game by building upon the Las Plagues zombies, and even making them more intelligent like in the games. As Leon and Barry enter the Moscow mock-up they encounter a horde of Russian soldiers that are infected with Las Plagues. They are able to use weapons and vehicles, just like in the games, and it adds an extra layer of threat and wow-factor to the scenario. We even get an adaption of the epic car chase sequence from Resident Evil 5.
I think Retribution knew where it stood and got its balance right, which is what this series desperately needed. Had they continued to go down the route as previous sequels then the Resident Evil film series would’ve gone up in flames. It needed a voice, it needed its own style, and to finally know where it stood with developing it’s own narrative, whilst also respecting the source material.
What added to the overall film was the pay-off. I absolutely loved the final battle scene because it felt emotional and engaging. As I said earlier, Alice’s enemy were old friends and now she had to fight them, possibly to the death. Despite my disappointment that Chris wasn’t around to add more layers to this moment, it did still (surprisingly) carry the same kind of impact that Resident Evil 5 had when Chris tried freeing his ex-partner from Wesker’s influence. Alice knew Jill from Apocalypse and they shared a friendship and so she had to face the same dilemma as Chris within the games.
I think this battle would’ve had more weight had Jill not been discarded without explanation. The fact that Anderson can’t seem to control his own continuity and characters baffles me. He needs more control over his own work and to be able to keep a coherent story-arc so that when it develops from film to film the pay-off makes sense, instead of feeling shoehorned in because the idea has suddenly materialised out of thin air.
Either-way, this final scene had a lot of excitement within it and remained engaging because of the high stakes. Even when Alice had to focus her attention on Rain it still felt personal, despite the fact we hadn’t seen Rodriguez’s character since the first film we still knew she was important to Alice’s character. And Rodriguez certainly gave a good performance as the villain and showed off her badass nature. Even when succumbing to her death she still attempted to pursue Alice.
Unfortunately my only major gripe with this film (besides the beginning) was the change to Wesker’s character. Suddenly between the events of Afterlife and Retribution he became a good guy wanting to help Alice for the sake of saving the last of humanity from extinction at the hands of Umbrella. Get the fuck out of here! This is bullshit on a whole different level. Also, randomly the Red Queen is back and is in-charge of Umbrella. It’s little additions like this that make my mind explode as I feel Anderson is disregarding his own continuity (never mind the continuity of the games) and ultimately tarnishing the films because they make little to no sense with their development.
Luckily Retribution was for the most part good and that actually puts a smile on my face. This actually brings me hope that the final instalment, The Final Chapter, might not be a piece of shit and actually end the series on a massive high. Anderson has set the bar now (unfortunately in the penultimate chapter, but better late than never) with the style and performance of Retribution. So maybe, just maybe, we get some kind of pay-off now. And with the conclusion to this film leading us into the ultimate battle to save humanity from both Umbrella and the infected, we just might get there. Fingers crossed.