Resident Evil: Retribution

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ is the fifth film in the zombie/ video-game franchise, but feels fresh enough to stand as its own entity. Now, Paul W.S. Anderson shouldn’t be confused with Paul Anderson – the director of such great films as ‘There Will Be Blood’, ‘Magnolia’, and ‘Boogie Nights’. No, Paul W.S. Anderson is the guy who brought us such cinematic abominations such as ‘Mortal Kombat’, ‘Soldier’, and ‘Death Race’. He did direct one good film back in 1997 called ‘Event Horizon’ – I personally liked it, though admittedly, it was dismissed by many critics during its time. ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ is Anderson’s first decent picture in fifteen years.

The opening sequence featuring airships equipped with lots of firepower is played backwards in slow motion before fast forwarding to normal speed. Andreson’s wife, Milla Jovovich, then summarizes the events of the previous four films in this film’s prologue which failed to bring clarity to confusion. If anything, the over-explaining made me more confused. In the next twenty  minutes or so, Anderson is just toying with the audience – Michelle Rodriguez is two characters, Milla Jovovich is a married suburbanite getting her daughter ready for her first day of school, characters are interchanged, and even dead characters from the previous films reappear. Huh?  The best explanation I can give is as follows: Alice (Milla Jovovich) is the last hope for a world overrun by zombies – but, she needs to break free from a top-secret complex where the virus was developed and unleashed.

Anderson isn’t a narrative filmmaker – the plot barely made any sense to me but his visual sensibility is strong enough to compensate for this imbalance. Form is substituted for theme and that’s okay. A film such as this is about image-making. And the images are quite striking – strong, independent women dishing out carnage; somersaults through the air; small bodies drifting into vast spaces. In fact, spaces, or enclosure rather, seems to be part of Anderson’s shtick. Proof of this is demonstrated in his previous works – Event Horizon, which is set entirely on a spacecraft; Alien Vs. Predator, whereby the film takes place in a pyramid buried 2,000 feet underground; the first Resident Evil picture was mostly restricted to its Umbrella Corporation setting. ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ is structurally set up as spaces-within-spaces to the nth degree.  It all seems to be part of a testing facility, and the design is similar to that of a conventional game – there are stock characters and scenarios. However, this isn’t a game that is meant to be interactive with its audience. As an audience, we don’t want to interact with the movie; we want the movie to act on us so the fun on the part of the viewer is watching Milla Jovovich try to beat the game.

In this regard, ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ shares something in common with the much more ambitious ‘Cabin In The Woods’ from earlier this year. Both films place familiar characters in familiar situations in an attempt to fully reveal their cliché-ridden genres. ‘Cabin’ was very well received by the critical community, but I gave it a negative review. My issue with that picture was that it deconstructs the genre by pinpointing a formula, which is then applied onto itself, and as a result, doesn’t distinguish itself from the rest of the pack. Anderson’s picture, admittedly, isn’t nearly as ambitious, but he accomplishes what he sets out to achieve – crafting a film that rewards the viewer who is aware of the visual aesthetics on display over the intellectual who tries to mentally piece together the jumbled narrative.

Now, I tend to take an unfavorable approach towards 3-D for reasons I’ve mentioned countless times in previous reviews. According to close moviegoing friends of mine, “Well, that didn’t need to be in 3-D” has become something of a common phrase of mine for such pictures. I can think of four filmmakers who use this recently popularized medium well: Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Michael Bay, and Paul W.S. Anderson. Anderson manages to successfully avoid the weak areas of 3-D: dimly lit settings, shallow focus, shaky cam. Instead, he focuses on the strengths of the medium: visual depth, wide shots, and slow motion – the latter of which luxuriates in each and every mechanical step of choreographed movement.

God help me for this but I’m giving ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ a recommendation! This is entirely a technical achievement – I can’t defend it on any other basis. Was it lowered expectations? Or a decidedly good mood for this jaded moviegoer? Or the fact that Anderson finally delivered a decent action vehicle after a decade and a half of torturous projects? I’m going with the latter. ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ is big, loud, idiotic, and disrespectful of Newton’s Laws of Motion. It also happens to be pretty fun. QED. 

– Jerry Nadarajah

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