Oddly, in one weekend, I watched new films from Paul Thomas Anderson ("The Master", "There Will Be Blood", "Magnolia") and Paul W.S. Anderson ("Resident Evil 1, 4 & 5", "Death Race", "Aliens Vs. Predator", "The Three Musketeers"). At one point, Paul W.S. added the 'W.S.' because he was "tired of having to explain the significance of the frogs falling from the sky" in "Magnolia". Whoever made that mistake wasn't very observant.
It is easy to identify a film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; strange involving stories filled with amazing performances in beautifully crafted films.
It is just as easy to identify a film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; stories adapted from video games or made to look like video games, filled with wooden performances from extremely pretty former models (male and female) in films filled with explosions, gore and computer-generated effects. And the films usually contain the latest, most wooden performance from Milla Jovovich, the director's wife.
Paul W.S. Anderson should be happy for the mistaken identity. If I were the perpetrator of as much garbage as W.S., I would be happy to be mistaken for a true artist.
"Resident Evil: Retribution" is a terrible, terrible film. None of the sequels in this series have a beginning or end and there is never any suspense. There can't be any suspense because you know Alice, Jovovich's character, will never die. In fact, she can't die. So no matter how many armed men, how many mutant CGI dogs, how many flesh cutting lasers the director throws at her, you know she will never die. The only thing that will kill Alice is if people stop going to these films, if they stop renting them, if they stop downloading them. Only then, will "Resident Evil" end.
Because the films are based on a video game, Anderson seems content to keep the narrative as simple as possible. And the films ultimately play into this formula. In each, Alice has to get from point A to point B, while maneuvering a number of obstacles. In other words, she has to get from Level A to Level B, exactly the same goal of playing most video games. This narrative formula can never change and it will never allow for a beginning or end. Because everything in these films is "middle", the narrative has an enhanced unpleasant, unsettling effect. It doesn't help the viewer become grounded in all of the violence, mayhem and carnage.
Despite the change in settings, the only other thing that changes is the people around Alice. These characters can die, and most of them do, but even some of the fallen come back to life in slightly altered form. How is this possible? The Umbrella Organization, the unimaginatively named evil group controlling everything in Alice's universe, wants to mess with Alice's mind. Ali Larter (TV's "Heroes"), Wentworth Miller (TV's "Prison Break"), Oded Fehr ("The Mummy", TV's "Covert Affairs"), Boris Kodjoe and many others have served alongside Alice at one point or another before getting killed.
"Retribution" picks up before installment #4 ends. The last scene of that film is replayed twice in #5, both forward and backward. I'm not exactly sure why this was done, but Anderson clearly thinks he has some cool special effects to show off, so we watch the scene play in reverse, in slow motion, and then watch the scene again as it plays forward. A few minutes later, Alice revisits the Tokyo intersection she spent some time at in number 4. Again, not sure why we have to spend time in this place again, but both of these instances point to a filmmaker who is running short on ideas.
When the film actually begins moving forward, Alice is suddenly shielding her 'daughter', protecting her from suburban zombies. Eventually, Alice meets up with a group of men who will try to help her get to an abandoned Russian submarine base. They feel they can take one of the subs and find safety. Boris Kodjoe, Johann Urb, Bingbing Li, Oded Fehr and Michelle Rodriquez all join the fun as various targets for the armed militia employed by the Umbrella Organization.
If you press me, the only positive I can comment on is that each film seems to assemble a multi-ethnic cast of pretty people as supporting characters. Unfortunately, most of these are killed off one-by-one.
Why a Russian submarine? Not sure.
In #4, Alice was invincible because she was injected with a serum that bonded with her genes and made her impervious. At the end of the film, these powers were taken away. This is an important illustration of what I was referring to earlier. There can be no suspense in these films, because Alice is never hurt. If the powers that make her invincible can't change this, what will? Also, it seems like a bit of a cheat for the filmmakers to do one thing and then change it back again. The filmmakers are creating this world, they are setting the rules. When they change the rules they have created, they cheat the viewer and telegraph their own lack of creativity. Who knows they may even change this back again for #6.
I guess we really shouldn't expect even good acting in a film like this, the fourth sequel of a movie based on a video game, or in a film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (even Joan Allen and Ian MacShane couldn't transcend "Death Race"), but it is mind-numbingly bad. Jovovich looks like she is saying her lines phonetically and doesn't do anything but shout or grimace. The rest of the cast is negligible. The males, presumably tough guys, grimace a lot and glare. Michelle Rodriguez, the toughest of the group, manages to grimace in a slightly different way, at times, giving her more of a range. Wouldn't it be a surprise is one of these films actually contained a single performance that could qualify as acting?
"Retribution" ends with a scene setting up the next inevitable installment. Really, folks. The only way this series will ever end is if we don't buy another ticket, pay for another download, rent another DVD. These movies are not good and really have no redeeming value, so this should be a fairly easy goal.
Come on. Who is with me?