DVD Review: Resident Evil: Retribution

The Resident Evil film franchise has been going strong for a decade now, constantly bringing in hundreds of millions worldwide with each new installment. Of course, there comes a time when every franchise needs to come to an end, and as someone who has been a fan of this series since the start, I realize that time should happen sooner rather than later. Luckily, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (who has written every installment, and directed three of them) agrees, stating in recent interviews that the next film will be the last. That’s a good thing, as Resident Evil: Retribution (or Part 5, for those who like numbers) is probably the weakest entry in the franchise to date.

The main problem is this feels like the first Resident Evil film that doesn’t move the story forward in any significant way. That’s not to say that big things don’t happen, it’s just that the reasoning behind these developments don’t always make sense, or simply don’t work. As I stated in my review of Resident Evil: Afterlife, I view this franchise as an ongoing story that’s being told in chapters. While each installment has a quick “Previously on…” type overview to catch new viewers up, it’s best viewed in order, watching each chapter develop in its own way, leading to an inevitable conclusion. That being said, Retribution has the least amount of character development, and lacks any true punch in terms of caring about what’s going on.

Now, granted, I don’t enjoy this series for its deep character analysis – as that’s not what the series is about. However, there’s at least a feeling of progression in previous installments, and an understanding that the world is a mess, and that Alice (Mila Jovovich) and her ragtag group of survivors are humanities only hope against the evil Umbrella Corporation. This time it seems they were more excited to bring back old faces instead of creating a penultimate installment that would see fans clamouring for the final film once this one faded to black.

This film picks up right where the last one left off, and instantly rids itself of both Claire and Chris Redfield (played by Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller respectively). Now, when I say rids itself, I don’t mean kills them off, I mean it completely erases them from the opening battle, and only hints at their existence when a captured Alice asks her captors, “Where are Chris and Claire?” I guess that’s something though, as they don’t even get into how the main villain of the last film is all of a sudden trying to save Alice and the human race – but we’ll get into that later.

Now this isn’t the first time Anderson has dropped major characters into the blue for a sequel, as Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) vanished without a trace between the second and third films, only to show back up at the very end of the last film as a brainwashed Umbrella hired gun. So while losing Claire and Chris likely isn’t permanent (the best both show up for the final chapter, or that’ll be a huge mistake), that does leave this sequel without two of the franchises more interesting characters.

With the loss of two fan favourites comes the addition of a few more – though that turns out not to be a good thing in this case. Leon Kennedy is arguably the most loved character in the video game franchise (remember, I said arguably!) and while Claire and Chris both had pretty cool film representations, Leon is simply…well, bad. Johann Urb plays the high-profile hero, and yet, he’s written as just another guy in a group of hired guns brought in to rescue Alice. Sure he may be the “leader” of this crew, but that rarely shows, and Urb really comes off as a young Dolph Lundgren, which doesn’t help his case.

Also added to the crew is Ada Wong, played by Bingbing Li. Wong is an interesting and mysterious character in the game, and there was a chance to go that route here, but Anderson chose not to. That’s fine, as he’s done a lot of things differently in the past and they’ve worked well enough, but Ada just comes off really poorly and that’s likely due to the acting done by Li. Like many of the characters this time around, Li comes off as though she’s reading her lines, and it’s easy to tell that English isn’t her first language. Her look is great, and she’s got some skills in the fighting department, but this is a really profitable franchise, so I’m thinking they could’ve found someone who fit the role a bit better overall, and didn’t come off as though someone was feeding her lines through an earpiece as she said them.

Kevin Durand was a bright spot as far as new blood goes, playing Barry Burton, whom fans may remember from the original game. Durand has fun with the role, and his character is two-dimensional at best, but still enjoyable to watch. Returning this time around is Boris Kodjoe as Luther West, one of the more interesting original characters Anderson has created, as well as Michelle Rodriguez and a couple of more blasts from the past that will make some fans happy, even though the explanation at why they’re returning is rather weak.

Back to the main villain of the last film, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who stole Alice’s powers – making her completely “human” once again – and blew up at the end of Afterlife after trying to blow up Alice and her friends. Now, I can give his survival of the explosion my own explanation, as it was one of those “He’s in a plane, off in the distance when it explodes, so he could have jumped out in time, I suppose,” type scenarios; however, it’s his motivations this time around that make me go, “Wait, what?”

So after trying to blow up Alice, we’re meant to believe that Wesker somehow not only survived, but also decided to change his mind completely and start fighting for the human race? And while we don’t know just how much time passes at the start of the film between Alice’s capture and rescue attempt, it can’t have been more than a few months at best – so, it’s rather abrupt for Wesker to do what he’s doing, even if it’s for his own self-preservation on some level.

Now you can’t talk about the actors without bringing up Jovovich, who is fantastic once again. She seems like an incredibly cool person, who’s really interactive with her fans, and just enjoys what she does. Her work in this franchise shows that, and this outing is no different. She does some fantastic work during the action scenes, and has a few emotional points that she nails really well. With this series coming to a close, I only hope that she’s able to find another slick action role to fall into, as that’s really where she shines.

As far as the story goes, it reminds me of the book “Resident Evil: Underworld” by S.D. Perry. In it, our heroes Leon and Claire (as well as a few other fan favourites) get split up and trapped in an underground Umbrella facility in the desert and they have to overcome multiple scenarios in order to escape. Retribution changes the landscape from the desert to a facility under thick sheets of ice; however, the idea is still the same.

The scenarios are used to explain how Umbrella sold the virus worldwide, and how the outbreak got as bad as it did. They’re also used to explain how the Red Queen (who played a pivotal role as the “villain” of the first film) has taken control of Umbrella and is now looking at global domination. The story is okay, but as I said before, it doesn’t really propel the franchise forward strongly enough heading into the final chapter to make it a totally worthwhile entry into the franchise.

Also, one thing that really caught me off-guard was how Anderson decided to give Alice a subplot heading into the third act that is a complete replica of the finale of Aliens. We’re talking almost note for note here, though I won’t go into any more detail than that in order to avoid spoilers. Still, it’s just shocking at how it almost hits every beat that Aliens hits, as it’s really just missing a “Get away from her you bitch!” line from Alice to really put it over the top.

Now, the reason everything above sounds so harsh is because I enjoy this franchise. I’m a fan, and I have been for ten years of my life. I know that the films are seen as blasphemy by certain fans of the video games; however, I think that’s just silly, as they’re two different beasts entirely. So after the fun time that was Resident Evil: Afterlife, I was expecting a continuation of that story moving forward. What Retribution ended up feeling like was action-packed filler.

And that’s where the pros are, as this is quite an action-packed adventure. There’s lots of action on all fronts, and it’s fun enough to watch as a fan that it gets a pass. And while that may be enough for some considering it’s the fifth film in a sci-fi franchise based almost purely on never-ending ammo and waves of angry zombies, there’s just something missing from this film that was there in the previous four – and I believe it was the human element, the emotional connection. Even if it’s minimal, it was still always there before, and it helped elevate each sequel as it went on. Here’s hoping Anderson brings it back in the final chapter, as it’s the piece of the puzzle that can either make or break the entire franchise – because really, who wants to revisit a book that completely falls apart in the last two chapters?

The film looks great, as there are some really awesome shots that Anderson gets, and if he knows anything, it’s how to shoot some great action scenes. The sound is also really well done, with ominous tones during the more horrific scenes, and pounding music to go right alongside the bullets during the intense action sequences.

The special features on the DVD are minimal compared to the Blu-ray counterpart, however, they’ll do the trick for most fans.

Filmmakers & Cast Commentaries – There are two commentaries here, one with the cast and filmmaker, and one with the production crew. The commentary with Paul W.S. Anderson and Producer Jeremy Bolt is the more technical of the two, covering various shots, and how things were put together and such; whereas the commentary with Anderson, Mila Jovovich and Boris Kodjoe is a much more fun, easy-going listen that is filled with on-set stories, and talking about the film from a less technical perspective. Both are interesting for their own reasons, and fans of the series will likely enjoy listening to both while the movie just plays in the background.

Drop (Un)Dead: Creature Featurette – This is a piece that runs at just under seven minutes in length and basically talks about the creation of some of the new monsters in this installment, and how they’re always trying new and inventive ways to keep things fresh in the franchise.

Outtakes – Usually gag reels or outtakes can be boring, but this featurette that runs at four and a half minutes is filled with some solid laughs and really shows the fun these guys all have on set.

While the action keeps the movie entertaining enough for fans of the franchise to get through it, and the replay value is there (for now) due to the fact that this franchise is best watched as a package deal, it’s the lack of any human connection, and the bizarre Aliens carbon-copy subplot Resident Evil: Retribution is the weakest entry in the series thus far, and that’s too bad this close to the finish line.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Resident Evil: Retribution. Written and Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring: Mila Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Bingbing Li, Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Kevin Durand, Oded Fehr, Shawn Roberts. Running time: 96 minutes. Rating: R. Released: December 21, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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