by Matt Smith
I have seen each of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil films in theaters. I am a devotee of the game series as much as I am to the biennial craziness of the movies. I am under no illusion that either share any commonalities other than superficial ones: character names and likenesses, places, monsters. Each film takes its audience and its main character, Alice (Milla Jovovich), further down the rabbit hole of absurdity and borderline incomprehensibility. And that’s okay. This is what I love about them. Love may not be a strong enough word, but it’s what I have. These films are not “great” by any objective standard, but a list of how they might be described could go something like this: awfsome, shitty shitty bang bang, crapmazing, fabuless, and my personal favorite “badical,” which was coined by my friend Max. LOVE these movies. This one’s not really any different, and it will convert no one to the cause.
Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth in the franchise, picks up immediately after Resident Evil: Afterlife, with a gorgeous opening sequence shown in slow-motion and in reverse. It’s an orgy of uncanny images–spent bullet casings re-entering gun chambers, a helicopter putting itself together after a horrific explosion–and after the standard introductory passage in which Alice recounts the prior films’ convoluted plot, we see the sequence again in the proper order and the correct speed. From here the movie falls into fever-dream delirium as Alice wakes up in yet another top-secret facility run by the evil Big Pharma corporation Umbrella.
Since the story isn’t of great importance, I’m not going to spend any sort of time attempting an explication of the plot other than to push upon the notion that pisses off so many of the game’s fans when they take umbrage with the films: the intricacies of story and plot do not always matter to what a film is doing. Sometimes they need not exist at all. I think Anderson, in his Resident Evil scripts at least, actually understands that on some level. These movies are about visual onslaught, size, depth, scope, and speed.
If we consider Milla Jovovich’s athletic build and performance as a very pro-active character (who can forget her first actual appearance in Resident Evil: Apocalypse crashing through a church window and gunning for some lickers astride a motorcycle, crashing through a church window and shooting up some lickers), we see a kinetic trajectory linking these films much more strongly that in the plotting and storytelling. After all, by the time we find out why all the previously dead characters have returned in Retribution, it’s glossed over not only because it’s a logical magic trick that masks poorly thought-out plot mechanics, but most importantly because the illogic of it all is hardly worth the trouble.
Some may see this as problematic, but I think the strength of the set pieces – particularly an attack by gigantic axe-wielding executioners that I loved (and which echoed some of the developments of the previous film – helped me overcome anything that I could take issue with. So, having now thrown logic totally out of the window, with gorgeous visuals and an absurdist bent taking full control of the franchise, let’s talk 3D.
Paul W.S. Anderson shoots in 3D. His camera set-ups take full account of the extra dimensionality of the image and add a significant amount of depth and texture without being too flashy and in-your-face. This is something he has in common with Patrick Lussier, who also successfully melds the shock sensibilities of genre and format with a respect for the audience’s ability to walk out if the visuals aren’t solid as a rock. The horror genre in particular has made the best use of the 3D craze, with even the outlying movies (Saw VI, The Final Destination) providing a solid visual experience. In Resident Evil: Retribution, he continues to craft some mind-boggling imagery, and his obsession with 3D-rendered maps of the locations in which his films take place is also served by the format.
In short, do not miss out on what might be the most delirious entry yet. For fans of the Resident Evil films, it is a masterwork. Leave the games behind and just go along for the ride.
2.5 out of 5 stars, 100% recommended.