Tag Archives: Umbrella Corporation

“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.

Related articles

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Films, Gaming, Geekery

“Resident Evil” week – Alice? What’s The Matter?

Milla Jovovich, as Alice the heroine of the “Resident Evil” series

Her name is Alice.  And she remembers everything.

Huzzah! There’s a new “Resident Evil” film – “Retribution” – out in the UK later this week and I, for one, can’t wait to see Milla Jovovich’s one-woman crusade against the rights of undead Americans go global and take the fight overseas (sort of).

To give advanced warning In honour of this imminent release, I’m going to be watching the previous instalments in the series and bringing you up to date with a layperson’s guide to all things  Alice, The Umbrella Corporation and Z-word related.  Expect confusion, rampant Mary Sueism and all kinds of chin-stroking retcon action to carry the day and for your humble blogger to not care a jot – I love these splendid B-movies and will be happy to tell you all about them.

Mashing the undead whilst remaining fabulous, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez.

The initial salvo in the film series opened in spring 2002 and adapted Capcom’s enduringly popular series of survival horror video games – the latest of which, “Resident Evil 6“, comes to consoles in the first week of October –  into a cinematic horror franchise under the direction of British genre film-maker Paul W.S. Anderson (who is definitely not to be confused with serially grumpy “Boogie Nights”/“Magnolia”/“There Will Be Blood” art house fave, Paul Thomas Anderson).

Fans of the games had long campaigned for genuine Horror legend George A. Romero to occupy the director’s chair and were less than delighted by publisher Capcom rejecting Romero’s screenplay out of hand and placing the project in the cheaper, all together schlockier mitts of the “Mortal Kombat”/“Event Horizon” director.  In retrospect, it all worked out for the best, as despite critical reaction which runs the gamut from eye-rolling disdain to snarky dismissal, the film series has proved enduringly popular with audiences, financially successful and spun-off direct-to-video CG movies which are arguably more faithful to the games than the Anderson movies have ever managed to be.

The first film introduces us to a near-future world where the omnipresent Apple Umbrella Corporation quietly exert financial and political dominion in the United States by providing computing, medical technology and health care services to its populace (all the while actually turning a profit by manufacturing biological weapons and engaging in genetic research).  The catastrophic release of a sample of Umbrella’s T-Virus bio-weapon causes their underground, A.I.-controlled facility  The Hive to go into forced lock down and kill every member of staff present in order to contain the outbreak.

Cue the introduction of series heroine, Alice, as played by Milla Jovovich as a combination of bad-ass action heroine and this-close-to-losing-it “America’s Next Top Model” contestant.  When we first encounter Alice, she’s in the buff, has inconveniently misplaced her memory and is attempting to remedy that unfortunate situation when a detail of black-clad special ops dudes smash in through the windows of the plush mansion she’s woken up in.

The cast’s attempts to spam Metacritic with good reviews were doomed to failure…

In no short order she finds out that she’s a security operative for the Umbrella Corporation, living in deep cover above The Hive and that she’s going to be accompanying her rude interruptees back into the underground base in order to get to the bottom of why the A.I. system went all Jason Voorhees on everyone.  It’s not been the best of days for Alice and it soon gets worse when the T-Virus outbreak currently contained within the walls of the Umbrella facility appears to be reanimating the dead and turning them into Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes’ target practice dummies of choice.

If you’re at all familiar with the games, there isn’t a great deal in that summation of the first film’s plot which indicates a relationship with the source material beyond sharing a snappy title – and you’d be right to make that judgement.  The major issue with the film series as a cross-media translation of the games is that the deliberate, tension-building horror of the Capcom series is rejected more or less wholesale and replaced with run-and-gun ass kicking inspired more or less entirely by the cinema of James Cameron – “Resident Evil” is, in essence, “Aliens” with zombies and fashionable, post-“Matrix” slow-mo, wire-fu action.

It’s like going to see “Downton Abbey – The Movie” and finding that your Dame Maggie Smith starring, “Daily Mail” world view-espousing period drama has been unceremoniously reconstituted as a racy, teen sex comedy with a Katy Perry soundtrack.  There’s a disconnect between the two, no?

To his credit, Anderson’s changes don’t fatally unbalance the movie and instead move us from the creeping dread of the games series to an action-orientated tale which finds new and gross ways to build on the zombie mythos and create memorable foes for heroine Alice to beat up on as she heads for the surface.

Alice versus a zombie Dobermann. Normally, I’d be pissed, but it’s a zombie Dobermann, people…

The writer/director’s major contribution to this film – for me – is to give it a look which is glacial, antiseptic and defiantly modern in tone.  He builds on excellent production design by Richard Bridgland, who gives us a world which is all brushed metal surfaces, reflective glass, omnipresent CCTV and reality obfuscating trans-lights, which speak to the influence of the malign, invisible Umbrella Corporation – their staff work underground, working on amoral science projects which go wrong and consume them, only for their remote masters to figuratively bury them alive and send in similarly disposable teams to recover the flawed bio-weapons for future revision.    It’s not your parent’s monster movie and it’s all the better for it, I feel.

Performances are fine – Jovovich is a spirited and unusually emotional action heroine.  She’s resolutely not the ‘dude in a skirt’ that the film could have settled for, using her waifish frame to her advantage and making the frequent dust-ups with her zombie foes seem more like a life-and-death struggle than the foregone conclusion battles that Alice would subsequently encounter in future entries in the franchise.  Similarly, Michelle Rodriguez is aptly cast as special ops bad ass Rain, her now trademarked ‘tough chick’ persona not yet forged by the likes of “Battle: Los Angeles”, “Avatar” and the “Fast & Furious” series.

“I’ll still be making these films in ten years?  Are you shizzing me?

It’s a rare film series where the male cast members essentially add up to eye candy, but that’s very much the case for Eric Mabius and James Purefoy, who get to look suitably gym-chiselled and hunky whilst having characters who don’t really add up to much.  Of the male cast, it’s only Brit Colin Salmon who makes much of an impression, gruffly barking orders as the squad C.O. before exiting the picture in one of the more memorable horror deaths of the decade.

As you can tell from this review, despite genuinely enjoying this film I can see that it has flaws – show me the movie that doesn’t drop the ball at least once and I’ll show you the opining of an eternal optimist – but those shortcomings are not serious enough to derail either the movie or the series that it inspired.  Anderson may not be an original film-maker but his taste in movies is decidedly similar to mine and I dare say that I would be paying homage to “Aliens”, “Day of the Dead”, “The Matrix”, Shaw Brothers kung-fu cinema and video game user interfaces in roughly the same fashion as he does throughout “Resident Evil”.

Come into this film expecting a visionary genre reinvention along the lines of “Rec”, “Audition” or “Martyrs” and you’ll be disappointed.  Calibrate your expectations for a popcorn horror/action/sci-fi mash-up with a singular, steely blue colour palette and the best Marco Beltrami/Marilyn Manson score ever to explode from your surround sound speakers and you’ll be in (zombie) hog heaven.

4 Comments

Filed under Films, Gaming, Geekery, Movie Trailer