Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: Retribution may be one of the most incoherent, stupid movies that I have ever seen. While I admittedly walked into the film as a neophyte, having never seen any of the other titles in the franchise or played any of the video games, the whole thing is so cacophonous, poorly structured, and badly put together that it’s hard to see how even die-hard fans would be able to make any sense of it.
And it’s not like the movie is made confusing by an intricate plot, because it's a head-scratcher from the very first scene. The story begins with the protagonist, Alice (Milla Jovovich) imprisoned and tortured in an underwater facility owned by the villainous Umbrella Corporation. She is then finds herself inexplicably freed by a woman named Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) and Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) – the latter of who we were told in the opening narration was the man in charge of the Umbrella Corporation and who Alice apparently killed in a previous movie (and she doesn’t seem to be all too surprised to see him alive). Wong and Wesker inform Alice that there is a group of resistance fighters coming to meet them – none of whom are given a proper introduction – and that she has to escape the facility. And that’s the entire plot. There are no side stories, there are no bigger character motivations, and the larger mission – dismantling Umbrella – is barely broached.
What we get instead of plot is action sequences. And by that I mean about 50 of them. The whole thing plays like Anderson is completely terrified of his core audience’s low attention span, so he makes the movie operate in a way that the characters can’t move more than 20 feet at a time without having to kill some kind of biohazard in an over-stylized, bullet-and-blood ridden confrontation, featuring enough slow-motion and speed ramping to give Zack Snyder just cause for a lawsuit. This may sound great on paper, but the scenes rarely last more than two minutes, and because the script doesn’t bother with any kind of character development you really don’t care if any of the characters survive or die. Anderson actually tries to remedy this by giving Alice a fake deaf daughter who was created in a virus outbreak simulation – have I mentioned how inscrutable this movie is? – but rather than feeling like Ripley and Newt’s relationship from Aliens it just feels ham-fisted and stupid. Naturally the action sequences don’t take long to get tedious, and because there’s no story the movie ends up having nothing to hold the viewer’s attention. Needless to say, I was regularly checking my watch and waiting for the whole thing to wrap up.
Beyond the gaudy action, Retribution is just a poorly directed movie. Despite the fact that Anderson has digital maps and displays flashing at the audience constantly and 90% of the movie is set in one location, it’s impossible to get any sense of the size or shape of the world and the characters’ location within it. Alice and the resistance fighters are apart for most of the movie, and given the amount of time it takes them to meet up you get the sense that the facility is absolutely massive, but once they actually find each other the whole place shrinks exponentially and they find their way to the exit elevator in mere moments – though not without a monster/Umbrella attack to greet them, of course.
Look, I get it: by the time you reach the fifth movie in a franchise you’re mainly appealing to the core fan base, but that’s no excuse for wholly disregarding every other audience member on the planet. And even if it is a movie just for the fans, you're only punishing them with sloppy, awful, plot hole-filled storytelling. If you’re looking to get into the Resident Evil franchise I would most definitely not recommend this as a starting point, but based on the quality of this sequel I highly doubt it would be worth it at all.