Until this point, for all intents and purposes I hadn't seen any of Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil films (I think I saw the first, but don't remember it at all. Were there scary dogs in it?). Entering into a franchise at the fifth installment is probably not the best strategy, but so it was that I found myself sitting down for Resident Evil: Retribution, not entirely sure what to expect. I played a few of the games as a teenager, but again, nothing has really stuck with me. So, how does the movie fare with (essentially) a newcomer such as myself?
Not well. Not well at all.
Thankfully (or so I thought), Anderson opens the film with a lengthy sequence bringing viewers up to speed with the story so far, and surprisingly it seems that the Resident Evil film series has all but evolved past being about zombies. There are a few sequences involving the undead in Retribution, but the real antagonist here is a malevolent artificial intelligence, the Red Queen, who controls the central computer system of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation.
Early on the film is actually pretty fun, and shows potential. Our heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) finds herself in an Umbrella testing facility, where the Red Queen runs simulations to see how the company's biological weapons affect various cities around the globe. Jovovich, perhaps the only thing holding this series together, fights her way through the Tokyo simulation, culminating in a highly entertaining hallway battle with a dozen zombies.
Unfortunately, it's at this point that Anderson drops Alice into the real story, which I can only assume is continuing from the previous films, as I really didn't understand or care what was happening. As a stand-alone film, Retribution simply doesn't do enough for first-time viewers. What little structure the narrative has never really builds to anything, and it's more or less one long gunfight with an inexplicable rescue mission mixed in. Aside from Jovovich, the acting is atrocious across the board, with particularly shoddy work from Sienna Guillory and Bingbing Li. The performances, and Anderson's direction, are appropriately on par with that of a bad video game cut-scene, and get so bad at times that it almost seems intentional.
Resident Evil: Retribution is not a film for new audiences but for die-hard followers of the franchise, although it's difficult to imagine even the most ardent fans finding much to enjoy here. Jovovich looks terrific and delivers the necessary butt-kicking, but that's really all there is to enjoy. Judging by the conclusion, the inevitable sixth film is probably going to be the last, although so little happens in Retribution that Anderson perhaps should have skipped this story all together and moved on the finish Alice's story sooner.
Side note: I'm no fan of 3-D, but surprisingly Anderson seems to be unafraid to have fun with the format. Although the film suffers from some of the worst light-loss (one of the biggest arguments against 3-D) I can remember, Anderson grabs the gimmick with both hands and is clearly having a blast throwing bullets, axes, and gallons of blood at the audience. The native 3-D (not post-converted) actually makes a difference, and if you must see this movie, then shelling out the extra couple of bucks might be worth it.