Review: ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ Is Light on Plot … But at Least It Looks Good

There are lots of questions to answer when you’re a director-star duo rounding the corner on the fifth entry in a successful action-horror franchise —  in this case, Resident Evil: Retribution. How to freshen up the story without just trotting out old plot points? How to bring returning characters back into the fold, even if they’ve been absent for one or more of the intervening films? How to make the action sequences bigger, better and more exciting? But maybe the biggest question of all is, after marriage, babies, life: Can the star still wear the suit?

Milla Jovovich, as “Resident Evil” heroine Project Alice, can still wear the suit, and how – it’s a sleek latexy thing, adorned strategically with silver buckles, and if the movie’s mechanics are the generic sort overall, Jovovich at least struts through, and over them, with ease.

If you’ve missed one or two of the “Resident Evil” entries since the original hit big in 2002, there’s no need to worry — so have some of the actors. Reprising roles from one previous “Resident Evil” film or another are Michelle Rodriguez (Rain, No. 1), Oded Fehr (Carlos, Nos. 2 and 3), Sienna Guillory (Jill, Nos. 2 and 4) and Boris Kodjoe (Luther, No. 4).

Don’t fret, either, if you’ve never seen a “Resident Evil” movie in your life. A handy prologue, narrated by Alice, lays it all out for you: After security is breached at a genetic-research facility known as the Hive, owned by the Umbrella Corporation, a deadly virus is unleashed upon the human populace, turning them into mutant zombies. For some reason, Alice is resistant to the virus — instead, it gets all cozy with her DNA, giving her superstrength, which she uses to fight the evil Umbrella Corporation and its creepy little-girl hologram figurehead, the Red Queen.

In “Resident Evil: Retribution,” writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (who has written all five of the movies in the series and directed three) attempts to fill out a flimsy plot structure by making the characters’ comings and goings overly convoluted. So what else is new? One development involves the Umbrella Corporation’s use of clones to test the effectiveness of its viral weapons in simulated versions of locales like New York, Moscow, Tokyo and that nation of lost souls, Suburbia. Anderson has also introduced a new character, Ada Wong (Li Bingbing), who joins Alice’s fight against those evil corporate forces while wearing the unlikeliest of superhero outfits, a brocade stripper dress slit thigh-high and worn with vertiginous heels.

But visually, at least, it all works. Alice and her ragtag assortment of cohorts fend off — in addition to the requisite zombies — a massive creature with a lamprey’s mouth and a slimy, visible brain, and two lumpy behemoths wielding executioner’s pole axes. The movie’s most intriguing sequence comes early on: It’s a flashback — or is it? — of Alice’s life in suburbia (or should that be Suburbia?) in the days before the virus hit. She has blonde mom hair, she’s married to a dreamboat husband (played by Fehr), and she has a young daughter, Becky (Aryana Engineer), who happens to be deaf. Alice doesn’t remain blonde-mom Alice for long, but even after she’s returned to being black-latex Alice, she retains motherly feelings toward Becky, striving to protect the girl from all that free-floating resident evil.

Alice’s maternal instincts are reminiscent of Ellen Ripley’s toward Newt in James Cameron’s “Aliens,” which is probably intentional. Anderson also borrows, perhaps subconsciously, from sources ranging from “Kill Bill 1” to the ’60s British import TV show “The Avengers” — but that’s part of the game in the world of quick-and-dirty, if visually extravagant, action fantasies. The picture doesn’t necessarily click into a cohesive whole, but then, it doesn’t have to. And it sets the stage handily for a “Resident Evil 6,” provided Jovovich can still fit into the suit, and you can bet she will.

Grade: C-