You have to give director Paul W.S. Anderson credit for keeping a video game based film franchise alive for five major features, as most attempts bomb on film one. Unlike the hordes of infected souls which have been drained of all life, Paul W.S. Anderson proves he’s alive and still kicking, running Alice through another T-Virus inspired disaster in Resident Evil: Retribution.
Now I have to admit right off the bat, I find the whole Resident Evil franchise to be a guilty pleasure of sorts, exploiting the horror genre for big time blockbuster action much like how Fast and Furious films feel to action fans. Hell, I bought the first three Resident Evil films in a three pack trilogy for $10 at Wal-Mart, voluntarily hosted all night marathon viewings of the franchise, and don’t regret a single minute. Let’s just not talk about Resident Evil: Afterlife…
Getting back to Anderson’s fifth tale of the Umbrella corruption, the writer/director does something extremely smart in presenting a watered down script which is literally just “get from point A to point B, or you die,” plain and simple. Not only that, but Anderson is nice enough to not keep us in the dark on most of the introduced story twists, making it much easier to focus on the more entertaining parts of his film that matter.
Minus some revelations and tie ups relating back to open plot points from the first films, Anderson realizes why people flock to theaters to see Alice – and by flock I mean my IMAX 3D midnight release showing was nearly filled. The director knows that audiences aren’t there to see an Oscar-winning screenplay, nor is Anderson developing one given the source material.
It’s pretty easy to tell that Anderson isn’t pushing boundaries in character development or powerful dialogue either, as I could only assume characters in Resident Evil: Retribution were playing a sick game where no one could speak unless they had a cheesy, clichéd Hollywood action line in mind.
Honest to goodness, there were entire conversations that only consisted of one liners delivered while the camera zoomed back and forth from face to face, almost like watching the dialogue being fast forwarded so Anderson could get back to destroying geographical landmarks. But hey, these moments resulted with some pretty decent laughs, albeit unintentional, generating entertainment out of unabashedly thoughtless filler chatter delivered with a coy smile, as if the character were striking quotable gold.
This time around, Anderson adds a lighter side-story as Alice (Milla Jovovich) spends the film protecting a little deaf girl named Becky (Aryana Engineer), which presents a sweet touch and commentary on Alice’s emotional traits, but ultimately is forgettable.
Whenever things get dirty, Becky is just forced off-screen so the adults can solve their differences with gunfire and hand to hand combat, jumping back on-screen as soon as the action settles down. Again, a nice touch for those wanting a little substance but her removal from the film wouldn’t have hindered Resident Evil: Retribution much in my eyes.
Not only being slightly unimportant, Becky’s story also presents plot holes as to why Alice remembers her or can sign with her, but that can only be discussed by revealing a spoiler or two, so let’s just take note and move on.
Character wise don’t expect much development either, as Anderson assembles a random smattering of familiar video game faces, hand-picked to appease audience members only there because of their undying love for anything Resident Evil.
Who would have thought Barry Burton (Kevin Durand) from RE1 and Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb) from RE2 and RE4 could ever be seen fighting side by side, also joined by Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) from RE2 and RE4 and a Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) version which is found in RE5.
Anderson uses his creative license to insert the characters in any situation and doesn’t stick faithfully to the lineage of the games, but the deviation shouldn’t bother many fans, thinking of the films as an alternate Resident Evil universe open to new and unique interpretations. So as you can see, there’s little continuity or connection between the virtual and real forms of each character (minus Jill’s hypnotic spider bot), but jamming Resident Evil: Retribution full of recognizable heroes at least makes it seem like Anderson is treating the source material with respect.
A perfect example of such would be Kevin Durand’s portrayal of fanboy favorite Barry Burton, being nothing but a fun, hammed up action hero homage to a character fans have loved since RE1.
Anderson also uses Redemption as a chance to resurrect fan favorite film characters like Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), One (Colin Salmon), Carlos (Oded Fehr), and obviously, the now evil Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory).
Knowing what succeeded in his previous four films, our director brings back high points people loved about the earlier franchise work, but not in an insulting or cheap way where we believe the attempt is nothing but a cash-in to lure viewers back with familiarity. Nope, Anderson definitely found a genius way to bring back the actors who made his films famous, showing us a different side to the characters we loved, twisting our perceptions with clever craftsmanship.
Jill Valentine, played by the sultry Sienna Guillory who won my heart in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, is another example of straight-out-of-the-can ham-centric acting. She delivers some of the most robotic and emotionless lines, and yes, robotic even for a character who for all intents and purposes is a robot, but while still including moments of premeditated silliness worthy of hilarious genre recognition.
Watching her shoot handheld dual machine guns was like a bad scene out of some 70′s action exploitation flick, as her hips and shoulders move back and forth while pumping each gun to and fro as if she were shaking her chest at us in a pompous show of ridiculousness. That being said, moments like this were just too much fun to ignore.
Luckily, Anderson doesn’t short us on the explosion and fighting front. He’s slowly morphing into the Michael Bay of horror when it comes to aesthetics. Constructing some pretty wicked fight scenes for his actress/wife Milla Jovovich, Alice can be scene pulling off Matrix-esque moves while showing off her tight leather S&M outfit, careening through the air with guns blazing, of course in slow motion.
My only complaint action wise was that Anderson got a little too slow motion crazy, extending entire scenes unnecessarily while we watch Alice first fight in slo-mo, then run in slo-mo, dive in slo-mo, yell in slo-mo etc. Let’s just say that Anderson gets a little trigger happy with one of the most overused visual clichés since reaching mass fame in The Matrix.
Besides that little faux pas, Alice’s infected bashing lifestyle is indulgent fun and Barry’s strike team displays much of the same violent song and dance, melding both action and horror in spectacularly flashy fashion.
I can only assume I’ll be in the critical minority by stating even the slightest positive mention of Resident Evil: Retribution, but I had loads of 3D generated fun, and that aspect can’t be ignored.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s writing may not have blown minds and our characters may not be up for any awards, but Resident Evil: Retribution showcases tantalizing big budget action on a stylistically provocative level that draws upon fun-focused B-movie influences.
Fans should also love watching Barry, Leon, Ada, and a noteworthy crew assemble for Anderson’s latest film, really only missing Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) when thinking on other big name characters. If Retribution‘s ending is any indication though, we may get one more shot at Anderson’s successful franchise, hinting the best has yet to come.
My only remaining question, and I think other video game fans will agree with me, when will we get a nod to Resident Evil 4′s most ridiculous character, The Merchant?! C’mon Paul W.S. Anderson, if you really want to impress fans, he’d be a wonderful addition to your vibrant cast of characters.