Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Too often one gets caught up in movies as being art. The idea, promoted by various critics, books and professors, is that a truly good movie must be the moving version of a painting by Rembrandt or Van Gogh, combined with the plotting of Shakespeare and the poetry of Tennyson. It is similar to those that want to place "art" so far above the ken of the masses and keep it in its own boxed-in room, reserved for those who truly "know" what it is and can appreciate it.
The truth is that many who appreciate, understand and even collect works of high art - at least those that are not obsessed with sampling their own emanations as if each one smelled of a new form of rose - also understand that the same feelings invoked from the masters can often be found in a four-panel Peanuts cartoon. There is a reason that the best superhero films hit on every convention of story telling, and while many of the recent films may be repetitive or have major flaws, they are often enjoyable to watch.
The Resident Evil series, though based on a video game, is one giant live-action comic book. There is little dialogue - what does exist is what you expect a character to say, or lays out some plot point to the audience so it won't be missed in all the action - and the emphasis is on beautifully filmed action scenes. Paul W. S. Anderson makes no bones about the fact that his mission is to present stripped-down movies that are not meant to be filled with subtext and higher meaning, but are meant to perform on a more visceral level.
I would say that, in what they intend to do, the Resident Evil series is one of the most successful, and Resident Evil: Retribution continues providing enough story and excitement to continue on the high note started by the third film, Resident Evil: Extinction.
When we last left Alice (Milla Jovovich) and compadres at the end of Resident Evil: Afterlife, all the prisoners that were held in stasis by Umbrella Corporation on the Arcadia were released and it looked like they would all be free. Surprise! A squadron of Ospreys full of Umbrella soldiers arrives, led by a mind-controlled Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). During the battle Alice falls into the ocean and, sometime later, wakes up as a prisoner of Umbrella in their central facility, being interrogated by Valentine.
A computer glitch allows Alice to escape, and she finds out that her former nemesis Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who escaped shortly before Valentine's attack on the Arcadia, now needs her help. The Red Queen is back and is now determined that what is left of humanity must die. Wesker has sent his closest ally, Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) to assist Alice in escaping Umbrella's headquarters (which is revealed to be located in an abandoned Soviet submarine base under an ice sheet in the Kamchatka Peninsula). Also on their way to help is a group of Wesker's men, led by Barry Burton (Kevin Durand) and Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb), as well as one of the few survivors of Los Angeles, Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), to blow up the base and make sure Alice and Ada are taken to safety.
To get to where she must be Alice must survive various test habitats filled with different types of infected, from the giant Executioners introduced in Afterlife to sentient zombies controlled by a new parasite called Las Plagas. She also must contend with clones of her former, deceased friends, now turned against her by Valentine and the Red Queen, as well as protect a deaf girl named Becky (Aryana Engineer) who manage to survive one of the recent test scenarios.
If it seemed like Afterlife was stripped down to where it was mainly action scenes, Retribution is even more so. In many ways, it is quite similar in plot to the original Resident Evil, with a similar group of soldiers sent to destroy the base and deal with the Red Queen. I find many of the battle and fight scenes this time around to be much more satisfying, as if Anderson decided to redo the a good portion of the first movie more the way he had envisioned it if he had access to a larger budget at the time. The various environments, based on New York, Tokyo, Moscow and suburban Raccoon City help provide a larger arena in which these scenarios take place.
It is nice to see that the Executioners are back as well, and not wasted. So far these have been my favorite creatures out of the series, and the battle between them against Alice and Ada in a simulated downtown Manhattan is a highlight. While I thought the Lickers in the previous films were a bit too much on the cheap side, the new design, which also appears to use some practical effects, is much more satisfying. The Licker in this is also given so much more to do, and much more menace, than the previous appearances. Also, the Los Plagas zombies remind me of the Nazis from Dead Snow.
While there is plenty of CGI, many of the major scenes appear to be practical, with heavy use of miniatures during the ultimate destruction of the base. We have more use of dancers as zombies, with some decent makeup work and an attack on a suburban neighborhood which is better than most of the zombie attack scenes from the first two films.
As for performances, they are, as usual, as rudimentary as possible. Alice is still without her powers and, to Anderson's credit, she doesn't suddenly get them back in the middle of some major battle. Like in Afterlife she is back to having to rely on her own skills and not on the T-virus. Michelle Rodriguez is back in two roles (three if you count an uncredited zombie cameo), but largely is around to provide a last, major boss battle for Alice and those that survived the Umbrella base. Shawn Roberts still gives Wesker a cool menace that, even though he is now nominally a good guy trying to save the human race, would still leave one to wonder what he intends to do once he has succeeded. There are more characters added from the game this time around, with Ada Wong and Barry Burton being the two that stand out the most.
Resident Evil: Retribution was always meant to be the penultimate movie in this series, and Anderson originally intended to film both this and the last film at the same time. It didn't happen, but knowing where he was heading allowed him to end on another cliffhanger, this time hinting at a final major reckoning between humanity and the forces of the Red Queen.
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Bingbing Li, Aryana Engineer, Shawn Roberts
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson