(by Dustin Putman
It is startling when one thinks about how much Alice (Milla Jovovich) has been through over the course of five films - 2002's "Resident Evil," 2004's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," 2007's "Resident Evil: Extinction," 2010's "Resident Evil: Afterlife," and now "Resident Evil: Retribution" - without really getting anywhere. She began as an employee of the Umbrella Corporation, then narrowly survived a zombie takeover by being the sole person immune to a viral outbreak. Injected with a serum that gave her super-strength and virtual immortality, Alice went on to escape the apocalyptic Raccoon City, then fought the infected in an otherwise abandoned dystopian Las Vegas. She discovered she had been cloned upwards of a hundred times, then watched as they were all destroyed just as quickly in an explosion at Umbrella's Tokyo headquarters. Injected with a new concoction that returned Alice to her normal, fallible human form, she headed for a safe haven in Arcadia, Alaska, only to find no savior. Flying down the west coast, she settled in a still-smoldering Los Angeles and learned that the real Arcadia was actually the name of a ship waiting to set sail to safety. Alas, it was not to be, and this latest entry picks up with Alice having been captured once more by Umbrella. Seriously, for as much as Alice has faced, she's really no closer to accomplishing anything. It must be exhausting shooting guns and kicking ass 24-7 to no avail. Article continues below
Waking from an illusion that sees her living a happy domestic life with a handsome husband (Oded Fehr) and cute, hearing-impaired daughter (Aryana Engineer) before the undead pounce upon them, Alice finds herself being held captive and slowly tortured for information by an old friend, the now-brainwashed and corrupt Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). When a system reload allows her to escape, Alice is approached for help from unlikely sources: the nefarious Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), former head of Umbrella, and ex-agent Ada Wong (Bingbing Li). Currently at an underwater testing site in Northern Russia, Alice and Ada must go up against any number of biological monstrosities while making their way through each section of a compound built to resemble different cities and environments. Meanwhile, on the opposite side, a strike team descend upon the site to rescue them.
"Resident Evil: Retribution" is more of the same, sometimes to a laughable degree, but it does better the first, second and fourth installments with a few surges of inspiration (the Vegas-set third, while not living up to its potential, is still the best). For one, the curious central location is decidedly crafty, if better in concept than delivery, as Alice fights her way through simulations of Tokyo, suburban Raccoon City and Moscow while never physically leaving the Umbrella lair lurking beneath the ice of Russia. Also noteworthy: a dazzling opening credits sequence that runs backwards and in stylized slow-motion, depicting the deadly attack on the Arcadia by a swarm of missile-launching helicopters.
This is followed up by the film's strongest set-piece, Alice's hallucinatory day-from-hell with her fake family as she tries to make it out of her house when a stampede of zombie's break in. Alas, once outside, Alice and daughter Becky see that it's a town-wide invasion - and possibly the end of days. For nearly ten minutes, "Resident Evil: Retribution" resembles an honest-to-goodness horror movie (what a cinematic adaptation of the Capcom video game should have been from the start) rather than a mind-numbing, guns-blazing action piece. Almost as if it's completely separate from what comes before and after, these scenes are abuzz with tension, at least one socko jump scare, and even a creepy music suite from composers Tomandandy. Sadly, once Alice comes to at Umbrella, it's back to basics.
The rest of the picture, particularly the entire second half, isn't worth remembering. If you've seen one attack by a big, nondescript CGI creature, you've seen them all, the chases and shooting and chaining becoming a dreary, repetitive blur very quickly. Returning from the first "Resident Evil," Michelle Rodriguez (2010's "Machete") shows back up as a more mild-mannered version of her character, Rain, proving that you can always come back in these kinds of movies, clone or not, even if you've been torn apart by flesh-eating zombies. Until the end, she has next to no purpose, and even then the importance of her participation is debatable.
"Resident Evil: Retribution" culminates in an increasingly silly, bone-cracking cat fight that goes on for what feels like days, then is proceeded by maddening last-minute developments that prove without a shadow of a doubt how this franchise is just jerking viewers around as it paces in circles. If there were ever good ideas to be had, they've been exhausted. As always, Milla Jovovich (2011's "Dirty Girl") is front and center, looking mighty tough and reconciling her fate as an actress who will probably be playing Alice until she's old enough to need a walker. Even then, our poor leather-clad heroine will probably still be in the same position she's in now, no closer to overcoming the planet's apocalypse but still firing away with endless supplies of ammunition at her disposal. At some point, even she's going to have to admit that she's been wasting her time.