The Resident Evil movie series has always been something of a guilty pleasure. Deep-fried in schlock, with a side order of cheese, every film in the series seems hell-bent on being more outrageous than the last, with nonsensical cliffhangers, disposal characters, and woefully implausible story arcs. Yet, somewhere deep in the thick of "so bad it's good" is a series capable of captivating ravenous fans who keep coming back for more. Why else would they keep making Resident Evil films? 'Retribution' is no different in that regard. It picks up seconds after the ending of the previous film, 'Afterlife,' and begins with a dramatically interesting gun battle that plays in slow-motion reverse, before moving forward at full speed. It's a different take on the formula, and one that got me interested right off the bat. Sure enough, 'Retribution' does feel like a different kind of Resident Evil movie. The impossibly bad Alice clone gunfight at the beginning of 'Afterlife' has been swapped in favor of a surprisingly dynamic, elegant, and...dare I say it...sensible battle between Alice and a group of henchmen. Every action scene in the film feels more polished than its predecessor, even when the story strays into more implausibility.
This time 'round, characters from past Resident Evil movies make a reappearance. Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Salmon, and Oded Fehr return as Rain Ocampo, James Shade, and Carlos Olivera, but not in the way you'd expect (or maybe you already have). Alice must make her way out of a secret underground Umbrella research facility with the aid of Ada Wong, an ex-Umbrella operative now working alongside the infamous Albert Wesker, who has also abandoned Umbrella in the hopes of getting Alice out of the facility alive. As a backup plan, Wesker has also dispatched a team of crack mercenaries consisting of Luther West, Barry Burton (from the first Resident Evil videogame), and Leon S. Kennedy (from Resident Evil 2). Unfortunately, both Alice and the mercenaries have to contend with Umbrella operatives led by the brainwashed Jill Valentine, who has been missing in action since 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse.' Worse, Alice must face her old nemesis, the homicidal Red Queen, an artificial intelligence created by Umbrella that is in full control of the facility.
It's good to see old faces back in Resident Evil, especially Michelle Rodriguez, who gets perhaps the best use of screen time next to Alice herself. It's a major comeback, especially in the final act. Speaking of which, that final act has such tremendous action that I found myself riveted to what was happening. There's some spectacular choreographed martial arts sequences, aided with the typical science fiction/horror elements thrown in for good measure. And for the first time, Resident Evil truly FEELS like Resident Evil, when one considers the roster of characters who are (almost) direct lifts of their video game counterparts. Though no explanation is given for the presence of Leon S. Kennedy, it stands to reason that he could have been present during the Raccoon City T-Virus outbreak, in full police uniform. It's just never explicitly stated. RE1 fans will remember Barry Burton mostly for the character's notoriously awful voice acting, but putting that aside, it was a slight disappointment not to see him as a member of S.T.A.R.S., especially since the unit has been officially named in the movie series. Besides all that, the presence of the Red Queen, and the underground "hive" theme all serve as welcome and familiar reminders of the first Resident Evil film, which was the least ambitious in terms of ridiculously wacky action scenes and rollercoaster plot twists. To put it mildly, I really, really liked this film. Yes, it's as dumb as a boot, with no character development (not even Alice), and a plot devoid of any artistic merit, but it's arguably the best Resident Evil film to date. You can't fault the filmmakers for their ambition, and dedication towards cranking up the visual volume. They've just done it better than they ever have.
NOTE: This review will be expanded on once the Blu-Ray is released.