So once again we have survived.

Resident Evil

The RESIDENT EVIL movie series is sort of a zombie in its own right – a dead thing leftover from another time, somehow still walking the earth. When the first one came out in 2002, movies based on video games were still a novel concept that had only really been done successfully by this same director, Paul Anderson, with MORTAL KOMBAT (1995). According to a chart I found, the video game industry itself made $48.29 billion in 2002. That’s a bunch of money, but it also says that as of three years ago they were making $76 billion. And I’m sure it’s still going up.

I don’t know of any charts for this, but I bet the revenue from zombie related entertainment has increased tenfold during that period. This may be hard for the youths to imagine, but zombie movies were a genre that had been fallow for nearly two decades, and only horror people obsessed with DAWN OF THE DEAD ever thought about them. This complicated the reception of RESIDENT EVIL for people like me. On one hand, it was exciting to see any take on this type of monster. On the other hand, we were still holding out for a comeback for George A. Romero, who had not yet done LAND OF THE DEAD (or DIARY OF THE DEAD or SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD). We knew because of internetting that he’d shot a series of Japanese commercials for the Resident Evil video game, and had been hired to write and direct the movie until the company didn’t like his script and replaced him.

So it was interesting to watch RESIDENT EVIL again in 2016, remembering that I hated it when it came out, but not much remembering why (here’s the dumb review I wrote almost 15 years ago). At the very least there’s a good opening sequence that I had no memory of. Employees of the Umbrella Corporation in Raccoon City, Wherever arrive one morning at their underground lab work place known as “The Hive,” having no idea that the shit is floating mid-air in a cool MATRIX style slo-mo flight toward the fan, because somebody broke open a vial of the deadly experimental T-virus.

We focus in on a nerdy dude who gets his coffee knocked on him by a hurried person while he’s waiting for the elevator. The splasher doesn’t stop to apologize, and a woman (Indra Ove, “VIP Stewardess,” THE FIFTH ELEMENT) who’s also waiting for the elevator shares an “aren’t people dicks?” moment of sympathy with him. His humiliation has earned him a conversation with this white knight, which he totally blows when their crowded elevator gets stuck between floors and he starts panicking way too early. They don’t even know what’s going on and he’s about two minutes from suggesting a vote for who’s gonna get cannibalized.

Sympathetic Lady admirably takes charge, but while she’s trying to crawl out through the doors the elevator starts to move again, and she gets one of those viscerally painful deaths that actually make you wince. Based on this opening sequence it seems like the movie means business.

And then we get another little short film. This one is about Alice (Milla Jovovich, A PERFECT GETAWAY) waking up naked in the bathtub of a strange mansion, not sure who she is. She puts on a dress and looks at clues to her identity before a cop (Eric Mabius, THE CROW: SALVATION) scares her, and then a SWAT team busts through the windows. They say that Alice and her partner Spence (James Purefoy, SOLOMON KANE) live in the mansion as a couple but are actually there to guard one of the entrances to The Hive, and that a release of gas from the facility’s security system had knocked them out and caused their amnesia.

These commandos are supposed to go in and shut down the security system or something to quarantine this virus. I gotta assume this whole set up comes from the video game, because they got it all figured out: there’s an underground train that goes to the Hive. There’s an AI security system called “The Red Queen” that appears in the form of a hologram of a little girl with a British accent, and she’s being kind of a brat. There are halls with laser grids that come at you and chop you up CUBE style unless you know how to do cool acrobatic shit.

And once they get in the staff that were trapped down there have been turned into zombies. I’m sure the elevator nerd is the most panicky zombie of all of them. (They must’ve shown him and his coffee stain again, but if so I didn’t pick up on it.) They get swarmed and have to climb up onto pipes and through vents and shoot at them and stuff. Michelle Rodriguez – who was early in her career of supporting tough ladies, having only done GIRLFIGHT and the first THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS – gets to be the one to revive the “I don’t want to become one of those things, if I get bit you know what to do, right?” cliche for the 2000s.

The zombies lack the personality or high quality makeup effects that we were accustomed to from Romero movies (and now The Walking Dead), so they’re not that interesting. But since this is a video game there are other monsters that they gotta fight, the best one being the mutant dobermans that were test subjects in the lab. The one great sequence after the opening is the one where Alice gets chased by a dog and she runs up a wall, spins around and kicks the thing in slow motion. I remember when I first saw this that was the only part I liked, and I rewound it a couple times.

At the climax there’s also a monster called a “licker” I guess which is a naked mutant guy that crawls on the ceiling and has a long tentacle tongue. This is a digital animated character, and the effects seem crude now, but are very sophisticated compared to what Anderson was dealing with on MORTAL KOMBAT. And they get some humor out of the characters’ disbelief that after all they’ve survived now they have to deal with this fuckin tongue monster thing.

While they go through and try not to get killed by these various things, Alice is slowly regaining memories and figuring out who she was, that there was an anti-virus, who might have betrayed her, etc. On paper this seems like alot going on, but in practice it’s a repetitive slog. To be fair there are a few other surreal sequences – waking up during a medical procedure, emerging to a destroyed city – that really work. But it seems like all the good parts are the parts that feel disconnected from the main section of the movie. Except for the dog kicking.

After Anderson had kicked off the video-game-adaptation genre in ’95, he’d moved into slightly more respectable studio sci-fi with EVENT HORIZON and SOLDIER. Meanwhile, the other Paul Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, was making enough of a name for himself with MAGNOLIA that it became necessary for this Anderson to add the initials “W.S.” on his credits.

The most compelling aspect in the main part of the movie is the gimmick of Alice slowly regaining her badass abilities, visually symbolized by changes of clothing. She starts in a shoulderless red dress, totally inappropriate for battle, but with boots. And then the bottom of the dress gets torn off so it’s not in her way, and finally she adds a leather jacket.

By the way, there are obvious reasons to put partial nudity in a movie, but in this one I genuinely think they were also using it as birth imagery. In the opening Alice is basically born, a new person. In the end it happens again. (Not sure if this comes from the game, or from the same thing being done with her in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.)

And in a way Jovovich really was being reborn here. Though she’d done plenty of action in her two Luc Besson movies, THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE MESSENGER, it was the RESIDENT EVIL series that showed her as a straight up action vehicle lady. In this one she’s on metaphorical wobbly Bambi legs, you can see her still learning. There are shots of her coming around corners doing cool gun poses that look almost like she was joking around playing cops and robbers. But at times her emotional acting is effective, and you can definitely see the appeal of her growing persona as Beautiful Dainty Model Who Takes Charge And Kicks Ass While Wearing Leather. It will be interesting to see if it evolves over the series (the rest of which I will now be watching for the first time).

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, January 23rd, 2017 at 3:58 pm and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses to “Resident Evil”

  1. Really excited for this series of reviews. R.E. is such a strange franchise. Part 1 is still pretty unwatchable for me, but they keep getting ‘better’ (or at least more entertaining), with the pinnacle being the fifth installment, “Retribution”, which in my opinion is a an unrecognized semi-surreal masterpiece that I’ve probably seen 7 or 8 times at this point. 3 is sort of a turning point, almost a conventionally satisfying post-apocalyptic wasteland flick, with Milla’s best outfit in the series so far. 5 just takes everything over the top into another level of pop art. I can’t believe it but I’m looking forward to seeing an R.E. movie in the theatre for the first time this weekend.

  2. So many thoughts in my head right now I’ll number them.

    1) This has been on HBO a bunch and I’ve had it on in the background. It’s still pretty terrible.
    2) Rymar, isn’t one of them so short that they had essentially use slow motion the entire time just to reach an 80 minute run time?
    3) I remember really liking Part 2 but I’m also pretty sure that one is also terrible.

    \

  3. Vern , I am surprised you consider any video game movie successfull. Let alone MORTAL KOMBAT.

  4. What ai meant was; is MORTAL KOMBAT actually considered by most people a successful adaptation? As far as I know, no videogame film has been successfully adapted. Most of them has been highly contested at best and there has never been a singular exception in which most people have said: “THIS is a great adaptation of a video game”

  5. I just meant that MORTAL KOMBAT was a big hit at the time. It is not well remembered, except by me. You may be right, it may have already been forgotten by 2002.

    SILENT HILL is the best video game movie I can think of off the top of my head, though that is widely hated.

  6. I agree with Rymar that this series joins the FASTS and the FURIOUSES on the short list of franchises that hit their stride at Part V. The movie is just minimal connective tissue linking a series of ridiculous action horror set-pieces that are among the most cleanly shot in the genre, as if Anderson was ashamed of what he did to DEATH RACE and was trying to make amends.

  7. Count me as a fan of SILENT HILL. Stay away from the sequel though.

  8. I know none you guys respect me, for very good reasons, and I to please so Im’ma give you one more reason. After rewatching these movies back in October I realized something: I kind of love of this series and like Paul WS Anderson as a director. He’s like a low-rent JJ Abrams in how how he doesn’t have an original thought in his body but I enjoy the hell out of his movies. Anderson is kind of king nerd in my opinion: everyone makes fun of him and tells him he sucks, but then he goes and continues to be successful and also marry Milia Jovovich. He thus wins at life while we all just get to grumble and moan.

    I was so excited when Vern said he was going to review these things on Twitter. Even though the series will be incomplete without reviewing the 1989 film Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie SWEET HOME. The movie that inspired a tie-in video game that the first RESIDENT EVIL game was originally going to be a remake of (still has some elements of it). Therefore this Anderson movie is a remake of a Kurosawa movie. Our own Mr. S has a great review of it on his site:

    Sweet Home

    Sweet Home (1989) aka Suito Homu Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa Starring Nobuku Miyamoto, Shingo Yamashiro, Ichiro Fur...

    I always this first one even though other than a few things, it is not all that special and it skimps on the zombie action. The monster at the end isn’t all that special either. To make my last viewing a bit worse, before watching it I replayed the original game (well the remake of the remake of the original available on Steam) and forgot how good the atmosphere was it (only the opening in the mansion really captures it) and also all the crazy-shit in the later part of the game (zombie-sharks and monkies!). Made it harder to forgive the over all blandness of movie. Regardless I still enjoy it and I’ve watched it more than I care to admit over the years (a lot). I guess I just like the setup and the part of the idea of the movie and Milia Jovovich.

    Shoot: I still dig MORTAL KOMBAT and SILENT HILL but everyone* knows the hands-down greatest video game-based movie of all time is the Anderson-produced D.O.A. *mic drop*
    * – citation needed

  9. Another fan of Gans’ SILENT HILL here but like Felix already advised avoid the sequel like the plauge. I also always secretly enjoyed SUPER MARIO BROS. so I don’t know where that places my video game to movie cred.

    All I remember about RESIDENT EVIL was that it was the only one out lf the ones I saw that I enjoyed. The only other one I saw was APOCALYPSE and like half of the 3rd one. This review series might be an incentive to revisit this one after so many years and finally finish RE: VEGAS and see what the other sequels were about.

  10. Vern: MORTAL KOMBAT will NEVER be forgotten.

    And yes, RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION is a masterpiece of ridiculousness and dare I say: second only to Zemeckis, Anderson is the only director who never makes me feel like I wasted money on going to see his in 3D.

  11. Also, I third SILENT HILLS: REVELATIONS is a not good movie.

  12. RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE was god awful though. Will avoid it on my path to revisiting evil.

  13. Agreed geoffrey MK will never be forgotten.
    Can’t go anywhere without hearing “MOOOOORTAAAL KOMBAAAAT!” after anybody says “It has begun” plus CHT was just way too memorable as Shang Tsung. His best villain during his era of great villainy in everything from SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO to KICKBOXER 2.

  14. ““Retribution”, which in my opinion is a an unrecognized semi-surreal masterpiece”

    I agree 100% on this one. My friend told me pretty much the same exact thing in a bid to get me to go see it in IMAX, and I agreed, and was grateful I did. The beginning of 4 is similarly bonkers, but the rest of the movie loses a little steam (save for the Tool video in the middle where 2 women fight a giant with war hammers).

    So glad Vern is visiting the series. I think 2 is underrated. Just saying.

  15. I like 2 SILENT 2 HILL. It doesn’t have any of the weirdo flavor of the first one, but it’s a decent horror sequel for normal people. It’s the HELLRAISER III of the series.

  16. The effects in MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNHIALATION are ludicrously inept.

    Also James Remar as Raiden!

  17. Yessssssss, I’ve been waiting for these reviews!
    I’m not an “ironic” OMGSOBADITSGOODLOLOLOLOL movie watcher, but the RE series is the only one, that I really only watch, because I can’t believe how shitty and absurd it gets. (I even refuse to refer to it by its real name and usually just call it ZOMBIE KICKER.) Part 1 is the only one that I actually like because of its qualities. (And because the “People trapped in an enclosed space with one or more monsters” is one of my favourite subgenres.)

    It’s still not much more than a B-movie, but it has some cool and unique ideas (and admittedly lots of derivative shit, but it’s the kind of stuff I like), a great score by Marylin Manson (!) and Marco Beltrami, SOME atmosphere and you see one of Germany’s worst actresses die twice. (That movie was actually a prestige project for the German movie industry, being shot in Berlin, produced by Bernd Eichinger, co-financed by the German filmboard [despite their rules against violence and foreign language movies] and when it hit #1 in the US, they sent out a press release about how a “German movie tops the US box office”.)

    One thing that I notice every single time, is how bloodless it is. It’s like they shot it for a PG-13, then got an R anyway, but ran out of time for reshoots to actually make it bloody.

    Can’t wait for the rest of your ZOMBIE KICKER reviews.

  18. Saw this on its cinema release but can not remember a single thing about it. Apart from Milla in a skirt. I do remember thinking I wished it were as good as GHOSTS OF MARS. Even lesser sci-fi Carpenter shits on this.

    Haven’t seen any of the sequels but based on the comments above about RETRIBUTION I just went out and bought a copy. And while I was in the R section I looked at EXTINCTION and saw it was directed by Russell Highlander/Razorback Mulcahy and is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland like ROAD WARRIOR but with zombies, so I bought that too. I like living on the edge.

  19. I’ve dutifully watched all of the RESIDENT EVIL movies (or BIOHAZARD, as the series is called in Japan) even though none of them were really that impressive. My main memories of them are geographical:

    Part Two tries harder than any movie I’ve ever seen not actually set in Toronto to look like it’s set in Toronto. No way it wasn’t intentional. They’ve even got the CN Tower in there. And the climax is at City Hall.

    A couple of the instalments (4 and 5?) have big zombie-apocalypse showpieces set at Shibuya Crossing, and I watched them in a theatre at Shibuya Crossing. That was pretty great. I was hoping for more Japanese carnage with the newest one, but no luck.

  20. You saw THE FINAL CHAPTER? How was it?

  21. It is astonishing to me that these and the Underworld movies get made. I do think I have seen all the Resident Evil flicks and the only one that I really remember liking was the second one.

  22. EXTINCTION had an interesting first few minutes I shut it off after the crow attack though.

    I really really hated APOCALYPSE when I first saw it. Granted a big factor was seeing my favorite RE game (3: NEMESIS) not just being butchered so badly but also the potential of the first movie’s ending not quite being matched. With that said you guys are making me consider giving it another chance this time accepting it for what is is as opposed to what I wanted it to be.

  23. The second one was inexplicable to me. It ended with a ten-foot-tall mutant with a rocket launcher growing out of his arm shooting at a supermodel on a motorcycle, and it was boring as shit. How is that even possible?

  24. There is something about this genre of films that for me, builds up as you watch them. My wife is a big fan of both these and the Underworld series. Cheezy action / horror / drama in a setting that makes little sense but is a good excuse for outrageous mayhem. The more I’ve watched them, the more I warm to them. It’s a bit like Noh theater or Opera in that they have their own “form” and shorthands and after a while, it starts to make sense that it doesn’t make sense. Watching them all in a run is the way to go. They have their own kind of weird meta-narrative that is far more interesting when you are trying to piece them all together.

    I’m curious to see if you find that effect happening, or just find them increasingly wearisome as you delve deeper into the series.

  25. The oversees grosses for these have always been healthy, and exploded with AFTERLIFE; over $200million (not sure how much that had to do with the introduction of 3-D, thinking about it the increased prominence of Zombification in popular culture between Parts 2 and 4 may have been a factor). That, coupled with what I imagine to be healthy second lifes on DVD etc. and factored in with what are probably sadly considered low budgets in today’s world, they’ve kept going for 15 years. Until the recent flop, I think the UNDERWORLD films have always done quite well with a similar model, not doing as well overseas but taking advantage of the lowered expectations (financially and culturally) of the January release slot. Beyond that though, they seem to exist to make the EVILs seem vibrant and witty by comparison.

    That may be unfair on my part; for both series, I’ve only seen the first from beginning to end. I “liked” the first RE in a C+, expectations-lowered-by-everyone-telling-me-it’s-garbage-kind-of-way. I do remember the opening and ending being quite strong. One of the last films I watched on a current-ish initial VHS release. I was quite excited for EXTINCTION because it was directed by my old pal Mulchay, but what I saw didn’t have enough of his style to carry me through my indifference. How much of that indifference derived from me not seeing the second one or remembering enough of the first I don’t know. Good first scene (again) though. The Trailer for RETRIBUTION was clever and memorable (at least if you saw it in the theatre not knowing what it was going to be for), and I think I can feel myself giving some of the others a go/preparing for THE FINAL CHAPTER in tandem with Vern.

    The first UNDERWORLD on the other hand, represents just about the least enjoyable type of movie for me; vapid, but very, very boring. I guess I can’t say it had no style, but it didn’t have any style I cared for. I can maybe see myself giving the fourth one a go, just to see if WHEELED WARRIORS/BABYLON 5 guy left any imprint on the script, but that’s a mild maybe. It’s a miracle LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD didn’t turn out to be, well, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD.

    I wouldn’t say MORTAL KOMBAT is forgotten, with the rise of the nostalgic Gen X-Yers, it’s probably more popular now that it was in 2002, and even now possibly the most common choice for “the good video game movie”

    But it was this that really established PWA as a geek bete noire wasn’t it? SHOPPING was generally considered vapid but promising, MORTAL KOMBAT didn’t satisfy our collective blood lust but was popular and critically tolerated, SOLDIER was ignored and EVENT HORIZON has always got more credit than IMO it actually deserves. But here was where people really started to take exception to him; a mere lighting of the fire that burned with AvP granted. People seem a little less upset with him now, probably more due to his lower profile (and for a while Uwe Boll taking much of his attention) than any real increase in quality, though I must say I dug his THREE MUSKETEERS and DEATH RACE.

  26. FINAL CHAPTER isn’t out yet in North America? Huh. For once I don’t have to watch a film eight months after everybody else.

    Sorry to dampen enthusiasm, but I kind of hated it. Utterly incoherent action editing, and lots of indistinguishable characters it was impossible to care about ― I assumed that they were supposed to be more familiar to people who’ve played the video games, but from what I’ve read since, maybe they aren’t? So the series doesn’t really go out on a high note.

  27. The UNDERWORLD movies really grind my gears unlike the RE’s which are just far more charming. I went in so hype for the first one. What with my growing up on Universal Monster movies and being a Blade fan how can I not go into the one movie inspired by both with optimism?

    What a massive letdown and I tapped out then and there. How you can fuck up vampires vs werewolves that bad is beyond me. Even TRUE BLOOD did better. Leave it to Mr. Kate Beckinsale though…..with that said I will always be a DIE HARD 4 defender. At least he did SOMETHING I enjoyed even if it was mostly cause it’s fucking DIE HARD.

  28. Matthew how does it rank at least against part 4 or 5? Slightly better? or colossaly dumber in a non charming way?

  29. I never thought the day would come when someone would ever use the word charming in the same sentance as a RESIDENT EVIL movie. Now we truly live in the Age of Trump.

  30. Shoot if Milla wire-fuing the undead never put at least a smirk in your face you’re a bigger Scrooge than I thought.

  31. Last summer was a theatrical screening of MORTAL KOMBAT in Toronto, so I would also say it’s not forgotten.

  32. Damn pacman you’re right about SOLDIER being forgotten. I didn’t remember it till I read your post. I wonder if it will ever be included in a future BLADE RUNNER LEGACY 3 pack release from WB.

  33. Shoot: We are merely presenting alternative facts.

    Broddie: If you turned off EXTINCTION after the crow attack, then you didn’t see the exact moment I fell in love with the series: there is a scene where the bad guys (no shit) remotely turn off Jovovich. They straight up use a satellite and send a signal down to her to turn her off. Then she manually reboots herself and goes back to kicking ass. It is amazing.

    Matthew B: I want the new one to be enjoyable for me so for you to say it is not good and has crappy action, is disappointing. Since this is Trump’s America I’m just going to accuse you of being fake news in regards to your opinion on the new one.

    I’ll leave my opinion of APOCALYPSE for today’s review. It’s the only one of these I can’t get behind.

    I kind of explained my woes with the UNDERWORLD series in the UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION thread Saturday. I never understood why RESIDENT EVIL and UNDERWORLD fans where lumped together (and apparently there is a big bleed-over with the fandom) because the RESIDENT EVIL movies are earnestly dumb and try to entertain you while UNDERWORLD takes itself deathly seriously and tries to bore the shit out of you with it’s exposition , I’m sorry “world building. Other than both having female superheros as the central characters and supernatural creatures and attempts at action, and both made by Revolution Studios, I don’t see how they are same because they are both so tonally different.

  34. Hmpf! You are all just a bunch of slackjawed Anderson-Apologists!

  35. Broddie: As best I can remember the series, I’d say the new one is the worst of the bunch. Like watching someone else play a boring video game, except that the video game wouldn’t have six cuts a second. God knows what the 3D version is like.

  36. Fun Fact: FINAL CHAPTER will push this series over the billion dollar mark. A milestone for a live-action action franchise starring a woman. I respect that.

  37. I best be booking my ticket then.

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