Within the enormous soundstage is a vast icy wasteland. A large snow vehicle is overturned and a submarine’s conning tower, sporting the red and white Umbrella Corporation symbol, has breached the ice floes. The air is foggy with a light mist. Two female figures dressed in skin-tight black outfits face off against each other, their silhouettes outlined by the stark white (fake) snow. This is the striking Canadian set of the dramatic action finale to the fifth installment of the Resident Evil movie series, subtitled Retribution. The hugely popular sci-fi/horror/fantasy/survival film series is loosely based upon the Capcom video games of the same name. Director and screenwriter Paul W. S. Anderson is clearly excited by the scope of his new picture. “If David Lean wanted to make an undead epic movie, this would be it!”
Its star, Milla Jovovich, has been facing down unstoppable legions of the Undead, terrifying creatures, sinister villains and kicking zombie arse in the Resident Evil franchise for the past decade. In fact, with this fifth film, Jovovich has surpassed the record of most films made by an action heroine set by both Sigourney Weaver (Alien) and Kate Beckinsale (Underworld).
Ten years seems a long time to continue to revisit a role but Jovovich’s enthusiasm for playing the intrepid Alice, and appearing in each film of the wildly successful franchise, doesn’t appear to have diminished. Nor has that of the fans, whose increasing fervor has driven the popularity with each biennial release. The previous movie, 2010’s Resident Evil: Afterlife, reportedly made $60 million in the U.S. and close to $US300 million internationally. Back at the helm for the third time of the videogame-based franchise he inaugurated, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson opted once again to film in dazzling 3-D, happy with the fantastic results gained on Afterlife. The new film features several returning actors and characters, along with new characters from the video game that were not featured in any previous films. Retribution will be released in 3D and IMAX 3D, as well as in 2D.
Warmly welcoming ArtsBeatLA into her cosy on-set trailer, Jovovich smiles, “Paul and I make really fun movies together. We don’t make really emotionally draining films; they’re fun action films with monsters and explosions. It’s such a fun, crazy, magical universe and I get to do all these stunts.” For this leading lady, working with her husband makes the whole process that much better. “Paul and I are so lucky because we built this Resident Evil world together. Through that, we met, fell in love and had a baby. So, of course it’s very personal to us, but we have so much fun doing it.”
Resident Evil: Retribution opens immediately after the last installment, but the story flashes back in time. Shawn Roberts reprises his role as Albert Wesker from Resident Evil: Afterlife and Colin Salmon plays a resurrected James “One” Shade, appearing for the first time since the original Resident Evil movie. Johann Urb plays Leon S. Kennedy, a survivor and leader of a resistance group who teams up with Alice to hunt down Umbrella. Li Bingbing plays Ada Wong, another survivor who is taken captive by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) – one of the main antagonists in Retribution hell-bent on hunting down Alice. Also returning from the first film is Michelle Rodriguez who gets to play two versions of her character Rain Ocampo, who was cloned in the original film. The Umbrella Corporation has created a ‘good’ Rain and a ‘bad’ Rain; the latter is under Jill’s orders to pursue Alice.
The lanky British-born director ambles into the interview room all smiles, his demeanour calm and sporting a ratty old AC/DC tee shirt over a long sleeved tee shirt. Anderson says that the decision to include Leon, Ada and Barry in the film was ‘fan-driven’. “All of the fans of the films and the games were pretty vocal about which characters they really wanted to see,” he says. It turns out Leon S. Kennedy, Barry Burton and Ada Wong were the top three contenders.
The Umbrella Corporation’s deadly T-virus continues to ravage the Earth, transforming the world’s remaining human population into legions of the flesh eating Undead. The human race’s only remaining hope is Alice (Milla Jovovich) who has been captured once again by Umbrella Corporation. K-Mart (Spencer Locke) – along with Claire (Ali Larter) and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) – have been kidnapped by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. Alice awakens in the heart of their operation facility and as she travels throughout the complex, more of her past is revealed. In her hunt for those responsible for the outbreak, her quest takes her and her newfound allies from Tokyo to New York, Washington, D.C. and Moscow.
Always striving to up the ante and make every film better than the last one, Resident Evil: Retribution promises more creatures, monsters and complicated action. One major action set piece is an intense and complex chase sequence featuring mutated zombies on motorbikes. It’s lifted from Resident Evil 5 game, but substitutes a Humvee in the desert with a Phantom Rolls Royce in Red Square.
Confesses Jovovich, “The battle scenes for the actors are really difficult. What we’re doing today is definitely one of the most trying physical undertakings that I’ve ever done in an action movie. I think the Jill and Alice fight has over 200 moves in it, so it’s totally bad-ass.”
That climactic girl-on-girl battle between Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Alice (Jovovich) is one of the action sequences being painstakingly filmed today here at the Toronto soundstage. Alice and her colleagues are stranded in the Kamchatka straits of Russia, close to an Umbrella Corp facility. An exciting and loud gun-battle showdown between Alice’s crew and the villains is also being filmed today (and over the week), as well as these hand-to-hand combat scenes involving both female stars and their stunt doubles. In one intricately choreographed sequence, Jill Valentine knocks the guns out of Alice’s hands with a leap and a well-placed knee, pulling Alice’s overcoat off with a fluid, expert maneuver. Alice reaches for a pair of tomahawk axes strapped to her back while Jill begins twirling a long lance. There’s a lot of ducking, weaving and martial-arts-style kicking and I’m close enough to hear them grunting with the effort. A guy with a yellow rake clears the footprints in the icy “snow” in between takes. Curiously, the fake, powdery substance shovels like real snow but doesn’t melt.
No one, however, is willing to divulge any plot points. Because it spans the globe, Anderson describes this installment as “an epic undead movie. We shot scenes in Washington D.C., New York, in Moscow’s Red Square and on the streets of Shibuya, Tokyo. We’re obviously recreating snow and ice sequences today, but we physically went out into the snow and ice as well. With each one of these different locations we’ve tried to invest them with a different feel.”
The result, especially on evidence today, appears to be leaning toward the visual style of a graphic novel, with blacks and blood reds contrasting starkly against the snowy white backdrop.
Anderson describes the storyline as “intricate. It’s not a road movie, it’s a bit twisty and turny. I hope it will take a lot of people by surprise. The first movie had a convoluted structure, but the movies after that became simpler and more linear. With this one I’ve returned to the intricate plotting of the first film but with a grander scope to it. The idea was to kind of make the movie like a kind of nightmare where you tumble from one bad dream to another but can’t quite wake up. So each part of the dream feels very different, but also very unpleasant. It’s got a real, crisp look to it that’s really different and I think that’s an achievement, five movies into a franchise, when you can say this doesn’t look anything like what we’ve done before.”
The director also sounds pleased with the cast he has selected, grinning as he admits, “It’s exciting working with Michelle again and Colin Salmon and Oded Fehr, especially the actors we killed already,” he winks. “Particularly Michelle – she’s such a blast. She’s fantastic. I love her. She’s a dream. I’ve never seen anyone better with a heavy machine gun, including Milla, and that’s saying something.”
Anderson jokes that he’s given Rodriguez her biggest career challenge. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen her wearing a dress and high heels in a film.”
Rodriguez is upbeat when she chats to ArtsBeatLA. “It’s been fun! I’m always playing such a tomboy in movies, I thought it would be kinda cool to be a girl for once. So we came up with this vegan, Prius-driving student,” she giggles. “She’s more feminine, in heels and tight clothing. She doesn’t know how to handle a gun very well, though.”
Rodriguez plays three characters, which she describes thusly. “One is a zombie. Then there’s the vegan one, the student. ‘Bad’ Rain is a worker for the Umbrella Corporation. She’s like a mechanical beast. All she wants to do is destroy things and she just waits for the order. I like playing ‘bad’ Rain the most – she gets the most action! I just like to destroy things and blow stuff up.”
The actress groans as she recalls the excruciating training for ‘bad’ Rain. “She has an intense fight sequence at the end of the movie that’s pretty gnarly, with about 70 moves, and that’s a lot to remember.”
Milla Jovovich has revealed that she intends to star in a sixth and final installment of the franchise, which will close out the series’ storyline. Regrettably, the series will most likely continue past a sixth film, minus her as its star. Laments the actress/model, “There’s only so much longer I can play Alice as she is today. At some point, I’m going to have to be the mentor to the younger generation. I love to make these movies. I have to say, it’s hard to imagine this world ending for us. We work with the same people, we shot here [in Toronto] for three films and it always feels like coming home. It definitely makes me sad when we start getting to the end.”
This article first appeared in Filmink Australia.