Astonishingly, Resident Evil: Retribution shows a great deal of promise in its opening 15 minutes. After an action scene breathtakingly unfolds backwards in slow motion, writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson sets time aside to recap everything that's happened in the Resident Evil franchise so far, which miraculously allows the idiotic prior instalments to actually make sense. Better, a sequence set in suburbia has the tone of horror and tension that the Resident Evil films should've been about since the beginning. Alas, this is all just a tease. What follows is an exceedingly dumb 3-D fireworks display, with Anderson leaning on exactly the type of tired tropes which have kept this franchise in the doldrums since its inception. It certainly delivers a lot of stylised action which may satisfy the unfussy, but most everything else is dreadful.
Captured by the Umbrella Corporation, Alice (Milla Jovovich) finds herself imprisoned in an elaborate testing facility beneath the ice in Russia, with her now-brainwashed friend Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) torturing her for information. When a system reload gives Alice the chance to escape from her cell, she's approached by mortal enemy Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) and former Umbrella agent Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), who outline a way for Alice to get out of the underwater complex. With a strike team having descended upon the site to rescue them, Alice and Ada begin navigating the various simulated environments, battling hordes of zombies and machines along the way.
In one of the areas of the facility, Alice meets the hearing-impaired Becky (Aryana Engineer), a synthetic clone who believes Alice is her mother due to one of Umbrella's simulations. The introduction of a child admittedly introduces something new, but the rest of Retribution is pure regression. It's more or less a structural remake of the original 2002 film, with Alice fighting her way through an elaborate underground complex ruled by The Red Queen. The proverbial video game comparison is overused by critics, yet Retribution literally does feel like a video game. The broad strokes of its conceptual framework are fine, but the filling is pure video game formula. Every opportunity (no matter how minor) for an action scene is whole-heartedly embraced and over-played, resulting in mindless slo-mo carnage. It's a fast-paced movie, to be sure, but the formula grows weary as time goes by, and the mayhem grows tediously repetitive.
Admittedly, the picture benefits from fine technical specs. Cinematography is often impressively colourful and polished, while the 3-D presentation is surprisingly strong. Anderson has stated that he will never make a movie in 2-D again, so it's fortunate that the filmmaker is adept at three-dimensional effects. It doesn't necessarily add much to the experience, but it does amplify the fun factor of the action sequences. Furthermore, Tomandandy's score is exceedingly cool. Indeed, as B-grade fun, Retribution scrapes a mild pass due to its fast pace. Nevertheless, it seems that Anderson absolutely hates screenwriting, channelling very little effort into creating a frame on which to hang the dull-as-dishwasher characters and action sequences in familiar locations.
Resident Evil: Retribution is a powerfully dumb movie, littered with baffling character motivation and stupid moments. At about the halfway mark, for instance, we are introduced to a huge bulking beast which destroys and kills everything in its path. Later, said beast viciously attacks numerous characters before snatching Becky and carefully carrying her back to its hive. It was included for the sake of an Aliens moment, but makes no sense in context. By the same token, the zombies alternate between mindless marauders and moderately civilised soldiers who can fire weapons and drive jeeps. Furthermore, as the climax approaches, Jill holds Ada hostage with the intention of capturing Alice and co. But although Jill has the heroes at gunpoint and can easily capture them, she decides to release Ada, drop her gun and engage everyone in hand-to-hand combat. Seriously?! Plus, Jill has a mechanism on her chest which lets the Red Queen control her. After a 5-minute battle, Alice finally thinks to remove it. Why didn't Alice do this earlier? Retribution is an insult to anyone with an active brain, and it's impossible to overlook this malarkey no matter how intense the mayhem is.
A handful of mercenaries are introduced not long into the picture, but they are not bestowed with any semblance of depth. It would be foolhardy to expect fleshed-out characters, sure, but we don't even learn their names - they're just interchangeable guys carrying guns. The acting, meanwhile, is nothing to write home about. Jovovich is on the same level as she's always been (for better or for worse), while the likes of Michelle Rodriguez and Sienna Guillory don't seem to care very much. Out of the cast, the worst is Shawn Roberts, whose performance as Wesker is incredibly stiff and false.
To be fair, Resident Evil: Retribution is a whole lot better than the woefully boring Afterlife, which had too much talking and too little ass-kicking. Anderson probably heeded these complaints, so Retribution is pretty much wall-to-wall action. This is fine in theory, but we need some believable character motivation and coherent storytelling. Without it, the film is a forgettable special effects show-reel. When it ends, it leaves us with the promise that an all-out, balls-to-the-wall war picture is coming which may bring closure to the series at last. But it's hard to get your hopes up about the next film, considering that Afterlife squandered the delirious potential established in Extinction's climax, and Retribution shat on Afterlife's promising conclusion. Anderson keeps promising that goodness is to come, but never delivers.