Nice work if you can get it: This is the fifth Resident Evil film in 10 years, and Alice (Milla Jovovich) is still killing zombies bioengineered by the malevolent Umbrella Corporation. The video-game-inspired film series is more popular than ever, and there’s no reason to think that it can’t continue for as long as Jovovich is up for the green-screen gymnastics, and series mastermind Paul W.S. Anderson is still inspired to think up new ways for his star to fight murderous mutated post-human creatures. Unlike the Wachowskis, who crashed and burned The Matrix series with a grandiose mash-up of cyberpunk and Christianity, Anderson aims lower—and has more fun.
Most of the action in Retribution takes place in a vast R&D complex that combines the hermetic, clean-room qualities of the original Resident Evil’s setting with elaborate re-creations of Tokyo, New York and Moscow that serve the dual function of providing visual contrast and satisfying the various international audiences for the series. (When we’re shown a map of the complex, a Berlin section is on the grid, too; maybe there’s an alternate German version.)
As the fun begins, Alice is captured and subsequently tortured by Umbrella’s minions in a state-of-the-art lab, where the director wittily employs variations of the red-and-white Umbrella corporate logo and color scheme (and seizes the opportunity to present his star almost naked).
Or is she? Alice is also shown as a suburban mom with a happy hubby and deaf daughter who are, in short order, attacked by mutant humans recognizable from earlier films. (This sequence is a riff off of the opening of Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead. It’s not as scary, but the payoff is more satisfying.) In any event, a rescue team has been sent from parts unknown to extract Alice.
Writer-director Anderson enjoys playing around with this “What is realty?” business, but is sure to plot out explanations for everything. (When the gunplay, explosions and wire work are finished, there was some pleasure in trying to piece it all together—and satisfaction that the pieces fit.) Part of the explanation relates to cloning, which allows him to bring Michelle Rodriguez’ character back from the dead, and present her in various guises.
His main focus is the action, however, and this ranges from merely effective to, in the big set pieces, dazzling. The film begins by paying off the last edition’s cliffhanger; Retribution ends by setting up a final apocalyptic battle in an iconic American setting.
Or it could just be another narrative ruse. We’ll reconvene three or four sequels from now.