Ever since the rabbit-season/duck-season, push-me-kill-you montage that kicked off Resident Evil: Afterlife, series creator Paul W.S. Anderson has thrown onto the field whatever flag is supposed to indicate that he harbors no illusions that the series will ever again reacquire linearity—assuming it ever had it to begin with. Only a few values seem to concern Anderson: endless pleasure through endless bone-crunching mayhem, balletic ass-kicking, abstract visual design, and photographing his wife and muse, the always extraordinary Milla Jovovich.
That’s why Resident Evil: Retribution brooks no dissent regarding its innate pointlessness. These people, these last remnants of humanity, are never going to catch a break from the all-consuming apocalypse, or the Umbrella Corporation that ignited the end of days—no more, anyway, than Wile E. Coyote or Doctor Doofenshmirtz are ever going to be able to quit the Road Runner or Perry the Platypus, respectively. Like the new self-aware-computer-controlled Umbrella, the series is now self-powered, and its spiral momentum is perpetual.
This necrotically beautiful film, shot with the Red Epic camera and edited with nimble grace by Anderson’s regular cutter, Niven Howie, opens by walking backward through the sea-air massacre that must have followed the last installment’s cliffhanger. This sequence and the two that follow indicate nothing less than a willful break from correct Hollywood storytelling and audience-pampering protocol: Alice is a witless suburban homemaker living the identical zombiepocalypse that kicked off Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake; and Alice is a tissue-clad detainee, tormented by an omniscient Umbrella henchwoman. At times, this long, three-stage passage, which is either wordless, or its dialogue consists of trifles or mesmerized repetitions, exudes a kind of anti-story hostility on the order of maladjusted Japanese master Seijun Suzuki (his Pistol Opera in particular).
Suzuki famously kept Nikkatsu president Kyusaku Hori in a state of perpetual exasperation, eventually to be fired precisely at the height of his ongoing punk war against every normative setting in Japanese narrative cinema. Anderson seems to be his own boss these days (and even if he isn’t, he works with smart budgets; Retribution‘s production cost is the equivalent of about 20 minutes of Avatar), and his movies feel, fittingly, very, very free.
All right, the script has to erect some kind of easy-bake premise, some foothold for the audience to grab onto. When it’s about halfway over, Anderson introduces a squad of gung-ho commandos on some vague mission to infiltrate Umbrella. In professional-wrestling parlance, old enemies have turned face, and old friends have turned heel. There’s a big bomb, a timer, and a large beastie with an eight-foot tongue. The script and select images loudly proclaim their inheritance from movies like Inception, Aliens, and The Matrix. But if Anderson is at all working from a master text, it’s got to be the series finale of Lost, with its madcap, oddly touching reunion of series regulars, past and present, the dead mingling with the living, connections vaguely re-forged or severed clean.
At this point in the franchise, Anderson is content to alight the saga on a perpetual rewind loop, ever-ending, ever-rebooting, all subsidized by his nonpareil compositional sense, and the good sense he has to quash his own dialogue (which, let’s not kid, he’s no Ibsen) with nonstop movement and fury. He’s cast aside even the pretense that closure is forthcoming, opting instead for the zombie world without end, forever and ever, amen. And who can blame him, when his conditions produce loving portraiture of death goddess Milla, and you’re never five minutes in any direction from a pitched battle between the immovable Alice and the irresistible army of the mutant undead?