I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Resident Evil: Retribution

Paul W.S. Anderson stays in the director’s chair for the fifth one, RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. This one starts at the end of the action scene that starts right where AFTERLIFE left off. Then it shows us that scene in reverse, then regular, and narrator Alice (Milla Jovovich, ULTRAVIOLET) tries to summarize the convoluted events of parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. And then they remake the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, showing Alice as a suburban mom just going about her business when the zombie outbreak explodes into her life.

That’s the fun of this series: the unpredictable patchwork of set pieces and gimmicks, often playing with expectations, making it seem like the story (like a video game?) is starting over and everything is different, but things usually turn out to have a pretty good explanation.

Okay, the explanation is always clones. Clones are the reason Michelle Rodriguez and Oded Fehr, whose characters died in previous chapters, are suddenly back as different people. Multiple different people. For a while it seems like Rodriguez came back to the series after a ten year absence just for a comically brief cameo where she gives Alice a ride and then crashes 30 seconds later. Then Alice is killed by a zombie.

BUT NOT SO FAST! Alice wakes up as if this was a dream. This is our Alice now, the original Alice. She’s been captured by Agent-Smith-ripoff/Umbrella Corp CEO Wesker (Shawn Roberts, Degrassi: The Next Generation), who gives her her powers back and says he’s gonna need her to go ahead and save the human race from the ever growing menace of zombies and disease and crazy sadomasochistic giants and inside out dogs and ghoulish cannibal birds and the rest of the products he personally oversaw the creation of at his dumb company, especially the little girl A.I. called The Red Queen (Megan Charpentier from MAMA, but voiced by Ave Merson-O’Brian) who is around again and has gone rogue. By the way, boycott Umbrella Corp, in my opinion. I ain’t gonna play Raccoon City.

Also there’s a team of elite soldiers coming to help Alice. And furthermore, those suburbs and some of the other locations we’ve been seeing, like Tokyo, New York and Moscow, are not what they seem. They’re actually little TRUMAN SHOW style sections of fake town, all located nearby, and stocked with clones for testing purposes.

Alice goes into the suburb simulation, where she ends up encountering Becky (Aryana Engineer, ORPHAN), the daughter of the suburban Alice clone. Naturally she protects her, then realizes she thinks she’s Mommy.

They also meet the rescue team, which includes her old friend, NBA star Luther West (Boris Kodjoe, STARSHIP TROOPERS 3: MARAUDER), as well as one of those great “this random new person must be from the video game” characters they love to throw at us in this series, Ada Wong (Li Bingbing from DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, but voiced by Sally Cahill from THE VIRGIN SUICIDES). She kicks ass wearing a sleeveless red dress split on one side, not that much different from what Alice wore in part 1, except she has heels instead of boots. And by the way Alice has graduated to a reinforced black catsuit with Blade-like buckles across the mid-section.

Anyway, they have a shootout with the cops in the backyard, and the cops include clones of their friends, including Michelle Rodriguez. But later they run into the other Michelle Rodriguez I mentioned before, the car crash one, and she’s just a regular lady who hates guns.

Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, THE LAST MINUTE), the tubetop cop from part 2, has returned, but she’s a bad guy because she has one of those brain control spider devices on her chest. It turns out this was actually set up in the cliffhanger of the last one, but I didn’t recognize her with a different outfit and hair color.

At first I thought this chapter was a step down from AFTERLIFE, but all the stuff about the simulation towns and clones is alot of fun, and there are some crazy looking zombies on motorcycles, and there’s snowmobiles and a submarine under ice that might’ve inspired THE F8 OF THE FURIOUS. But what made me fall in love with this one was an out of the blue transcendent moment. First, there’s a scene where Becky gets left behind, and Alice risks herself to go back and rescue the kid. In fact she pulls the kid out of a gooey cocoon thing, so it becomes very clear that they’re trying to give Alice a Newt to turn her into Ripley. Kinda made me roll my eyes a little.

But then there’s a more Matrixy scene that’s very effective, where they go into a gigantic hangar where they see thousands of lifeless clones hanging from a machine, running along a track like clothes at the dry cleaner. Instead of treating it strictly as a shocking revelation, the scene is about Alice’s horror at a child having to see this. The kid is looking at them and crying – “Mommy, what is that?” and then “Mommy, is that you?” and finally “You’re not Mommy, are you?”

And Alice says “I am now,” grabbing the kid and flying away on a grappling hook cable, avoiding a monster attack. What could be better for an icon of women in action movies than to basically yell “I take responsibility for this child!” as a war cry? It’s a beautiful mix of badass and sensitive. In only a few minutes, RETRIBUTION goes from blatant ripoff of ALIENS to a moment of genuine greatness.

I must confess I liked this moment so much that when I described it to somebody in detail I teared up a little. So that’s where I’m at five movies into this series that I wrote off ever since not liking the first one.

And the thing is, we don’t even know that the mother Alice is really Becky’s mother. It seems much more likely to me that they’re just clones assigned those roles for this particular test scenario. The girl could even be a young Alice clone. It seems like adult Alice would notice that, but not necessarily in a RESIDENT EVIL movie.

But my point is that Alice isn’t programmed to be this kid’s mother. Or is she? Becky doesn’t seem like it, but she’s deaf, and our Alice knows how to talk to her in American Sign Language.

So, as easy as it is to call these movies dumb, they are smart in a certain way. They do leave you with things to chew on. Also they leave you with another great cliffhanger: our heroes (and villains) are on the roof of the White House with all kinds of weaponry, and surrounded by what must be millions of zombies and monsters, ready to fight for the fate of the human race.

I’m leaving to see THE FINAL CHAPTER now, so I’ll let you know how it wraps things up. I hope they can solve this with legislation, but I’m not holding my breath.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, January 27th, 2017 at 9:33 am and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Resident Evil: Retribution”

  1. This was the only one I somehow missed at the theaters. My buddy and I, with whom I saw the first 4, are seeing 6 later today so I just started 5 like 30 minutes ago, but have been refreshing this page all morning waiting for this review to pop up.

  2. ZOMBIE KICKER V: STOP MAKING SENSE

    I mean, come on, Alice is giving up her superpowers, yet is making more superhuman video game stuff than ever before! And let’s be honest, at this point Paul W.S. Anderson more or less became the Big Studio B-Movie Tarantino, whose movies are full of people who deliberately don’t talk like normal people do, act like normal people do and everything is basically a huge checklist of “I saw this somewhere else and liked it, so I put it in my movie”.

    Still I don’t think the whole series should exist, but I’m glad it does and I’m happy it keeps getting weirder and weirder without getting boring. (I’ll still wait till part 6 hits home video.)

  3. On one hand this is the most unoriginal of the lot with it basically just recycling everything we’ve seen before in the series, on the other hand, the crazy is amped up so much that it didn’t matter to me. Anderson clearly didn’t care about stupid things like plot for this one and just came up with some great action sequences and clothes-lined them together as if he were a Hong Kong action movie. I support this line of thinking and wonder why I like it here (and with Hong Kong Action Movies) but don’t care for it as much when a TRANSFORMERS movie does it. Oh well, no one in TRANSFORMERS is as cool as Alice anyway and there are no monsters so screw it (plus I kinda pulled the stick out of ass with the TRANSFORMERS anyway).

    I really love this one for how crazy it is and how solid the action is. The 3D was superb too when I went to see it at a LIMAX 3D showing. I could have did without a second surrogate daughter for Alice (who also SPOILER disappears between movies with no mention of what happened to them (though really bad shit happens between 2 & 3 and 5 & 6 so I guess they were just casualties END SPOILER). I concur that the clone factory sequence was a standout, both crazy/ridiculous and terrifying at the same time.

    Vern kinda touched on this with the review: I laughed when listening to the commentary when they talk about how important it was that Alice still didn’t have her super-powers. I keep forgetting about that plot-point because she’s still basically an unstoppable badass (minus telekinesis she never really used anyway).

    My only complaint: I wish they did more with Michelle Rodriguez as the vegan hippie liberal lady. Such a fun meta-idea that they don’t play with as much as you’d think they would. Regardless I think I legit love this crazy stupid movie and wish more soulless spectacle movies would follow suit.

  4. I submit that as Resident Evil 5 is the only zombie movie featuring motorcycle riding zombies with machine guns that it is also the best zombie movie. Sorry Dawn of the Dead… try a little harder next time.

  5. This seems to be a really love-it or hate-it movie (there’s tons of people calling this the worst of the series which is madness since RE: Apocalypse exists). Count me in the love-it category – maybe it was the weed or the low expectations or me not knowing anything about it – but once the “twist” kicked in and I realized this was basically RE crossed with The Truman Show crossed with Hunger Games crossed with a Black Mirror Episode crossed with Star Trek’s Holodeck crossed with the dark “we’re stuck in an endless loop, aren’t we?” existential crisis of the last two Universal Soldiers, and I was totally in love with this. And yeah, I’m not sure the movie completely “earns” it, but I got strangely emotional too during the scene Vern mentions.

    I do think the end ran out of steam a bit but the twist (which might have been given away in the commercials, who knows) still makes this my favorite of the series (followed by 1, 4, 3, and 2)

  6. Holy shit! How many of these movies did they make? I legit didn’t expect a fifth Resident Evil review to pop up today.

  7. This movie is a great argument for having a decent sound system. The speakers on my tv shit themselves recently so I bought one of those sound bars, since it was cheaper than replacing the tv. That opening scene in reverse slo-mo was pretty special. I also recommend watching THE NEON DEMON in surround.

    Chronology wise I jumped from the shitty RE 1 straight to 5 so I can’t comment on the variations in quality, but this seemed like a high point that might be hard to top.

    Someone on another thread sold me on this by pointing out the super-surrealness of it all. As a non gamer who doesn’t get any of the references or understands the gaming attraction, I was thoroughly entertained by the craziness of jumping from suburbia to Berlin to Moscow to the final scene that looked like a Middle Earth battle about to happen, except with high powered weaponry instead of swords and arrows.

    Also, nothing more surreal than seeing the ever more interesting Kevin Durand as a quirky weirdo in Atom Egoyans CAPTIVE recently, to cigar chomping muscled up spec ops guy, who gets the best bad ass death scene, in a goddamn RESIDENT EVIL movie.

  8. I’ve seen all of these movies, and I feel like I’m reading Japanese as you describe them.

  9. These movies are there with Fast and Furious and XXX in terms of not interesting me at all and me not understanding the appeal to so many fine people frequenting this site. I get the appeal on paper (splosions, babes, zombies, weird set pieces), but it all feels so empty and corny. I do not mean that condescendingly as an insult to others’ tastes, it’s just a confession that I cannot muster up or identify with the enthusiasm. Vern and many of you just have a richer palette than I do.

    That having been said, this review series is actually piquing my interest in these films. I have never even tried to watch any of them. Vern’s reviews of FF4 and 5 inspired me to go back and give 1-4 a try a couple years ago (that and Paul Walker dying), and as much as I wanted to, I just could not like them. But it’s saying something that Vern inspired me to try. Yo, Vern, we did it (sort of)! Now, once again, I’m feeling inspired. May have to give these Resident Evil flicks a shot and see how far I can make it.

  10. These movies are 1/2 unintentional (?) hilarity and 1/2 boring slogs. I put them on the TV every time they are on, while I surf the net or whatever. The blue tank top girl is worth all the boring bits.

    On the other hand, ULTRAVIOLET also staring Milla is horrendous and barely qualifies as a movie. It is more like a music video where your favorite pop star engages in some cheesy fake violence while mugging at the camera, complete with awful special effects, all while singing their latest song. But it has none of the personality of a normal pop star and it’s 90 minutes long. Uggghh.

  11. The effects in ULTRAVIOLET are hilariously bad.

  12. Im’ma just gonna leave this here…

    The newest Resident Evil failed to screen for critics – because critics failed Resident Evil

    Calum Marsh: The critical establishment has never really considered director Paul W.S. Anderson or given him his due

  13. I’ve got a soft spot for these films and I’d be lying if I said their ramshackle approach wasn’t part of the appeal. I thinks its funny how they seem to be inspired by the idea of “videogames” rather than the RESIDENT EVIL series itself, which is mostly interested in creepy atmosphere and sustained tension rather than ludicrous power fantasies. Most of the things that Vern has identified as “videogamey” and wondered aloud if it was inspired by the games, up to and including Alice herself, is invented for the movies. Also the commentary tracks with Milla Jovovich are fun because it always sounds like she has a blast making these movies.

    I’ve got to say, though, I’ve seen the phrase “leave you with things to chew on” crop op a few times on this site in reference to outrageously stupid and shoddy movies. It always rubs me the wrong way because I feel it devalues movies that are actually subtle and ambiguous rather than movies that are too lazy, too incompetent or just plain uninterested in telling a coherent story or motivating their characters or articulating their themes properly etc. I guess I’m saying be careful because the thing the movie is leaving you to chew on just might be dog shit.

  14. GeoffreyJar: I don’t know about articles like this. I like the RESIDENT EVIL movies just fine, but they’ve never been the best movie I see that month. I don’t see why the “critical establishment” (a loaded term if ever I heard one) is obligated to rate them higher just because they got a good audience CinemaScore.

  15. I agree with you (both your posts). I thought the article was kind of funny in how it was trying really hard to convince you that Anderson is some under-rated auteur that fellow critics are just too stupid and snobby to appreciate. The guy could put use the same arguments for Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich or any other populist filmmaker who critics tend to not care for but the audience enjoys. I linked to it due to that and because my brother jokingly asked if I ghost-wrote the article because it sounded kind of like how I’ve been defending Anderson and the RE movies over the years. I would never go as far to say that he DESERVES critical respect. Not just cause he doesn’t deserve it (probably not, though I argue he deserves more credit for his filmatism than people give him credit for) but also he’s not looking for it. He’s a nerd who people give millions of dollars to to adapt his goofy fanfics.

  16. Retribution is my favorite one. Best action, best looking, best relationship between Alice and a another character. Afterlife has the edge when it comes to old ‘throwing shit at the camera’ 3D, though. This is thee rare movie series that gets better and better as it goes along.

    …until THE FINAL CHAPTER. Such a disappointment! PWSA forgot how to shoot action and turned his back on charming old school 3D moments.

  17. CrustaceanLovE —

    I find deep philosophical meaning in endless, unnecessary sequels. They are uniquely equipped to discuss the ennui of existing in a meaningless universe where things seem to make sense… but don’t, really.

    Like, the greatest achievement in Hollywood history is Arnold aging in real time over the course of the Terminator franchise, while John Conner is recast with each sequel.

  18. Also —

    Micheal Bay *is* an unheralded cinematic genius who has been doing some bonkers, subversive stuff since Transformers 2 demonstrated that no one on the executive level was minding the store, re: thematic content in his films.

  19. Franchise Fred approves Tawdry

  20. Like, the greatest achievement in Hollywood history is Arnold aging in real time over the course of the Terminator franchise, while John Conner is recast with each sequel.

    Ha! That’s brilliant.

  21. Seriously though, it is a perfect storm of capitalism and symptomatic meaning. Similarly, Resident Evil has a near magical recreation of the fog of war, especially in the most recent entry which totally disregards major details of every previous entry, while also asking the audience to recall set design and minor plot threads from the same films.

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