They say video game adaptations aren't successful, thanks to some failed franchise attempts (I'm still waiting for Super Mario Bros. 2, Hollywood…). But tell that to the Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer/director/producer behind the Resident Evil franchise, and his wife, Milla Jovovich, who has played Alice since the first installment back in 2002, and you'll probably be laughed out of the room. Resident Evil: Retribution marks the fifth movie in the horror/sci-fi/action franchise, a property that keeps escalating in popularity with every entry (the last movie, Resident Evil: Afterlife made $60 million in the U.S. and a little over $296 million worldwide). I believe that's called "demand."
But there's a science to the series' success. First, every entry has to be different—the first movie was rooted in horror, but the sequels evolved, playing with genre and allowing anything (and everything) to during Alice's battles with the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. Second, the movies have to get bigger. New casts, crazier zombies and larger-scale action. Third, and most importantly, leave them wanting more.
After spending a day on the set of Resident Evil: Retribution, I can safely say that the latest installment fulfills all the requirements—yes, even the last one. Here are a few things I learned on set (and remember to check out my interview with Milla Jovovich today and Michelle Rodriguez on Friday!):
The movie takes place immediately after the last installment, but all of the characters have changed and the story flashes back in time.
Resident Evil: Afterlife ended with a cliffhanger, Alice and the rescued Umbrella mind control victims stranded on an ocean liner, plus an after credits scene that reintroduced a mind-controlled Jill…
Jeremy Bolt [Producer]: There will be a voice-over from Alice, who will set the world up. New characters are properly introduced. You don't need to play the game to know Leon Kennedy and Jill Valentine are coming back. Unlike the previous films, we actually have a sequence which is very much in the real world, which is going to be an interesting part of this version of Resident Evil.
Robert Colter [Producer]: We felt the last movie was really quite linear, pure action-survival. We felt that we definitely had to try something narratively, from a structural point of view, that would make it more of a mind-bender for the audience. With Alice, you go through the movie and you kind of question everything. As it becomes this ongoing battle for survival of humanity, you might even find humanity in the least likely places, even in your enemies. To a certain degree, they may have things you need for survival. There might be alliances in the story, that Alice wouldn't have trusted, but, for her survival, she might have to make a bargain and see how it goes.
Jeremy Bolt: [Alice] is definitely fighting to hold onto her humanity. She has a relationship with a young child in the film, and there's definitely an echo of a mother-daughter, a little bit of a Ripley-daughter connection. Even though, when you see the film, you might go, 'Why is she doing this?'
Sienna Gilroy [returning as Jill Valentine]: But here we are where Jill is under Umbrella control and she's the baddie. I have a 'man-tourage,' my brilliant storm troopers that come with me everywhere, that are the Umbrella troopers and sometimes when they bring out their guns I have to try really hard not to flinch and try and be cool which is what it's all about (laughs).
Johann Urb [playing new addition Leon Kennedy]: As far as I can tell, I've just been fending for myself, taking care of business, and banding with some people. Then, apparently what's happened is Alice is in a bit of trouble. Wesker needs somebody who, what's the word... is smart enough and strong enough to go in and save Alice. Leon is the first thought that comes to mind, obviously.
Paul W.S. Anderson [Writer/director]: [The decision to bring in characters old and new] was kind of fan driven. All of the fans were pretty vocal about how these were the characters that they really wanted to see. We really tried to cast actors who kind of brought those characters to life as close to the video game as possible. You have no idea how difficult it is to find someone with Leon Kennedy’s hair. It is just not the easiest thing in the world. He has to be manly and has to have these long bangs. Geez, could they have made it more difficult for us? But I’m very happy with the actors that we have.
The movie features evil clones of former good guys.
Most of the cast tried to stay mum on details of possible lookalike counterparts making their way into the movie, but we received a few hints…
Jeremy Bolt: The idea is no one is who you think they are. The only thing you are certain of is that the Umbrella Corporation is all-powerful, is always one step ahead, and Alice is the only one that's really getting close. We wanted to create an atmosphere where the audience goes, 'Is that person really Carlos? Is that person really Rain?' There's good Carlos and bad Carlos, and it's very much taken from the world of gaming, where everything can change. We are definitely, as I think Paul has done with the previous movies, taking narrative structure out of the video game world.
Oded Fehr [returning as Carlos Oliveira]: I kind of come back twice in this one. I think you had a hundred Millas on the last one. So obviously, you can have more Carloses and more Ones [Colin Salmon] and more Rains [Michelle Rodriguez]. The interesting thing is, I come back as two different guys on this one. There’s a dynamic to the relationship with Milla’s character, and then there’s the other side. He’s working for the Umbrella again. So the answer is both.
Jeremy Bolt: It's more science-fiction-y. This is more tricks-y, turn-y, plays respectfully with the audience.
Paul W.S. Anderson: We had talked about [duel characters] for years, about bringing Michelle back because I just loved working with her so much. She was such a cool part of the first movie and the more I thought about Michelle, the more I thought about how she really as an actor has been unable to explore other aspects of her career because she is always cast as the same character, and I am guilty of that of course. At the start of her career I casted her as the bad girl with a machine gun. But since then it has been 10 years of her playing the bad girl with a machine gun a lot of the time. I wanted to kind of give her an opportunity to play something different and she was very excited about that. So that where the idea of characters that are both good and bad came from. It was to give her an opportunity to kind of spread her wings a little bit because I do think that she is an underrated actress. No one rocks a heavy machine gun like Michelle Rodriguez. We have bits of footage and it is just incredible. She is firing this huge big ass machine gun and bullets are coming out in slow motion and she never blinks and never hesitates. The only time she gets flustered is if she doesn’t reload the magazine properly or fast enough. She is like a real pro. She is ready to go to war and she does it really, really well. But some of the most fun things in this movie has been watching her trying to walk around in a pair of high heel shows because that is the real challenge for her. That has been the kind of fun stuff.
The Leon/Ada love romance is in the beginning stages.
Li BingBing [playing new addition Ada Wong]: In this movie I think Paul still loved to keep the relationship, the emotion between Leon and me…Leon at the end catches me in the helicopter. You guys saw the scene in the morning so...it's very subtle between us.
Johann Urb: You know, the way that I imagine it, is that we sort of had this romance that never really happened. It's kind of like Mulder and Scully in X-Files. You're waiting for it to happen, but it never does. Maybe in the next one, I'm hoping.
Resident Evil: Retribution has multiple looks.
Paul W.S. Anderson: It is kind of like it is an epic undead movie. It really is a globe crossing thing. We have physically shot in Washington D.C., Red Square, and Shibuya in Tokyo. We’re obviously recreating snow and ice sequences, but we have actually gone out in the snow and ice as well. So it really has a globe crossing feel to it and each one of these different places we have tried to kind of invest with a different feel. So I am excited about the snow and ice obviously because as you can probably see with Ada laying in the red dress against the crisp white snow and the black umbrella – it is very, very graphic novely. So that is very stark. But then the Red Square sequence is completely different. It’s all at night and very gritty. So 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. We have really tried to…it is almost like the visual look of three or four different films packed into one movie, deliberately so because each scenario you go from is radically different from the next, both in the way we shot it and also in the way we lit it.
The action has definitely been turned up a notch.
Oded Fehr: This time, it was mainly more guns blazing. There’s a lot of concentration on the women fighting each other. So us guys, we get to be just tough guys shooting. But I got hung on the wires here and there. It’s fun.
Boris Kodjoe [returning as Luther West]: [The fighting] is sort of a mixture of Krav Maga, kickboxing, Muay Thai. It’s a lot of kicks and just fast moves. I fight like 8 different guys at one time. And Milla has two different fight scenes that are just ridiculous. I mean literally. They’re like 12 minutes a piece or something.
Li BingBing: I really love to do action movies. You know, most people, they know that I am a martial artist. I don't know why, but I love to do kung fu movies, you know? And in this movie, we have a part, when the first time I meet Milla, in the control room, oh, that was amazing, that scene. I did a flip in the air with wires. It's fantastic. I was so excited with that. And when I shoot a gun on the first time - you know what, I used to do gun training. The crew gave me gun training before we start to shoot the movie. And the first time when I shoot the gun on set, I feel so, so, so - how you say? - it's not nervous, it's like just excited and totally different. It's a real gun, and you shoot just on set like real sassy, and just don't care anyone...'I am the most...powerful one and I have to protect the little girl and I have to give the space and time to Alice, let her to do the other things'. Something make me feel so excited.
Johann Urb: I'm actually a little upset about this, because I had a really cool knife fight scene, that they have unfortunately removed. The guy I was fighting was this 300-something-pound giant zombie, pure muscle. It was a great fight. As of right now, I'm not using [the knife]. We're talking about possibly using it in the end sequence, if the other one is truly, truly out, and if not, I don't know. There is some hand-to-hand combat though, yes. Very little, but yes. I wish there was more, because I immensely enjoy it.
="font-style:>Jeremy Bolt: The Russian motorbike undeads are phenomenal. They're in their Communist uniforms, on their motorbikes, great makeup from Paul Jones, they're just terrific. Obviously, it's more enjoyable for us, having done it for so long now, that the undead are getting a bit more intelligent. After awhile, you feel sorry for them.
Boris Kodjoe: That is just unbelievable. And they’e all coming after us. This whole army of undead. You know [they’re] motorized now and lethal with like these creatures. It’s amazing. And Paul, you know, he literally shot the movie. He animated it and finished it. So every frame of the movie has already been produced so we can actually watch what we’re doing before we’re doing it and it’s just the second time I’ve worked like this. When I was shooting UNDERCOVERS with J.J. he had the same animated sort of storyboarding. He’s got a couple of geeks in his office who do that. It’s incredible. You could really release that as an animated movie and it looks fantastic.
Paul W.S. Anderson: I am working with Nick Powell again, who I worked with on The Three Musketeers. I really like Nick because as a fight choreographer and second-unit director he is the full package. He directs the second-unit, but he also helps choreograph the fights. He did The Bourne Identity, which I thought at the time really revolutionized the kind of look of action movies. So he has done that, but at the other end of the spectrum he also did all of the sword work on Gladiator. He is also phenomenal at car chases as well. He did all of the car chases in the first Bourne movie. He directed all of that. So he was a good all around talent to bring in. Basically he and I sat down and I showed him the inspiration from the video games. We discuss where we can kind of take that inspiration and build upon It and we watch a lot of movies together.
The sixth movie is in the works (but it may or may not be the grand finale)
Robert Colter: Everything has to come to an end. The question is if it's by your choosing, or if the audience chooses it for you [laughter].
Jeremy Bolt: Yeah. I could see a prequel to (Resident Evil) 1, definitely. And, possibly, spinning out another character, yeah. The really exciting thing for us as producers, and Paul as a director, it's so expensive to release a movie these days, that it gives everyone confidence, so you can get creative under the umbrella of the franchise. This is something studios are doing all the time. If, as Robert said, the box office deserves it, we'll keep exploring it.
Boris Kodjoe: So there were actually talks about shooting both of them at the same time, back to back. Which they abandoned at the last minute. I don’t think he’s written it but I think it’s very prominent in his head. He’s told me about it, so I think he already knows in broad strokes what the 6th one is going to look like.
Li BingBing: You know what, Paul said, next 'Resident Evil' he will ask Milla to speak Chinese. [Laughter] It's joke, because, you know, when I was on set, sometime I was...stuck, and he just encouraged me and give me more confidence and 'next time I will ask Milla to speak Chinese!' And next movie nobody know. Next, you mean 'Resident Evil 6'?
Looking back at ten years of the Resident Evil franchise:
Jeremy Bolt: Don and I have worked together for five years, and Robert and I have worked for 10 years on the films. We've all been a part of this, but I would say Milla, she's always had a fierce core. If there's anybody who could take on an alien, it's probably her. That core has evolved, so now there's a strength and a toughness about her, but there's also a strong sense of her being a leader. I think you could definitely see her leading everyone against Umbrella, and literally saving humanity. Paul has evolved from being... he's always obviously loved the world that we're in, and he's always loved the technical aspects. But I think it's interesting because, as Milla has evolved, he's very much become a part of that. They have fallen in love and gotten married, so there's a total synergy between filmmaker and the iconic leading lady. I think that's really part of why the franchise has worked. From our point of view, Milla is essentially a third partner. From my point of view, that's interesting because I was partners with Paul for 20 years, and she's now essentially a partner in this as well.
Don Carmody: Nobody knows Alice better than Alice. She probably knows that character better than Paul.
Jeremy Bolt: It's interesting when we negotiate her deal, of course, because Paul has a vested interest (Laughs). His producer hat is on, and then his husband hat is on.
Robert Colter: Going back to the first one, you really feel it was meant to be. We didn't really cast her. She cast us. She was basically lobbying to do the character, and we almost had no other choice to take her. Now you look back, and she's become a really integral part not only in front of the camera, but behind the camera. She's doing a really good job.
Paul W.S. Anderson: It has been a fabulous journey. I am very excited about what we have managed to do with the franchise. I always refer to the first Resident Evil movie as “the little movie that could” because at the time it was kind of unfashionable to do video game movies. There had been several that hadn’t work. Mortal Kombat, the one I had made, was one of the few movies that had actually done well. But then the sequel to that didn’t do well at all. It was also an R rated movie at the time when American studios didn’t really want R rated movies. It was right after Columbine and all of the studios had said, “We are not doing R rated movies anymore.” They were really backing off from it. So when we put the movie together it was pretty much financed all out of North America. There was no studio deal attached to it. Sony only became involved in it during principal photography. I remember that the deal we had on it was that if the movie didn’t do incredibly well at its first American test, and these are incredibly stressful things for a filmmaker anywhere where you go and first put your movie in front of the public, but if we didn’t score certain amounts they could have put the movie straight to DVD. It really felt like the movie that nobody wanted.
I vividly remember reading a review of it. I think it was The Hollywood Reporter or Variety. I can’t remember which, but it was one of the two trade papers that said, “This movie basically has no audience. It was made for no one and no one wants to go see it. IT has no audience.” And then the movie did have an audience. It scored huge and really played to an audience. The movie did really well and the franchise built from that point because we all stuck behind it I think. Milla stayed in the franchise and I stayed attached to it because I had been involved in franchises where I hadn’t stayed attached and I felt like the franchise went off in the wrong direction. So I am really proud that this tiny little movie that was made in Berlin, made all with foreign movie, made by a European crew, and starring a woman from Russia kind of had built into a big success. The fact that each movie has successfully done better I am very proud of.
Don't forget to read our interview with Milla Jovovich on the set of Resident Evil: Retribution!