Even as the resident "Resident Evil" movie apologist, it's hard not to acknowledge the problems with the series' fifth entry "Resident Evil: Retribution," which serves as a deliberate return to some of the elements found in writer-director-producer Paul W. S. Anderson's 2002 film. "Retribution" resurrects and recycles characters and ideas from the previous movies, making it the first to really acknowledge the continuity of the past films but without expanding on them in any way.
It's weird to say this, but for the first time, I was actually...disappointed in a "Resident Evil" movie.
The virtue of the previous "Resident Evil" films is how thoroughly straightforward and unadorned they are. Anderson seemed content to work from the same template in each: heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) is thrown into some new situation (and costume) where she has to use her wirework-assisted zombie killing abilities to battle the latest plot from the nefarious and seemingly omnipresent Umbrella Corporation. This time out, she's been captured by Umbrella (again) for reasons unknown and confined to an underground facility in Russia, populated by thousands of clones with implanted memories.
Before you start thinking that "Retribution" is going to throw you for a loop in terms of what's real and what's come before, the film reveals this as just one more test facility for Umbrella as the battle for life on the planet continues up above. Expect to see some familiar faces and scenarios from the previous film's referenced here, although their inclusion, while fun, don't really make a whole lot of sense in the context of the narrative. Why is the Tokyo opening from the last film here? While it's one of "Retribution's" most striking sequences, the fact that it's being manufactured whole here doesn't really work if you ask how/why Umbrella would include this particular moment and likewise why Oded Fehr, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Salmon's characters would be part of the cloning program.
I kept expecting "Retribution" to pull the rug out from under me during its running time--that each of these callbacks to the earlier films would in some way force us to reconsider what had come before. Each of the previous movies, with varying degrees of depth and success, have been set up loosely as mysteries: who is Alice, what's with her new abilities, what's the deal with the cloning program, and what's going on with the ship off the coast of L.A.? But "Retribution" is simply disjointed: the central mystery of the Umbrella facility is resolved about a third of the way in, leaving us with Alice attempting to escape the base for the remainder of the running time with a cloned child in tow (Anderson makes an attempt to play on Alice as a maternal character, but the actresses interactions onscreen with young Aryana Engineer are fleeting, at best).
Some other strange issues: the seemingly truncated role for Bingbing Li's Ada Wong, the slo-mo reverse opening that's then shown in the correct order after a lengthy expository speech by Jovovich, and no real antagonist with the Red Queen, a mind-controlled Jill, and clone Rain flitting in and out of the movie at will. I can't even say I enjoyed the score from TomandAndy, whose "Afterlife" score was one of my favorites of 2010, trading on that film's decayed, haunting electronic elements for something more sweeping movie movie.
I unabashedly love the previous films in the series because they're so pure in their "action heroine kills zombies" concept, but "Retribution" loses sight of that in such a baffling way, taking a stab at upending the series before resting on the same elements before petering out in its final minutes (although as with previous entries, Anderson does something just crazy enough to have me on the hook for the sixth film).
The first 3D Blu-ray includes a pair of commentary tracks--the first and livelier one features Anderson effectively moderating a chat between stars Jovovich and Kodjoe, with the duo reminiscing and joking about the production. Anderson returns for a second track with producer and longtime collaborator Jeremy Bolt. Bolt mostly takes a back seat to Anderson on this track, allowing the director to break down some of the technical details of hurdles in the film's production.
The first disc also has a collection of outtakes (04:36, HD/3D)) set to ska, along with 5 deleted/extended scenes (12:35, HD/3D) which add some flavor to the domestic scenes as well as some infodumps (most of Bingbing Li's lines were left on the cutting room floor, it seems). The second Blu-ray includes the visual database "Project Alice" which breaks down some of the characters and creatures from the previous films; seven featurettes (49:18, HD) looking at the making of the film with spotlights on the overall vision of the movie, its returning characters, and specific sequences; "Resident Evil: Face of the Fan" (03:17, HD) follows one fan's visit to "Retribution's" Toronto set; finally, the disc pays its dues to the games with trailers for "Resident Evil 6," "Dragon's Dogma," and next year's reboot "Devil May Cry."
"Resident Evil: Retribution" is available now on 3D Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD from Sony Home Pictures Entertainment.