It was fairly low-budget, and it underwhelmed the critics on release, but - all things considered - Resident Evil was still quite a decent little video game adaptation. Given the huge gaming fanbase, and its decent enough success, sequels were inevitable. And with the vast Resident Evil lore that had already been set up (and only exploited to a limited degree in the first movie), there was plenty of material to get ideas from. Event Horizon's Paul W.S. Anderson directed the first movie, but he also wrote it and both the sequels. There is something to be said for having the same writer, it allows a decent consistency in the story arcs, which all piece together quite well. With a good starting block, a reasonable filler in Apocalypse, and a refreshingly different third part, the trilogy has something to offer both fans of the genre and of the games.
Resident Evil (8/10)
The first time I saw Resident Evil was at a preview showing in the States. I had heard absolutely nothing about the film, other than the fact that it was based on the popular video game. I had briefly played the games, originally called Biohazard in their Japanese home country, and they were arguably the definitive zombie games - bringing to your home a whole world of pain, blood, tension and utter desperation. The first of the series was predominantly set in a zombie-infested house and featured a lead heroine, Jill Valentine, who has to escape and evade - more than combat - the zombies: primarily because there were always more zombies than bullets!
The film starts just prior to the events in the first game, and appears to conclude sometime before the events of the third instalment in the game series. It also features only one character taken from the videogames, and that is not Milla Jovovich's lead heroine, Alice - although she does bear a striking resemblance to the game's Jill Valentine (who features in the movie's sequels). Originally entitled Resident Evil: Ground Zero, which changed because of 9-11, this film sees the origin of the zombies. As the opening coda states:
“At the beginning of the 21st Century, the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States. Nine out of every ten homes contain its products. Its political and financial influence is felt everywhere. In public, it is the world's leading supplier of computer technology, medical products, and healthcare. Unknown, even to its own employees, its massive profits are generated by military technology, genetic experimentation and viral weaponry.”
These experiments obviously go horribly wrong, and have unexpected side-effects upon the dead. Deep underground, a hardened Umbrella facility is suddenly thrown into lockdown by a rather HAL-like artificial intelligence, in order to prevent the spread of the virus. An elite combat team is dispatched to investigate the so-called 'Hive', and they encounter Milla Jovovich's Alice along the way. Alice does not even know her name (and neither do we) as she is suffering from amnesia. As the movie progresses, however, it becomes evident that she has many hidden talents and the team soon realise that she is their best chance of survival.
As previously stated, I was lucky enough to see this before reading all the mediocre-to-negative reviews that it appeared to attract on general release. To this day, I just do not understand why though. Ok, so this is neither Oscar-winning, nor a hundred-million-dollar effects extravaganza, but it was a great zombie movie that really captured the claustrophobic feel of the video games: bullets soon become an issue, the activation of a switch always has an unexpected side-effect, and the zombies are relentlessly overwhelming.
“The T-virus is protean, changing from liquid to airborne to blood transmission, depending on its environment. It is almost impossible to kill.”
The casting was also excellent - Milla Jovovich's Alice is a not-too-distant relative of her character in the Fifth Element: a slight, innocent and vulnerable (and often underdressed) waif who is secretly and instinctively kick-ass. And she could probably carry the movie all by herself (especially with that red slip of a dress and knee-high boots) but thankfully she does not have to. The special ops team is led by the versatile Colin Salmon, who you may recognise as one of the MI-6 operatives in the Brosnan Bond movies. He is great, if a little under-used, and is ably backed-up by Michelle Rodriguez, who went from a promising start in Girlfight, through an entertaining Fast and the Furious and ended up Lost. Here, her gun-friendly kick-ass special ops team member is a casting dream come true, and not a million miles away from Vasquez in Aliens. There's also a typically mischievous role for Rome's very own Mark Antony, James Purefoy.
“Just one bite, one scratch from these creatures is sufficient. And then, you become one of them.”
Personally, I thought that Paul W.S. Anderson didn't do a bad job of writing and directing this film. I don't really understand why he gets slated so often - his Mortal Kombat interpretation may not be all that classy but it is light-years ahead of that Van Damme Streetfighter abomination or the abysmal Double Dragon flop. And what about Event Horizon? That was very effectively dark and came complete with Larry Fishburne, before he turned into pompous Revolutions Morpheus. Sure Anderson, almost, single-handedly ruined the Aliens and Predator franchise with his PG-13 combo-flop, but he may now be back on track with his Death Race remake and his interpretation of the Spy Hunter video game. No, I don't mind his vision of the Resident Evil saga, it may be more high octane than the game and it may not be particularly cerebral, but it is still a stylish, tense piece of suitably dark and jumpy zombie entertainment, thankfully popular enough to garner two more action-orientated sequels.
“You're all going to die down here.”
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (6/10)
“My name is Alice. I worked for the Umbrella Corporation, the largest and most powerful commercial entity in the world. I was head of security at a secret high-tech facility, The Hive, a giant underground laboratory developing experimental viral weaponry. But there was an incident. The virus escaped and everybody died. Trouble was... they didn't stay dead.”
And so begins Resident Evil Apocalypse. Foolishly re-opening The Hive, the Umbrella Corporation have allowed their infectious 'T-Virus' to devastate Racoon City, below which the underground facility was located. Sealing off said city, they hope to contain the outbreak, leaving the inhabitants of the city running for their lives as the virus spreads. Amongst the survivors are a couple of characters straight out of the games - Special Tactics And Rescue Squad (STARS) operative Jill Valentine, and an Umbrella Corporation mercenary Carlos Olivera - as well as the enhanced security operative Alice, of course, returning from the first movie. After each having their individual run-ins with the infected, they band together with a few desperate others, and try to escape the horror that is Raccoon City. But the Umbrella Corporation has different plans for Alice and her newly-found friends. She is not their only biological experiment - and they unleash their second creation, known as Nemesis, to ensure that there really are no survivors.
It is clear why this was Alexander Witt's one and only Directorial effort - his vision of Anderson's story is distinctly by-the-numbers, playing more as an action-orientated version of the third Resident Evil videogame (Nemesis). His characters are distinctly one-dimensional, with Alice the only one who gets a vague amount of depth, and Jill Valentine's character absolutely wasted despite being a picture-perfect match (both in dress and movement) to the videogame counterpart. The story has been done before (very Dawn of the Dead) and even the newly injected conspiracy ideas - most notably Nemesis - come to the screen as disappointing interpretations. Still, all of this is largely forgivable if you take this to be the 'Die Hard 2' of the series: i.e. much of a repeat of the first instalment, except with less claustrophobia and originality, and more action. Nothing is likely to surprise you, even given the unnecessarily convoluted multiple endings, but at least this means that you get exactly what you expect - more Milla Jovovich in a skimpy outfit kicking ass and more zombie ass to kick, as well as a fresh team of people to get picked off one by one (although far fewer actually get infected in this one, making it a much lighter affair than the original).
Dumb, unoriginal and packed with shallow, clichéd characters, Apocalypse is still something of a guilty pleasure. It's just a shame because, given all of the material and ideas and even actors on boards, they could have made something a little more... satisfying. Jovovich gets naked again (she must have a nudity clause in her contracts which is the reverse of most other actresses, not that anybody will complain much) but only gets a couple of moments of character development in amidst kicking ass in more and more over-the-top ways, and the Mummy's Oded Fehr is limited by his predictably compassionate mercenary character, Carlos. But it's our very own Sienna Guillory who suffers worst, so determined to look, walk and shoot like her character from the games that she comes across as some kind of impassive robot. Even if that was the case in the games, the larger scale (and bigger action) in the movie makes her seem unnaturally perfect and simply impossible to kill. And nobody likes a hero who has no weakness.
All in all, this is an entertaining enough stop gap between the reasonably decent original movie and the surprisingly fresh third instalment, so devoid of originality or competent direction that you are unlikely to find much re-watch value in it, but still worth having if you liked the others and like the whole Resident Evil universe.
Resident Evil: Extinction (7/10)
Although the second movie was left open for a sequel, it still came as something of a surprise when I saw the posters appear. Milla was back, fighting zombie in the desert, and I wondered where they were going to go with this instalment. Could it be any more over-the-top than the second movie? Would it also suffer from being too much style over substance? I hoped not.
“The Umbrella Corporation thought they'd contained the infection. Well, they were wrong. Raccoon City was just the beginning. Within weeks, the T-virus had consumed the United States. Within months, the world. The virus didn't just wipe out human life. Lakes and rivers dried up, forests became deserts and whole continents were reduced to nothing more than barren wastelands. Slowly, but surely, the Earth began to wither and die.”
Kicking off by returning us to the setting of the first movie - complete with a nice twist - we find ourselves in the middle of the desert, with the infected undead seemingly capable of living indefinitely without sustenance. A small convoy of survivors - including a couple of familiar faces from the second movie - is staying on the move, trying to pick up food and petrol wherever they can, but never staying in one place long enough to get overrun. Meanwhile our trusty super-heroine, the genetically enhanced Alice, is riding around on her bike, picking off zombies and getting into small pockets of trouble along the way. Obviously, she joins up with the group, although that turns out to cause them even more trouble as the evil Umbrella Corporation has been tracking her, determined to use her to create a serum that will enable them to use the infected that they have created as a zombie army. Thankfully her 'powers' - largely telekinetic (and hinted at in the epilogue to Apocalypse) - have developed considerably, and Alice is finally in a position to effectively and decisively combat the legions of undead, as well as resist the arguably more significant threat of the Umbrella Corporation.
Well, Extinction starts off with a very Mad Max 2: Road Warrior feel to it, complete with desert, convoy and lone warrior, all fighting a tough, brutal and overwhelming enemy. And, to be honest, it works in the film's favour. After the very closed setting of The Hive during the first movie, and the dark night-time urban landscapes of Apocalypse, the almost entirely day-time-set Extinction effectively gives the franchise a fresh new environment within which to evolve the story. The story itself, whilst not exactly The Count of Monte Cristo, is actually much more coherent and engaging than the second instalment, definitely having a better sense of direction and some reasonably satisfactory pay-offs at the end. The corporate politics of the Umbrella Corporation are suitably sinister, the zombies are more evolved (and we even get zombie birds, with a nice tribute to Hitchcock in there) and Alice has become a Jedi. What more could you want?
Milla Jovovich returns as Alice, and the series is really all about her. It was probably written for her. Now don't get me wrong, this ex-model is one beautiful woman, but in Extinction almost every other shot of her (particularly the close-ups) appears to have been air-brushed into oblivion. Now, I could understand if this was Steven Seagal that they wanted to make look younger or slimmer or whatever, but it's Milla Jovovich we're talking about here. And it's not like the more natural-looking shots of her make her look bad, which is the really odd thing. Whether it's the night-time sitting by the campfire sequence or some of the daylight shots in the vehicles, she looks like a near-perfect CG rendition of herself and it's rather distracting to say the least. From a character perspective, Alice gets much more room to breathe here, and Milla's always brought a quaint fragility and innocence to what is ostensibly a action-heroine role. To back her up we get a couple of familiar faces from the second instalment (survivors on the run Oder Fehr (as the character from the game, Carlos) and Mike Epps, as well as the evil scientist Dr. Isaacs (Tomb Raider's Iain Glen). There's also another character from the games, Claire Redfield, although her role here appears to have been sandwiched in merely to replace the character of Jill Valentine (I assume because Sienna Guillory didn't want to reprise that role). Heroes' Ali Larter looks good as Redfield, but really doesn't distinguish her character from any of the others amidst this motley, expendable bunch.
Extinction may not be the end of the story, but if it is, this isn't a bad way to finish things off. With some respectful nods to everything that was good about the first movie, some interesting ideas and a fresh new setting, there may not be anything on offer here that has not been done before in one way or another (Mad Max 2, Day of the Dead) but as a whole it is still stylish and satisfying enough to prove more than entertaining for its relatively short runtime. Fans of the Resident Evil series will definitely like the direction they have taken the story in and those who were perhaps disappointed by the second part might be surprised by how much better this third instalment is.
Resident Evil is perhaps the only video-game adaptation out there to have reached the stage of trilogy. It may not be desperately scary, innovative or original, but - not least because of an ever-hot Milla Jovovich kicking seemingly innumerable zombie ass throughout all three movies - it at least manages to be consistently entertaining.
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