Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: R Length: 95 minutes
Appropriate for ages 16 and up. Like many of its video game counterparts, this Resident Evil: Retribution is rated M for mature. It revels in blood, gore and intense violence inflicted on live humans and legions of zombies with horrifying, value-added mutations. But the profanity is mild and nobody gets it on, so it’s fine for kids, right? (Wrong.)
Resident Evil: Retribution rehashes weak, warmed-over video-game tropes in the vain hope of convincing action fans that revenge is a dish best served stale.
By Jared Peterson
Have you ever played one of those shoot-’em-zombies-up video games? Pretty fun, admit it. But any game, no matter how guilty a pleasure, has diminishing returns. When you’ve finished your turn and have to watch someone else go through the same motions, the excitement fades, and once you’ve seen those same scenarios a few dozen times, it’s time to move on.
This is today’s Resident Evil experience in a nutshell. Every level, boss, combo and character is old hat and even fan favorites are drained of entertainment value like so much blood from a zombie’s cracked cranium. It’s enough to drive you to the pages of a good book. (Well, let’s not get crazy—there’s probably something on TV.)
Retribution, the fifth movie in this series based on the popular third-person shooter game, looks like yet another of the franchise’s family reunions. Alice, the stoic hero of this never-ending story (portrayed with consistent joylessness by Milla Jovovich), is back, still trying to save what’s left of humanity from the evil Umbrella Corporation and its signature creation, a virus that has now zombified most of the planet. Many of the same allies and villains have been brought back as well, their alliances shuffled slightly for effect. Alice’s former friends Rain and Jill, hot-and cold-running stunners (respectively) played by Michelle Rodriguez and Sienna Gillory, have been bought and brainwashed into enemies. On the other hand, one of Umbrella’s bad businessmen, Wesker (Shawn Roberts), disgruntled by the possible extinction of his customer base—zombies don’t buy bioweapons—has formed a temporary alliance with a few of Alice’s old cohorts to destroy the underwater research center called the Hive that tests and turns out new and improved monsters. Wesker’s hired guns fight their way into the complex while Alice fights her way out of the Hive with a rescued little girl (Aryana Engineer) in tow (a nod to Aliens, a legitimately awesome movie that, for good or ill, is responsible for the action and aesthetic of the third-person shooter genre).
Viewers unfamiliar with the franchise will almost certainly feel out of the loop, so writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, who also helmed the first and fourth films in the series, has included what feels like a half-hour of introductory narration to bring the uninitiated up to speed. Of course, no attempt has been made to work this information into the dialogue or action, and there’s no point bothering: this is the kind of stuff packed into the game versions’ animated interstitials, which usually play out unattended while gamers go nuke a Hot Pocket.
Unfortunately, the movie’s action is boilerplate. The threats and scenarios essentially recycled from previous films and games, and quantity overtakes, mauls and eats the brains of quality, as Alice and friends make their way through various simulated cityscapes, minimalist corridors and dank subbasements, cutting down legions of undead mutants with gravity defying martial arts and deft gunplay. Plotwise, there’s nothing original or surprising here, nor could there be. At this point in the series, characters have been killed, reanimated, reformed or corrupted so many times that the stakes have been reduced to zero.
Movies based on video games are a special risk, as they try and regularly fail to integrate the tone, style and audience engagement of the original games into something that feels like a movie. Resident Evil: Retribution has no sense of balance; for all intents and purposes, it simply replicates the game without the courtesy of a handing over the controller for a bit.