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“Resident Evil” week – divine “Retribution”

Evil goes virtual, more like…

So it’s come to this – the fifth movie in the now absurdly contorted narrative Gordian Knot which is the “Resident Evil” series.

“Retribution”, for that is its subtitle, pitches heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) into possibly the most meta film in the sequence to date – to those glancing at it with disdain from the outside, this is a dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers franchise frippery, a tossed-off horror action mash-up with only nominal differences to distinguish it from the other movies in the series which they are only too happy to ignore.

To those of us in the know, this is possibly the world’s first example of cinematic downloadable content – a fan-service add-on which borrows from the business model of modern console gaming to provide cinema goers with an added value bolt-on to the series which doesn’t advance the storyline in any meaningful way save to pitch Alice into new, themed combat arenas, parachute beloved characters from the games like femme fatale Ada Wong into the film continuity and act as an amuse-bouche before the planned final entry in the franchise gets properly apocalyptic on our collective derrieres – the traditional, eye-popping final shot promises nothing more than a climactic battle to end them all.

Yes, that is a bloody ridiculous outfit. You can’t tell that these games/movies are made by horny nerds, can you?

The real issue which seems to have set the decaying, T-virus infected feline amongst the clueless avians is that apparently deliberate lack of story – whereas critics have set about previous “Resident Evil” movies for lacking purpose and eschewing plot to concentrate on high-octane fight sequences and explosions, there’s a very real sense with this entry in the series that writer/producer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has deliberately and knowingly jettisoned such niceties as narrative and characterisation to offer a curious cross-media construct which is neither game nor film – a flashy piece of entertainment which looks like a movie but has more in common with the connecting cinematic vignettes which bridge levels in contemporary video games.

For my part, as a gamer and somebody who loves movies, this latest Resi is a bold and cavalier acknowledgement that audiences experience narrative in a different way than our parents did – I find as much value and enjoyment in a brisk ten minute episode of a YouTube show as I would from slogging through 22 episodes of the latest network drama.  I know tropes, I can appreciate genre convention (and decode the subversion thereof) and I don’t need to have my entertainment framed in the kind of classical structures which many critics seem to require film makers to slavishly ape.

If nothing else, this latest instalment of the franchise fully embraces its source material (if only as a jumping off point) and is the most explicitly video game-inspired film that Paul W.S. Anderson and Jeremy Bolt have yet presented – watch this movie for more than ten minutes and you’ll be able to tick off the influences – Valve’s “Portal” and it’s test chamber structure presided over by a homicidal, female-identified A.I. is front and centre, with a hilariously prolonged ‘rugged heroes vs. soldier zombies’ gun battle in one level scene being utterly synonymous with the ‘Nazi Zombies‘ sub-games from the last few “Call of Duty” games.

It must almost have come as a relief for the film school crit-crowd to have a major plot line in the film blatantly lift the ‘Ripley/Newt’ surrogate mother riffs from James Cameron‘s “Aliens” – at least there’s something to aim their hipster scorn at which doesn’t require a degree in survival horror continuity and recent video game history to appreciate.

Yep, just your everyday tale of post-apocalyptic, V.R. training simulations and massed clone armies…

A word, if we can, on the use of 3D in this film – Anderson’s third consecutive feature to be shot using the Cameron/Pace rigs and certainly the most technically accomplished utilisation of the technology that I’ve seen outside of “Avatar”.  As this is a sci-fi/horror/action flick, there’s the requisite number of “Look! An axe flying at your head!” camera shots and mutant undead beasts leering into the front row but Anderson and Director of Photography Glen MacPherson manage to do some interesting things with perspective – Alice’s Umbrella prison cell, and the use of space in the frame are as diverting as the showier stuff and the New York level/sequence has neat perspective use to justify the price premium inherent in seeing a 3D (or IMAX 3D, for my sins) presentation.  And that’s before mentioning the stunning reverse/slo-mo/3D opening sequence – it makes arguably not a lick of sense in the great scheme of things, but it’s very pretty indeed.

Such is the full-tilt insanity of this fifth movie that it’s hard to know how Anderson could hope to top the constant barrage of action, cheap jump scares, fan-serving cameos, 3D eye-candy and zombie-punching ass-kickery that “Retribution” serves up unless he aims to abandon formal cinematic structure altogether and frames the next flick as an uninterrupted, ninety-minute long battle sequence against the undead harbingers of the apocalypse with only minimal dialogue and plot sketching to guide the uninitiated along.

That crazy disregard for convention extends to the acting – is Bingbing Li channelling her character’s voice acting from the games or is she really that wooden (I’d say not – she was perfectly fine in the Jackie Chan kids adventure, The Forbidden Kingdom)?  Returning “R.E. Apocalypse” alumnus Sienna Guillory is similarly…variable in her return to the series as Jill Valentine – she’s playing a character under mind-control, which does give her something of a pass, but her villainous turn here suggests less a ultra bad-assed warrior chick and more of homicidal sixth-form prefect who can somehow kill you with a flick of her pinky:  Dem line readings, kids – something to treasure if you see this film on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The last, apocalyptic and seemingly unending shot in the movie promises much – let’s see if Anderson can keep up his end of the bargain and deliver the movie which perhaps gives us the full-on, sense-assaulting future war epic that, say,  the “Terminator” franchise has long promised audiences but significantly failed to deliver.  Who knows?  On the evidence of this most video-game inspired entry in the series, the next “Resi” might just come with Quick-Time Event prompts on-screen and an Xbox 360 joypad free with your 3D glasses.

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“Resident Evil” week – it’s a wonderful “Afterlife”…

Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.

Paul W.S. Anderson returned to the director’s chair for Resident Evil: Afterlife after being content to write and produce the previous two sequels and nudged the film further away from its video game roots towards what we now see in the on-release Resident Evil: Retribution – an increasingly, unashamed, utterly bonkers sci-fi/action/horror soap opera designed for nerds, with such a dizzying level of reinvention and revisionist, retrospective continuity that most casual viewers will be happy for the help of the ‘previously on Resident Evil’ info dump which opens “Retribution”.

Rain-soaked, 3D-enhanced, action heroine posing for the win!

But I’m getting ahead of myself – what can we say about “Afterlife”?

The film follows on directly from the end of “Resident Evil: Extinction”, with Alice and her army of Project Alice clones heading to Umbrella Corporation  HQ in Tokyo to remonstrate aggressively with evil corporate bad egg and series kingpin Albert Wesker via the medium of exploding, shooting and stabbing anything with a pulse and obliterating anybody left with a psionic shockwave that vaporizes Humvees and concrete superstructure alike.  It’s a zero tolerance of Umbrella Corporation thing – you’ve got to understand…

Given that this is the beginning of the film and Paul W.S. Anderson wouldn’t be so avant-garde as to end the film so abruptly, Alice’s best laid plan fails and Wesker manages to escape by helicopter, remotely purging the Tokyo Umbrella facility in a nuclear shock-wave via some handy Sony tablet jiggery-pokery (If you’re playing the “Resident Evil” movie drinking game, the blithe product placement should ensure that you must down a shot or two right about now).

After the kind of on-board fight that only happens in action flicks and that’s assisted greatly by autopilot, Alice is sent back to the beginning of the level outset of the classical heroine’s journey by having her previously overpowered abilities stolen by Wesker, neatly circumventing the criticism of the series and the character – that she was, by this point, so ludicrously overpowered that no bad guy or monster henchman could stand against her without being beaten down like (SPOILER!) dear old Loki in the Avengers movie.

My name is Alice – taste Katana death!  Image via Hundlund.org

Not that you’d notice that her powers have disappeared – by the time that the plot takes us to the ruined wasteland that was Los Angeles, Alice is doing quite nicely thank you very much without any extraneous super-powers, taking the smack-down to the undead and related monster cohorts in a fashion which suggests that either A) Alice is so bonded to the T-Virus that it can’t be removed from her or B) that an Alice who can’t leap up into the air and kick 12 foot tall super mutants in the face is not exactly what the fan base are crying out for and so that plot development was almost immediately forgotten about.

A brief sojourn flying around scenic British Columbia for survivors reunites Alice with Claire Redfield – last seen escaping zombie-strewn Las Vegas via helicopter – and sets her heading to California and into this instalment’s monster showdown when glorious, oblivious Andersonian plotting sees our heroines encountering a small band of archetypes who’ve holed up in the most secure building that they could find – a high security prison.

One of the incumbents?  Claire’s brother, Chris (a, shall we say, more prosperous-looking Wentworth Miller, late of TV’s “Prison Break”), who is assaying the role of mysterious inmate so dangerous that he’s locked up in a Hannibal Lecter-esque, super- max security cell.  Anybody with knowledge of the games knows that Chris is basically on the side of the angels, but this is the Anderson/Evil universe and so some temporary ambiguity is required.

Normal service is resumed when we establish that Chris is a good guy but has difficulty in convincing Claire that they’re related as she’s suffering the effects of temporary amnesia – an Umbrella mind-controlling device having robbed Redfield junior of much of her memory (see what I mean about the ‘Soap Opera for Nerds’ thing?) and making her slightly untrusting of the prison’s denizens – a motley assemblage which includes former NBA star Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) and a supremely evil Hollywood producer (the delightful, endlessly watchable Kim Coates, whose slicky, slimy villainy improves most flicks by around 10%).

It’s a poor murderous biohazard psychopath who blames his tools…

The tension inside the prison is soon thrown into relief by a zombie incursion, led by the aforementioned, hitherto (and subsequently) unmentioned Executioner – a proverbial brick-outhouse of a mutant of some ten feet in height and infinite bulk, who carries with him a battle axe-hammer the size of a compact car.  If he appears to be something of a non-sequitur amidst the ineffectual zombie shamblers which constitute the bulk of this film’s antagonists, he actually originates from the “Resident Evil 5” game, in which he takes on Chris Redfield and partner Sheva in Africa and won his big-screen appearance because Paul W.S. Anderson knows the elements comprising a showy set-piece when he sees them.

Cue the signature battle in the movie – Claire and Alice smacking down the Executioner in the Prison shower block, with broken water faucets dispensing cinematic rain and normal speed cranked down super low to make everything appear ludicrously cinematic and awesome.  Entertaining enough in 2D on Blu-Ray in hi-def, absolutely deliriously batty in 3D at the cinema, with water pouring around your head and Alice’s shotgun blasts of coin-shot (don’t ask) pinging you in the face.  Everything else in the film seems like an anti-climax after this orgy of ass-kicking, tech-worship and shamelessly iconic heroine posing.

Achievement Unlocked: Badass Super Pose Edition

Of course, things aren’t over yet.  The assembled survivors get out of the dodge when the prison is overrun by zombie hordes and make for the Arcadia – a trawler ship off the coast promising freedom from infection and shelter which has been broadcasting messages throughout the film.  With the inevitability of a zombie mode in a new “Call of Duty” game, the utopia offered by Arcadia is a sham and an Umbrella trap set by Wesker – looking surprisingly healthy despite apparently burning to death in the wreckage of the helicopter crash at the beginning of the film and now bonded with a strain of the T-Virus which makes him super-strong, possessed of mutant powers and apparently dressed by the costumers of the “Matrix” trilogy.

Cue an extended Alice/Wesker smack-down, which is really pretty goofy and honestly, just marking time until we get to the signature big reveal /final shot of the film – Alice, Claire, Chris and assorted survivors on top of the trawler looking out to sea as an endless wave of Umbrella shock troops arrive to set up the next movie.  And they’ve got a cyber-arachnid brooch-wearing, mind-controlled Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) in charge.

Who doesn’t wear tights and a purple leotard when they’re heading into battle with a bunch of faceless shock troopers?

Gulp.

The impressive commitment to providing delicious, absurd, thrilling insanity demonstrated by the previous entries in the “Resident Evil” sequence is more than upheld by Anderson’s directorial return to the films.  Fans of the games by now should now to stay away – this is not, if it ever was, the “R.E.” that they love – it’s a sci-fi/action mash-up which uses horror tropes as punctuation, rather than as the underpinning of the film and gets by on flinging set-pieces and minimal plot-stitching to move events along.

Milla Jovovich is impressively commanding in the lead, adding some colours to the action heroine template she’s developed over four movies – there’s a convincing moment early on in her video diary where she seems to voice the opinion of many a critic, expressing weariness at the road she’s on and wondering if there’s ever going to be respite from Umbrella’s attempts to enslave her or wipe her out entirely.

New addition Wentworth Miller is fine, but he’s so unlike the video game Chris that you have to raise an eyebrow as to his casting – steroid-munching, two-sizes-too-small-t-shirt wearing frequent bromance artist he most certainly isn’t.  If his casting was an attempt to inject wholly unnecessary realism into proceedings, I’m not entirely sure that it was necessary – I really enjoyed him on TV, but he doesn’t really get a lot to do except be eclipsed by the Alice and Claire team.  Even new character Luther West seems to get more screen time.

To sum up – lots of action, bonkers plotting, slow-motion fights so prevalent that they make the work of Zack Snyder seem like an exercise in uptight cinematic formalism, frequent action posing, a villain so camp that he makes Mike Myers’ Dr Evil look like the protagonist of a Christopher Nolan flick and bountiful, gleeful 3D shot composition which justifies the format and which really looks goofy in 2D.

“Resident Evil: Afterlife” is possibly my favourite entry in the series.  Or is it..?

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“Resident Evil” – one film series, hundreds of dead(er) zombies, multiple opinions…

Regular readers of this blog will doubtless be aware of – and lamenting quite a bit by now – my inexcusable “Resident Evil” film fandom.

Massive, hugely absurd set-pieces wholly at odds with the original video games? Don’t mind if I do!

Given that it’s nearly September, I must forewarn the thus concerned that I may be posting a fair bit of guff and balderdash concerning the popular Paul W.S. Anderson shepherded film series. as the fifth entry “Retribution” will be in cinemas in the US on September 14 and in the UK a week later.  Expect much discussion of the heretofore hidden, unexplored nuances and deeply coded meanings inherent in the subtext of Mr Anderson’s bitchin’ Zombie smash-em-ups.  Or, like, reviews of the previous movies and junk.

Those of you likely to gag at the numerous ways in which this series of films has messed with the continuity of the games and the universe therein may wish to skip the odd post or two – I’ll try to make them obvious enough for you to be able to do that.

How we started, back in 2002 – when Marilyn Manson did the soundtrack and Michelle Rodriguez’ character popped her clogs for the first time…

Truth be told, the films and games began an inevitable process of divergence before the first movie was released ten years ago – other than the presence of the Umbrella Corporation‘s proverbial moustache-twirling villainy at the decaying heart of each plot twist, there’s been precious little to link the two cross-media properties, save for director/producer Anderson’s propensity to cut-and-paste in elements from the games which particularly tickle his fancy (uber-bad guy Arnold Wesker, Jill Valentine, Lickers and the like).

It’s this going-off-script, cavalier disregard for canon which seems to upset fans of the games so much – the “Resi” flicks would be an otherwise easy-to-ignore sequence of sci-fi/horror mash-ups , were they not performing double duty by offending fans of video games and the long-lived Capcom franchise – why does their pioneering survival horror video game sequence have to bear the unfair burden of being the poster child (in the eyes of critics) for mediocre ‘games-to-films’ adaptations?  And where’s their George A. Romero directed version of the first movie, more to the point?

I strongly suspect that your prospective enjoyment of the series is in inverse proportion to your love of genre fare in general – if you have an uncritical love of things that go ‘Boom!’ and ‘Aarggh!’ in the night, this franchise is almost certainly up your zombie-infested alley.  If you love Bela Tarr, however, the rather more rudimentary pleasures of a Paul Anderson genre flick are almost certainly going to be denied to you.

As an object lesson in seeing how audience and critical reactions diverge on films, take a look at the professional critical response and the general public’s take on “Resident Evil”.  What I take away from those responses, other than that film critics can write and the general public has some way to go in attaining that goal, is that people don’t go to these films for the same reasons.

It’s enough for many viewers to have familiar horror tropes, action set pieces, characterisation and even plotting in place when they see a film like this one – they neither want nor expect an entry in this series to deliver anything more than uncomplicated fun and the odd jump-scare.  Critics, meanwhile, seemingly have to take a jab at video games in the body of their review – perhaps on the basis that they view them as low art and incapable of conveying anything worthwhile to an intelligent viewer or because they are aware that their reviews are being read by an ageing audience who hold the same prejudices about the medium and adaptations thereof as they do.

Milla Jovovich’s Reddit “AMA” appearance didn’t end well…

Those without knowledge of a subject matter presuming to publicly critique something in the full knowledge that they won’t have to answer criticism about it – what a marvellously tenable position from which to offer an informed opinion to an audience who will presumably take you seriously.

Expect more musings on the undead, Alice’s questionable Zombie-slaying attire, the confusing web of insanity which is the ongoing series’ plotline and the “Resident” iterations thus far in the weeks to come…

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“Resident Evil: Retribution” new image, teaser poster and release date

So, it's a low-key, period costume piece, then?

The internets, they keep on giving.

Over on the “Resident Evil” movie Facebook page, there’s a link to this delightful teaser poster for this year’s “Retribution” sequel.  Everything’s gone all Mayan, you might say.

If you’re keeping score, it’s the fifth movie in the Paul Anderson/Milla Jovovich series of game-to-film adaptations and as the last movie – “Afterlife” – was the highest grossing entry in the franchise, it’s hard to see how the September 14th release of this latest film will be anything other than a hit – the fans of the games bitch about the diversions from the game storyline and still buy tickets, the critic’s reviews are (let’s be candid) quite beside the point and at the end of the week, I can think of no more enjoyable experience than heading to the cinema to see Milla Jovovich kicking zombies in the head.

This is the part where Milla negotiates nicely with the zombie horde, yes?

Well, it would be even better if it wasn’t in 3D, but I’m going to lose that battle, so why fight it in the first place?   Stupid glasses it is.

Everybody look at me/'Cause I'm sailing on a boat...

And September 14th, by the way, seems to be the release date for the UK and US – our friends in Australia and New Zealand have to wait until October for the film, which seems desperately unfair or a rare mercy, depending on how you see things.

Isn’t the digital age supposed to bring an end to this idea of stupidly staggered release dates?  Can’t we all share the guilty pleasure awesome at the same time?

 

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“Resident Evil: Retribution” gets a teaser trailer…Now with screencaps!

The folk at Sony’s genre label, Screen Gems, know their audience.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's "Mama Mia 2"...

We’re not bothered by review embargoes, lousy reviews or any of that stuff.  We want genre, we want it made by reasonably competent film makers and, if possible, headlined by actresses who look barely capable of picking up their dry cleaning without an entourage in tow, let alone in kicking the snot out of zombies, were-beasts and toothsome Euro Trash.

Accordingly, Screen Gems have chosen this Friday’s release of “Underworld: Awakening” to debut the trailer for this autumn’s fifth (count ’em) entry in the remarkably resilient “Resident Evil” sequence of action horror movies, “Resident Evil: Retribution”.

And – it’s a doozy.

No, you're not imagining things. This is how the trailer begins.

Beginning with the most absurd piece of product placement since the last Bond movie, the trailer for Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest has nearly thirty seconds of smiling, pretty people speaking to camera for some kind of infomercial, each one of them happily  brandishing some piece of Sony home electronics consumer tech which defines their oh-so-photogenic lifestyles.

Look, a PS Vita! What does this have to do with "Resi", again?

How very nice and synergistic.

That'll be Ada Wong's introduction into the films, then.

This surreal advertorial abruptly shifts into a scene of utterly razor-toothed mayhem, as Milla Jovovich pops up on top of a besieged White House, and a sizzle reel ensues.  Massive mutant creatures chasing a vehicle,  a fleet of armed heli-gunships, surprise returning characters, new global locations and lots of the utterly insane action which has become this series’ defining characteristic.

My name's Alice. And I remember everything. Or nothing. Possibly some Kung Fu.

Physics?  Plausibility? A pox on ye!

And then EVERYTHING exploded...

There’s some kind of correlation to be drawn between the reviews for these movies – try to find a critic who likes them – and their ever-increasing success at the global box office.  Like the similarly critically reviled “Fast and Furious” movies, the opinions of the critical establishment have no bearing on the audience paying their money to go to see each film, as each film makes a ton of money and begets another sequel in another two years or so, in some strange parody of the way that the movie business is supposed to work.

Mr Wesker respects your critical view of his film. Please now allow his Zombie Rotweillers to eat you. Have a nice day.

A movie series based on a video game sequence acting as an agent of unpredictable agitation in a staid entertainment sector and making up new rules on the fly?  Stranger things have happened.

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