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Revisiting the Resident Evil movies (Part 1)

Come back tomorrow for Part 2.

Contains SPOILERS of the Resident Evil film series

Halloween may be over, but there is still horror out there, not least of which is the current pandemic. In this day and age, it might be in bad taste to revisit a film series about a viral outbreak that turns everyone into zombies and other kinds of monsters, but considering the media coming out this year from The Last of Us Part II to The Stand, one should never take the Resident Evil film series too seriously.

Based on Capcom’s video game franchise, which is credited for defining the survival horror genre and returning zombies to popular culture, German production company Constantin Film bought the film rights for Resident Evil in the late nineties. Originally hiring zombie maestro George R. Romero to helm the first film, ultimately Paul W.S. Anderson took over as writer and director. Having previously found success with 1995’s Mortal Kombat, hiring Anderson makes sense. But what exactly was the British director’s relationship with Resident Evil?

Anderson wrote a script called Undead, which he confessed as being a rip-off of the game he played. Having previously directed horror with Event Horizon – which remains his best film -Anderson has acknowledged Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as an influence towards his film. Much like how Kubrick took major liberties with Stephen King’s source material, Anderson had his own ideas towards Resident Evil, including not to feature any tie-ins with the video game series.

Resident Evil (2002)

Opening with an all-new character, the amnesiac Alice (Milla Jovovich) teams up with a band of Umbrella Corporation commandos as they attempt to contain the outbreak of the T-virus at a secret underground facility under a deserted mansion. From the references to Alice in Wonderland, such as the main character being named after Lewis Carroll’s creation, she metaphorically tumbles down the rabbit hole where she eventually encounters an A.I. referred to as the Red Queen. This right away presents a thematic departure from the game series.

Considering George A. Romero’s initial involvement, his approach in depicting the undead is an influence towards the first three Resident Evil movies. There are a lot of zombies, a few zombified dogs and one licker, an iconic monster from the games. The first film tried to put some effort in scaring the audience, though this attempt would be diminished in the sequels. The film’s more action-oriented feel (along with heavy metal-orientated soundtrack co-composed by Marilyn Manson) drifts away from the survival horror that defined the games. Coming out the same year as Danny Boyle’s more interesting zombie film 28 Days Later, Resident Evil sticks out like a sore thumb.

Most Random Moment: Being trapped in an elevator can be claustrophobic, but the sight of someone being decapitated by one before the screen cutting to black is actually funny.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, Resident Evil was a box office success, paving the way for the inevitable sequel. Paul W.S. Anderson remained as sole writer and one of the producers, while first-time director Alexander Witt was at the helm. In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the T-virus breaks out as Alice now bands together with other survivors to escape the zombie outbreak which has spread to the nearby Raccoon City. There are more zombies and lickers to worry about. But the Umbrella Corporation, have also created the bio-weapon Nemesis in order to remove any evidence and witnesses that would incriminate their involvement in the virus’ creation.

Even though there are more tie-ins to the games from the inclusions of known characters like Jill Valentine (albeit looking like bad cosplay) to Raccoon City as the main setting, ultimately, Apocalypse is what cements the films with their own identity, which can be incredibly awful as seen here. Thinly-written characters, horror clichés and over-the-top action sequences that are trying so hard to be cool. The whole thing feels like a cartoon – and not an entertaining one- despite nearly every character wielding a gun in each hand.

Most Random Moment: The stand-up comedian Mike Epps, who plays the annoying comic relief, drives by to encounter a bunch of zombie strippers. And this was before the movie Zombie Strippers was released.

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

What happens after the apocalypse, after the virus somehow dried up the world’s waters? You get a post-apocalyptic future that is part-Mad Max, part-Texas Chainsaw Massacre and part-The Birds. Instead of getting George Miller, the other Australian genre director Russell Mulcahy got the job. Known for directing the original Highlander, Mulcahy does a better job at building a creepy atmosphere than the predecessor, though writer/producer Paul W.S. Anderson remains the true auteur behind the whole series.

Drifting far more away from the source material, apart from featuring Claire Redfield, Albert Wesker and other monsters including a Tyrant, Anderson is making up the mythology as he goes along. This includes Alice suddenly developing mental powers like in Akira. From this point, the influences are less about from the games, but from other movies, including Romero’s initial zombie trilogy. Even other video games were becoming apparent as each of the Resident Evil movies used a recurring 3D map that feels more like Metroid.

Most Random Moment: Alice encounters a family that might as well be the family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as they tried to feed her to their zombified mutts.

Interlude 

We need to talk about Milla. Having already made a name for herself in cult movies Dazed and Confused and The Fifth Element, the Resident Evil movies have cemented Milla Jovovich’s status as an action star, leading to subsequent roles in various sci-fi and action films. Despite showing off her badassery in these films, why don’t the films themselves leave the best impression?

Jovovich has done dramatic work in between the genre movies and yet it is those movies that will grab the mainstream attention. The final results are either films that could fall into the straight-to-video camp like Survivor or films that are “so bad, it’s good” category like Ultraviolet. Milla deserves better and hopefully with future works like Monster Hunter and the proposed female-led Expendables spin-off, the action star will truly get her moment to shine in the right project.

The initial trilogy may have been done, but Resident Evil is far from over as the story gets more out-there, if still not making enough sense…

A straight forward rom com that works by sticking to a formula

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