Release Date: 28th September, 2012
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Johann Urb
Even as I am writing this review I am finding it hard to wrap my head around the fact that this is the fifth live-action Resident Evil film in 10 years. As any fan of the original video game series will tell you, this action-driven, sensationalist, bombastic adaptation by Paul W. S. Anderson has no real connection to the zombie-horror source material save for some character names, creature designs and locations. Retribution is less a film with a story and more of a series of MacGuffins in order to revive dead characters, recycle villains and justify an army of RPG-toting, Jeep-driving, Soviet soldier zombies. Oh, and did I mention they were on fire?
Any pretence that the narrative of this series should be taken seriously is thrown out the window within the first five minutes as Alice (Jovovich) summarises the impenetrable, obtuse events of the previous four films in an alarmingly brisk manner. She awakes to find herself in an experimental facility ran by evil mega-corporation Umbrella, who manufactured the T-Virus weapon which brought about the zombie apocalypse in the first place. This facility, comprised of a number of test areas modelled on cities and locations around the world (New York, suburban America, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin), serves to test the effectiveness of the biochemical deterrent. Alice must fight her way through each testing area to escape the complex and all that stands in her way are Umbrella’s agents, a zombie army, and enough slow motion sequences to make Garth Marenghi blush.
Alice is not alone in her struggle. The supporting cast is chock-full of fan service and callbacks to both the video games and previous films in the series. Leon S. Kennedy and Barry Burton lead a small team of cannon fodder sent to rescue Alice, while erstwhile villains Jill Valentine, Albert Wesker and the Red Queen return, and Ada Wong also joins the cast because she’s a thing. Even the creatures get their due, with significant cameo appearances made by Chainsaw Guy, Big Axe Guy (they don’t really have names, do they?) and the Lickers. The wall-to-wall fan-pandering is charming for those familiar with the franchise, but it’s hard to see past the awful, stilted dialogue and interactions which punctuate the action sequences. That action is consistently slick and surprisingly well-choreographed, although the CGI-laden, green screen-dependent and slow-motion nature of it all begins to wear-thin by the second act.
If there’s one thing to genuinely commend the film for, it’s that it treats the audience with a certain level of respect which is rarely seen in traditional Hollywood action fare – Retribution foregrounds strong female protagonists and antagonists without pandering to an adolescent urge to ensure they remain scantily clad throughout (I’m looking at you, Sucker Punch). Here, the prevalence of the male gaze inherent in mainstream cinema is challenged and, while it does not necessarily rescue the film from being a decidedly banal affair, the understated use of progressive female characters throughout the film is very much welcome.
Retribution marks the series’ most camp outing yet. There may have been a period in time where the early films entertained the idea that they should be taken seriously, but this has long since passed. Instead, we have 90 minutes of B-list actors cosplaying as fan favourites, stylishly murdering hoards of the undead again, and again, and again… and if the final scene is anything to go by, this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of it either.
PS: Avoid the 3D if you can. Nothing interesting to note there.