'Resident Evil: Retribution' coasts toward the finish line

atomictown.comSeptember 16, 2012 

My fandom of the Resident Evil movies feels as haphazard as the series itself.

First off, burn on you, Resident Evil movies. Second, I didn't mean to become a person who had watched all of them. It just kind of happened, probably because the first movie had that awesome hallway laser-slicing sequence, and I've been hoping for something as great ever since. Ah, the face-cubing.

This could be a metaphor for entire lives right here. You begin something -- a job, a relationship, an existence as a hobo drifter -- and at first, it's spectacular, nothing but roundhouse kicks and face-lasers. Then you stick with it because it's familiar, and you've already invested so much time in it, and now it's 10 years later and you haven't enjoyed yourself for five but what are you going to do, not go see Resident Evil: Retribution? Sounds like loser talk to me. Sigh.

When we last left Milla Jovovich, she was being blasted off a boat. She awakes captured by the Umbrella Corporation, imprisoned in a strange underwater facility.

Rogue agent Bingbing Li arrives to help Jovovich escape to the surface. But old enemy Sienna Guillory is hunting her through the massive laboratory -- and she's under the guidance of the Red Queen.

Oh, why can't I quit you, Resident Evil series? Your first two installments were fun enough, if you're into zombie dogs getting kicked in the face, but the third and fourth movies were pretty bad. Let's make that really bad. So bad I could barely enjoy the spectacle of exploding crows. Filled with lame characters and equally lame mythology, it's been enough to make you dearly hope the world never comes to a zombie-filled end.

Resident Evil: Retribution keeps on paddling that same stupid canoe.

The film opens with a lengthy recap of the four previous entries. Not only is this helpful for anyone who's had a hard time keeping up with the increasingly Rube Goldbergesque machinations of the Umbrella Corporation, but it is interesting in that it is far more coherent than the actual movies themselves.

The exposition doesn't stop here. The series is adapted from a video game franchise of the same name, but it's the fifth movie in the franchise that feels most like a game. Jovovich battles from one level to the next, with pauses in between for a host of side characters to deliver vital information about the next stage of the action. Also, speaking of action, that is pretty much all Retribution is. The second movie has my all-time favorite rating justification -- "rated R for non-stop violence" -- but if anything, Retribution is even more jam-packed with endless gun battles and Jovovich whomping on zombies with whatever is at hand.

It's so extreme that an entire block of characters, a strike team sent in to give Jovovich a hand, gets no characterization whatsoever. Unless "one guy chomps cigars" counts as a personality. They are just there to hold guns and die. Still, they should probably be grateful for their lack of distinguishing characteristics. That makes it far easier to forget them. Unlike the rest of the cast, who are tasked with reciting dialogue so wooden it could be carved into elaborate little figurines and sold at flea markets across the country.

Meanwhile, even the mythology isn't particularly compelling. A major plot point from an earlier movie is undone so abruptly they may as well turn straight to the camera and say "Yeah, we screwed up on that one!" The setup for the next movie is pretty cool, but it essentially negates the entire plot of Retribution, making it look like useless wheel-spinning. If you've followed the series to this point, I guess you may as well stick with it, but at this point writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson can barely keep things entertaining.

Grade: D

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere.

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