It’s official. Paul W.S. Anderson has gone insane and he has taken me with him.
I’ve taken offense at a lot Anderson’s motion pictures, particularly when he adapts interesting material into something generic (Alien vs. Predator) or worse, god awful (The Three Musketeers). Truth be told, he’s not a particularly good director. But over the course of five Resident Evil movies he seems to have perfected a kind of focused madness within a framework that allows him to make whatever the hell movie he wants so long as Milla Jovovich and zombies are in it. Characters from the video game series pop up from time to time, but they are not themselves. They’re a cast of stock players, like The Mercury Theater or The Muppets, to be shuffled from role to role at Anderson’s whim. And make no mistake, Resident Evil: Retribution is utter whimsy, no matter how violent it is.
I recently revisited the first four films in the Resident Evil franchise, because I hadn’t seen the last movie in the series and had completely forgotten what had happened in the rest. I needn’t have bothered, since Alice (Jovovich) opens every sequel with a monologue explaining what you missed last time. Over the course of the franchise this monologue has turned increasingly ridiculous, and it doesn’t help that she seems to have forgotten a lot of the plot. Early in the film she seems surprised to learn that [insert stock character here] is still alive, even though she never saw him die, but never questions the resurrection of Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), whom she spent a lot of time killing just before the start of Retribution.
Suffice it to say that Alice is now trapped in an Umbrella testing facility (Umbrella being the source of the zombie virus that’s ravaged the planet), and has to escape. In so doing, she worms her way through what I can only describe as Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, a series of often dreamlike vignettes that keep you off your guard without any greater rationale behind them.It’s too late to mindf*ck the audience in the Resident Evil franchise – the time was before an army of telekinetic Milla Jovoviches invaded Tokyo – but Anderson tries anyway, bringing back long-dead members of the cast, throwing storylines out like confetti and rewriting the history of the franchise in such a way that watching it all over again will explain nothing whatsoever. He’s clearly making this up as he goes along. Or if he’s not, he’s just a pretty bad writer.
But at least he’s having fun with it and, by now, is working so far afield of the actual Resident Evil video game series (which was already bonkers to begin with) that I’m willing to accept these movies for what they are: dumbass action spectacles with no rhyme, reason or explanation for their existence beyond the fact that audiences keep paying to see Paul W.S. Anderson fiddling with wildly expensive action figures. He’s getting very imaginative too: the opening of Resident Evil: Retribution is a beautiful if vacuous thing, playing in slow motion (and reverse) under the credits like a bullet-riddled perfume commercial. And at least he keeps the action clear enough that you can follow along as well as anyone within the plot can.
They’re easy to watch, these Resident Evils. They’re also easy to mock. So easy, in fact, that I’ll give Sienna Guillory’s bizarre posturing and robotic delivery a pass. Not because it’s justified by the plot (although it kind of is), but because it’s justified by the sheer inanity of the franchise. We do not expect quality from Resident Evil any longer. We expect our brains to be expunged of common sense and pumped full of endorphins wearing fetish costumes. For that, Paul W.S. Anderson, I thank you. Now stay the hell away from Castlevania.