Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up in her home in the suburbs with memories of her past adventures in the battle against the Umbrella Corporation. She goes along with it, surprised at the presence of her husband and daughter, but soon enough zombies are everywhere, killing, and turning the panicked living into the hungry undead. Alice learns that is all a simulation. Under the Russian ice, there is a base specializing in projecting environments, like Tokyo and New York, so that the corporation can study the biohazard and learn how to control it. Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) and her crew, working for Albert Wesker, who happens to be one of Alice’s former enemies, come to our heroine’s rescue.
I have got to hand it to the “Resident Evil” franchise because each time a new installment begins, I find myself very frustrated with having no memory of its direct predecessor (the flashbacks do not help) and yet its images, CGI or otherwise, almost dare me to keep looking at the screen, hoping that somehow it will all make sense by the end. Of course, they never do. I have played the game only once on the original Playstation but I did not get very far.
“Resident Evil: Retribution,” written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, begins with a statement that it is going to be mindless, action-packed, and beautiful to look at. During the opening credits, most of us will have no idea why Alice seems to be floating dead on the water or why there is chaos all around involving a ship, a helicopter, and men being showered by bullets. I enjoyed it on the most basic level: playing in backward slow motion, it is obvious that some actual thought is put into how the scene is going to unfold and where the camera should be placed in order for us to see the most gore and violence.
That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but I do not mean for it to be. Unlike its two immediate predecessors, the action scenes are easier to follow here. First, the editing is not as hyperactive. We are able to appreciate the stunts especially how Alice seems to defy laws of gravity when she is under attack. Second, perhaps more importantly, the screenplay takes advantage of the fact that the franchise is based on a video game. The characters are made aware that they must go through stages in a form of test environments to get to a certain location for safety. For example, when in a New York City simulation, in order for Alice and Ada to get to the next simulation, they must fight a villain (or villains), not easy to kill, to get to the next one. They are even put under a time limit.
The plot is thinner than the pia mater of our brains on autopilot but the writer-director attempts to play upon his strengths. When he leaves his comfort zone, however, the picture gets tired and boring. Of particular disappointment are the men in the rescue team. Not one of them is given a distinct personality we can remember or feel sad toward when he is killed. All they do is shoot guns and display random acts of “macho heroism,” in quotation because the more appropriate words are “stupidity” and “stubbornness.” They might as well not have been in the film and it probably would have been better paced.
“Resident Evil: Retribution” falls into the category of mindless entertainment that I find tolerable. It does not pretend to be anything else. In fact, it manages to connect the screenplay to the nature of its video game roots. It does have technical merits: a lot of the images, especially the monsters, and half of the chases are nicely done. Does it set up a sequel? Yeah. Am I excited for it? No, but I wouldn’t say I’m against it.