Videogame-based film auteur Paul W.S. Anderson has said that he wanted this fifth Resident Evil entry to have “global” reach and maximal “bone crunch.”
So he’s set the film in simulated versions of New York, Moscow, Tokyo, and a generically named “Suburbia,” within which resistance fighters battle zombies, assorted giant monsters and clones under the control of a digital Red Queen, the virus-spreading Umbrella corporation, or whomever. The word “apocalypse” is bandied about in the film’s first five minutes, in case we’re not tense enough.
When necessary, the rebel strike team can emerge from a subway tunnel into an unspecified Arctic military installation. Or they can go through an enormous Red Bull energy drink billboard that’s parting like the Red Sea and find themselves in a stark white corridor leading to a blood-spattered suburban dream home, or a nuclear submarine factory, or wherever. Maps, or people with information, like Umbrella’s head honcho Wesker (Shawn Roberts), appear on omnipresent screens when our heroes are in trouble, or to feed back stories to Resident Evil newbies. De facto resistance leader Alice (Milla Jovovich) can fearlessly use a pistol in either hand to take out a gun ship, and defies gravity while blasting the brain matter from zombie heads.
The unlikely is endlessly made possible because everyone’s within a computer simulation, and a plot device, that allows for the sudden appearance of things that Joss Whedon’s horror sci-fi mishmash Cabin in the Woods attempted to satirize earlier this year. Other conveniences include dreams-within-dreams – which Alice wakes from in something resembling an oversized moist towelette. Fans of the series are less likely to be interested in untangling story intricacies than in immersing themselves in the glitzy devastation of primo locales, hand-to-hand combat, and situations cribbed indiscriminately from The Matrix (unknowingly enslaved masses, et al), Inception (a team navigating warped space-time, et al), Blade Runner (slatted light, demonic neon cityscapes, et al) and, most explicitly, Aliens (a makeshift “mother” protecting a scruffy, traumatized “daughter” from monsters). This material is de rigeur for sci-fi thrillers, but fails to fully energize Resident Evil: Retribution.
Alice’s maternal devotion to Becky (Aryana Engineer) is given an all-too-brief treatment that characterizes this film. Like an established pizza chain, director Anderson is in thrall to a guarantee: all relationships, of any significance, will be established in three seconds or less.
Theoretically, it’s nice to see a representation of our globalized world, with older spatial and temporal ideas challenged by the Internet and other technologies. We can accept that New York, in some sense, is “next” to Tokyo, each subsuming the other. But, here such proximity is primarily an excuse to whip the audience from one action set-piece to another, none of which are particularly gripping in their own right, leading only to a semi-amusing final-act cliffhanger out of left field.
Though one heroic sacrifice is absurdly over the top, Resident Evil: Retribution’s typically unceremonious approach to heroism is an accidental boon of sorts, as is its jokey self-awareness about Alice’s leather outfit and its sadomasochistic vibe. Curiously, a resistance fighter named Luther (Boris Kodjoe) is constantly being emasculated by powerful women. A few striking images keep our attention – like evil warrior Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) seated menacingly with an assault rifle on a playground swing in the ‘burbs. But the film’s title promises payback, without offering ample compensation.
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