GIVEN that the Resident Evil franchise is the most lucrative of all video-game-based movies, one must grudgingly admire how these films manage to be so successful.
Let’s face it, Resident Evil riddles bullets into narrative coherence and fires grenade launchers at conventional notions of plot and character.
Resident Evil No. 5, subtitled " Retribution" (for no other reason than it looks good on a poster) may be the most incomprehensible entry of all.
It’s going to make millions.
Milla Jovovich, playing the indestructible warrior woman Alice, is likely the best explanation for why the franchise remains watchable. Clad in form-fitting black and wielding an assortment of exotic armory, the Ukrainian- born beauty is an all-American cultural symbol — sex and death in a tantalizing two-for-one package. If she happens to be vanquishing enemies in the same painstakingly choreographed way she’s done in the last four movies, well, you still can’t take your eyes off her.
That helps us navigate through Retribution’s wonky plot, which begins where the fourth one left off. Alice is on a retooled aircraft carrier, battling dozens of military minions of the Umbrella Corporation, the sinister multinational that unleashed the apocalyptic T-virus. She is blown into the water.
The next thing we know, Alice awakens in a nice suburban home, taking care of her deaf daughter (Aryana Engineer) and packing off her hunky hubby (Oded Fehr), whom we knew in past movies as Carlos, one of Alice’s fellow warriors. Suddenly, the film’s trademark diseased zombies attack.
Alice awakens again, back in warrior- woman mode. She is tortured by none other than Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), a former confederate brainwashed into assisting the Umbrella Corporation.
But just as things are looking their bleakest, Alice finds doors opened for her, and she makes her way into the streets of Tokyo just as the T-virus is beginning to turn citizens into malevolent, flesh-ripping zombies.
It turns out the guy who has freed Alice is her nemesis and Umbrella’s fiendish No. 1 guy Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts). Apparently, he and Umbrella’s computer overlord the Red Queen have parted ways, and he offers Alice’s only hope of survival, navigating through a multitude of cityscapes (also including Moscow and New York) to freedom.
Got that? Me neither.
Adding to the confusion, Alice keeps encountering people who were killed in previous movies, including the hardbitten soldier Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) from the first film, once an ally and now a fierce enemy.
Why? For no other reason than Rodriguez smiling fiendishly is as intrinsically cinematic as Jovovich swinging a chain at a zombie attacker.
The key to understanding this movie is understanding its director Paul W.S. Anderson, the guy who wrote all the Resident Evil movies and directed most of them.
Anderson’s directorial debut back in 1994 was titled Shopping and it was about "ram-raiding," a practice wherein teens would steal cars and crash them into shop windows to steal the merchandise.
Anderson has been ram-raiding other movies ever since. Watch how his 1997 film Event Horizon lifts tropes from everything from Don’t Look Now to The Exorcist. See how the first Resident Evil borrowed from the low-budget Canadian thriller Cube or the even more obscure bio-zombie thriller Warning Sign.
In that context, it is not surprising the opening suburban setup of Retribution closely resembles the opening scenes of Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, in which a nice quiet suburban abode is suddenly invaded by vicious zombies. It worked once. Why shouldn’t it work again?
At least Anderson borrows from quality. It almost redeems his films, which are well-produced and fun to watch, even if there’s not an original moment in any of them.
Resident Evil No. 6 is presumably in the planning stages. One hopes Anderson’s bank account is sufficiently stocked that he can wrap up this nonsense for good.