Resident Evil: Retribution

Ealasaid/ September 18, 2012/ Movie Reviews and Features

Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Bingbing Li
Rated: R for sequences of strong violence throughout

There’s a new Resident Evil movie out. This one is “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth film in the franchise. It has everything we’ve come to expect: Milla Jovovich, zombies, mutants, and an evil corporation. Like all good sequels, it’s more of the same but turned up a notch.

The film thoughtfully opens with a recap of the previous installments, so folks who haven’t seen them in a while (or at all) aren’t at much of a disadvantage. After a combat scene so beautiful we get to see it twice (first played backwards in glorious high-definition slow-motion, then played normally), our heroine Alice (Jovovich) wakes up in a holding cell of the evil Umbrella Corporation, whose mutated bioweapon has turned most of the world population into zombies.

Alice has to escape and return to her efforts to fight Umbrella and gather surviving humans, and to that end a team breaks in to help her. The base where she’s being held is enormous and full of all sorts of interesting locations for our heroes to fight the undead as they struggle to make it out in one piece.

But really, the story doesn’t matter that much. The question with any Resident-Evil-style movie is: are the fight scenes awesome? And they are, in a balletic, almost abstract, way. At this point, these movies have become almost ritualized. The fight sequences are nearly all in super slow motion, the better to appreciate the special effects and fight choreography — which removes all sense of danger or urgency. There comes a point where appreciation of artistry gets in the way of engagement with the characters as people, and “Resident Evil: Retribution” reaches that point almost immediately.

There’s pathos, but it’s mostly artificial. Alice winds up rescuing a deaf child who thinks Alice is her mother. The Umbrella forces are led by Jill (Sienna Guillory), once Alice’s friend but now a brainwashed agent of the corporation. True believers will likely find these details moving, but to outsiders, they will probably ring hollow.

These are films where the look of a thing matters far more than whether it is even remotely believable. Characters’ clothing (especially the women) is determined by how awesome it will look while they are killing zombies, not by whether it’s even faintly practical. This is a film far too slick to anchor even a willing suspension of disbelief. I don’t demand total realism from movies, especially from zombie flicks, but when the answer to every “why is she wearing that?” or “why is the base designed like this?” question is “because it looks cool!” characters stop being people and turn into action figures.

Really, you probably know already if you want to see this movie or not. If you want to watch attractive actors in beautiful clothes executing astonishing martial arts feats with top-notch CGI zombie monsters, “Resident Evil: Retribution” will satisfy. If you don’t want that, it has nothing to offer you.

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