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: Extinction (2007)
by Steve Habrat
While the first Resident Evil film wasn’t high art, it still managed to do the impossible and give a good name to video game movies. It was a solidly made tribute to Night of the Living Dead while coating an industrial gloss over the action. Resident Evil: Apocalypse was certainly a step down from Resident Evil but you were still willing to sit through it until the end for all the zombie mayhem at its core. Now we have arrived at 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction, a western-esque rip off of George Romero’s 1985 zombie stunner Day of the Dead, George Miller’s 1979 action thriller Mad Max, and Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds. Unlikely to win over fans of any of the films I just listed, Resident Evil: Extinction finds the massively popular franchise running on fumes, with absolutely no clue how to push the story along into territory that is worthwhile. Like any good B-movie franchise, director Russell Mulcahy spends the first ten minutes of the film rehashing plot points that we are already familiar with and then spends the rest of the time sending wave after wave of genetically altered super zombies at our heroine Alice, who now seems to have more superpowers than she knows what to do with. Oh, and did I mention that the film isn’t scary at all?
After nuking Raccoon city at the end of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the dreaded Umbrella Corporation thought the T-virus was successfully wiped off the map. They were wrong. Apparently, the entire world has been consumed by the T-virus and nearly every man, woman, and child is now a shuffling, rotting corpse with a taste for human flesh. The few Umbrella big wigs that remain hide out in an underground bunker where they sit and debate about how to domesticate the endless sea of zombies above them. They look to Dr. Sam Isaacs (Played by Iain Glen) to figure out how to tame the creatures but he is preoccupied with creating an exact clone of former Umbrella employee Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), a one-woman army wandering the Nevada desert. Alice, meanwhile, is busy searching for uninfected when she stumbles upon Raccoon City survivors Carlos Olivera (Played by Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Played by Mike Epps), and Claire Redfield (Played by Ali Larter). The group joins forces with the immensely powerful Alice and together, they decide to head for Alaska, which is rumored to have a “safe zone.” As they set out on their journey, the Umbrella Corporation begins tracking them and they plan to unleash a few new mutant surprises on the group.
Free of its horror confines, Resident Evil: Extinction runs rampant with video game-style action and science fiction showdowns that certainly do make good eye candy but are vacant of any intelligence or point, for that matter. Mulcahy fills out the dead spots with scenes that have been borrow for other, better horror movies while also trying to figure out where all this action is heading. The group makes it as far as Las Vegas before Umbrella comes calling and introduces Alice to a few of its new amped up zombies that all dress exactly the same. It is here that the film slams on the breaks and then scrambles to mask the lack of a climax with a messy final showdown between Alice and, yes, another lumbering mutation. I’ll admit that the film does have few interesting scenes but these interesting sequences are fleeting or recycled. There is a suspenseful sequence that finds thousands of infected crows descending upon the group with Alice marching in at the last second to fight the little terrors off. As quickly as the scene begins, the action is over and we never see those pesky crows again. At least they looked cool while they lasted! Another scene finds Alice terrorized by a crew of bloodthirsty survivors who drop her into a pit to fight a handful of those pesky infected dogs from the first two films. Once again, the scene looks cool but it seems like those snarling beasts are just being recycled.
Then there are the performances, which all appear to have been phoned in or strictly for the paycheck. Jovovich is still her one note self with little progression in her character. She can apparently do anything and easily defeat any foe thrown her way, all of which has become tedious by this point. She just does it all in a new, revealing get-up, which allows the male viewer a chance to look down her shirt. Fehr’s Olivera is still the cookie cuter tough guy who appears to have some bottled up feelings for Alice. Oh, and apparently he is really craving a cigarette. Epps returns as L.J., who is only in on the action to remind us all that he is still alive. There is another faint love connection between him and Nurse Betty, who is played by R&B singer Ashanti (Note to Ashanti: stick to singing). Much like the crows and the love spark between Olivera and Alice, their relationship is fleeting and gone before we even noticed it was there. Larter completely sucks as the scowling Claire, who does a terrible job at commanding her group of warriors. She is simply standing in for the inexplicable absent Jill Valentine, who strutted her way through the second film. Also on board is Glen as Dr. Sam Isaacs, a demented scientist who is a second rate Dr. Logan from Day of the Dead.
There was one scene that I actually really enjoyed in Resident Evil: Extinction and that is the scene with Alice and company battling an army of super zombies created by the grinning Dr. Isaacs. It was a fun, mindless sequence that descends into a shrieking bloodbath. I also really liked the look of the decaying normal zombies, something I would have loved to have seen more of but sadly, they are just there to fill up the background. The rest of the film is the same old song and dance, just dressed in a duster rather than a barely-there red dress (and even THAT is still there). I was a blank slate of emotion when multiple main characters die off even though Mulcahy tries hard for emotional responses. The end battle did virtually nothing to set itself apart from the previous two end fight sequences. The only difference was this mutation has tentacles rather than a Gatling gun or a long tongue. Overall, it was crystal clear that the Resident Evil franchise had run its course and was in dire need of a break but when Hollywood has a hit on their hands, they milk that franchise until it is bone dry of creativity. I guess that is why this Resident Evil takes place in a dusty desert.
Resident Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.