With Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Megan Charpentier, Li Bingbing. Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Rated R (for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use). 95 minutes.
In RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION, the fifth installment of the popular based-on-a-video-game series, Alice (Milla Jovovich) has an existential crisis where she has to explore the meaning of life. She goes on a religious quest seeking the answers to life’s greatest mysteries before finally having an epiphany that will leave audiences moved to tears. This is the most serious and philosophical film of the series.
Nah, I was just pulling your leg. Alice is back kicking butt and taking names, fighting villains and zombies and monsters. Within the first fifteen minutes, you’ll lose track of the body count, and for all the cleverness in repurposing characters who have been killed off in earlier installments, it doesn’t really change anything. You either enjoy an hour-and-a-half of buff female and male characters in tight, form-fitting outfits shooting at zombies and each other, or you don’t. It’s really that simple.
At one point Alice’s daughter, or perhaps it’s a clone, needs to be rescued, or perhaps Alice is the clone. In a scene reminiscent of the door warehouse in “Monsters, Inc.” we see just how many backups Umbrella has for all the main characters. A new addition to the cast is Bingbing Li, who takes over the role of Ada Wong. Instead of a tight leather outfit, she gets a red dress slit up one leg, but it’s okay. She also looks smashing and she also can handle herself in a fight.
Heading up the rescue team is Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), returning for more, while firmly on the side of Umbrella now is Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), whom we haven’t seen since the first film. So in many ways this is a reunion with writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson bringing in actors from across the series for Alice to either fight alongside or against. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen all the other films or even any of them. A cameo by Oded Fehr isn’t explained very much beyond some photos, but veterans of the series will get a kick out of seeing him. This is not one of those movies that is heavily dependent on viewers knowing what’s gone on previously.
It’s pointless to talk about the acting, as the characters lack any depth or real development. Indeed, the biggest acting job here may be their having to deliver the lines – or pretend they’re battling a zombie Russian army – with straight faces. While on screen, the cast all look like they believe in the material, which is no small accomplishment.
After all, what’s at stake? Well, let’s not give anything away, but it’s clear that “Resident Evil 6” is in the works for what might be the final showdown of the series. Or not. No one goes to these movies for the plots, depth of characterization or insights into the human condition. It’s about the eye candy: the CGI action, the monsters, and the babes and the beefcake strutting their stuff. If you were expecting anything else then check your ticket stub. You’ve probably walked into the wrong theater.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.