In a series that has now become one of an elite few to repeatedly perform better with every sequel at the box office, despite the critic and fanboy detractors looking for continuity from the video game source it came from, it appears a forgone conclusion that the latest Resident Evil movie will strike gold for Constantin Film, the celluloid equivalent of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story, you could suppose. But what of the latest instalment? Are we likely to see any changes from what we have become accustomed to in the world bio-engineered by Umbrella Corporation, or another stunt-driven “thrill ride” aimed at teenagers with short attention spans?
When Paul W S Anderson was given the reins for his first video game to film adaptation, it was 1995’s Mortal Kombat, a film recognised in the niche market as being the best example of a cross-over between the two genres. Borrowing heavily from the source and 1977’s Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, it was a vast improvement on previous efforts such as Bob Hoskins and Van Damme butchering the roles of Mario and Street Fighter’s Guile respectively. Whilst the first two Resident Evil movies were very much looking to cater to fans looking for canon storylines, the third was mostly influenced by Romero’s Day of the Dead, it is only the last two films that have seen him comfortable in envisioning his own world for our protagonist Alice, and whilst 2010 was more of a test effort, this latest film improves on the previous three in order to kick-start this franchise in the same way last year’s Fast 5 did for its own.
Starting directly after the events of Afterlife and the storming of the tanker Arcadia, an explosion sends Alice unconscious into the sea. We are then treated to what can be assumed at the time to be Alice’s flashback or dream, or merely another Umbrella experiment, as she awakens in a suburban home, with Oded Fehr’s Carlos Oliveira as her husband and a hearing impaired child called Becky. Wasting no time on exposition, the zombie onslaught begins, tearing Alice’s Stepfordesque existence apart. Running from zombies in a way totally dissimilar to Romero-esque shuffling in a scene more reminiscent of 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, when she encounters Michelle Rodriguez’ Rain Ocampo. Umbrella have clones, however there is only a sample of fifty individuals, having presumably taken DNA from all the previous employees Alice has encountered, explaining the reappearances of Fehr and Rodriguez, alongside others.
Story takes a back seat as the visual comic-book of chases and 3D action sequences take place in various cityscapes mocked up by Umbrella in their underground lair, chased by various CGI monsters. The introduction of a mock daughter leads to the “Newt” conundrum seen countless times since Cameron’s Aliens in 1986, and it’s obvious Alice will rescue her. Whilst the final battle may enthral younger viewers, and was Jovovich’s favourite, stating the 250 moves are more than The Bourne Identity which stunt choreographer Nick Powell also directed, feels too computer generated, and the close up X-Ray moves, taken from Paul’s other videogame love, last year’s Mortal Kombat game, were originally seen (and done better) in 2000’s Jet Li move Romeo must Die, but at least he is trying something different, and it is no more ridiculous than the previous films, much less the games themselves.
This is by no means an amazing film, and whilst there are introductions for new to film characters whom games fans will welcome, including the long overdue appearance of Leon Kennedy, and a sentimental nod to the original games’ fan favourite in Barry Burton, but the audience is not given much detail and is not required to know for the fast-paced setting of the movie. The effects are standard fare for cinema goers these days, explosions not as heavy as previous films, and seemed a lot more plot centric, rather than needlessly gratuitous. Whether this is a sign of the world-wide economic status finally piercing the haze of the Hollywood bubble or Anderson being influenced by director du jour Christopher Nolan’s restraint remains to be seen. Performances are professional if not polished, and only Rodriguez provides any real emotion as the typical tough female she has become accustomed to playing. The music is a lot better; long gone are the “Nu-rock” influences, and the music played during the flooding of the facility is very Nolan-esque, but it works.
Leaving the audience in no doubt that there will be another, presumably final instalment, hopefully this will give a satisfactory, if not ground-breaking, conclusion to a saga that has improved with age, unlike so many others (Mr Lucas, offence intended). Whilst this will probably seen by some as another mere chapter in a Hollywood cash cow, it is one of the more enjoyable movies of the year, beating other reboots/sequels like The Amazing Spider-Man and Men in Black 3 for entertainment. Paul Anderson delivers slightly above average for an audience with below average expectations, and for that he should take credit. He won’t take home any Oscars, but he gets to take home Milla Jovovich, and who can argue with that?
Resident Evil Retribution is on general release on 28th September