The Resident Evil film series is the most successful series of video game films ever made. No matter how you slice it, the wildly uneven series based on the ever expanding zombie film franchise has lasted for a decade, taking in millions of dollars around the world with every new picture.
It’s also one of the strangest examples of fan service in contemporary film. The original movie only brought in the villains of the series–the Umbrella Corporation, infected creatures, and Nemesis–but played like the cut scenes in the game. Since then, more and more of the video game protagonists have been added with each film, bringing all their gameplay quirks with them. Play mechanics, settings, and boss battles are all imported with each new entry.
Resident Evil: Retribution reads like a video game. It’s just not a Resident Evil game. It’s more like an arcade shooter where you have to step on a pedal to rejoin the fights and shake your gun to reload your ammo. The film is filled with cheesy one-liners and meta-references to the other films (not the other games). It’s as removed from the Resident Evil game mythology as possible while fully embracing the strange techno-dystopia that made the first film so polarizing.
The action literally picks up where the last film left off, with Alice (Milla Jovovich) and Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) fighting off an ambush attack from the Umbrella Corporation led by former ally Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). Alice falls off the battleship oasis known as Arcadia and wakes up with a husband and daughter she doesn’t remember in a quiet suburban home. It’s all fun and games until a wave of infected show up and Alice has no idea what they are.
There are three big things I can give writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson credit for. First, because he has written all of the films (he only directed the first, fourth, and fifth), Resident Evil: Retribution allows him to call upon a richly developed world of original ideas. Consider this film a greatest hits from Anderson’s version of Resident Evil.
Second, the man knows how to put together an action scene. The chase scene that sets the far reaching plot into motion is one of the scariest fast movie zombie scenes set to film. It’s chaotic like the Tokyo infection scene (repeated since the third film) but features a linear plot with high emotional stakes–saving Alice’s young daughter–and believable action. The gun fights take on a certain sameness with the arcade style cinematography, but the chase sequences and hand to hand combat scenes are quite exciting.
Third, Anderson has assembled a fantastic and loyal cast over the years. Retribution sees the return of a number of series vets, including Michelle Rodriguez in two different roles, adding a nice sense of cohesion with the series. The film sees three of the big video game characters added in–Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), Leon Scott Kennedy (Johann Urb), and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand)–with strong, committed actors bringing them to life. Milla Jovovich is still the center of the series by design, but the other actors actually rise to her level for the first time in the series.
Resident Evil: Retribution is probably going to please fans of the film series. It’s certainly not going to win anyone else over with a plot that relies on knowledge of the series and the video games. This is not an open invitation like Resident Evil: Afterlife; it’s a party for the fans that will leave them saying “okay, not great.”
Thoughts on Resident Evil: Retribution? I think it needed a stronger through line to really sell the big underground conceit of the film. What do you think? Sound off below.