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Feature


The Umbrella Corporation’s deadly T-virus is spreading across the globe, transforming ordinary people into legions of undead. Headed for extinction, the human race has just one hope: Alice (Milla Jovovich). She’s on a mission, fighting her way through cities and across continents, all inside Umbrella's prime research facility. Old friends become new enemies as she battles to escape and discovers that everything that she believes may not even be true. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

Resident Evil: Retribution
I just can’t quit the Resident Evil franchise. Whether its videogames, animated features, or the ongoing live-action film series, I keep coming back for more. The games tend to satisfy and the animated features meet low expectations, but the live-action film series defies the concept of mediocrity. In theory, these movies should be entertaining on a base level, trashy fashion. The whole series is based around a post-apocalyptic nightmare world filled with flesh-eating zombies, grotesque monsters, and sexy women shooting guns in slow motion. It also features an ongoing, convoluted, cliff-hanger-heavy storyline that feeds that soap opera-loving instinct in all of us. Yet, film after film producer/director Paul W. S. Anderson and his cohorts (Alexander Witt directed the second film, Apocalypse, and Russell Mulcahy directed the third film, Extinction) continue crafting deceptively boring movie after deceptively boring movie. Admittedly, once the initial disappointment of Anderson ignoring huge chunks of the game series’ tone and story wears off, the first Resident Evil is enjoyable enough, at least on the non-transcendent level we should expect from a movie based on a videogame. Some of my fond memories pertain more to the general lack of mainstream zombie films in 2002 than the film’s quality (it’s hard to believe that only ten years ago I was still excited about zombie movies), but there are still memorable images and some fun to be had. Each successive film since has squandered oodles of silly potential while ending on some kind of ‘stinger’ reveal that promises more than the next film will possibly deliver.

The last film saw Anderson returning to the director’s chair and he continues to crack the reins on this film, too. Anderson is an easy target for film-geek scorn, mostly because he dabbles in videogame movies ( Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat) and revisits beloved genre franchises in both official ( Alien vs. Predator, Death Race) and unofficial canon releases ( Event Horizon and Soldier). But Anderson isn’t a hack on the level of Uwe Boll; he just has a habit of overextending himself beyond his bland methods and limited talents. His director’s catalogue is full of frustrating movies that come close to working only to be undone by too many lapses in taste and quality. He’s had his moments (the bulk of Event Horizon is pretty cool and Aliens vs. Predator had a good climactic chase), but the expectations surrounding him are always rock bottom. However, his last film, an ill-conceived Three Musketeers action/comedy reboot, actually ended up being pretty entertaining in spite of itself, so I was willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. For Retribution, Anderson continues exploring the visual motifs he already established throughout the series’ first four films (even the ones he didn’t direct).

Resident Evil: Retribution
For better or worse, this entry likely represents the most distilled version of his vision. The look is sometimes attractive (there’s an underwater shot towards the end of the movie that is genuinely arresting), occasionally downright ugly, but it is always recognizable as Anderson’s, which is more than you can say for some directors. I also have to admit that Anderson tends to shoot his action better than most of the supposed hacks on the market. He doesn’t overcut or arbitrarily shake the camera about to create an ineffective illusion of frenetic momentum. His problem is that he overuses his beloved slow motion, which works all right for the geographically confusing shoot-outs, but robs the fisticuffs of a lot of their aggression. Not that brutality has ever been a strong point of the Resident Evil series. Since the beginning, these films have only barely earned their R-ratings, which is a constant disappointment based on expectations set by the hyper-gory videogames. Retribution mostly follows suit by reserving most of the gory treatment for the monsters, rather than the humans, and utilizing gunfire as a relatively bloodless means to kill. There’s a reasonably graphic chainsaw gutting, but otherwise, I’m not sure the producers would have to cut anything for a TV-14 television version when the time comes.

The franchise’s convoluted storytelling has made it difficult to track events from episode to episode. Short of marathoning the entire series in a single sitting, I’m not sure how anyone can remember every detail, even with the ‘previously on Resident Evil’ catch-up cemented in place at the top of each film. A working knowledge of the videogames and animated films only muddies the waters with unrelated information. Normally, plotting would be entirely beside the point for a film like this, which is mostly based around action beats, but these films definitely depend on elaborate narrative devices and tend to expect us to discern a never-ending parade of interchangeable characters. This time, the convoluted treatment is so belligerent that the plot isn’t given any chance to settle into anything more than a series of barely related events for about 20 minutes. First, the final events of Afterlife are brought to their conclusion – in both reverse slo-mo and forward-moving standard speed. But these events are merely incidental. Soon, everything fades to black and Alice awakens in a suburban house with seemingly no memory of her past. Then zombies attack, allowing Anderson the chance to recycle images from the first Resident Evil and rip-off the opening scene from Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake in one fell swoop. Then it’s revealed that this sequence is just part of a simulation. Alice is actually being held far underground by Umbrella, who is running simulations of bio-weapon outbreaks. In fact, there are a series of simulation rooms in the compound – all populated by clone people. This means that not only is Anderson replaying the basic ‘get to the top of the compound’ structure of the first film, he also has an excuse to bring back actors from the other Resident Evil films.

Resident Evil: Retribution
This is the point where my critical analysis is entirely confused by equal parts respect and disdain. The simulation rooms become a means to explore a set-piece structure that replicates the process of playing a videogame. On the one hand, I respect the blatant disregard for normal storytelling. Resident Evil is based on a videogame series and it makes sense for Anderson to stick to these roots. On the other hand, there’s nothing compelling about this kind of narrative structure. It’s frustrating to watch someone else play a videogame, especially one made up almost exclusively of boss fights. There are feeble attempts at creating the illusion of mystery through more unnecessarily convoluted character introductions, but anytime expositional discussion slows the rigorous action the audience is left to contemplate the complete lack of reasoning. Why did the main villain change sides between films with no warning? Are Claire and Chris Redfield just dead? Was there any indication that the Red Queen was going to make a comeback? Why would you include a deaf girl in your wacky Dawn of the Dead simulation? Is this somehow thematically relevant and I forgot about it or is this random child character just an excuse for Anderson to ‘borrow’ parts of his third act from Aliens?

Resident Evil: Retribution

Video


The previous film in the series, Afterlife, was the first to be shot in 3D. In fact, the bulk of the ad campaign trumpeted the fact that Anderson shot with the Sony F35 system James Cameron had used on Avatar. But this time Anderson and returning cinematographer Glen McPherson opted for the smaller Red Epic camera system. This 2D, 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray image represents the original 4K resolution well (I assume, not having seen the film in theaters), including hyper-sharp details, finely separated contrasting elements, and rich, vibrant colours. Anderson and McPherson really embrace the clarity of the digital HD format and aim to create a clean, unnatural, videogame-ish look. I suppose this is fitting. The base palette here is similar to the previous film – largely a cool grayscale with punchy warm highlights, often ruby reds. Some sequences take place in ‘test areas,’ which recreate the look of various major cities. These scenes are more elaborate in terms of colours and often filtered through environmental effects like rain or fog. This creates some minor bouts with digital noise and bleeding, but generally these sequences feature a lot more in terms of texture and are more impressive representations of the format. The more artificial environments have plenty of sharp lines, but tend to feature blooming, soft backgrounds that could probably be handled similarly well by an SD transfer. The simulated city environments tend to dole out sharper background elements, which make for far more complex images. There are issues with banding effects in the smoother backgrounds, but I didn’t notice any major edge enhancement around the higher-contrast edges.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Audio


This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound captures all the aggressive and immersive sound design before the credits even roll, where we’re privy to the sounds of battle (helicopters, gunshots, screams) without any visual input. From here the name of the game is excess. With the exception of shots that are meant to contrast the otherwise loud noise with their utter silence, this soundtrack is brimming with aggressive directional movement, hyper-realistic natural effects, and abstract, electronic embellishments that give an extra stereo or surround boost to the proceedings. The action sequences are the obvious standouts, including punchy gunfire whizzing overhead, crunching impact sounds, and LFE-enhanced creature noises. The quality of the sounds changes appropriately based on the speed of the action, making for a nice stylized differentiation within a single sequence. Other aural highlights include the electronic screaming noise Umbrella uses to torture Alice (which blares full bore from every speaker), the sound of oncoming zombie hordes, an explosive car chase, and a massive flooding sequence. Musical group Tomandandy return to the franchise following their work on Afterlife. This score is pretty relentless, blending traditional instrumentations and choral arrangements with heavy percussion and electronic melodies.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Extras


The extras begin with not one, but two commentary tracks. The first track features writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson, and actors Milla Jovovich and Boris Kodjoe. Love him or hate him, Anderson is always charming in interviews and tends to record a good commentary. This is the ‘fun’ commentary, featuring three people having a good time acting silly and occasionally offering minor insight into the production. It’s not nearly as funny as the participants seem to think it is, but fans that like the idea of watching the film with the director and his buddies will probably have a good time. The second track features Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. Apparently, Anderson really likes recording commentary tracks. This is the technical commentary or, as I like to call it, the real commentary. If you’re planning on listening to only one track, you should choose this one and, if you’re planning on listening to both, you should probably start here. Anderson spends the bulk of his time during the second commentary talking about the ongoing process of adapting the series (which is in its 10th year now) and the overall aesthetic place of Retribution in the canon. He’s seems blind to the film’s massive faults, but doesn’t come across as deluded or conceited about his work, either. Bolt speaks with much less regularity and tends to speak like a typical producer during an EPK interview, but he also primes Anderson’s discussion whenever the track goes silent.

The featurettes begin with Maestro of Evil: Directing Resident Evil: Retribution (8:10, HD), which covers Anderson’s work on the series, his marriage to Jovovich, and his writing/directing goals for this latest film. Evolving Alice (6:50, HD) explores the main character’s growth throughout the series. Resident Evil: Reunion (9:40, HD) covers the returning cast members and each characters’ place in the franchise. Design & Build: The World of Resident Evil: Retribution (9:10, HD) features the director and producers discussing the film’s special effects, including storyboards, pre-viz, behind the scenes, and comparison shots. The featurettes are wrapped up with Drop (Un)Dead: The Creatures of Retribution (7:00, HD), which covers the make-up effects and creature design, Resident Stuntman (6:20, HD), a look at the fight choreography and stunt performances, and Code: Mika (5:30, HD) with actress/J-Pop star Mika Nakashima. Interview subjects throughout the featurettes include Anderson, producers Bolt and Don Carmody, visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi, production designer Kevin Phipps, editor Nevin Howe make-up supervisor Paul Jones, stunt coordinator Nick Powell, and actors Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Li Bingbing, Colin Salmon, Oded Fehr, Boris Kodjoe, Kevin Durand, and Johann Urb.

The disc also includes the Project Alice interactive database. This allows viewers to explore the characters and creatures of the series, and includes character dossiers, plus links to pertinent sequences from all five films. Extras come to an end with five deleted/extended scenes (12:40, HD), outtakes/bloopers (4:40, HD), Resident Evil: Retribution – Face of the Fan (3:20, HD), a behind the scenes video from a fan’s perspective, Capcom game trailers, and other Sony release trailers.

Resident Evil: Retribution

Overall


Once again, a Resident Evil movie ends with a scene that promises something a whole lot cooler than what we just watched and I’m sure plenty of us will take the bait. Retribution is not by any means a good movie and should probably be chided for not even attempting to do anything new with the franchise, but it also isn’t as boring as the previous two entries. Even the uniformly terrible acting (even usually dependable sorts like Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez and Kevin Durand suck) is so consistently awkward that it appears to be some kind of stylistic choice, which makes the experience tolerable. Especially when the bad acting is evenly dispersed amongst a constant stream of silly action scenes. With the right mindset (a kind of blank one), Retribution is reasonably entertaining and probably even the second best film in the mostly disappointing series. This 2D disc features an eclectic and sharp transfer, a room-shattering DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a decent collection of extras, including two very different commentary tracks.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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