“Games without frontiers.”
While being (again) largely disappointed by the previous entry, Afterlife, I wrote: “There’s really only one reason we bother with this series: to see Milla Jovovich kicking righteous ass. Everything else is – or should be – secondary.” And that’s why this is the best Resident Evil movie in eight years. It may not be anything significant in the plot department. There are not hidden depths or great moments of character revelation. But it does contain entirely acceptable amounts of Milla Jovovich Kicking Righteous Ass, and succeeds as an entertainment spectacle, almost entirely due to this.
Though actually, this is almost a “greatest hits” package, especially in terms of participants. Not seen since the first film, are Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) and James Shade (Colin Salmon). Apocalypse brought us Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Carlos Olivieira (oded Fehr), while Extinction introduced the audience to Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and K-Mart (Spencer Locke). Finally, Afterlife was the debuts of Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller). But they are all present for this fifth edition: though the focus is kept, as it should be, on Alice (Jovovich). The others all play their parts – notably Valentine, who is now a brainwashed toy of the Umbrella Corporation, out to hunt Alice down – but it’s the MJKRA show, all the way.
The series has had a tendency to end its entries with a wallop, right from the original, with Alice discovering the infection has escaped the Hive. Part 4 was no exception, with Alice and assorted survivors on a supertanker, only for an F-sized swarm of attack helicopter to hove into view, commanded by Valentine. This takes off from there, but begins with Alice plunging into the water, only to rewind in slow-motion to the arrival of the helicopters, then playing forward again. It’s a striking sequence, that certainly hits the ground running. It ends with Alice waking to find herself in a suburban house, with a husband and daughter…or is she? Turns out it’s all an Umbrella simulation: she has been captured, and they still want her, even if she’s no longer the superhuman she was.
There’s an unlikely ally, who releases Alice, and tells her she has two hours to meet up with a rescue team coming in to the under-Siberian complex from the outside, and get out of the place before it all goes boom. To do so, both she and they have to make their way through the various simulated arenas, designed to demonstrate the T-virus effects in Tokyo, Moscow, suburbia, etc. All the while, naturally, Valentine and her many, many Umbrella minions are on their respective tails. It could hardly be a more video-gamesque storyline, and is pretty scant. Still, in an action pic, it’s better to be too simple than too clever (I recently watched both The Raid: Redemption and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, and will take dumb over aspirations to smart, any day!), providing you use the room freed up for plenty of MJKRA.
It might be wise for Jovovich to contemplate retirement from the series. After all, she turned 37 earlier this month, and there are few things sadder than an action hero/ine desperately clinging on, past their prime (see also, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning). She’s not quite there yet, being still capable of holding her own, but there does seem to be rather more wirework and greenscreen-fu here than in previous editions. Director Anderson. a.k.a. Mr. Milla Jovovich distracts us by putting his wife in a costume whose S/M inspiration is so obvious, even another character comments on it. On the other hand, we could probably have done without the efforts to imbue Alice with some kind of maternal instincts [inevitably inviting comparisons with Aliens].
The net result is something which doesn’t so much need to be watched, just simply pass in front of a receptive pair of eyeballs. As mentioned, there is not much new here, Anderson happy to recycle the best characters and monsters from the first four movies [though, regrettably, there are no zombie canines for Milla to engage in thigh-powered neck-snapping]. Certainly, it’s lazy film-making, but actually, that’s less of an insult than it sounds. It’s more like going round a friend’s house and he knows, without asking, to provide chips and beer. Sure, it can legitimately be described as lazy hospitality – but when this is just what you want, somehow it seems churlish to complain.
A sixth entry is already mooted, and Miila says that will be her last in the series [hang on: didn’t see say that after part 2?], with a reboot being considered by the producers beyond that. This decision may come as a surprise, if you look at the distinctly underwhelming US box-office figures: only $42 million, barely more than the original, even with a decade of inflation plus the cost of 3D tickets in its favor. However, as noted last time, the meat here is not North America, but overseas. This racked up more than $175 million there, easily enough to justify a further sequel. And, for the first time in a while, I am actually enthusiastic about the prospect: hopefully, Jovovich will go out with a bang like this one, not a whimper like the preceding two.
Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
Star: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Ali Larter