Friday, 12 October 2012
RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION
(PAUL W.S. ANDERSON, 2012) The way to appreciate the work of Paul W.S Anderson is to rid oneself of some of the expectations we bring to most cinema. His films may lack some of what are commonly considered prerequisites for quality in narrative - his characterisation is perfunctory at best and weak at worst, his dialogue often sounds almost as if he has the actors in his movies reciting the most cliched lines from other films, his plotting often seems like he has taken the crudest possible way of moving his characters from one location to the next - but as a visual storyteller who deals unashamedly in pure spectacle his work is often close to magnificent. Resident Evil: Retribution is the fifth film in this franchise, based on the series of video games, and one of the pleasures here has been watching Anderson use the freedom the success of the earlier films granted him to widen his scope. As the series grows more apocalyptic and Epic, so Anderson's preoccupations and interests come more sharply into focus. He can do what he wants, to an extent, and so his films are riotous assemblages of gunships, sci-fi cannons, immense zombified mutants, kung fu and gore in a near-ceaseless stream of imagery. These films are about video games as much as they are inspired by them, and Retribution represents the peak of this tendency. Here, Anderson fills the story with video game "fake" City environments contained within a vast undersea installation, with boss battles at the end of extended action sequences, with an escalating sense of size and scale to each set-piece leading up to a final showdown with a seemingly unbeatable primary antagonist. He's not really interested in anything beyond a spread of genre beats familiar to fans, and so this film feels comfortingly familiar, from its use of a hardened and disposable bunch of mercenaries reminiscent of similar gangs in dozens of movies to the little girl who forms a bond with our heroine taken straight from the Ripley-Newt relationship in Aliens to the imense harvests of clones arrayed in vast chambers suggestive of The Matrix. The plot finds Alice (Milla Jovovich) escaping from an Umbrella Corporation installation with a little help from a motley group of warriors, and taking on monsters, zombies and undead soldiers on the way. This allows Anderson to indulge in all sorts of different action scenes - martial arts fights, carchases, massive gun-battles, sequences that mix all three - and here he really knows what he is doing. He has a great sense of cinematic space and arguably uses 3D as well as any director currently working, avoiding the usual blurry smudged weaknesses of the format and instead turning out scenes that are crisp and filled with slick brutality. He uses slow-motion with equal aplomb, and his partner and muse Jovovich is brilliantly adept in these sequences, spinning, leaping and kicking with relish and grace. He knows and understands the power of this sort of action and genre imagery, Anderson, and fills his cinema with it, so that women are simultaneously objectified - all clad either in bondage outfits or slinky dresses while they kick ass - and empowered by their centrality to his vision. The male characters here are all - with a single exception - secondary cannon fodder, obeying orders given by women. The final confrontation delights in having Michele Rodriguez beat the tar out of two of the mercenaries at the same time. Even the series' ultimate evil, the artificial intelligence of the Red Queen, is depicted in the form of a bratty little girl. Jovovich has fun here with the early manifestation of her character as a suburban housewife, and even manages to make her paper-thin bond with the little girl from this thread have a smidgen of emotional weight, but mostly she's here to make the action scenes look good, and she succeeds. Anderson does too, as his films are mostly made on relatively "medium" budgets, but he (and cinematographer Glen MacPherson) makes them look expensive, never disappoints his fans - he knows exactly what they want - and pumps them out with efficiency and an underappreciated degree of artfulness. He is like the Wachowskis without the commitment to subtext or the visionary quality; a talented b-movie auteur working in a disregarded sub-genre who will probably be appreciated for his gifts when he is gone. For all the flaws in his work, his films need to be seen on a big screen to be fully appreciated.