“Resident Evil: Retribution” marks the fifth movie spun out of the popular videogame franchise, and after this many installments, it’s easy to understand why Milla Jovovich’s beleaguered, butt-kicking heroine, Alice, would want payback. Director and series creative shepherd Paul W.S. Anderson lays it out for us with his hyperedited answer to those comic book recaps of “the story so far”: Alice worked for the all-powerful Umbrella Corporation. That is, until the company inadvertently released a zombie virus, and tossed her out with the collateral-damage trash.
When Alice proved immune to the virus, Umbrella experimented on her, cloned her, gave her superpowers, and then stripped them away. This time out, they blast her off a tanker first thing (flashback footage shown in reverse, in Anderson's one inspired 3-D flourish). Yep, pretty shabby treatment.
Funny about retribution, though — it’s a tricky thing to make time for when you’ve still got mutant zombie hordes after you. The real premise turns out to be a busy rehash of the first movie’s story line, with Alice trying to escape an Umbrella test lab before the facility’s malignant AI computer snuffs her and her shifting cast of allies. (The casting feels like the sci-fi answer to “Fast Five,” as the movie unites series alums Michelle Rodriguez, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, and others. Chinese actress Li Bingbing is among the newbies.)
Anderson’s nominal tweak is that the massive complex, dubbed “the Testing Floor,” contains mock-ups of Times Square, Red Square, Tokyo’s Shibuya Square, and, uh, “Suburbia” — perfect for helping Umbrella client nations picture how they might attack each other. Kind of handy for filmmakers looking to repackage monotonous gamer mayhem, too.
Anderson does toss in some meatier ideas. He explains what the whole creepy cloning mystery has been about, and uses the device to have Jovovich and Rodriguez play what amount to dual roles — a half-respite, anyway, from all the wooden acting on display. He also gets into a bit of ethical musing: What’s the value of an artificial life? How about when it’s a little girl? You’d think Anderson would take more time with these less familiar bits. Who knows, after five movies, even gamers might be inclined to go along.