Resident Evil: Retribution: Storytelling? Ha! Give The Fans What They Want!
I imagine Paul W.S. Anderson sitting in a room with a solitary college-ruled notepad, thinking of the most insane solutions to every problem a sequel presents. Q: “How do you remind people what happened in the first four entries?” A: “How about an extended expository clip show sequence done of multiple rotating TV screens?” Q: “How do you bring back actors from the previous films?” A: “Have a warehouse full of hundreds of clones of all the actors from the previous entries!” Q: “How do you create a series of interesting international locations in a post-apocalyptic world?” A: “Set the whole film underground in a base filled with impossibly realistic renditions of famous international locations!” The Resident Evil quintology will bruise your brain if you think about the story– they give the most complicated set-ups in simple chase-and-escape film history. However, it’s never boring. It’s repetitive, insane, incomprehensible, insane, poorly written, and insane… but never boring. It’s chock full of stylish zombie violence and Milla Jovovich, earnestly and admirably attempting to keep the proceedings on track. And did I mention it’s insane?
Let me skip the clip show explanation of what’s gone on in the past. I would get carpal tunnel from the sheer number of words needed to recap. We begin with an impressive slow motion reverse sequence on the boat from the end of the last film, as Alice (Jovovich) attempts to take out the assailants threatening their floating paradise. Inexplicably, we then wake up in the suburbs. Alice has different hair, different surroundings… a different life. She seems to remember what happened to her on the boat…or does she? Her husband (Oded Fehr) is late for work, and she prepares her young daughter for school, when– surprise!!– zombies attack. Fehr is bitten, Jovovich impressively fights off these creatures, instructs her daughter to stay hidden in the closet, and is seemingly killed. Inexplicably once more, we awake with Alice, in her old hairstyle and merely covered by two pieces of paper (I do admire Anderson’s commitment to showcasing his wife’s body in every film), captured by the Umbrella Corporation. She’s being tortured by her one-time friend Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), whose mind is now being controlled by a robotic spider which connects her brain to a malevolent super-computer known as The Red Queen which manifests itself as a small child. Read that sentence as many times as you want, it’s not going to get easier.
Eventually, we find she’s under the ocean in a facility notable for three reasons: 1. It’s only accessible by submarine or tundra-covered elevator shaft. 2. It contains exact replicas of New York City, Moscow, Tokyo, and a huge central dome filled with a type of 1950s American idyllic suburbia. 3. Its hallways and prison cells are lined on the ceilings, walls, and floors with so many light bulbs that I was absolutely spellbound– what must their electricity bill be? A woman named Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) breaks in to tell Alice exactly how to escape their water-encased experimentation base– not only does she know everything and break in without being traced by a super computer with cameras covering every room, hall, and corner, but she does it wearing a tightly fitting red dress. Girl power! Meanwhile, a strike team composed of a few foreigners devoid of personality (zombie bait) and two others. One is Luther (Boris Kodjoe), who not only inexplicably survived the previous film, but was found by the person running this strike team and enlisted. The other is Kevin Durand as Barry Burton. We don’t know anything about Barry Burton, and in fact, he likely has all of twenty lines… but we know his name, since the opening credits read “KEVIN DURAND AS BARRY BURTON.” This paragraph and the previous one covered perhaps the first fifteen minutes of the movie, tops.
The dialogue is beyond stilted. I wondered to myself if this was Bingbing Li’s first English-speaking role. Even the usual scenery-chewing from Kevin Durand couldn’t occur, as he was presented with no opportunities to chew. I truly unironically enjoy Milla Jovovich’s performances in these films, as she hits exactly the right tone: never too grave, never self-referential. It’s earnest yet easygoing, as if she encourages you not to think too hard even as she refuses to joke about the proceedings. The editing is typically quick and the slow motion is typically abundant, although I will say Anderson does have a flair for using 3D to convey depth of frame that most “horror” directors wouldn’t. The opening reverse sequence is a truly impressive set of visuals, despite being totally removed from plot or logic. The monsters that pop out, including the Axe Men from the last film and what I’ll refer to as The Brain Beast, inject the film with fun– we don’t just want military types blandly shooting at one another. We want creatures, dammit! Anderson also ensures that the action goes to the Nth degree of lunacy, from a car driving down an escalator to a fight sequence that turns to X-ray in order to show us bones breaking and hearts ceasing to beat.
You can essentially file this with the other films in the category of “Predetermined Opinion.” If you think you’ll like it, because you liked the other ones, this movie will give you what you crave. If you think you won’t like it, because the others stunk or you haven’t seen the others, then good Lord, why are you even reading this? This definitely won’t convert the skeptic. I tend to mindlessly enjoy this series, as they make good TNT Flicks– the type of movie you stumble upon on TNT on a Saturday night after coming home from a party, so you settle down, drunkenly munch whatever snack is in the pantry, and let the visuals pass in front of your eyes without attempting to absorb too much. That sounds patronizing, and I don’t mean it to be. There’s a spot in this world for this type of stylized insanity, and it certainly has its fanbase. None of its fanbase will defend the dialogue or the characters or the storytelling or the plot. Those elements tend to be the cake of most films, and the style is the icing. Here, the style is the cake– anything on top of that approaching coherence is the icing. And yet, for some reason, these movies are far more fun to discuss and appreciate than the normal well-made film. It’s Cinema Of The Insane: who needs logic when ten-foot zombies with hammer axes are chopping cars in half?