Resident Evil: Retribution

It’s a good thing Resident Evil: Retribution recaps the previous four movies at the beginning, because I didn’t remember a goddamn thing about any of them. And a couple years from now, when Resident Evil: Tintinnabulation (or whatever they end up calling it) comes out, I won’t remember a goddamn thing about this one. Not that it matters much; as long as they’re blathering and exploding directly in front of your face, these movies are cheesy fun, if you allow them to be what they are, which is to say, stylized action-apocalypse nonsense with a formidable heroine. With this film, Milla Jovovich beats Sigourney Weaver’s record by one and Kate Beckinsale’s by two — she now boasts the longest-running major franchise anchored by a woman. Scattered golf claps for this, I guess.

Jovovich is her usual surly self as Alice, who must escape from an underwater base used for simulations. She also gets to be maternally protective towards a deaf little girl (Aryana Engineer) who may be a clone of Alice’s daughter in an alternate reality. At one point, the little girl is captured by an enormous creature that deposits her in an egg-like pod. I’d like to give writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s paying homage to Aliens instead of outright ripping it off, though the distinction is so often subtle.

In any event, Alice and the little girl and the rescue team that’s come to help them must get the fuck out of Dodge in two hours, before explosives go off. A lot of creatures, zombies, and agents working for the evil Umbrella Corporation get in their way. The agents include Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, awful as ever), who’s being controlled by Umbrella’s “Red Queen” computer, and Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s been cloned into two different characters, a merciless assassin and a kinder, gentler woman who seems to know Alice from the alternate reality where she had a daughter. The movie also throws in two characters familiar from the videogames, Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) and Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb). All of these complications seem pointless, because these movies are just delivery systems for action set pieces, some of which are slickly entertaining.

At the climax, the superpowered Rain (who’s injected herself with some sort of parasite) takes on two large men hand to hand, breaking their bones while we get to see it in X-ray-vision, and Alice faces off against Jill. The fighting isn’t bad. It never is, in these movies. And as I’ve said before, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than watching Milla Jovovich punch and kick and shoot and spin upside down and generally laugh at the laws of physics, though she doesn’t laugh much in these films. It’s a funny thing about Jovovich as Alice: she gives the character just enough personality, but not enough to break the somber apocalyptic mood; she knows her function is to kick ass and look cool doing it, but isn’t afraid to look dorky taking heavy hits in slow motion. Audiences seem to like her, or at least accept her, as an action heroine in a way they won’t accept almost any other woman. At the same time, Alice is seldom if ever sexualized — she gives off more of a look-but-don’t-touch vibe. I could’ve done without the maternal stuff, which was old even when James Cameron did it 26 years ago, but Jovovich is possibly the affectless action heroine we deserve.

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