Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Paul W.S. Anderson
Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Aryana Engineer (Becky), Li Bingbing (Ada Wong), Johann Urb (Leon Kennedy), Kevin Durand (Barry Burton), Boris Kodjoe (Luther West), Oded Fehr (Carlos), Colin Salmon (James “One” Shade), Shawn Roberts (Albert Wesker)
Zombie Virus/Ecological Disaster/The Hubris of Paul W.S. Anderson
“My name is Alice. I worked for the Umbrella Corporation, the largest and most powerful commercial entity in the world. I was head of security at a secret high-tech facility called the Hive, a giant underground laboratory developing experimental, viral weaponry. There was an incident. A virus escaped. A lot of people died. The trouble was, they didn’t stay dead. The computer that controlled the Hive was a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence: the Red Queen. The Red Queen responded to the threat of the viral outbreak in an extreme way. She went homicidal. The Red Queen attempted to kill everyone, whether they were infected or not. I managed to escape, but this was only the beginning. Viral outbreaks spread like wildfire, first across the United States, then the world. The T-Virus didn’t just bring the dead back to life. It mutated them in terrifying ways. Despite the apocalypse they had created, the Umbrella Corporation continued to experiment with the deadly virus. I was infected. But the virus bonded with me on a cellular level. I developed powers. I became different. Powerful. Unstoppable. As I got stronger, the human race became weaker. I tried my best to lead what survivors I could find to safety, but we were pursued relentlessly. Even my friend Jill Valentine was seized and brainwashed by Umbrella. Finally, I confronted the head of the Umbrella Corporation, Albert Wesker. He robbed me of my powers, but I still managed to defeat him. At last, we thought it was over. We thought we had survived the horror. But we were wrong. Once again, we found ourselves fighting for our lives.” – Alice
What in the hell is this movie? I thought I was prepared for the penultimate chapter in the Resident Evil series but I was not. I’ve got a lot of things to unpack here but if you’re looking for a pull-quote to sum up my thoughts on the movie, it would be: “…What?”
So Resident Evil was a bad movie with a little promise, Resident Evil: Apocalypse was a tsunami of terrible, Resident Evil: Extinction was a decent movie with a malignant tumor of bad, and Resident Evil: Afterlife embraced its faults and came away a triumph of mindless bombast. The franchise was on the upswing until Paul W.S. Anderson sat down to finally try and weave this mess into a cohesive narrative.
You see, in the first movie it’s revealed that the T-virus was released in The Hive by Alice’s fake-husband Spence. The Hive’s security system, The Red Queen, then killed everyone in the facility and sealed it so the virus couldn’t escape. Alice and Raccoon City Police Detective Matt escaped the facility, only to be captured by Umbrella Corporation scientists and experimented on. Both Matt and Alice are exposed to the T-virus, Alice becomes the zombie version of Ripley from Alien: Resurrection and Matt becomes a big doofy rubber-suited monster named Nemesis. The Hive is opened and the zombies escape but it would seem that the virus was already on the loose in Raccoon City anyway. The city is nuked and Alice and a few others escape.
The world succumbs to the virus and we’re told the oceans dry up and all plant life dies but beyond a rather desolate landscape, this proves to not be true in further films. Alice teams up with a band of survivors led by Claire Redfield, whom she helps escape to a safe haven in Alaska. Meanwhile, Alice confronts a mad scientist who is cloning Alice in attempts to get a super-soldier of her abilities because… he needs it to kill all the zombies, I guess? After assaulting Umbrella’s chief bad guy, Albert Wesker, Alice has her powers removed and sets out to Alaska to find Claire and her people. Upon arriving at the safe haven she finds only Claire, controlled by some robot spider on her chest. They fly to Los Angeles and land at a prison where they find out the safe haven from the third movie is not a town, but a container ship which just happens to be in anchorage right near the prison (despite the fact that the oceans are supposed to have dried up.)
Alice luckily find’s Claire’s brother Chris in the basement of the prison and they escape to the ship only to find out it’s a human-harvesting operation by Umbrella. The trio confronts a super-powered Albert Wesker and defeats him, blowing him up with a nuclear device as he attempts to escape in a future-plane. Thinking they’ve succeeded, they realize their greatest fight is yet ahead of them as the sky is filled with Umbrella future-planes full of Umbrella soldiers lead by a mind-controlled Jill Valentine, who disappeared somewhere between the second and third movies and hasn’t been mentioned or even alluded to since.
I haven’t addressed the Alice in Wonderland themes on the fringes of these movies yet because I’ve yet to figure out their significance beyond being shockingly obvious to spot. But now I think I’ve figured it out because Resident Evil: Retribution is such a convoluted mindfuck fever dream of a movie that Lewis Carroll is the only influence that makes any sense.
Resident Evil: Retribution picks up right where Resident Evil: Afterlife left off. Alice is under siege by hundreds of Umbrella soldiers led by Jill Valentine. The film’s opening goes slowly backward through a massive action scene that seems well-shot and artsy, an impressive feat considering that it’s really stupid when you watch it again in forward-motion at full speed in a couple of minutes. Claire, Chris, and K-Mart are noticeably missing from this sequence even though they were literally standing right behind her when the last movie cut out.
We’re treated to a blatant ripoff of the opening of the Dawn of the Dead remake featuring Alice and Carlos (from parts 2 and 3) as a domestic couple with a deaf daughter, and Michelle Rodriguez returning as an eco-warrior suburbanite. Then Alice wakes up naked (as is customary) in a white room where she manages to escape and find yet another post-apocalyptic catsuit. She stumbles through a recreation of the Tokyo opening of the last film, fights a bunch of zombies in a hallway and meets up with Ada Wong (Li Bingbing.)
Ada is Albert Wesker’s operative and she and Wesker have left the company. It seems that, despite being the AI security system of a single Umbrella facility and having had her data core fried by Kaplan in the first film, The Red Queen has now taken over the Umbrella corporation and is using mind-controlled soldiers like Jill and various bio-weapon creatures to destroy life on Earth so the T-virus can be stopped. Wesker has defected from the company, sending Ada into the Russia-located underwater lab where Alice is being held to help her escape. To assist in the process he has sent in a strike team of operatives lead by Resident Evil 2’s Leon Kennedy and Resident Evil’s Barry Burton. It won’t be easy though, the facility Alice was trapped in was used to simulate T-virus outbreaks that Umbrella used to sell the virus to various world powers so there are massive recreations of New York, Tokyo, Moscow, and Suburbia as well as thousands of zombies, bio-weapons, and clones to get through in two hours before a bomb explodes and floods the facility.
Milla Jovovich has really grown into the role of Alice. Her line delivery here is vastly improved and her acting is a lot more loose and naturalistic. She also seems to be having a lot of fun, I could fill a folder with her various “what the fuck” faces. This movie does finally make Alice necessary to the plot by making it entirely about her, but I can’t help but wish we’d follow some more down-to-Earth characters.
I’m not sure why Sienna Guillory wasn’t in parts 3 and 4, but as I said in prior reviews, Ali Larter was a better sidekick anyhow. Guillory is really bad in this movie, I can’t tell how much of it is meant to give her mind-controlled character an unnatural demeanor but it doesn’t work. Jill Valentine sounds like she was overdubbed by a worse actor. Her words don’t seem to match her lip movements and the way she moves and stands looks so ridiculous that she seems like a character from a goofy Japanese horror-comedy.
Boris Kodjoe as Luther West is the sole returning character from Resident Evil: Retribution. He doesn’t add much to the plot but Luther is likable and Kodjoe’s presence grounds the movie a bit and lord knows this movie needs some grounding. Luther, much like Mike Epps’ L.J., is someone I’d rather follow than all the more important characters in the movie.
Estonian actor Johann Urb plays a very grizzled-looking version of Leon Kennedy. I don’t mind his performance at all even if it has a very Dolph Lundgrennish quality where it seems like his every line was ADRed in. Leon, in the grand tradition of Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, Carlos Olivera, and Chris Redfield seems like he’ll be important but instead is just there so people will go “Look, it’s Leon Kennedy.” He’s in the big climactic line-up at the end of the film but isn’t listed on the cast list for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter so his involvement in this movie is entirely pointless.
Similarly, Li Bingbing as Ada Wong is also not significant as she won’t be in the next one either. She’s just another in a long line of slightly less competent sidekicks whose relationship with Alice has slight sapphic undertones (See: Rain in the first movie, Jill in the second, Claire in all the rest.) Bingbing seems to be the go-to actress to suck in that Chinese box-office money but she’s a good actress and a likable screen presence so I don’t mind her shoehorned inclusion. (I mind Ada Wong’s shoehorned inclusion a fair amount, though.)
Going from the first movie to this one shows how vastly Michelle Rodriguez has grown as an actress since the year 2000. She plays the old-school Rain but her role as the hippie urbanite is completely different and she does both quite well. Even reprising Rain is a vast improvement over her scowly one-liner self from the first movie. There’s no good reason to bring her back and the only real reason they do is for a big fight scene at the movie’s end which is so drawn-out that it rivals They Live. In much the same way as with other returning actors Oded Fehr (Carlos) and Colin Salmon (One), I appreciate seeing actors I like again but don’t much care for their inclusion in this movie.
Shawn Roberts as Albert Wesker was a big highlight of Resident Evil: Aftermath for me. Roberts was chewing scenery like a champ so I’m not surprised they’ve brought Wesker back in spite of his apparent atomization at the close of the last film. (Worth noting: the movie doesn’t even try to explain how he’s still alive.) But Wesker doesn’t get to do anything particularly interesting this time, he just supplies exposition and as you’ve seen above there’s a lot of exposition. Roberts spends most of his time on a viewscreen spewing what feels like 45 minutes of expository bullshit at Alice and the audience. I honestly feel bad for that actor because it’s a shitty thankless role.
The one character introduced in this film who I like is Barry Burton. Barry is sort of the Wedge Antilles of the Resident Evil universe. Wedge never got to hang out with Luke Skywalker or Han Solo and go on awesome space adventures but he showed up in every Star Wars movie and was generally cool and super competent the whole time. Barry has always been my favorite character from the Resident Evil game universe, despite horrible voice-acting. Barry is played by Kevin Durand, the Wedge Antilles of real life. As usual, Durand doesn’t get a whole lot to do but he makes the few minutes of screen-time he has count and his exit from the film is one of the best moments.
Once again, Alice has a surrogate daughter. The little girl, Becky is played by Aryana Engineer who some of you may remember from the movie Orphan, where she also played a deaf girl. Becky is the daughter of the Alice-clone from the Suburbia simulation and latches onto Alice thinking she’s her mother after the clone is killed by a Carlos clone. It leads to one of the most perplexing moments in the movie where out of nowhere Alice knows sign language! Aryana is actually hearing-impaired in real-life, she’s a legitimately wonderful actress and the few legitimate emotional moments are entirely thanks to her. The mother-daughter bond is the sole meaningful thing in this movie, so naturally neither Aryana nor her character are returning for The Final Chapter. She will presumably never be mentioned again like Abigail Ashford from part 2.
Resident Evil: Retribution is the most ambitious movie of the series. It’s wall-to-wall action with lots of choreographed fights, explosions, gun battles, car chases, big CG monsters, and massive special effects. So I can’t help but wonder why the whole thing feels so cheap. Most of the film looks pretty slick, except with the really flat CG that’s obviously intended to only look good in 3D. Amusingly enough the updated CG of The Red Queen actually looks worse than the shitty 2001 CG in the first movie simply because of the 3D effect.
There’s also a lot of obvious green screen and sound stages used throughout the film. Most of the Alice scenes look fine when they’re not leaning on the 3D too hard but the scenes of Leon’s strike team are weirdly low-quality and look like an Asylum film half the time. I’m not sure if this was just a bad second-unit or they ran out of money but it’s rather noticeable.
There’s a bit in The Blues Brothers when John Belushi first gets to Dan Akroyd’s tiny little apartment where an elevated train goes by the window, shaking everything. “How often does that train go by?” asks Belushi. “So often you won’t even notice it.” replies Akroyd. That’s how the action scenes feel in this movie. It’s wall-to-wall set-pieces and I have never been this bored by such a large variety of different action beats. It’s not even a CG issue as a lot of the stunts are practical, using make-up and wires. Most of it is very well-done, involving some great stunt work and slick effects. I just couldn’t bring myself to care, even though I recognized some good scares early in the film. It’s worth noting that the zombies only appear in maybe 20 minutes of this film, which admittedly is about a quarter of the runtime but since the movie feels relentlessly long it seems like a paltry amount.
Paul W.S. Anderson packed the movie with as much shit as possible. We have Umbrella soldiers, clones, Jill, zombies, a licker, Las Plagas zombies, not one but two Axemen, and that fucking laser grid again. I’m honestly surprised they didn’t work in Nemesis and a Tyrant, and I’m very surprised that this is the first movie in the series with no zombie dogs.
Speaking of the Las Plagas zombies, lets talk about those. For those unfamiliar, Las Plagas is a different virus developed by The Umbrella Corporation. The virus first appeared in Resident Evil 4 where Leon Kennedy comes across it trying to rescue the president’s daughter from a small island off the coast of Spain. The virus doesn’t make zombies, just violent people whose heads occasionally explode into weird parasite-worm things. Obviously it is called “Las Plagas” because the first outbreak takes place in a small village in Spain and is given that name by the locals. If you didn’t play Resident Evil 4 or 5, you wouldn’t know that.
Which is fine, the Plagas zombies were introduced and unnamed in Afterlife with no name given. They were the fast zombies with the toothy tentacle-butthole mouths. And though those return this time, when the Red Queen says “Activate Las Plagas undead” what shows up are actual zombies dressed up like World War 2 era Russian soldiers who fire guns, which is admittedly closer to what they were in the game. But no explanation is given in-movie of why the virus would be called “Las Plagas” and the Red Queen says it as though the audience will automatically know what she’s talking about. Later, Rain injects that virus into herself (Leon even specifically points to the syringe she’s using and from at least 30 yards away identifies the contents as “Las Plagas”) and becomes a super soldier like Alice with no apparent mutation. She’s even dispatched by being dropped through the ice where the Las Plagas zombies from earlier drag her down and eat her. Nothing makes any sense! What does it do and why is it called that?!
I don’t know what the rationale behind making this movie was. The mythology of the series is barely affected at all, all the interesting characters in this either die or just simply won’t be returning for the next movie, and the plot is convoluted even for a Resident Evil movie. The big thing I admired about Afterlife was that Anderson removed the clones and Alice’s superpowers right away and he simply brings them back in this movie. Did Extinction and Afterlife even matter to the story? Does this movie matter to the story? Does any of this matter? All of Alice’s character growth from this movie is likely going to disappear in time for the next one. The only consistent throughline I’ve discovered that may pay off (aside from the ongoing T-virus narrative) is that it may finally reveal that Alice is a clone (and maybe always has been one.)
I think Paul W.S. Anderson intended Retribution as a sort of celebration of the franchise. Instead of a triumphant greatest hits album, this feels like a messy trapper-keeper collage. A dubstep-laden mess of a clip show celebrating something that wasn’t even that good to begin with. Resident Evil: Retribution is the Heaven’s Gate of expensive b-movie garbage. It is mindless fun, sans the fun.
The trailer for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter seems to indicate a much better movie than this one but it’s hard to tell at this point. Who knows if this will even indeed be the final chapter but it’s clear that the series has run its course at this point. It has ostensibly been an adaptation of a video game but watching them all in one fell swoop has left me feeling that it’s more a vanity project. These movies are a vehicle for Anderson to show the world how hot and kickass he thinks his girlfriend is, which is adorable but also kinda creepy. I never really came to like Alice but I have certainly come to appreciate Milla Jovovich even though her presence in a movie is still a red flag. The Final Chapter hits theaters this Friday, but as is customary I won’t be reviewing it until it comes out on home video. Doomsday Reels will now return to its normal publishing schedule.
Resident Evil: Retribution can be found on DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant, or by taking the maximum amount of Ambien that won’t kill you. There is also a Blu-ray collection of all five films.
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