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You'd be forgiven for forgetting Resident Evil: Retribution's super generic subtitle, as it may as well be called "This Year's Resident Evil 3D." This is the fifth Milla Jovovich-lead film in the franchise, and directly follows the events of last year's Resident Evil: Afterlife, which marked the return of original director Paul W.S. Anderson after he sat out parts two and three. As you know, Jovovich plays Alice, a former Umbrella Corporation employee who gained superhuman powers after being infected with the T-Virus that turned most other people into flesh-eating monsters. This go-round, Alice is reeling from having her powers stripped from her by Umbrella bad guy Albert Wesker, and finds herself back in Umbrella's grasp. These films are fast becoming the comfort food of the sci-fi/horror genre, and I don't think there's been a truly bad entry yet. Resident Evil: Retribution adds a few new tricks to the routine, and much of its success is due to Jovovich's inherent charisma. You pretty much know what you're getting here, and for most fans that will be enough.
Afterlife ended as Umbrella helicopters full of super soldiers and one Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) descended upon the freighter where Alice and survivors Claire (Ali Larter), Chris (Wentworth Miller) and K-Mart (Spencer Locke), none of whom appear in this film, ended up. Retribution picks up the action immediately after with a nifty reverse slow-motion firefight over the opening credits. The fate of the others is unknown, but Alice is captured and imprisoned at Umbrella, where Valentine interrogates her. The security system keeping Alice in check is eventually overridden, and she is released onto what initially appears to be a Tokyo street but what is in reality an elaborate Umbrella virus-outbreak simulation. Alice kicks some zombie ass and retreats back inside where she meets Ada Wong (Li Bingbing), who reveals that she freed Alice at the bidding of Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who is now working to overthrow Umbrella and defeat the Red Queen. Alice and Ada are to meet a team of operatives, including Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand), and escape the complex, which will require trekking through dangerous simulations set in replicas of Moscow and Raccoon City.
The franchise has consistently moved through unique settings, including the desert, a super-max prison and some beautiful Alaskan ice sheets, so this new Umbrella environment is a nice touch. In Raccoon City, "Alice" is killed while protecting her young daughter Becky (Arayana Engineer), and it's revealed to be another elaborate simulation, populated with clones of original Umbrella workers. This allows several familiar faces to return, including Michelle Rodriquez as several variants of Rain Ocampo, whom the real Alice meets when she scoops up the confused Becky in Raccoon City. Valentine was formerly an ally but is still being controlled by Umbrella, and she leads attacks on Alice, Ada and Becky as they travel the faux landscape. The rescue crew meets some foes of their own, including the intelligent Las Plagas zombies that ride motorcycles and shoot guns.
Jovovich again plays a spirited and feisty Alice, a character who at this point must be pretty damn tired of Umbrella's nonsense. Anderson, who is now married to Jovovich, did well when picking his lead actress, and she has truly become the face of Resident Evil. This film plays like an extended chase, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are a number of game-favorite bad guys who pop up, including Lickers and zombies with giant battle axes, and Anderson and Jovovich manage to create a couple of fight sequences that actually feel fresh. The best occurs when Alice grabs a bicycle chain and lock and begins clocking zombies in the head as she dances and flips off their backs. This isn't high art, but there's something pleasantly familiar about this Umbrella/Red Queen/"You're all going to die down there!" nonsense.
Anderson shot the film in native 3D and still has a keen eye for visuals. Some of the effects are hit or miss, probably due to budget constraints, but the film looks pretty good overall. It's nice to see the returning characters, and the story looks to be heading toward an expansive conclusion (You knew this wasn't the end, folks.). I did miss some of the horror found in earlier films. Aside from one nice jolt (spoiled in the trailer) in sunny suburbia, there are no real scares. This franchise has become more about action and carnage than suspense. Although Resident Evil: Retribution remains fun, each successive film in the franchise feels a bit more stale, and a nice, epic wrap-up really should be coming soon.
An expectedly excellent 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from Sony that sports amazing detail (check out all that slow motion chaos) and clarity. Black levels are surprisingly strong for the all-digital source, and the image's clarity never waivers. Colors are sharp and well saturated, skin tones natural (alive and undead), and action is crystal clear even when the camera is in motion. No softness popped up, and jagged edges and aliasing were similarly absent.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack supports all the frenetic action, with sharp surround and subwoofer response, crystal clear dialogue and deep score support. The Resident Evil movies have always been sonically impressive, and Retribution is no exception, offering a mix that makes full use of the sound field. Effects pan the surround and rear speakers, and ambient and action effects both make use of all speakers. This mix is aggressive and loud but nicely balanced, and even softer scenes exhibit excellent clarity. A French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track are also included, as are English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in an Elite Blu-ray case and features dual-sided artwork. There is a separate release that includes a 3D Blu-ray and lenticular slipcover for those interested. Sony throws in an UltraViolet digital copy alongside a ton of extras:
- Project Alice: The Interactive Database - This feature lets viewers explore the world of Resident Evil and its characters through bios, video clips and other information. Some neat stuff in here.
- Commentary with Writer/Director Paul W.S. Anderson, Milla Jovovich and Boris Kodjoe - This fairly informal track sees the trio discussing all aspects of the production, including effects, lensing in 3D and pleasing the fans.
- Commentary with Writer/Director Paul W.S. Anderson and Producer Jeremy Bolt - This is a more technical commentary than the first, so viewers looking for information on filming and the story might enjoy this track more.
- Deleted Scenes (12:35/HD) - A number of deleted scenes are included, though most appear to be extended versions of scenes in the final cut.
- Outtakes (4:36/HD) - Tomfoolery!
- Maestro of Evil: Directing Resident Evil: Retribution (8:06/HD) - As you might imagine, this is all about singing praises for director Anderson, who seems to be a likeable guy.
- Evolving Alice (6:50/HD) - Jovovich and the filmmakers discuss Alice's journey from Umbrella employee to fighter to broken warrior in the series.
- Resident Evil: Reunion (9:42/HD) - "Oh hey there, Michelle Rodriguez, I thought your character was dead?"
- Design and Build: The World of Resident Evil: Retribution (9:11/HD) - A so-so look at the film's visual effects.
- Drop (Un)Dead: The Creatures of Retribution (6:58/HD) - The zombies and nasty monsters get the spotlight here.
- Resident Stuntman (6:17/HD) - The title is somewhat misleading, but this is about all the stunts, fights and choreography in the film.
- Code: Mika (5:34/HD) - This is about Mika Nakashima, the woman who plays the main Japanese zombie in the film.
- Resident Evil: Retribution: Face of the Fan (3:17/HD) - One lucky fan gets to come to set and be transformed into a zombie, and she is absolutely thrilled about it!
This fifth outing may be nearing the point of overkill, but Resident Evil: Retribution again manages to entertain as it follows the continuing saga of Alice vs. Umbrella and a bunch of nasty zombies. Milla Jovovich reteams with her husband, director Paul W.S. Anderson, in this slick sequel that finds Alice fighting to escape an underground Umbrella complex. Several dead characters return, including Michelle Rodriguez's, and there are some slick fights and effects. Hopefully the next sequel will afford an epic conclusion to the franchise before it runs out of gas. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.