'Resident Evil: Retribution': Clones, Again

The series continues to tease an apocalypse that never quite arrives.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory, Bingbing Li, Kevin Durand, Oded Fehr, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe, Aryana Engineer
Rated: R
Studio: Screen Gems
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-09-14 (General release)
UK date: 2012-09-28 (General release)

Without much fuss and even fewer preview screenings, the Resident Evil series has racked up five entries in 10 years, forming a sci-fi horror soap opera of sorts. As Alice (Milla Jovovich) explains directly to the camera toward the beginning of Resident Evil: Retribution, she began as head of security for the Umbrella Corporation. From here, she recounts, she encountered a weaponized virus run amok resulting in a zombie apocalypse, went rogue and searched for survivors, acquired and lost a set of virus-based superpowers, and took it upon herself to battle the sinister Umbrella Corporation in its various forms.

Augmented by a television-style "previously on Resident Evil" montage, Alice's narration reminds us that the Resident Evil series has been long and also good fun, managing to improve over several installments, as Alice mutated from a basic zombie-fighter to female superhero. Retribution, though, finds the series' charms wearing thin.

All the Resident Evil movies end by shamelessly setting up an ambitious big-canvas sequel, and all start by scaling down that ambition. So there's no real disappointment when Retribution speeds through Umbrella's attack on a survivor ship from end of the previous film, so Alice can be knocked unconscious and wake up elsewhere. That elsewhere promises a clever narrative zig-zag, with Alice in a nice suburban house, with a loving husband and a sweet-natured deaf daughter (Aryana Engineer). She even gets a new haircut: Jovovich in bangs!

But the suburban setting turns out to be a clone-based tease. The real Alice is actually trapped in an Umbrella facility that runs survival experiments using realistic sets, clones, and the company's infinite supply of zombies. Umbrella has been taken over by artificial intelligence, and the formerly villainous Albert Wexler (Shawn Roberts) dispatches a team to rescue Alice so she can help save the always-endangered human race. To meet up and escape together, the heroes must run through various training grounds that imitate blocks of suburbs, as well as streets in New York, Tokyo, Moscow, and Berlin.

The fake cities and Umbrella's use of clones allow Resident Evil: Retribution to position itself as a greatest hits set, à la Fast Five, which has become a model of late-franchise rejuvenation. Semi-familiar faces like Michelle Rodriguez and Oded Fehr return, sometimes playing their old characters and sometimes playing new clones (Rodriguez pops up repeatedly, in guises good and evil). These replaceable clones and level-like cities also imitate the form of a video game (although fans of the Resident Evil games will insist that they're far more cinematic and character-driven than the films). It makes some sense, then, that the sets and cinematography have an over-lit sheen, but it's also strange that the biggest-budget sequel so far would also look cheaper and more fake than its predecessors.

Of course, this is a B-movie series. And so such artificiality might have given Alice's current journey a sense of trippinesss, had the screenplay fully explored the possibilities of clones with different memories and personalities. Instead, it just puts characters back into familiar situations. Here Jovovich's usual grim determination feels muted and rote, even if she does -- as always -- look cool holding a gun. Poor Sienna Guillory, returning as Alice's former ally (and current Umbrella mind-control victim) Jill Valentine, looks as stiff holding her weapons as she sounds delivering her robotic lines.

Most of those lines are variations on "Let's go!", but for long stretches, the movie doesn't go much of anywhere. Its shoot-outs generally pit our heroes against faceless drones instead of zombies or creatures (which prompts the question: why make a Resident Evil movie about soldiers opening fire on each other?). These conceptual missteps are more frustrating given that Paul W.S. Anderson, franchise overlord and director of this film (as well as Parts One and Four), doesn't have the usual action-hack blind spots: his fight scenes are lively and well-choreographed, the action is clean and easy to follow, and some of his images even have an imaginative pop, like a shot of zombies hording underneath a sheet of ice.

But while the fundamentals are in place, much of Retribution is missing the trashy energy that powered earlier movies. It's essentially one protracted, not very suspenseful break-out sequence that could've been plopped into any of the other four films. Even the series' titles have become interchangeable: it's never clear whose, if any, retribution is achieved in this movie, and given characters' dialogue about the impending extinction of the human race, the movie could just as easily be titled Resident Evil: Extinction (Part Three) or Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Part Two).

Those titles could also apply to Part Six, teased in the now standard final pull-back shot revealing large-scale apocalyptic mayhem that supposedly waits. The series continues to tease an apocalypse that never quite arrives. The world of Resident Evil has been ending, mostly off screen, for over a decade now. Maybe it's time to get on with it.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.