Reign of [Resident] Evil

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January 23, 2017 by bck1402

Video games being adapted into movies have not had much success, or at least, varied perceived success. It’s more likely that those who ended up watching the movies are massive fans of the games and felt the movies never lived up to the aspects of the games, in the same way fans of novels will never be satisfied with movie adaptations; or the viewers have a passing awareness of the games and have little to no idea what is going on in the movie, being presented a world, environment, or concept that is applicable to the game but likely alien in a movie.

The degrees of success where these video game adaptations are concerned are questionable, of course. What might appeal to some viewers may not appeal to others, but that’s applicable to every movie too. Spearheaded by producers Paul WS Anderson and Jeremy Bolt, Resident Evil has, at this time, lasted six movies over fifteen years. I would think its success can be attributed to the first three films experimenting with the genre and delivering three fairly different movies with similar elements. The following sequels, where Anderson returned to the director’s post after sitting out the first two sequels, attempted to follow the formula, but with less than stellar story ideas.

You could almost split the six movies as two separate trilogies just going by tone and visual style.

RESIDENT EVIL (2002)

resident_evil_ver4

Directed by Paul WS Anderson. Stars Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Colin Salmon

Eschewing much of the source material, writer-producer-director Paul Anderson opted for something of a prequel to the games but maintaining aspects of the game, including some of the iconic creatures (dobermans, the licker). With all new characters, the first movie plays out very much like a haunted house, except within an underground facility. It keeps the atmosphere fairly claustrophobic and mysterious, allowing the basic jump-scares to play out effectively.

The other benefit was the timing. Zombie movies had played out by the time Resident Evil came out; their last outings reduced to the jokey Return of the Living Dead (1985) or the Night of the Living Dead (1990) remake by make-up effects specialist Tom Savini, and their sequels. Resident Evil gave the zombies back their bite and made way for Zack Snyder’s Dawn of The Dead remake in 2004.

In kicking off the saga, we’re introduced to Alice (Milla Jovovich), essentially a blank slate with a case of amnesia, and our eyes into this strange world as she is escorted by a band of soldiers into the bowels of The Hive, an underground lab where some unsavoury experiments have been going on. The first movie sets up that the ‘zombie’ (they never really use that word) outbreak is of a biological nature, and there is an anti-virus. By then end, it’s clear the outbreak is far wide-spread than just The Hive.

As much of the movie takes place in the underground facility, there is a dark and despairing tone to the movie. Anderson has mentioned his influences being the bleak sci-fi flicks of the 70s that often end in despair with little to no hope for the future. That tone remains throughout the movie and the fates of the characters are mostly up in the air, and it works for the most part. The horror element of the story is strong enough to firmly establish the movie as part of the genre, even though the subsequent sequels veer away quite a bit.

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE [2004]

Directed by Alexander Witt. Stars Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fear, Mike Epps with Jared Harris, Thomas Krestchmann and Iain Glen

Directed by Alexander Witt.
Stars Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fear, Mike Epps with Jared Harris, Thomas Krestchmann and Iain Glen

If Anderson is influenced by some of the bleak sci-fi flicks of the 70s to the early 80s, then Resident Evil might be his take on John Carpenter’s The ThIng and Resident Evil: Apocalypse is influenced by John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. Even Raccoon City, the location where this movie takes place, is walled off from the rest, and there’s a ticking clock for our heroes to rescue one individual and make it to an extraction point.

I don’t really know the games, but Anderson’s intent (as writer and producer) was to tie the movie to the games, citing specifically the third game which takes place in a city overrun by the undead. He also brings in two prominent game characters, Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) while introducing more game elements (Raccoon City, the STARS, more dobermans and significantly, Nemesis).

Famed second unit director Alexander Witt made his feature film debut here and he brought his influences with him, be it working on Bond films or working with Ridley Scott. Apocalypse is more an action film and less horror, the way Aliens was more of an action film and less horror than its predecessor. Witt infused the movie with some visually impressive sets and set-pieces, although most of these would fly by or be regulated to being ignored in favour for the action.

While Alice may be around in all six movies, it’s hard to determine if the character we’ve been following was the original or a clone. Aspects of this come up in the sixth movie. For me, the Alice from the first movie dies here and we follow the clone the rest of the way. When Alice wakes in the first movie, a scar is noted on her left shoulder, and that scar is missing on the Alice that emerges from the bubble at the end of this movie.  It’s also clear this new Alice is engineered with some devices that may allow her to be controlled by the Umbrella Corporation.

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION [2007]

Directed by Russell Mulcahy. Stars Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Oded Fehr, Ashanti, Linden Ashby, Mike Epps with Jason O’Mara and Iain Glen

Directed by Russell Mulcahy.
Stars Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Oded Fehr, Ashanti, Linden Ashby, Mike Epps with Jason O’Mara and Iain Glen

The time jump between the end of the second movie to the start of the third gives enough time for the T-Virus to spread across the world rather rapidly, and plopping us into the favourite post-apocalyptic location of early 80s sci-fi flicks, a desert wasteland. Leaving behind the bleak John Carpenter worlds, Resident Evil: Extinction goes Mad Max 2 instead, and in a twist for the horror genre it barely resides in, we’re in the open under bright and harsh sunlight for much of the movie and action, instead of dark gloomy places. Those aren’t completely abandoned either.

Aware that she can be controlled by Umbrella, and with new uncontrollable psychic powers emerging, Alice is on her own away from her friends. Olivera and LJ (Mike Epps) return from the second movie and have joined a convoy led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), another prominent game character. Meanwhile, we also get a clearer idea of two men behind the Umbrella machinations, Dr Isaacs (Iain Glen ), an original character, on the science side, and Albert Wesker (Jason O’Mara), a game character, on the military applications side. In this movie, it seems Dr Isacs answers to Wesker, although Dr Issacs has his own experiments with the undead going on. From this movie on, the undead evolve from the typical slow moving or shuffling undead horde to more powerful fast-moving undead swarms. Both kinds would turn up in subsequent movies.

Under the direction of Russell Mulcahy, Extinction is, for me, the strongest of the series. There is a progressive through line for Alice’s evolution, the world is firmly established, there is purpose in the characters’ actions, and the action is ramped up to be more dangerous. Sure, the dogs are back in one scene, and the Hitchcock tribute with the crows didn’t hurt. We also get another of the game creatures, the Tyrant.

Mulchay’s visual style and insistence of having much of the action happening in harsh daylight gives the movie a vibe that sets it apart from the others in the series. The story and dialogue continue to be of a dubious variety, even if it securely establishes the clone idea by the end. Also, the movie ends with a hopeful note.

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE [2010]

Directed by Paul WS Anderson. Stars Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Wentworth Miller, Boris Kodjoe with Shawn Roberts

Directed by Paul WS Anderson.
Stars Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Wentworth Miller, Boris Kodjoe with Shawn Roberts

The evolution of cinematic technology prompted the return of Paul WS Anderson to the director’s post. CGI effects had progressed by leaps and bounds since the first movie and an old cinematic fad had re-emerged: 3D. This is used to some great effect particularly with two major set-pieces involving falling water: the opening titles set in Japan, and the Axeman fight in the prison toilet.

While there is a major opening battle utilising the Alice clones seen at the end of the last movie, Anderson quickly sweeps them off the board and then takes Alice back to a baseline human, thanks to a somewhat super-human Wesker (now Shawn Roberts) injecting her with an anti-virus. Alice then makes her way to Alaska to search for Claire and the rest of the convoy, only to find Claire under the control of some mechanical spider-like device (supposedly from the games). From there, we’re back into the John Carpenter tribute as Alice and Claire hole-up in a prison building with a handful of human survivors under siege by the undead. Yep, it’s Assault on Precinct 13. We’re also introduced to Claire’s brother, Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller).

By this point, Anderson seems to be going through the motions with story and plot points catered to the judicious use of 3D set-pieces, the new digital format the movie was filmed in. The action set-pieces are impressive but at the same time, there’s a sense of overkill and fatigue setting in, especially once you get to the final fights on the Arcadia tanker. All this while keeping in mind that Alice is not supposed to be super-human anymore and yet, still pulls off super-human acts. The computer grading and effects did not help matters, resulting in an environment that should seem gritty and worn coming across as saturated and sterile. Even the beauty touch-ups on the actresses’ faces (used since Apocalypse) seem over done.

The movie doesn’t only end on a bleak note, but with a cliffhanger as the human survivors on the Arcadia observe a swarm of black helicopters bearing the Umbrella logo heading their way. A post-credits clip features this army being led by a returning character, Jill Valentine.

RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION [2012]

Directed by Paul WS Anderson. Stars Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Li BingBing, Michelle Rodriguez, Boris Kodjoe, Kevin Durand, with Oded Fear, Colin Salmon, and Shawn Roberts

Directed by Paul WS Anderson.
Stars Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Li BingBing, Michelle Rodriguez, Boris Kodjoe, Kevin Durand, with Oded Fear, Colin Salmon, and Shawn Roberts

Anderson continues his experimentation with the 3D and computer graphic effects, pushing both to their limits. If only he gave a little more attention to the script or story because, technically, nothing happens. Story-wise.

Instead, there are lots of gimmicks and attempts at surprises, but this one seems catered to the fans of the movie series, newcomers be damned. Go watch the other four on DVD before coming in to this one. If anything, Retribution is a true product of it’s time when cinematic films are just there to entertain. Frankly, I blame the Transformers movie series; lots of flash and no substance. Not that the Resident Evil would carry much substance according to many critics, online or otherwise.

Aiming for an epic global scale, our characters literally go nowhere as the landmarks of at least three major cities (Tokyo, Moscow, New York) along with a Raccoon City suburb are recreated within an underwater Umbrella facility. The visual effects are effective in recreating or extending these sets, along with the returns of creatures such as the Licker or a pair of enhanced Axemen. No dogs, though. We start with the battle of Arcadia glossed over in spectacular 3D and as the story progresses, Alice has to escape from this Umbrella facility, aided by Ada Wong (Li BingBing) first and later by a team of mercenaries including game characters Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand) as well as a returning Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) who survived the previous instalment. Generally, that’s all that happens throughout the movie, moving from one action set-piece to the next fight to another beatdown or escape.

While the glossy sheen of the computer grading may distract visually, it is worthy to note the overall design of the movie and it’s attempts at pushing the technology on hand, up to the very impressive fight choreography. Story-wise, it’s a place holder to get Alice from one place to another and set up the next instalment. Alice makes it to a besieged Washington D.C. where Wesker reintroduces the T-Virus into Alice, supposedly returning her to full power for the final battle.

It just took a much longer time to arrive.

Hop on over here for the full review of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

There’s a recap video below…


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2 thoughts on “Reign of [Resident] Evil

  1. I’m impressed at how thorough this review is. Honestly I’ve never been interested in the resident evil franchise but you kept my interest to a point where I might check it out for some light entertainment. Just curious, do you prefer the horror genre tone or action with regards to this franchise. Do you think that the bleak tone enhances or detracts from an over the top zombie flick? What other improvements do you think could have been made?

    https://onlyindreamssite.wordpress.com

    • bck1402 says:

      I’m not really a big fan of the horror genre, but I do recognise when it’s done right and proper. I did a post on that before- https://bck1402.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/the-horror-the-horror/

      Where RE is concerned, it was more the action and partly the horror elements. I got to it because of Paul Anderson and his work from the likes of Mortal Kombat, Soldier and Event Horizon. To me, he was a fanboy director, making the kinds of films sci-fi or horror fans would hope to make or see.

      While I think the first three RE films are good enough to stand as a trilogy, that ‘bleak tone’ working to its advantage, the fourth and fifth movies seem more like indulgences, hanging a story to cater to the set-pieces where the action and 3D can be on display. In a way, Anderson was catering to the action fans. I’m not sure if there was an intent to actually tell a story.

      You could compress the two movies into a single action beat and hang it as a prologue to the sixth film, and you still wouldn’t miss a beat. I would have loved to see Anderson develop his own style or tone for The Final Chapter, even if it was going back to the beginning. There was a sense of trying to regain some lost ground, bring back more of the past players and have Alice’s sacrifice seem more like a bigger deal.

      I hope that covers your queries… and thanks for the feedback.

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