Hoo boy, I guess this is my next six Fridays. I was originally going to end this season of reviewing Video Game Movies with the Resident Evil series, but I […]
Hoo boy, I guess this is my next six Fridays. I was originally going to end this season of reviewing Video Game Movies with the Resident Evil series, but I know what Season 3 is and I’m going to need a palette cleanser before I get into that particular brand of hell. So here we are, Resident Evil. Easily the most successful live action film franchise based on a video game series – though it doesn’t have a lot of competition there – Resident Evil as a film series spawned six films over the course of fourteen years, grossing a total of $1.2 billion. Not a bad return for a horror franchise or a video game adaptation. It’s not hard to see why Resident Evil would make a good franchise – memorable characters, locations, monsters and set-pieces make Resident Evil one of the most beloved game franchises of all time.
Yet the movies never got much critical respect, with Wikipedia generously saying that the first movie got a mixed reception (despite having the lowest Metacritic score of the whole series). Of course critics can be wrong (except me) and review scores mean nothing (except mine) so let’s clear all expectations and go into this with an open mind and an open heart. Also, horror movies traditionally do nothing for me and I have only ever played the first Resident Evil game so I am the worst person to review these let’s go.
Resident Evil starts with a mysterious figure taking some vials, throwing a blue one and letting it smash on their way out. This blue vial contains the T-Virus, which we’ll soon find out is bad news. The scientists and staff in the laboratory are immediately quarantined – which in horror film speak means killed in horrific fashion. Some are drowned, others are poisoned and some lucky girl is beheaded when she tries to escape a trapped elevator only for it to start moving. The curious thing was it seemed like someone, or something, was in control the whole time.
We then cut to our main character, Alice (Milla Jovovich) lying in a shower. Waking up she slowly realises she has no idea where or even who she is. She ends up outside where she is grabbed by a cop and taken back to the Mansion just in time for an elite group of SWAT-looking people who arrest the cop and check his ID, Matthew Addison (Eric Mabius). The group of guards include Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Kaplan (Crewes) and their leader James ‘One’ Shade (Colin Salmon). James asks Alice to report but someone mentions that the mansion’s defence systems had activated and she is probably still suffering the side effects, thus justifying her memory loss.
The group were on their way into the secret laboratory called The Hive, owned by mega pharmaceutical corporation Umbrella, to figure out what happened and shut down the station. For whatever reason they decide to take the cop they arrested and the amnesiac soldier with them. Alice had been placed at the mansion to guard the secret entrance to The Hive along with a fake husband, who shows up in a compartment on the secret train to the secret underground lab. His name is Spence (James Purefoy) and he also has amnesia so naturally he is also brought along (?).
They get to the lab and it is not a pretty sight – everyone is dead. The AI that was meant to oversee the facility went rogue and killed everyone. They are there to set off an EMP bomb to destroy the AI. The large group splits into two – Rain and another soldier J.D. guard the prisoner cop while the rest of the group head down to the AI’s room to ruin her day. Kaplan initially struggles to hack his way into her defences and open the door but he eventually manages (or so he thinks) so a team lead by James head in with the bomb. Then the AI activates the lasers which cuts off the head of one member of the team, the second laser kills the other two leaving just James alive as Kaplan struggles to shut off the lasers. He finally manages but it’s too late, the lasers cut their leader into 50 little diamond shapes. Whoops. Distraught, he goes through with the mission and despite the AI producing a little girl hologram to beg for her life, the gang set off the EMP, shutting off the AI and saving the day!
Oh, and it also unleashed all the zombies. Well that was an unintended side effect. Rain and J.D. fight one off but are shocked at how hard they are to kill. The rest of the gang eventually make their way back up but are soon overwhelmed by a hoard of zombies. J.D. doesn’t make it, Rain gets a nice bite on her hand for good measure. At some point, Matt separates from the group as he looks for information on his sister, Lisa. He is briefly reunited with his sister who tries to bite a chunk off his neck. Eh, I’ve been to rowdier family reunions. He is saved by Alice who recognises Lisa’s face – Alice may have helped Lisa infiltrate Umbrella in order to steal the T-Virus. Matt explained that he and his sister were trying to take down Umbrella and stealing the virus would be all the proof they need.
The two meet up with the rest of the gang who are stuck in the computer room with nowhere to run. Alice decides to take charge and reboots the AI, asking her for help to escape in exchange of not permanently frying her systems. She complies, after explaining that she killed everyone in the Hive in order to prevent the T-Virus infection from contaminating the outside world. Y’see T-Virus makes the zombies by giving them just enough functions to move but with only the ‘need to feed’ which I’m pretty sure I reviewed last week. The gang end up in the sewers but quickly get lost – and worse still, surrounded by zombies. Kaplan is bitten and Rain is too, again. Kaplan gets stuck and tells Alice and co to run and leave him be. Reluctantly, they agree and Kaplan takes a gun to his mouth. Alas, he cannot pull the trigger himself so he crawls away as the zombies chase after him.
Rain by this point is struggling to even stand and so the two surviving lads, Spence and Matt, help her to a medical room but on the way Alice has a vision and her memories come flooding back – she at least remembers there is an anti-virus cure. There’s a chance to save Rain! She goes to where the virus is kept but it’s gone. Just then the two amnesiacs become former-amnesiacs as Alice remembers that her goal was to take Umbrella down but Spence was the one who stole the virus and then set the virus free as well, for whatever reason. Now that he has his memories back he is suddenly a massive prick and threatens to shoot Alice and Matt before making his escape, locking them in the room.
The gang lament that they’ve let him go when the Red Queen (the AI) is all like “WELLLLLLL, watch this!” and shows Spence getting bodied by a Licker. If you’ve played the games you know what a Licker looks like. If you haven’t, here’s what the sexy beast looks like:
Gene Simmons, eat your heart out. Actually, I like the Licker probably could do that for you! The AI offers to help Alice and Matt leave but at the cost of killing Rain – the AI refuses to run the risk of an infected person escaping the facility. Rain agrees and tells Alice to kill her with a fire axe as the Licker – now stronger for absorbing Spence’s DNA – tries to break into the room but Alice refuses and smashes the screen the Red Queen was using to pressure Alice into killing her friend. Just at that moment, the power cuts off and Kaplan arrives to save the day! What a lad!
They make it back to the train where the case with the T-Virus and the antivirus – both Kaplan and Rain are given the injections to hopefully cure their infliction. As they ride back to the mansion, however, the Licker shows up and drags Kaplan out of the train before slashing Matt’s shoulder. To make things worse, the antivirus failed and Rain has turned. Matt has the unfortunate task of shooting Rain in the head which makes her fall onto a button which causes the Licker to fall through the bottom of the train – even more painful since Alice had stuck a pole through his tongue, trapping him to the floor of the train. Matt shuts the doors, seemingly killing the Licker (who was also on fire at this point?).
Alice and Matt escape the facility just in time for the blast doors to shut behind them. They have escaped with the virus and are all set to reveal Umbrella’s dirty secret to the world. At that moment though, the wound on Matt starts to mutate and a bunch of hazmat-suited people come to grab Matt – with someone asking him to be placed on the ‘Nemesis’ program so they can foreshadow a sequel – and Alice is captured. Someone mentions reopening the Hive to figure out exactly what happened down there…
Alice awakens some time in the future on an examination table. She escapes from the room and steps outside to see Racoon City is ruins, cars smashed, windows broken and zombie noises in the distance. Alice finds a shotgun, cocks it and then we are treated to some Slipknot as the people who made this movie get their names shoved in our face.
Even before I saw this movie I knew a popular complaint about this film is that is only vaguely feels like a Resident Evil movie. Well I’ve now seen the movie and they are completely right – it feels like Paul W.S. Anderson wanted to make a Resident Evil AND a System Shock AND a Matrix movie and accidentally made all three. At the same time, the effort was made to make this iteration of Resident Evil it’s own thing – keep Umbrella, keep the T-Virus and keep the variations of the zombies – but have none of the baggage or characters from the games thus ensuring that they can tell their own story. Except I know that most major characters from the games show up in later movies so I can’t respect it too much because it obviously didn’t work out well.
The movie had a pretty budget of $33 million and it shows in the sets and some of the practical effects are pretty sweet – the best part of any zombie movie on a technical level is seeing how they used the makeup to make people look like their dead. Horror themed makeup is always cool. So it makes it even stranger that two of the first few zombies we see have bad CGI faces and then all the others are given the makeup treatment. It just makes those two faces REALLY stand out especially since the CGI in this film is not great. The Licker does not mesh well with its surroundings and as a result it makes it super hard to take it seriously as a threat because it’s so obviously computer generated.
Character-wise, none of them really have much of a character. Any time they show anything remotely interesting they are killed within minutes. Michelle Rodriguez plays a very Michelle Rodriguez character to the point where she could have been one of the more interesting characters of the crew if she wasn’t played by Michelle Rodriguez. Not her fault, she plays that role well it’s just that she plays that role often. Even Alice isn’t all that interesting – they try to build up a suspense with her “did she set off the virus?” but because Milla Jovovich barely emotes it becomes hard to sympathise or relate to her character.
I think what makes this feel less like a Resident Evil film is that this is not a horror film. It’s an action film. They rarely build up any tension with the zombies, there’s not really any scares and much like Doom, the only time I felt uncomfortable was when they were injecting needles because needles makes Stu feel queasy. It’s an action film and some of the action is pretty fun – I mentioned the Matrix earlier because there are some fights where Alice runs up a wall and jump kicks a zombie in the face. There’s even some slow motion at times if I recall. Like, it’s 2002, I’ll give them a pass for still riding that post-Matrix wave but that pass expires before the next movie. Although Alice jump kicking a zombie dog in the face is an original visual I never thought I’d get to see, so points there?
There’s nothing necessarily bad about Resident Evil but there’s plenty about it that’s not great. It feels like a generic horror-action movie that really fails to utilise what makes Resident Evil a fun game. I honestly would have liked to have seen a low budget, B-movie inspired slasher. The mansion setting is teased here but I think it would have been a more interesting film if it was set mostly in the mansion and then the lab was there as a twist towards the end. Like the game, I’m just comparing it to the game. I commended them for not just making THE GAME BUT A MOVIE but in this case they should just made THE GAME BUT A MOVIE. Or but B Movie, cos that would have been more fun.
Resident Evil is pretty charmless and it’s not a good way to kick off a six-movie franchise. Again, not terrible but there’s little to be totally positive about – except the final shot of Racoon City in pieces was actually a good way to set up a sequel so I have a little bit of hope. Still, a year from now I won’t remember anything about this particular movie.
FINAL SCORE –
Also I’ve just read about the fact they had George Romero write a script for a Resident Evil movie and then rejected it so screw everybody involved in that decision. I guess they were too afraid of making a GOOD movie.