“What the heck just happened?”
Those were my exact words as the credits rolled down the screen at the end of Resident Evil: Retribution (or Resident Evil 5 or RE5, as I would like to call it). At this point, only two things were certain. One, there is definitely going to be a sixth film. And two, RE5 is without a doubt the worst one in the franchise so far.
To put it bluntly, RE5 is a waste of time because nothing really happens. All it does is essentially bridge the literal two-hour gap in storyline between the end of the fourth film (Resident Evil: Afterlife) and the sixth and likely final film of the series. The entire film could have been easily squeezed into the first 20 minutes of the forthcoming final film and saved everyone a lot of pain.
Seriously. The film picks up with Alice (Milla Jovovich) on the freighter from the end of RE4. Shortly after, she’s in an Umbrella testing facility run by the artificial intelligence villain known as the Red Queen. Her friend, Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) is still being controlled by the enemy (via that pendant thing on her chest). A bunch of people led by the long-awaited and much-loved Leon S Kennedy (from the games) teams up with Ada Wong (Chinese actress Li Bingbing in her Hollywood debut) to get Alice out. Zombies and mutant monsters from the games and previous films try to stop them through a variety of artificial locations/scenarios across the globe. Alice kicks ass and looks cool for 95 minutes (very close to real time) — in 3D, mind you. Cue the next film.
I didn’t want to dislike this film. I have followed the series from the beginning, having been a fan of RE since the video game on which the films are based debuted on the PS1 in 1996 (I was one of those kids that nearly peed my pants when the first zombie dog burst through the window in RE1). To be honest, none of the films have been particularly good, but my enjoyment of them were chalked down to misguided enthusiasm and guilty pleasures.
But RE5 has very few redeeming qualities. The hand-to-hand combat sequences are well done and probably represent a new high in the franchise — but that’s about it. The film was like a 95-minute cut scene in a game, except cut scenes these days generally have more plot and make more sense. Non-stop action is supposed to be good, but here if felt mostly bland because we never got the sense that the characters — or at least the ones that count — were ever in any real danger. The initial zombie scenes succeeded in generating some scares, which was the right way to go, but before long it turned into a wild arcade game of endless gunfire that sapped all the excitement.
The lack of sense the movie made was also paralyzing. The Red Queen is somehow constantly a step behind the Alice and her helpers despite them being in a facility she completely controls. Our heroes can stand perfectly still out in the open for minutes firing away and killing enemies without being scraped by one of the thousands of enemy bullets coming their way (when the movie needs them to be alive, that is). They even cannot be hit from point blank range for some reason. Dead characters from earlier films spring back conveniently as clones to give them another paycheck. And Alice is so freaking awesome that I totally forgot she had been stripped of her superhuman viral powers.
This is the sixth time Milla has played Alice so you know what to expect. Most of her acting is physical and she does a fantastic job running, kicking, wielding weapons and firing guns. She has arguably never been more spectacular. Unfortunately, the other characters don’t offer much by way of support.
Sienna Guillory is hilarious as the enemy-controlled Jill Valentine, who spends most of the film trying to look outraged and confused while wearing a cleavy, shiny, skin-tight blue outfit and firing bullets in an awkward stance. Li Bingbing’s Ada Wong is visually stunning — she looks exactly like the CGI character (for a second I almost thought she actually was CGI). But because she spends so much effort in ensuring her English is perfect I think she forgot that she also has to act — as a result all her lines come out like as though she’s reading directly from the script.
Returnees such as Michelle Rodriquez, who died in the first film, and Oded Fehr, who I’m pretty sure also died a few times, were there for the sake of being there. They added nothing other than a familiar face.
My biggest disappointment was Johann Urb, an Estonian-American actor and model who plays Leon S Kennedy, the protagonist from the second and fourth (and soon sixth) video games. While it’s unfair to expect a Li Binging/Ada Wong level of likeness, Urb doesn’t convince me at all. Whether he physically resembles Leon is up to you, but Urb’s character is simply nothing like the charismatic Leon from the game and pales in comparison to the Alice — plus he comes off as a bit of a sleazebag. Fail.
Sadly, even my soft spot for the series could not avoid me feeling let down by RE5. While it has a couple of nicely choreographed fighting sequences, a few cool monsters and the usual awesomeness of Milla Jovovich, the film’s complete lack of plot and sense, coupled with its recycled ideas and wooden supporting cast, makes RE5 the franchise’s most forgettable addition to date. I might have added a star out of my loyalty to the series but I would have taken it away anyway because the film was only released in 3D, which I loathe for reasons I don’t want to rehash again.
1.5 stars out of 5