Let’s start at the very beginning, just as the film does. In a not unimpressive opening sequence we see a fight aboard a container ship unfold in reverse. Cut to Milla Jovovich’s Alice staring into the camera taking us on a gimmicky and not all that clear virtual tour of the earlier films in the series. That this visually stylised display sheds more light on the quality of writing contained therein than on the preceding story speaks prophetic volumes.
Once the narrative really kicks in though we are treated to a more mixed affair. Sure, the dialogue throughout remains atrocious and the premise (that Alice and her rescue team must fight through an underwater base full of virtual reality test chambers) is utterly preposterous but there is the nub of an idea lurking somewhere underneath the confusion. Within these test chambers lurks instances of clones with fake and temperamental memories. These clones fulfil certain roles throughout the facility and when one such little girl mistakes Alice for her mother something approaching a mother-daughter drama breaks out (in the two second increments available before something tries to eat Alice’s face again).
If there is a star of the show here it’s the VFX work. On what sounds like a more than ample budget of million what they’ve actually managed to carve out is in reality pretty striking. Sure there’s the occasional blip in quality but Anderson is asking them to do a lot. A hell of a lot. And thankfully, a lot they do. From monsters to guns to cities to computer graphics and all in-between it seems they carry the weight of the film in their hands. Resident Evil: Retribution even manages to give one the sneaking suspicion that the script may have been added in post-production.
That what they’re doing is often incoherent from a narrative or even a common sense standpoint though is neither here nor there to Anderson. It’s all balderdash and Anderson isn’t beyond throwing in a bit of extra piffle to confirm that. And d’you know what? For the most part it’s good clean fun. Good naff. But this I’m afraid has to compete with a whole lot of bad naff. The sort of naff that will keep even the biggest connoisseur of crap sighing in their seats. The exposition is naff, the acting is naff, Jill Valentine is super-naff. Naff, naff, naff. That’s before I’ve even got started on Shawn Roberts as Albert Wesker. Seemingly a CGI creation all to himself he’s not so much wooden as positively pixellated. As far as I know he isn’t computer generated or enhanced in the slightest but good god he was strange. Again.
It’s basically a case of another Resident Evil film with the same problems. Again (it’s that word again), The Red Queen is the least scary pedophobic device since Damien in Only Fools and Horses and although this is by no means a horror film at no point was I scared for anyone. Is there no room for character empathy. Why all the clunky exposition when we could be treated to a bit of that demographic universal – human interest?
Short of such a tall order Anderson seeks to hide the inadequacy of his offering behind some slick action – although we all know that action is all he was after to begin with. In this he somewhat succeeds. The fight choreography is good (albeit sometimes toothless) and the production design is occasionally interesting if frequently inexplicable. With such competency when if comes to action why can’t Anderson just leave the writing to someone else? The series is just cycle after cycle of the same mistakes and missed opportunities. Not that the studios care because Resident Evil films have done and still do make a killing at the box-office.
So the lucrative franchise seemingly never ends. What’s more, the ending on show here shows the series has no sign of relenting. You can put as much gloss on top of the shaky foundations and wooden acting as possible Paul but as soon becomes apparent – you can’t varnish a turd. Not that that will stop him trying in future.