How does an action movie that follows a woman in gun garters and a dress walk the line of sexy versus exploitative, without going full-on Sucker Punch?
We sat down with the man behind the Resident Evil movie franchise, director Paul W.S. Anderson, and quizzed him on female action flicks, smart zombies, and what is happening in the new Resident Evil movie. (The virus has gone global.) Here's what the ultimate video game movie director had to say.
How much time do we get spend before the outbreak in this movie?
Paul W.S. Anderson: You get to spend some time before an outbreak. There's a very, kind of quiet moment in the movie where you really get to spend a lot of time with some of the characters before there's a horrendous outbreak. But it's not at the start of the movie. The movie opens with the pay off at the end of the last movie. The last movie suggested there's going to be an epic battle on the decks of the Arcadia, and that's exactly what we deliver at the start of this film. But then it goes to an unexpected place after that.
Is the character K-Mart still in this film?
She is not. But that's not to say her character is not. The actress is not. It was a tough decision. I love Spencer Locke, and she's been a great part of the franchise, but I was bringing back so many of the other characters. It was kind of hard to have everybody in there.
There are a lot of surprising faces [from past Resident Evils] that you see in the trailer, like Michelle Rodriguez and Oded Fehr. How much time do we get to spend with those characters?
Quite a bit. I wouldn't bring Michelle back and not spend time with her. I missed working with Michelle — she was so great in the first movie. When we shot her in the head, in the first film, she said "You know you're going to regret this." And of course, I did. It was an absolute pleasure to bring her back and work with her again. She's as much fun as the first time I worked with her. She's fun, wild, crazy, but also really sharp. No one handles a heavy machine gun like she does. Colin Salmon is back as well.
I saw in the trailer that you've set up this insane blockade at the White House, what's happening there?
My intention of this movie was to really up the ante on the franchise and make it this global and epic undead movie, or post apocalyptic film. We went to a lot of different locations we were in Washington D.C., Times Square in New York. We're in Tokyo, we have this insane scene in Moscow in Red Square, we're kind of in the snowy wastes of Northern Russia. For the first time it's really a truly global outbreak.
So is Alice hopping about to all those places? What is Times Square like now? Is it littered with bodies, are the ads all still bright and going?
Yes, they're all.. ah well. It's pretty sick. It's Times Square, really, as you've never seen it before. I was very aware of I Am Legend, so it's a very different post-apocalyptic look that you've never seen before. It's pretty surprising… I felt the first movie had an unusual narrative it was very twisting and turning with Milla. You start the movie with a bunch of characters, and you think they're all going to be the characters in the film, but then they all get killed off. Then you meet Milla, but she can't remember who he is. So it was a very elaborate structure, lots of twists and turns. But then as the movies moved on they become more straight ahead, more linear. With this movie I wanted to return to that twisty, turning kind of mind-fucking that we did on the first film.
Is the President still in the White House?
Somebody is acting like the President, but it's not the president. But there's a whole scene in the Oval Office, the post-apocalyptical Oval Office. You've never seen the White House like this before — it's very exciting, because it's such an iconic building that's been filmed so many times.
Can you explain why we're going global? Is this the big war we've been waiting for?
No it's more than that really… I don't want to give too much away. In terms of scale, its escalating.
How has Alice changed from the third film when she was alone in the desert, afraid to bring people close to her because they all die? Where do we find her now?
This film is very much putting together a family of people around her. And we actually give her a small girl to be with for part of the movie as well. Which again is something new that you haven't seen before. It's definitely playing on the womanly emotional side of her that you haven't seen before.
That's interesting that you're giving her a girl. There really haven't been a lot of men in her life after the first two films, ending with her "involvement" with Oded Fehr. Why is Alice becoming more involved with females as the movies progress and less with males?
I think this has always been a female-led franchise. A female-heavy franchise, it's defined it. From the very first movie, it's about Milla and Michelle — it's been about girls, kick ass girls. But that's the identity of the franchise. It's something I've always been very excited about, it certainly makes going to work everyday really exciting in a different way than going to work with Jason Statham [on Death Race] —
which I love, but it's not such a bad thing to be surrounded by beautiful women when you're making a movie.
But also, it's a relatively fresh thing to have really strong female characters leading a movie like this. When I first came to Hollywood, there was this rule that everyone had that female action movies don't work. And I just always thought that was bullshit. I always felt that if you got it right, it could work. That's something I've always tried to explore in my career, [how] to make these movies with very strong, female lead characters.
How do you make a movie with so many female action stars in it, without going full Sucker Punch?
Sucker Punch was a movie that said it was about female empowerment, but the way the characters were dressed and kind of treated in the film, wasn't [empowering]. I think the exact opposite is true with this movie. I truly do feel that this is an empowering movie for women.
It was very interesting, when we were promoting the first Resident Evil movie. We went all around the world, and when we got to Japan the audience was entirely women, most of it was teenage girls. The Japan premiere felt like you were at a Justin Bieber concert. What are all these teenage girls doing here? And it was because in Japan, Milla's character is seen as a female empowerment figure. She's regarded as this figure, and that's what we've always tried to do and to treat those female characters with a respect that they sometimes don't get in other franchises. These women, they kick ass, and they're sexy — but there's no way that you feel like they're being exploited by the film, or the film characters.
What were the winged creatures we saw in the trailer?
The Kipepeo. They're from [the video game] Resident Evil 5. They're kind of parasitic creatures that burst out of people's bodies and then they grow to giant size. So they're not dragons, as some people have said. We're not introducing dragons into the franchise. They actually are winged creatures in the game. But I figure humanity has had air superiority in the post-apocalyptic world for far too long. It's time the undead struck back. Because it always used to be, if you could get to a helicopter and take off, you'd be fine. But now it's not fine — the skies are not a safe place for you any more.
The "zombies" are smart now, right?
The undead have evolved in the games. There was this thing introduced in the video games — an infection called the Las Plagas, but the people that were infected maintained motor skills. They could ride motorbikes and shoot machine guns.
Resident Evil: Retribution is in theaters September 14.