The MovieResident Evil: Retribution is the fifth movie in Sony's long-running franchise, loosely based on Capcom's series of video games. Milla Jovovich headlines once again as Alice, the gun-toting operative on the run from the dastardly Umbrella Corporation whose biological weapon - the T-Virus - has overrun the world with the undead. The film literally picks up from RE4, Afterlife, which left Alice on a tanker in the middle of the ocean besieged by Umbrella's forces. After the natty backwards title sequence plays out, Alice is captured and we get a recap of the story so far (which is a sad indictment of the presumed attention span of the audience, the majority of which will surely be fans coming back for more?).
Alice is thereafter imprisoned in Umbrella's gigantic testing facility under the icy tundra of Kamchatka, North-Eastern Russia. But Albert Wesker is no longer calling the shots, having been vapourised at the end of Afterlife; Umbrella is now controlled by the Red Queen computer from RE1 who is intent on wiping out not only the corporation's enemies, but all of humanity too. The one weapon that can defeat the T-Virus is Alice herself, so the newly-resurrected Wesker (Shawn Roberts) hacks into the facility's computer and allows Alice to escape into the complex. From there she moves from level to level, meeting up with some fan favourites like Barry Burton (Kevin Durand) and Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb) along the way, until we get to the final fight with her and the mind-altered Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory reprising her role).
Paul W.S. Anderson writes and directs once more, stealing story beats and imagery from a slew of popular sci-fi flicks (inc. Aliens, The Thing, Dawn Of The Dead and, er, The Truman Show) and mixing them with lots of shout-outs to the games. The Wesker conundrum aside, the narrative is straightforward point-and-shoot fodder that doesn't tie itself into a myriad of knots. Indeed, the structure of the movie is more blatantly linear and game-like than perhaps any of the others, what with Alice and her team progressing from one ersatz environment to another, punctuated by scenes of leaden exposition.
Some old faces from Resident Evils past make an appearance, explained away by the fact that they're clones, with Michelle Rodriguez (Rain from RE1) giving the cast a bit of proper movie-star wattage. Oded Fehr and Colin Salmon also reappear. Everyone acquits themselves well, treating the goofy material with enough respect to give it a good sense of the dread atmosphere that permeates the games, and Aryana Engineer, who plays 'suburban Alice's deaf daughter Becky, deserves a special mention. The script isn't above poking fun at the movie though, as one of Rain's clones comments on Milla's "S&M" outfit (where does she keep getting those from?) and there's the usual black humour on display throughout.
The look of the movie is big and bold, using the 'testing facility' plot strand as an excuse to mount some grand action sequences in facsimiles of New York, Tokyo and Moscow. The action is staged with competence and no small helping of gore, which is made all the more satisfying by the large quantity of practical work on show. There's a surprising amount of hand-to-hand fighting too, which has a high-impact style more in line with modern MMA stylings than typical floaty Hollywood choreography. While there are obvious CG embellishments throughout the film, they're done only when necessary, as it's kind of difficult to get an über-Licker - a skinless undead creature the size of an elephant with foot-long talons - realised any other way.
That said, the film is helped by the fact that there aren't just hordes of faceless creatures propelling the story along. The usage of all those folks from previous movies as antagonists was a nice touch, subverting the audience's sympathy for those characters and giving their pursuit of Alice a bit more of a personal edge. And Alice herself is a bit softer, having had her superpowers rescinded by Wesker in the previous film. She's not more vulnerable in a physical sense - though the movie does give you that 'suburban Alice' tease at the beginning - but she gets a little more to chew on emotionally, chiefly with the Ripley-Newt style subplot involving Becky.
Retribution won't win any awards for originality, either in terms of the RE franchise or filmmaking in general, yet it's still enjoyable in its own way.
The DiscThe 2D version is being reviewed here because the 3D platter was not provided by Sony. The disc is all-region and doesn't start with the usual array of forced trailers.
Retribution was shot in native 3D on the Red Epic at 5K, which was whittled down to 2K at the digital intermediate stage. Presented in the theatrical widescreen ratio of 2.4:1, this 1080p AVC encode is yet more proof that Sony are masters of their craft. The opening shot of Alice floating underwater could've been very tricky because of the murky gradations between light and dark, but here it's absolutely perfect with no banding whatsoever, and the darker, smokier shots in the rest of the movie are similarly excellent. Fine detail is quite superb, often looking razor sharp (depending on the shot) with not so much as a hint of edge enhancement. Having been lensed digitally the source is of course pristine, with no grain aside from a scattering of noise in the dark corners of a couple of shots.
The contrast range is impressive, extending from the diffuse brightness of Umbrella's labs to the deepest darkest depths of the complex. This allows for gorgeous black levels that also yield some impressive shadow detail, with no black crush to spoil the effect. I love the colour because because it's not been suffocated with the modern menace of teal and orange, i.e. there are actual reds, greens, blues etc. on display! The blood in particular has a rich ruby hue to it, and skin tones vary according to the location; the early scenes in the Suburban environment lend people a warmer tint, while the showdown on the ice gives everyone a suitably frosty appearance.
Audio is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and it's also stunning. Right from the opening studio logos it signals its intent, with helicopters moving aggressively from front to back on either side of the soundstage. The rears aren't just used for the myriad action sequences though, as they provide lots of atmosphere in the quieter moments. The speech is never drowned out by the action and neither is the music (which actually has a decent theme for once). Bass is as fulsome as you may expect, dropping some thunderously deep beats when called upon, and it provides a solid foundation for the audio in general.
The two commentary tracks are well worth a listen for fans. The one with Anderson, Jovovich and Boris Kodjoe (who plays Luther) is a very jovial, chatty effort which plays like a bunch of friends goofing off. Anderson's commentary with producer Jeremy Bolt is more serious, discussing the nuts and bolts of the production. Next up is a 49-minute collection of featurettes which you can play separately or continuously. They're more ephemeral than the commentaries, with the cast and crew spouting the usual pleasantries designed to shill the movie rather than give you any real insight, and there's plenty of overlap with the commentaries too.
If you're after a bit more backstory on the characters then take a look at the Project Alice Interactive Database, which provides a small bio on the main heroes and villains of all five films, plus a few clips of them in action. The Deleted & Extended Scenes (12 mins) and Outtakes (4 mins) do what they say on the tin. In the previews section you'll find a generic Blu-ray trailer, plus sneak peeks at Resident Evil: Damnation, Total Recall, Starship Troopers: Invasion, and Premium Rush. (Shame that the actual trailer for Retribution isn't included 'cause it was pretty good, not least because it was scored with some of Daft Punk's music from Tron Legacy.)