Our series on the Resident Evil franchise crosses the third dimension for your dollars and cents.
This Friday will see the release of the sixth chapter (yeah, we’re calling ’em chapters now cuz Leonard Part VI ruined roman numerals) of the Resident Evil franchise. But will it be the last? Certainly not. Rumors of a television show or a reboot have caused fans of the video game series to salivate. No matter how many articles I write (for those counting, this is Chapter 4) praising The Hive that Paul W.S. Anderson built, the Capcom purists are ready to strike from the fringes, exclaiming the purity of the video games over the pulpy insanity of the never-ending film sequels. That’s cool, I get it. Own your love. Some day, in the not too distant future, you’ll see your favorite intellectual property adapted with the same kind of overstuffed care witnessed with Harry Potter and the MCU. Us geeks are willing to empty our bank accounts for Hot Toys, Mondo screen prints, and Etsy one-of-a-kinds. We’ve got money to burn. We’ll double dip on our love till we drop dead. They’ve got us by the short hairs; we just want to be treated right.
You can scratch your head at the success of Michael Bay’s Transformers or the Fast & Furious, but they deliver on the grand scale of entertainment that the world craves, and the Resident Evil films hung in there to pick up their scraps. This rather remarkable success stems from its controlled budget. The market is starved for films operating in the 30–60 million dollar production range, and the international box office is now the saving grace that ownable media once was. Then, there’s James Cameron’s Avatar. While it’s up for debate as to whether or not its screenplay had any significant impact on our culture, the business was forever altered. Director Paul W.S. Anderson was certainly affected by Cameron’s progression of depth, and he used that inspiration to generate his two largest grossing films to date, Resident Evil: Afterlife and Resident Evil: Retribution.
From Afterlife’s opening titles on, Anderson is aggressive in his adoration for the 3D Fusion Camera System. While not quite reaching the gimmicky vulgarity of classic dimensional penetrators like Friday the 13th Part III or JAWS 3D, the credits obtrusively float towards the audience, and act as a warning to all the flinchers in the crowd. Shuriken will be flung your way, swords will lunge for your corneas, and a barrage of Matrix cruising bullets will skirt over your head. Sure, Avatar was all about accentuating the environment, but it was also about Stephen Lang in a big damn Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Mech Suit! You gotta learn all the lessons from your heroes.
Next, the god’s eye view of the Umbrella Corporation’s satellite plummets upon the rain-drenched sidewalks of Shibuya Square, and ogles the sickly young woman ready to sink her teeth into the first curious businessman to wander under fang. Trapped on the flat screen of my television set, the effect is all but castrated, but on that original theatrical experience it was obvious that Anderson found new enthusiasm through depth-play. For the studio, 3D offered more buck for its bang, but it also permitted its filmmaker to expand the visual language four movies into the series.
The rest of Afterlife’s opening occupies its time with completely retconning everything established by the end of the previous Extinction. Not only did the last film promote Milla Jovovich’s Alice to a super being on par with Doctor Manhattan, but the cliffhanger granted her access to an army of clones! Seriously – CLONES! The multiple Millas make quick work of the Umbrella Corps’ Japanese HQ, but they are obliterated fifteen minutes into the action thanks to some extremely convenient Purge Implosion Bomb planted by the smug Albert Wesker. To add insult to injury, while slo mo slapping with Alice, Wesker injects her with a T-Virus antidote that eradicates her superpowers.
Rather than embracing the unstoppable divinity of Alice, halfway through the franchise, Anderson pretends that he has a relatable hero on stage. The truth is that action stars are always gods; rarely do we see one pull a William Wallace by credits end. So, with no clones to lean on, not only does Alice have to feign exhaustion after each feat of strength, she also discovers that her quest for Alaskan refuge was merely a ruse. Nothing up there folks, why don’t you play around in this Prison plot instead. If Ali Larter had stayed home, everything else developed in Extinction would have been erased from the timeline.
And yet…when grappling with the disappointment of leaving Extinction to its past, you find yourself entering Helms Deep. Milla’s Alice, and Ali’s Claire crash land atop the Citadel Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles, and quickly assign themselves the roles of Legolas and Aragorn. Keeping one eye on the hordes of the undead surrounding the perimeter, and another on the creepy Wentworth Miller in the basement, Afterlife is the Resident Evil siege film you never knew you wanted.
The highlight of which being the moment a fifteen-foot tall behemoth crashes down the walls of the Citadel with his equally impressive battle-axe. The Executioner lumbers out of the fifth video game, and into the correctional shower room to trade blows with our sopping wet heroines. Naturally, the potato-sacked monstrosity has severed all the showerheads, and a torrential downpour threatens to flood the room. The entire assault is stretched into Sam Peckinpah’s slow motion ballet, which seems to effectively add a few extra tons to The Executioner’s charge. Whereas normal zombies go down with a bullet to the head, this beast won’t drop until Alice pops his top with a shotgun blast inexplicably filled with quarters. As she states, a girl’s gotta have a hobby.
As fun as it is to see new and inexplicable creatures for Alice to oppose, Afterlife feels like a stopgap in the series. It’s certainly a refresher for Anderson, who discovers new modes of frivolity, but the film does little to progress its characters. Most of whom need not bother to return.
Resident Evil: Retribution, on the other hand, is the Fast Five of the saga. The super powers may still be stunted, but the clones are back. The Umbrella Corporation is conducting their own version of Big Brother UK, and populating various viral outbreaks with copies of all our favorite players. The romantic relationship between Alice and Oded Fehr’s Carlos, which was only hinted at during Extinction, is torturously put on display using their remixed DNA. Two versions (G vs E) of Michelle Rodriguez are resurrected for show and tell. Even Colin Salmon has his cubed bits of meat stitched back together so he can pop up and grunt a few lines. Sure, Ali Larter has curiously vanished, but Sienna Guillory’s Jill Valentine fills her quota.
Throw in a few recognizable names (Leon Kennedy! Ada Wong! Barry Burton!) and you have plenty of beef for the new and improved chainsaw wielding Soviet zombie gang to tear through. When you think nothing can top The Executioner from Afterlife, Anderson drops in two Executioners, a gargantuan Licker, and more catfights than Russ Meyer’s wettest dreams. Retribution is a film made by a man who cannot believe he’s still allowed to play with these toys.
Retribution concludes with that traditional cliffhanger pull-away. Cats and dogs working together, Alice and Albert Wesker teamed up atop a crumbling White House as a tidal wave of infected storm the gates – mass hysteria. The Red Queen need not quake in her digital boots, as the audience anticipates the next film populating our Nation’s Capital with dragons.
At week’s end, please join me for our final segment down the Resident Evil rabbit hole. Yes, yes, there’s the possible TV show, the reboot, etc. That’s all going to happen. But this is it for Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich. For the last fifteen years, one man has written his own obsessions into a globally successful video game adaptation, directed four of them, and married his chosen hero. When all is said and done, whatever my opinion of Friday’s Final Chapter, the result will be a gleefully charming, unequaled marathon of DGAF sci-fi schlock.
Read more from our series about the Resident Evil franchise:
- The Aggressive Admiration of Resident Evil: Extinction
- Owning The Pleasures of Resident Evil: Apocalypse
- The Utterly Genuine Beginning of The Resident Evil Franchise