Visiting Alice’s World on the Set of Resident Evil: Retribution

ON

You enter a typical soundstage.  It’s all cables and beams, wood and iron.  Crew members are layered in sweaters and long pants to fight off the chill inside.  The brave ones wear shorts.  At the soundstage’s entrance is a Christmas tree; its yuletide glow is tarnished by the fake corpse of an Umbrella Corporation soldier propped up in a chair next to it.  Behind him, a pane of glass splattered with blood.

Welcome to Camp Evil.

Weaving in an out of the gaffers, grips and production assistants, you try not to trip yourself on the minefield of apple boxes, power strips and black cables stretching out into the shadows.  There’s a gigantic set to the left.  White pillars stretching to the ceiling and pristine, glossy white floor tiles being dismantled.  Crew members work at a hurried pace to bring the set down by the end of the day.  If one were to set up a camera and shoot this process with time lapse photography, the playback would be akin to watching ants working over a fresh carcass, stripping meat from a bone.

This set is just the front half of the soundstage.  The remaining square acres are a different story, hell, different environment entirely.  It’s a set built to impress.

What stretches out before you is a white, icy landscape.  Fake snow drifts lazily to the ground.  Ahead, lying on its side like a wounded animal is some sort of all-terrain vehicle.  And jutting out of the “ice” from below is a submarine conning tower, Umbrella logo emblazoned on the side.

Jill Valentine exits the sub with Ada Wong, held captive by the long-thought-dead Rain.  They stand side by side, facing off – and you will come to see later in the day when the crew gets more coverage of the scene – with Alice, Leon Kennedy and Luther West, the passengers of the all-terrain vehicle.

Alice stares down her adversaries.  “Just the two of you?” she asks.  Rain, holding Ada at gunpoint, uses her free hand to pull a fancy hypodermic needle out of her belt.  She injects the needle’s fluid into her neck.

Jill watches this procedure, looks back confidently to Alice and responds, “It will be enough.”

With that, Rain knocks Ada out with a blow to the back of the head.  Jill sprints into action, charging at Alice.  And thus begins another all-out brawl between good and evil in a world overrun by the undead in Resident Evil: Retribution, slated to open in 2D and 3D on September 14 from Screen Gems.


RETRIBUTION

When you last left the Resident Evil universe, with the fourth chapter entitled Afterlife, it was done in a classic “cliffhanger” style.

Alice, played by series staple Milla Jovovich, Chris and Claire Refield (Wentworth Miller and Ali Larter, respectively), K-Mart (Spencer Locke) and a bevy of survivors woken out of slumber were left standing on the deck of a sea vessel named Arcadia and about to come under attack by an army of Umbrella soldiers, led by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), who were given the order: Shoot to kill.  Needless to say, there was a palpable sense of doom for Alice and company.

“[Retribution] starts basically with the pay-off from the last one.  We start on the deck of the Arcadia, so it is a direct continuation of that,” writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson says.  This poses a question, however.  Miller and Larter have not been cast in this new installment, so are we to presume things do not look good for their characters?  Anderson has an answer for that.  “No, Wentworth and Ali are not back, but their characters are still in the franchise.”

Oh, the mystery.  

That’s something you get a lot of on the Retribution set, a production where everyone tries to be tight-lipped and the story is closely guarded.  Where characters, believed dead, are back, like Michelle Rodriguez’s Rain and Colin Salmon’s One (casualties of 2002’s Resident Evil), Oded Fehr’s Carlos Olivera (2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction) and Shawn Robert’s Wesker (Resident Evil: Afterlife).  But, that’s not so unusual in a universe rife with zombies, creatures and clones, right?

Still, producer Jeremy Bolt, Anderson’s longtime working partner, promises, “This film has a lot of twisting, turning moments.  It’s playing, respectfully, with the audience.  We want to make people think a little bit, although you’ll enjoy it if you haven’t seen a previous film.  If you have seen the previous films, you’ll enjoy it even more.  It has that video game spirit where you have to engage it a little bit.”

Anderson agrees, “It’s hard for me to explain [the plot] without giving away the twists and the movie.  They are inspired by the video game, but I think it should be a very surprising narrative.  I’m excited to put the whole thing together.”

What you glean from the time on set is this: All is not lost for the film’s heroes on the set of the Arcadia.  As Guillory puts it sarcastically, Jill Valentine’s “plans go awry and movies happen,” she says with a grin.  “If things happened the way you’d expect, then there wouldn’t be a movie.”

Okay, so you can put your trust in the fact that, yes, somehow Alice and some of the others thwart Umbrella and survive their encounter on the Arcadia.  As for the rest of the story?  It’s a globe-trotting journey that stretches across various major cities, something the Bolt and Anderson are very proud of.

“We have physically shot in Washington, D.C., Red Square [Moscow] and Shibuya in Tokyo,” Anderson says.  “[Here on set] we’re obviously recreating snow and ice sequences, but we have actually gone out in the snow and ice as well.”

Bolt adds: “As a filmmaker, I think [Paul] just keeps trying to push himself to do better than the last one, and to make it as entertaining as possible.  We really tried to make it global.”

Retribution also welcomes in a slew of newcomers, some playing familiar characters in the Resident Evil video games.  Leon is essayed by Johann Urb (2012), Kevin Durand (Real Steel) plays Barry Burton, Ada Wong’s high heels are filled by Bingbing Li and Aryana Engineer (Orphan) is Becky, a young deaf girl who forms a Newt/Ripley-like bond with Alice.  As for the rest of the plot, it is anyone’s guess.

Anderson has, once again, culled some ideas from the video games to inform certain plot developments.  For instance, Retribution introduces the use of the Las Plagas parasite, a nasty bit of bio-terror that you saw Rain injecting herself with back on the ice set.

“There is such a wealth of stuff in the games.  Using Las Plagas, we’re going back to Resident Evil 4 and there are elements of Resident Evil 5 in this,” reveals Anderson.  “There is one moment in the game where one of the characters injects themselves [with Las Plagas] and we built exactly the same injection device.  We are framing the shots in exactly the same way.  So, there will be an unpleasant little parasitic creature in that vile that you will see squirted into [Michelle’s] veins.  It is a theme in all of the games with characters injecting themselves and they develop their super powers, but they pay the price for it.”

Anderson’s nod to Resident Evil 5 comes in the form of a high-speed chase, however, he’s relocating it from Africa (where the video game is set) to Moscow.  Urb, whose character Leon is at the center of this mayhem, explains:  “We have zombies coming at us, and these are not just regular ones.  They’re firing weapons and bazookas.  At one point, we run out of bullets and I have to take some of them out, hand-to-hand, which is fun.  Then there’s a big action sequence in a Rolls Royce and firing out of the window.  We have the zombies on motorbikes chasing us, and then we have big Lickers.  Uber-Lickers, Super Uber-Lickers, they’re all coming at us.”

Nick Powell – whose credits include The Last Samurai, Gladiator and Braveheart – orchestrated the stunts with Anderson.  Together, they’re seen as a “lethal combination,” as Kodjoe – who plays Luther – puts it.  “There are a lot of great fight sequences that we’ve shot.  It’s sort of a mixture of Krav Maga, kickboxing, Muay Thai.  It’s a lot of kicks and just fast movies.  I fight eight guys at one time.  And Milla has two different fight scenes that are just ridiculous.  I mean, literally.  They’re 12 minutes a piece or something.”

To demonstrate just how big Retribution goes, action-wise, the fight between Guillory and Jovovich on the ice involves, according to Guillory, over 200 moves.  “It’s immense and brilliant,” Guillory enthuses.  “I’ve been working on it every day since we got here and I’m very happily whittling away, too.  It’s a very beautiful fight and they’re trying to incorporate things that have never been done before with weapons and using aerial movies.  It’s quite poetic, actually.”

“[Retribution] has more of an action movie feel now,” says Rodriguez.  “Back then, it was way more sci-fi.  You could really feel the sci-fi.  But now it’s action – it just feels like an action movie more so than any of the other movies.  I think that’s the direction Paul is wanting this to go anyway.”

Bolt, on the other hand, maintains that this Resident Evil film hasn’t lost its science fiction edge.  “I think Inception has a huge impact on everyone.  I think Westworld is an important film to Paul.  Everybody knows, because he talks about it enough, the Alien trilogy, too.  Blade Runner.  All of these things are inspirations.”

“I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD.”

Talking to the returning cast members long absent from the Resident Evil series yields some clues as to where Retribution‘s story turns and why the deceased have seemingly risen from the grave.  And while it’s apparent they’ve been hit with some gag order, the longer your discussion goes, the more their excitement frees up some details.

Salmon isn’t on set to have his say, but Rodriguez and Fehr speak broadly about flashbacks we will see in Retribution.  Glimpses into the lives of many of the main characters before we knew them for who they are.  What occurs in the past is going to have an impact on the present story, apparently.  And if speculation is correct, Retribution may opening – shortly after the Arcadia incident – with a peek at Raccoon City before the T-virus outbreak.

Rodriguez, Fehr and Salmon all have dual roles.  Cloning is partially responsible.  But as for their non-clone counterparts?  Consider this: When Fehr is asked if the flashbacks represent a prequel story to Resident Evil in some respects, he stammered, hesitant to confirm or deny.  He does state that his character is first introduced in the film in an idyllic suburban neighborhood. 

“I’m just a husband.  Just a dad and a husband, a regular ol’ nice guy.  [But] I come back twice in this one,” Fehr confirms.  “I think you had a hundred Millas in the last one.  So, obviously, you can have more Carloses, Ones and Rains.  I come back as two different guys.  There’s a dynamic to the relationship with Milla’s character and then there’s the other side – he’s working for Umbrella again.”

Somewhere in Retribution‘s “suburban” timeline, Rodriguez is playing against type, which Anderson relished.  “At the start of her career, I cast her playing the bad girl with a machine gun,” Anderson says.  “Since then, it was been 10 year of her playing the bad girl with a machine gun a lot of the time.  I wanted to give her an opportunity play something different and to spread her wings a little bit.”

“Paul’s original idea was that I’d be a UPS worker who would become one of the clones,” explains Rodriguez, “and then we got together and we started to brainstorm.  We came to this juxtaposition of me playing a tomboy all of the time and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to see you feminine, Michelle?’  I threw on some high heels, added a nice little hippy twist and before you know it, I’m driving a Prius in zombieland.”

“Some of the most fun things in this movie has been watching her trying to walk around in a pair of high heel shoes, because that is the real challenge for her,” Anderson laughs.

On the flipside, there is “Bad Rain” – as Rodriguez is being called for Retribution’s present-day story arc – a clone found to be working for Jill Valentine and the Umbrella Corporation.  Rodriguez says, “I feel like the epitome of her existence is to protect and serve.  She’s very mechanical, very straightforward and very matter-of-fact.  There really isn’t any human sensibility behind Bad Rain.”

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