Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
by Craig Thomas
I have a confession. The Resident Evil movies fascinate me. Now, I am not saying they are good. In fact, they are terrible in every single regard. Yet they are massive, massive hits. That shouldn’t be too surprising, seeing as they have an in-built and continually regenerating fan-base (the sixth installment of the computer game franchise came out this year). Even so, after four of the things you would have thought people would have caught on.
But I am part of the problem. I have seen all of them. Without doubt, each one should have been a nail in the career of Paul W. S. Anderson. In fact, they’re just the opposite, whatever that is symbolized by. Let me make it clear for those who don’t know:
He is a terrible film-maker.
By now you might have guessed that I do not like the work of Paul W. S. Anderson, or of the Resident Evil films. You would be correct. Yet I cannot look away. In fact, I go hunting them out, similar to the sexual deviants looking for car crashes in David Cronenberg’s brilliantly twisted adaptation of the J. G. Ballard novel, Crash. I am like that. But without the sexual deviancy, obviously.
If you have ever seen one of his films, you would know that, unlike his (not really) namesake, Paul Thomas Anderson, he does not know how to deal with actors. Whilst the latter can get a great performance of out pretty much anyone, getting someone to “phone it in” in Resident Evil would be something of an achievement.
But there is something about the Resident Evil franchise and the influence of Paul W. S. Anderson that makes the whole experience poisonous to the creative spirit. It’s bizarre, because at times it is less convincing than watching the CGI cut-scenes from when the game was first released back in 1996. It’s like he has tried to transpose directly from the game to the screen.
Perhaps it is all down to the writing, which is abhorrent. The dialogue is clunky and patronizing, and everything in the relatively straight-forward plot is explained, often twice. PWSA has written all five of them, but directed only three, so it would seem this to be the most common factor. But having written and directed Resident Evil: Retribution, all the blame falls on him.
So having seen the fifth one, is there any difference between it and the others? In a word, no. The dialogue is awful and the acting is worse. The story is stupid and the characters are unbelievable.
In this particular installment they are trapped in an old Soviet submarine base which has been modified by the evil Umbrella Corporation. Thanks to the miracle of cloning, all the old characters return, though not necessarily with the same personalities. The rest of the plot is pretty much just an excuse for jumping, shooting and generally blowing stuff up. The film basically takes the plot full circle, back to the first installment, but this time on a global scale.
It is remarkable how after five films, nothing has improved. Not a single thing. It isn’t even so-bad-its-good awful, it is just plain awful. Yet I cannot stop watching to see how ridiculous it is going to get. By the end of the franchise I think I am going to use up the global supply of exasperation.
I think the best thing about the whole franchise is the fact that each film ends on a cliff-hanger, which is a cheap way to get you excited about the next one, and there is always a next one. But it kind of becomes like at the end of a TV series, which you watch out of habit just to see what happens, rather than gaining any enjoyment out of it.
“What’s the second best thing about the franchise?” I hear you ask. It’s brevity. They all last about 90 minutes, which is just about long enough for them to not outstay their welcome. I think this is part of the reason for their success and part of the reason I can tolerate this nonsense. This is supported by the fact that I am physically incapable of sitting through one of the Michael Bay monstrosities that regularly push the three hour mark.
But for everything, the biggest crime committed here is that the idea itself is not a bad one. I like to see sexy women killing hideous monsters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as much as the next guy (ie a lot), but having it done in such a relentlessly awful manner really spoils an opportunity to do something interesting and entertaining and profitable. They have just gone for profitable.
So yeah, if you’ve seen any of the others then you already know whether or not you will like this one. As for me, despite everything, I can’t wait until the next one, sadly.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
by Steve Habrat
In case the cramped zombie/mutant terror of 2002’s Resident Evil left you wanting more action, then you should immediately seek out 2004’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Lacking the suspense and the chilling build up that the first film had, Resident Evil: Apocalypse hits the ground sprinting and launches into one long and very loud continuous action scene. A step down in nearly every department, Resident Evil: Apocalypse seems like a fans-only party that plays more like a video game that in its predecessor did. The film has the small group of survivors dodging and darting around a city where zombies stumble through fiery wreckage, Lickers crawl around gothic cathedrals, and a gigantic final boss called Nemesis prowls the streets while firing a rocket launcher at anything that moves a muscle. Where can I find a controller? The film also does a poor job fleshing out the new characters while its evolution of Alice, the gal who shot and kicked her way through the Hive in a little red dress, seems just too phony for us to buy. It’s pedestrian action that even lacks the annoying but memorable score from Marilyn Manson. Well, at least it has a whole bunch of zombies who are really, really hungry.
Just 13 short hours after the initial T-virus outbreak in the Hive, the sinister Umbrella Corporation sends a team of researchers in to reopen the Hive. Naturally, it is a huge mistake and swarms of the undead come stumbling out and kill of the team. In response to the outbreak, Umbrella quickly quarantines the city and begins a hasty evacuation of its highest-ranking employees. One of these employees is Dr. Charles Ashford (Played by Jared Harris), who has a daughter that gets stuck inside the walled off city. As panic rips the city to shreds and the citizens turn into mindless cannibals, Umbrella decides that they are going to nuke the city. With time quickly running out, Dr. Ashford finds Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), a former employee of Umbrella who is still inside the city. He explains that if Alice can find his daughter, than he will arrange for her to be evacuated from the city. In her search, Alice stumbles upon STARS solider Carlos Olivera (Played by Oded Fehr), police officer Jill Valentine (Played by Sienna Guillory), Sergeant Peyton Wells (Played by Razaaq Adoti), and surviving citizen L.J. (Played by Mike Epps), who all agree to help her battle the endless waves of the undead. The mission gets even more dangerous when Umbrella sends in Nemesis, a mutant super soldier that is seemingly indestructible.
With more special effects, more explosions, and more of Jovovich’s bare chest, Resident Evil: Apocalypse certainly has plenty of eye candy for males between the age of 17 and 30, but the story, if you can believe it, has been extremely watered down even more than it already was. The plot is pretty feeble and seems like it was thought up in a hurry, just to quickly crank the film out so the studio could cash in on the popularity. The film is never very scary and it has only a handful of white-knuckle moments to speak of. In a way, you will find yourself wishing that Paul W.S. Anderson would step in (if you can believe it) and relive new director Alexander Witt, who just seems to be going through the blockbuster motions. Witt isn’t a very interesting director, opting to make things visually stimulating through blurry shots of zombies shuffling up stairways or through windows or low angle shots of characters firing Gatling guns. There is small amount of fun to be had, mostly because the film is padded with infinite amounts of brainless and completely nonsensical action. There is one scene after another of Alice running away from trigger-happy helicopters, jumping through the air with two pistols in her hands, and crashing motorcycles through church windows. It’s wanton destruction just for the sake of destruction.
While the acting in Resident Evil wasn’t anything to write home about, it still fared better than the acting of Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Jovovich is still the tough cookie she was in the first film but with far less personality here. All Witt asks of her is that she be game to flip through the air and fire a couple of machine guns. Guillory’s Valentine struts around in a tube top and posing like she is Victoria Beckham. She is supposed to be a no-nonsense cop but she is rather forgettable version of Lara Croft in a high tech metropolis. Fehr plays the clichéd tough guy commando by the books, doing virtually nothing different with the character he signed on to play. Meanwhile, Mike Epps has a blast wisecracking his way through the role of L.J. He is here to lighten the tension but there is very little tension so he to be found so he just seems out of place. Still, he gets the film’s best one-liners and his encounter with a pair of topless stripper zombies will have you giggling. Jared Harris manages to get by as Dr. Ashford, a character that is largely ignored and there simply to move the poor excuse for a plot along to the next battle scene. Adoti drops in as Wells, a character that is only here to be zombie bait. Also on board is Thomas Kretschmann as Major Tom Cain, an evil Umbrella employee who forces Alice to do battle with Nemesis for his own enjoyment.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse does have some pretty impressive special effects and I have to say that some of the detail on Nemesis is pretty darn dazzling. Granted, the character just walks around and growls but he does make an impression by just stepping on the scene. Sadly, I found the way that they worked him into the action to be pretty pathetic, as he has nothing really to do except hunt down STARS officers and fight a genetically altered Alice. The zombie mayhem is still pretty fun and there are plenty of moments where the ghouls get to viciously rip some human flesh from the bone. I especially enjoyed the scene where Alice and company cut through a graveyard and zombies begin crawling their way out of the ground. It’s a pure B-movie moment but I couldn’t help but wonder if they use coffins in Raccoon city (apparently not). If you happen to be a big fan of the Resident Evil video game franchise, you’re going to love this movie. It’s apparent that Witt is determined to cram in as many characters and references from the game that he can. While I am not a die-hard fan of Resident Evil, I will still give him credit for trying to deliver for the ones who adore these characters and plots, but I wish that they wouldn’t have just thrown characters and plots in for the sake of doing it. Overall, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a pretty mixed bag of solid zombie carnage, B-movie action, and artificial thrills that are used up before the end credits. Video game controller not included.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Resident Evil (2002)
by Steve Habrat
Don’t hate me for telling you this, but I actually sort of enjoy Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 big screen adaptation of Resident Evil. Based upon the wildly popular Capcom horror/shooter video game, Resident Evil is a surprisingly entertaining and slightly creepy Night of the Living Dead for Mountain Dew fanatics and die-hard Alien fans. With plenty of guns, zombies, entrails, explosions, and chicks with barely any clothing, Resident Evil is a total guy flick that doesn’t ask too much of the viewer, only that you have a good time and don’t hate yourself in the morning for it. In a way, that is the main problem with Resident Evil, that it doesn’t think too highly of its target audience. Resident Evil has plenty to work with within its sinister corporation premise but it happily ignores this for an hour and forty minutes. It relentlessly misses opportunities to make heady comments about how big corporations deviously enslave us, but instead, it would rather show you Milla Jovovich nude or a zombie get its head blow to smithereens. I guess the blood and flesh show is more fun than the one that makes us think. But what did you expect from a movie that is based on a video game?
Welcome to Raccoon City, a futuristic metropolis that is controlled by the Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical and houseware company that is also secretly developing a slew of biological weapons underneath the city. This underground development facility is called the Hive and it is here that a thief has infiltrated the seemingly impenetrable facility and unleashed the mysterious T-virus. In response to the contamination, the facility’s artificial intelligence, the Red Queen, quickly begins trying to quarantine the virus and kill off all the Hive employees who were exposed to the virus. Just hours after the slaughter, the Umbrella Corporation sends down a small team of commandos led by James “One” Shade (Played by Colin Salmon) and Rain Ocampo (Played by Michelle Rodriguez) to investigate. Along the way, these commandos meet up with amnesiacs Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), Spence (Played by James Purefoy), and suspicious cop Matt (Played by Eric Mabius). As the group pushes further into the ravaged underground facility, they begin to be attacked by endless swarms of undead drones that crave human flesh. As the group’s battle to stay alive becomes more and more desperate, the undead ghouls stalking them through the tunnels turn out to be the least of their worries.
Director Anderson uses Resident Evil to make a surprisingly effective nod to George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. Interestingly enough, Romero was originally approached to make the film but he left the project due to creative differences. Anderson, however, keeps the film’s scope small, with swarms of ghouls attacking in narrow hallways and trashed offices, which heightens the terror to nearly unbearable levels. Things really get spooky when the group seals themselves into a computer room as the ghouls bang on the doors around them. He also has the sense to slowly build up to the first zombie attack with plenty of squirm-inducing suspense. Then he boldly kills off half the macho characters to make room for two seriously tough gals who pack mean drop kicks. Despite some iffy performances from the B-squad of actors, Resident Evil manages to really make an ominous impression in its first forty minutes. Sadly, once Anderson nudges the zombies to the side and unleashes the hulking mutant experiment nicknamed “The Licker”, things begin to spin wildly out of control. Anderson then piles on tons of poor CGI and disordered action that completely demolishes the smart touches he applied at the beginning of the film. You’ll reluctantly give in to his overkill and just go with the flow as the fake blood relentlessly splashes across the screen.
Another shock that comes out of Resident Evil is the fact that, while it may not be Oscar worthy, the acting is still surprisingly decent for a movie based on a video game. Jovovich is easily the best as the tough-as-nails amnesiac Alice, a chick who can throw down with the best of them. Anderson spends more time trying to photograph her bare breasts than he does focusing on the performance in front of him but Jovovich comes out of the project okay. Rodriguez plays the same role she always plays, a badass with her face scrunched up into a testy grimace. Salmon gets to channel Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones but he looks like a sissy compared to Jovovich and Rodriguez. Purefoy is pretty stiff and is basically asked to just play worried before a last act character twist that has him sparking to life. Mabius is severely inconsistent the entire time, which is a shame because his character is one that is front and center. Another standout is Martin Crewes as Kaplan, a spooked computer expert who is exceptional at conveying the sickened I-didn’t-sign-up-for-this face when the zombies stumble out of the dark.
To match Resident Evil’s industrial horror aesthetic, Anderson enlisted shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, to compose the score for the film. With the help of Marco Beltrami, Manson delivers a burst of moody synths, shrill drumming, and bawling guitars that would sound much better in a headphones than in a Hollywood motion picture. At times, the score is unbelievably distracting, removing us from the moment and drowning out what little story there actually is. Still, Manson manages to compliment this industrial rot of the set quite well so I suppose he succeeds. Anderson also makes some questionable choices in the editing department, preferring to cut away just when the action was getting good. For the zombie fans out there, the ghouls are perfectly modest, just looking dead enough without getting carried away. There are not tons of elaborate wounds on every single zombie that stumbles in front of the camera but there are a few injuries that you will remember. The rest of the action is exactly what you would expect from an action film made in the wake of The Matrix, with multiple slow motion shots of the gals flipping through the air. Overall, Resident Evil’s first half is much stronger than its second half, but the film as a whole is a solid horror distraction that ranks as one of the better video-game-to-film adaptations out there.
Resident Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.