In case you weren’t aware or you have a more refined taste in cinema, a new Resident Evil movie is on the horizon, the Final Chapter we’ve all been waiting for.Well, at least I am as I’ve been more dedicated to this series than most. Why do they keep getting made you might ask? Well they make some money overseas, probably boost video games sale and keep Milla Jovovich employed. As we near the ending of this neverending, mindless series I underwent an intense two day rewatch to remind myself why I’ve stuck it out all these years.
Resident Evil (2002)
I don’t use the phrase “guilty pleasure” often because I unabashedly love so many movies that most deem “bad” and feel no shame in stating that. The entire Resident Evil franchise though is genuinely terrible yet every two to three years I find myself marathoning in preparation for the next installment. Their brand of bad comes from its lack of originality, upon every rewatch I am reminded of their general blandness. They’re objection based stories (get from A to B like the video game), there’s action set pieces in between (none too spectacular), there’s always a “Boss” character to beat then it ends on a cliffhanger that will never be followed up on. They’re so simplistic and that’s why I like them so much. They’re “exist in the background” kind of films that I can watch mindlessly. It’s not like they’re dumber than the Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, they’ve just got bigger budgets and flashier/poorly aging special effects. What gives this series most of its distinction is mutated badass Alice played by Milla Jovovich who knows how to look sexy with a gun and can round house kick Doberman Pinschers. Somehow this now six part franchises has maintained a presence over the span of 15 years and keeps me loyal as if I’ve been brainwashed by Umbrella itself.
I did not start playing the video games in which the series was based on till after the third installment aka Extinction. As much as fans can complain about adaptations, it’s not like the Capcom games have a well of rich characters and storylines to draw from. Anderson adapts mostly from the basic premise of the zombie outbreak and a team sent to discover the cause. I find it strange that they opt to not use any of the original characters in 2002’s Resident Evil but Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine aren’t particularly iconic. Alice is a solid alternative as her waking up with an erased memory makes for a blank slate to the situation, perfect as an audience surrogate. We journey with her and a pack of military grunts through the chambers of the underground Hive facility that houses the outbreak.
Typically out of the series, the first is always cited as the best. I think that’s debatable because the later films take more visual strides as they have larger budgets and more advanced technology to work with. This film has the most memorable sequences that would be continuously copied in the later sequels because studios are too lazy to develop anything new. The first is the opening scene in the office where the systems go haywire. It contains no one we’ll encounter later in the series and is such a stand alone moment but is the only scene that has any tension. It’s regular people being essentially trapped and murdered by the technology they work for. The second being the hallway of bone cutting lasers that no matter what, always looks cool. Otherwise, this movie is mutant dogs (a recurring obstacle that they flog to death), the Playstation graphics monster and your garden variety zombies.
It’s a mediocre start but in its defense the films don’t get worse, they just ride that average wave. It sets a bar of stupid action movie with minimal character development or story progression in general. You know what you’re getting into so you can leave at any point or if you’re me you’ll stick it out till this train runs out of steam. Hey, I’m on board for the long haul, baby!
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Apocalypse is the most direct of all the RE sequels primarily taking place just days after the T-Virus breakout. We’re given a new slate of characters, some good (handsome Umbrella soldier Olivera (Oded Fehr) and fan favorite/rival heroine Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory)) some forgettable (Weather Girl Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt)) and some bizarre (Wise-cracking comic relief from Mike Epps plus Jared Harris who was convinced to be in this). It’s a predictable video game plot in this case save a little girl and take her to a safety but they try to throw in some emotional entanglement which is never their strong suit. Alice’s sister experiment was the other survivor from the Hive (Matt played by Eric Mabius) who is now a giant ugly man mutant called Nemesis and like the name implies, he’s got a bone to pick. Annoyingly this film relies heavily on flashbacks to constantly remind you of Alice and Matt’s kinship, thankfully a tactic the later films dropped.
One of Apocalypse’s biggest issues is that it feels so compelled to connect with the first film and doesn’t trust its audience to remember a movie that came out two years prior. As I marathon this franchise, I’d pick this to be the weakest of them all as there’s little that I could name as spectacular as far as action or horror goes and this is coming from a series I’ve already deemed deliciously average. There is at least an expanding of scope as the setting is elevated from underground facility to the streets of Racoon City (which look suspiciously like a Canadian metropolis). Jovovich still carries the movie as her running down skyscrapers in mesh tops is what makes this journey worthwhile. Her breathy voice and cocked eyebrows are getting used to selling the preposterous dialogue. There is a sincerity in the tone that is unmatched by modern meta-standards. Don’t worry, the series keeps straight-faced till the end and at least after Apocalypse you can only go up.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Or you can go West. Extinction takes a Mad Max-ian approach to a franchise that never quite found its own visual style. Out in the Nevada desert, Alice meets up with a caravan captained by Olivera and Claire Redfield (a new video game character for each installment) played by Ali Larder. Set up in Apocaplyse Alice’s superhuman powers begin to grow so not only being a kung fu master and gun expert, she has telekinesis to blow up zombie-fied crows (yeah, that’s a pretty dumb creature). I always found the beige desert setting a turn off aesthetically (props to Apocaplyse being blue) and was bothered that so much time had passed from the last story (i>Extinction jumps roughly two to three years forward). You start getting the sense this is an aimless series, struggling to connect to the larger Umbrella conspiracy. To its credit, the games have equally no logic to what this corporation has to gain from all its experimentation now that most of the earth’s population is undead. But as a liberal, I am on board with the villainizing of privatization.
This one has the best zombie fight with the showdown in Las Vegas, Alice gets to parade her new skills and everyone else gets to take cover in the sand-covered city. Fewer flashbacks here but heavy on references to the first film, simulating scenes we’ve now seen dozens of times. Every other movie we have to be reminded of the laser room. Even with being so homage-laden, number three comes out swinging with a high caliber final Boss (mostly due to great special FX makeup) and some epic battles. Ending with a promise of hundreds of Alice clones, how can you go wrong!?
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
As Paul WS Anderson returns, Afterlife brings RE into the 22nd Century. What becomes evident in just the opening credits is that substitute directors for Apocalypse and Extinction (Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy respectively) had nowhere near the artistic talent of Anderson who can make schlock look good. Not that he has a signature style because like every RE film, it’s ripping off something else and here it’s decided to take the form of The Matrix ten years too late. The world of Umbrella becomes sterile plated glass buildings and antagonist Albert Wesker is a dead ringer for Agent Smith. For god sake, they use Bullet Time! This particular aesthetic doesn’t last very long much like the battalion of Alice clones we were promised in Extinction. After a well-choreographed action sequence (one of many as this is Anderson’s specialty) of dozens of Alice’s slaying faceless Umbrella employees, a bomb is detonated so they all die leaving us with only the real Alice, how convenient.
It’s almost as if the concept of clones was too much of an overload to try to integrate them into the story. Instead, kill them quick so we can get Alice and amnesia-fied Claire (Ali Larter) to a prison filled with survivors who need to get to safety. Resident Evil: Prison Break Edition along with a director upgrade also has all its zombies who’ve run stale get reimagined as alien mutated zombies. We now have tentacle flower faced zombies which are quite unsettling and I buy as a further mutation considering how much Umbrella loves their experiments. The 10-foot Axeman that breaks down the prison walls, he’s harder to explain away. He may be a bewildering anomaly but he gives Claire a time to shine as she battles him in a water spraying shower room combat.
What accompanies being new generation RE is that this film was intended to be seen in 3D and not the Avatar “look what amazing enhancements we can make with this technology.” It’s more in the vein of gimmicky 1980’s Friday the 13th Part 3 3D where weapons swing in slo-mo towards the screen. It slows down just so you can “ooh” and “aah” at its marvel. Silly techniques aside, Afterlife is such a step up because Anderson is so skilled in directing action as he knows how to make a zombie shoot-em-up exquisite. He’s the piece that makes this series whole and why the latter half of a double trilogy reins superior.
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
This is what I’ve been waiting for. All the bullshit stripped away. Anderson delivers the purest and best of the Resident Evil movies. Retribution delivers on everything I’ve wanted from this series. Superior special effects, an array of battles involving creatures that exist only in your nightmares and lots of great hairstyles. No need to be emotionally invested in the characters or worried about any kind of stakes, it’s just Alice reunited with past favorites, fighting her way across simulated terrains to escape Umbrella’s Russian testing facility.
This is also the definition of a video game movie. Ten minutes in, Wesker is remotely broadcasting to Alice and her new partner Ada Wong their mission. It’s so blatant, having no interest in a plot with substance, a front the other films attempt. That’s not to say there are no flourishes. Thanks to having the same production crew carry over from Afterlife, there’s the improved stylistic continuity. The opening credits are one of my favorite moments of the entire series as the siege on the ship Arcadia is played in slow motion and backwards to an amazing score by TomandAndy which is reprised throughout the journey. Both the double Axeman fight and the infamous Uber Licker making his triumph return from the first film, look phenomenal. Plus instead of playing the same simulations we’ve seen in every sequel (laser room, waking up in the shower) we get this great alternate universe sequence where Alice wakes up in suburbia, married to Olivera and has long hair! It has a very Zach Snyder Dawn of the Dead feel but I like that we get to see former characters in a setting that isn’t the cold concrete walls of Umbrella.
I don’t care if I get shit for this but Retribution is epic and the best of the series at least until Final Chapter tells me otherwise.