Series Rundown: “Resident Evil” (2002 – 2017)
The Resident Evil films can make or break a cinema snob, and I am living proof. Years ago, I watched the first two (the latter with an alcohol assist and a generous amount of snark), and they didn’t leave a favorable enough impression to continue with the series. (Ironically, my interest in gaming waned shortly after Resident Evil 2 was released for the original PlayStation.) My best friend, however, never gave up the gaming torch, and my recent positive experience watching Resident Evil: The Final Chapter prompted me to purchase entries 1 – 5 for cheap on Blu-ray. Last weekend, we embarked on a (potentially ill-advised) Resident Evil marathon. All to answer the nagging question: is the series better than I initially thought? Or will I continue to keep my nose in an upturned position when I make blanket statements about Screen Gems’ winter-friendly output? Read on to find out!
Resident Evil (2002)
The original may not be the best, but it remains the most cinematic of the series. The plot? Some biological bit of nastiness is set loose in “The Hive,” a research facility owned by the sinister Umbrella Corporation. A group of paramilitary types (including Michelle Rodriguez) are sent in to find out what went wrong, accompanied by an accountant type (Welcome to the Dollhouse‘s Eric Mabius) and superhuman amnesiac heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich). As written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon), the actors appear to have been given minimal motivation and character background, leading to some pretty flat line delivery (a series constant). That said, there is some suspenseful build-up to the zombie outbreak proper (the shot of a curved foot and an ax dragging against the floor is still a great moment), and the use of mostly practical FX for the rotting legions is to be commended. Conversely, some of those CGI creatures look way too 2002.
(3 out of 5 stars)
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
The first of two sequels that didn’t feature Anderson at the helm (he still wrote the script), Apocalypse also begins the pattern of assigning the films ridiculously hyperbolic subtitles (this and Extinction would seem better suited to later in the series, but who knew it would hold strong for 6 entries?). Prestige actors like Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist; though horror fans will probably remember him from The Stendhal Syndrome) and Jared Harris (John Carpenter’s The Ward) are put to poor use, with the latter spending most of his screen time tapping away on a (very outdated) laptop to provide clumsy scene transitions. Meanwhile, paramilitary guys (including A Christmas Story‘s Zack Ward) wander around Raccoon City during the spreading zombie plague, while Alice and her new crew (including Sienna Guillory) do the same. Nemesis, a lumbering Cenobite reject, pops up periodically to fire rocket launchers and provide “oh shit” moments (granted, the foam-and-latex creature design is pretty cool). Poorly paced and plotted, Apocalypse is full of random, logic-defying encounters made less tolerable by director Alexander Witt’s obnoxiously frenetic approach (why do the zombies shamble in a slow-motion blur? It looks even worse in 2017). Oh well: Milla is still great, and matched in impractical end-of-days fashion by the tube-topped Guillory. (My rating reflects a half-star bump for MST3K mockery purposes.)
(2 out of 5 stars)
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
In look and feel, Extinction is essentially Fury Road before Fury Road ever existed, albeit on a lower budget. This spiritual heir to George Miller’s Mad Max series is helped greatly by the pseudo-epic directorial chops of Russell Mulcahy (Highlander), who approaches the script with a degree of reverence. As a result, the characters (including Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield) are given a modicum of personality to accompany the physical action of the piece, the performances are a bit more charismatic, and the action (despite some lousy CG crows) crackles with suspense and excitement. Meanwhile, the gory, head-exploding zombie carnage is the super-sweet frosting on this genre cake. Despite its sillier asides (including an opening that channels The Hills Have Eyes), Extinction winds up the most purely entertaining entry in the series.
(3.5 out of 5 stars)
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
With the return of Anderson on writing and directing detail, Afterlife (and all subsequent entries) mostly boils down to what awesome getup Milla is wearing, and where the action will be set. This one takes place at an abandoned maximum-security prison, where Alice, a brainwashed Claire, and a handful of other survivors (including Wentworth Miller and Silent Hill‘s Kim Coates) try to fend off the zombie hordes clamoring outside. Shady and shades-wearing Wesker (Diary of the Dead‘s Shawn Roberts) mills about like a villain from The Matrix (even getting in on some slow-mo bullet-time action at the climax). There is an element of mystery that propels the first half, as Alice keeps a video diary of her search for a survivor colony in Alaska, and the action is consistently thrilling. While the FX are an onslaught of CGI, I can’t hate on a film that includes creatures (those adorable split-dogs!) that invoke fond memories of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
(3 out of 5 stars)
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Released to theaters in 3D, Retribution attempts to match its added ocular depth with a concept that would be considered “ambitious” if we hadn’t seen it so many times before: Alice and company find themselves battling through a computer simulation in order to escape yet another Umbrella facility. I can imagine Anderson looking with admiration on his self-referential cleverness, but the extent of this is bringing back allies (hello, Michelle Rodriguez!) and enemies (Pyramid Head – er, “The Axe Men”) from previous films, while shamelessly rehashing (and rehashing…and rehashing…) the brilliant suburban opening of the Dawn of the Dead remake. The one interesting diversion in this otherwise muddled effort is the fleeting “what if” of Alice as a content housewife and mother (even in a life of placid domesticity, Milla looks fabulous!).
(2 out of 5 stars)
You can also find my review of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter here:
And here’s the trailer for Extinction. Enjoy.