A little more than two years ago, about a month before Flixist went live for the first time, I wrote a review for Resident Evil: Afterlife. You can read it here. For those of you who don't want to read it, I will summarize: Afterlife was garbage. Naturally, I was ever so excited to review its sequel, Resident Evil: Retribution. When a movie is as dumb, and derivative, and just plain head-scratchingly bad as Afterlife was, I can't help but get pumped for what will come next.
Now, before you draw assumptions, I gave Retribution a fair shake. I did not enter the IMAX theater set to hate it. I had every hope in the world that it would redeem the last two installments of a franchise that happens to share a few basic concepts with one of my favorite video game franchises. How did that work out for me? Let's find out.
Resident Evil: Retribution 3D
Retribution picks up directly where Afterlife left off, then drops us right into a new situation after Alice (Milla Jovovich, for those living under a rock) is knocked into the water. She wakes up in a new life as a suburban housewife, married to Carlos (Oded Fehr, who met his end during Extinction), and mother to a cute little deaf girl. Suddenly there's zombies everywhere and you wonder if Paul W.S. Anderson used his CG powers to Sara Paxton in the remake of Dawn of the Dead with his wife. Then she wakes up in an Umbrella facility, and a bunch of characters from the games show up to spring her at the behest of Wesker. The Red Queen, Umbrella's security system from the first film, has taken over, and will throw all manner of 'biohazards' at the gang to stop them from escaping. Will a bunch of underdeveloped fanservice characters and the one returning character from the last film (Boris Kodjoe) be enough to help Alice reach the surface with her life and limbs intact?
The biggest problem with this film is there is almost no character development whatsoever. The only character that gets any sort of development is Alice's 'daughter,' played by Aryana Engineer, and she was easily the best part of the movie. Two new characters show up with Leon (Johann Urb) and Barry (Kevin Durand), but we don't even learn the Spanish dude's name (aside from a split second listing on a monitor) before he is unceremoniously murdered by Russian zombies. The other guy doesn't last much longer. Speaking of Leon and Barry, and Ada (Li Bingbing) for that matter, if we didn't play the video games (and I'm guessing that there's a fair amount of the audience who didn't) we are given no reason to care whether they live or die. If we did play the games, we'll likely take issue with their lack of character development. It's just kind of like, "Oh, there's some people from the game I played. Sort of." And I think, even more than Barry, the biggest wasted potential in the film was 'good' Rain (Michelle Rodriguez). I was genuinely intrigued by the dual performances in this film, but Rodriguez's vegan, anti-gun pillar of the community had her light snuffed out before anything could really be done with her. Oh, and Jill's (Sienna Guillory) back, and has that device on her chest still that only those who played the games would recognize! But she makes a pretty good main bad guy, and by that I mean she fills out the latex body suit very nicely.
So, the character development sucks. That's pretty clear. You know what doesn't suck? The action. It was dumb as hell and most of it made no sense, especially if you haven't played the games. Why are the Axemen so hard to kill? Why are the Russian zombies smart enough to use guns? Why is that Licker is gosh darn big? I started to get really, really frustrated with these things until I realized that Paul W. S. Anderson has embraced Dada. He's making anti-art. It's bewildering for sure, and hard to take seriously, but once I stopped asking "Why?" and started asking "Why not?", the movie became much more enjoyable. The underground testing facility setup gives them the opportunity to show us fights in Times Square, Tokyo, Moscow, and the suburbs. There's lots of variety and you know what? It works well enough. The last three films are mostly large, sprawling outdoor affairs, and even though they're in the simulated outdoors in this one, it still has that suffocating feeling because you know they're trapped underwater and there's a bomb set to go off in less than an hour. The last fight is actually really awesome once you stop caring about logic and sense and things like "Why didn't they just rip off that stupid metal spider an hour and a half ago?"
One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that this film is better than the last one. It was by no means 'good,' but it made me want to club baby seals far less than Afterlife did. If you shut your brain off and enjoy chainsaw-wielding Russian zombies, it's pretty okay. The ending will really knock your socks off, too. I can say with far less irony than I could two years ago that I can't wait for the next one.
Oh, and before I forget, all the 3D did was make me roll my eyes and the IMAX sound makes the shrill torture-noise they use on Alice really unpleasant for all involved. Still, it was pretty cool seeing the double Axeman fight on an IMAX screen.