Summer Moviethon: The Resident Evil series

I watched these movies weeks ago and wrote the reviews right after, but am just now posting them here. So yeah, I'm not only woefully behind on watching movies, but reviewing them. There's no way I'm getting to 150, but you knew that. Therefore, I'm taking a cue from the corporate overlords that run not only the real world, but the fictional world in the following films, and doing a chickenshit move our suit-wearing friends like to call a "re-branding"!

150 Movies in 90 Days is now Summer Moviethon! Pretend to like it!

July 9: #37, Resident Evil

Surprise! It's not bad!

After watching my dad play through the entirety of Resident Evil on Playstation, the appeal was lost for me and I never beat the game myself. I played the second one and found it to be incredibly hard right away, so I lost interest. As far as the movies went, I never gave them much thought. I thought staging the first one in a lab of some sort was too different from the game’s setting of a creepy mansion, but it was particularly one shot that killed any desire to see the movie for me.

It was a slow-motion Matrix-y moment where Milla Jovovich (the series’ star) is fighting an infected zombie-dog and she performs the most logical possible attack to dispatch the dog, running up the side of a wall, jumping off of it, and kicking it across the face. That was too much for me. I’m sorry, but unless somebody has had a lot- a lot of martial arts training or is a natural athlete, their kicks just don’t look right, and watching a 100-pound former model doing wire-fu just didn’t do it for me.

Well, what better time to give this long-running horror/action mashup series a chance than now? And I’m not gonna lie, the fact that I have to watch 114 more movies in like a month and all of the five films are just a shade over 90 minutes long also helps. 

You know what? This one surprised me. You’ll hopefully remember that I am no genre snob, and any movie can get a high grade for me, because I grade them according to their genre. That means for something like this, I’m not going to be disappointed when the plot is paper-thin, the character development is non-existent, and logic is largely thrown out the window (along with acting).

Which is good, because Resident Evil has some god-awful acting. When Michelle fucking Rodriguez has one of the better acting performances in your film, you’re in trouble. The film suffers early on from several men (who strangely, look almost exactly the same, like brothers) who really phone in their admittedly corny lines, although Pasquale Aleardi (J.D.) has to be singled out for saying every line he has in the most awkward, unauthentic, unnatural way possible. It’s almost like the director, Paul W.S. Anderson, told him, “Now, act like a guy who is acting! ACTION!” Fortunately, he dies.

Lots of people do, actually. This is actually a rated-R film, and not just for show. There is a delightfully twisted scene where the security system uses laser beams to attack the military unit, and it plays out so wonderfully gruesomely that I don’t even mind that they ripped it off from Cube.
Other stuff I liked- the direction was often fairly competent, as when Alice (Jovovich) is on the run from the dogs and has a tense moment where you know there’s a jump-scare coming, but when it comes it’s from a threat other than the one you expected. Of course, that’s followed by the awful wire-fu face kick, and most of the action scenes are accompanied by terrible metal or techno tracks. Also, this film was made over a decade ago and on a modest budget, so the CGI is a bit dodgy.

However, the action scenes are well done, some cool things are used such as a computer generated map that shows you where the group is in a neat transition between scenes, and a satisfying ending that is faithful to the games and takes the movie nicely into the sequel. This is a great example of a very good film in its genre and therefore, a pleasant surprise. Grade: B+

July 11: #38: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Now with EVEN MORE super-serious women beating up zombies!

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (the series ditches the whole “number” titling in favor of generic dystopian terms) picks up right where the previous film left off, both in terms of story and in style.
That means you get more over-the-top action, pretty awful acting outside of a few minor characters and Milla Jovovich (Alice) herself, and zombies who aren’t really the focus of the film at all. This film also adds a new female character in Jill Valentine, played by Sienna Guillory. Guillory is pretty, but she essentially plays the same female-badass type that Michelle Rodriguez plays. The difference is that Guillory’s acting makes Rodriguez look like Meryl Streep.
The sequel also features plenty of nameless male soldiers, generic in look and lack of charisma, who are thankfully only in the film to be fodder for villains and zombies. Also, this time there’s a new “boss”, to steal a video game term- a huge monster/zombie hybrid thing named Nemesis. Nemesis is actually the result of experimentation on one of Alice’s colleagues, and though he looks cool, he moves about as stiffly as I do when I first get out of bed in the morning and really just exists to shoot things with a huge gun. Oh, and there’s a character named LJ who is supposed to be comic relief but instead makes me want to find the actor who played him and punch him in the dick.

Now, the good stuff. This film is so over-the-top that the bad acting feels right at home, and somehow Jovovich’s competent performance doesn’t seem out of place, either. It’s got great action movie cliché moments, such as people constantly running out of ammo at key moments. The “out of ammo” cliché gets turned nicely on its ear at the end of the film for an amusing moment, too. Other great clichés and tropes add to the fun and frustration of this film simultaneously- “highly-trained” soldiers fire thousands of rounds at Nemesis, yet somehow only shoot his armor and never his head.  Shotguns are pumped right after dramatic lines are finished- “Raccoon City will be completely sanitized…” CH-CHUCK.

The thematic elements are heavy-handed, but they’re there, at least. The series is really based upon a distrust of large corporations, and that gets turned up to 11 as the Umbrella Corporation can basically do anything they want with impunity, as seen by the hard-to-fathom “hoax” twist at the end that keeps the company out of hot water for their crimes. There’s a less obvious attack on our “record everything”, voyeuristic culture when a reporter’s camera ends up taping her own demise, too.

Altogether, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a mish-mash of so many different things that it’s hard to imagine how they packed it all into an hour and a half. Some of it works (any scene with Jovovich; Game of Thrones’ Iain Glenn as a mad scientist), a lot of it doesn’t (any scene without Jovovich; Nemesis), but the film manages to have enough fun moments to build anticipation towards the next installment, which is basically what it’s meant to do. Grade: B-
July 11: #39, Resident Evil: Extinction

Naked and Confused: The Milla Jovovich Story

I actually laughed out loud when Resident Evil: Extinction began. Why? Because even though it was completely inconsistent with how the previous film ended, they somehow continued the streak of having each Resident Evil movie open with Milla Jovovich naked and confused as to her whereabouts.

Surprisingly, they were able to justify this seemingly inconsistent beginning and it actually ended up being the most clever opening scene in the series so far. See, the baddies (specifically Iain Glenn of Game of Thrones fame, who reprises his role as Umbrella’s mad scientist) have been cloning Alice (Jovovich) and running her through a gauntlet to see if the cloned version can survive as the real version would. When the newest one doesn’t, we see a grisly and remarkable shot that slowly reveals a mass grave of cloned Alices, which is a pretty gruesome sight and starts the movie off with some genuine intrigue. Why are they cloning her? Where’s the real Alice?

All that is answered and we find out that Umbrella, like all evil corporations, is not looking to fix their problem so much as to twist it to further their diabolical purposes. How so? By turning zombies into complacent, trainable slaves. Meanwhile, Alice is traversing the country, which has become a wasteland as the T-Virus has spread all over the earth (except, strangely, to Alaska, which is described as “isolated” even though IT BORDERS CANADA).

That’s your plot in a nutshell, and it gives us some nice set pieces, including a memorable scene with infected birds attacking a survivor encampment that may not be quite Hitchcockian, but is well done nonetheless. There’s also a pretty impressive rendering of Las Vegas as a deserted wasteland near the end of the film, too.

We try not to ask questions, of course. Questions like, “Why do Umbrella’s goons continue to work for them when the world is obliterated and overrun with zombies? Do they think they’ll actually get their pensions one day?” And questions like, “With no one alive anymore to buy Umbrella’s products, how exactly does the corporation keep thriving so that they can run their state-of-the-art labs and communicating with their innumerable satellites?” Or even, “How is it that people are eating old canned goods and racing through desert environments like Mad Max while every scene dealing with Umbrella’s higher-ups shows that business is running as usual? Does the world’s infrastructure being completely destroyed somehow not affect them?” Suppress those inquisitive instincts!

Anyway, alongside some cool cinematic moments and the predictably solid action scenes is a good performance by Ali Larter as Claire Redfield, who is this installment’s female badass, but brings a little more subtlety to the role (and seems more like an actual person) than her predecessors, Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) and Michelle Rodriguez (Rain, Resident Evil). Even LJ, the most grating character in the series so far, is much less annoying in this film, and you might just get to see his head blown off in this film, to boot. What’s not to like there?

If there’s any other criticism to be made of this one, it’s that the action is strangely backloaded and makes the first 45 minutes kind of drag in comparison, other than the excellent opening. That’s a nitpick, and says a lot about the good pacing of the films so far, though. Even the zombies are better than before, thanks to some genetic modifications that make them more 28 Days Later than Dawn of the Dead. Grade: B

July 12: #40, Resident Evil: Afterlife

The series runs dry on subtitles...and everything else

I should have known that Resident Evil: Afterlife wouldn’t keep the momentum up when I watched the flat opening sequence. Essentially, we see Alice storming Umbrella headquarters and massacring tons of nameless, armed nobodies. The scene is technically okay, but doesn’t inspire excitement, only questions. Why does Alice fight hard to eliminate over a dozen soldiers, only to finally unleash her telekinetic powers to dispatch a mere six of them minutes later? Couldn’t she have done that in the first place?

For that matter, when it’s revealed that Alice brought some friends- dozens of clones made of her in the last film- to help, you wonder why none of them blocked the exit so that Wesker (the bad guy, played boringly by Shawn Roberts) couldn’t escape. Then you wonder, when the “real” Alice is on the plane Wesker is using to escape, why she didn’t bring a few clones with her to beat him up. After all, his powers apparently surpass her own, as he easily bests her and takes her powers away in the process.

Though she has no special powers, she does walk away from the eventual crash of the plane, even though the plane itself is reduced to bits and pieces. Later on, the supposedly powerless Alice jumps high enough in the air to kick a ten-foot high monster in the face, then shakes it off when he swats her into a wall with a ginormous axe that must weigh several hundred pounds.

I wouldn’t pan a Resident Evil film just for logical issues, though. That’s silly. No, the problem with this installment is that it doesn’t seem like anybody gave a shit. Sure, nobody in the cast and crew were under the impression that they were going to win Best Picture in the previous films, but you could sense a little passion in the process, nonetheless. This movie instead gets bogged down with a slow, dull middle third and silly tricks like excessive slow-mo that is used not during a cool kick or a backflip, but ALL THE TIME. That puzzling directing decision pretty much ruins the only cool action sequence in the film, in fact.

Even the characters don’t seem to care. When of Alice and newcomer Luther’s friends gets snapped up by a zombie and dragged away to be eaten, not only do Alice and Luther fail to show any kind of feeling, but literally seconds later they’re smiling and saying, “Nice!” as they discover a room holding a huge weapons cache.

There are some good things going on here. Zombies now have four sets of clawed tendrils coming out of their mouths, which is a cool sight. The film ends with an interesting wrinkle that nicely sets up the next installment, too. This one isn’t really bad, just completely uninspired. Grade: D+

July 13: #41 Resident Evil: Retribution

The most unlikely comeback since Rocky Balboa (it works two ways!)

Even though I noted that the fourth installment of the series ended with a decent setup for the fifth, I wasn’t exactly confident that I’d like Resident Evil: Retribution. After all, how many times does the fifth movie in a series top the earlier films, especially when there’s already been a drop-off in quality? Okay, other than with The Fast & the Furious. Whatever.

Anyway, the opening sequence gets the series back to doing what it does best: opening in strong fashion. The film begins with a very neat shot of Alice floating on top of the ocean, as filmed from beneath her in the water. From there, Alice moves backwards through the air, to where she was blown off of the boat where the last film ended, and then the huge battle scene that led to her predicament plays in reverse. It’s a gimmick, sure, but an undeniably cool one.

There’s also what appears to be a weird dream sequence right at the start, but later on it makes perfect sense, or as close to perfect sense as possible in a film series that requires this much suspension of disbelief. Finally, the lengthy opening gets back to the series’ roots by starting Alice off naked and confused as to her whereabouts! Ahhh, it’s like being home again.

I even overlooked the fact that while Umbrella has her in an inescapable prison, the security magically shuts off and some weird leather bondage wear comes out of the wall for her to put on. I also overlooked the fact that Wesker is the person behind the security shutting down, because he has ALL OF A SUDDEN realized that making the human race extinct is BAD FOR BUSINESS.

I overlooked these things because the setup allows for some dynamic set pieces and a great escape by Alice. See, along the way to the exit are huge environments (think “the X-Men’s Danger Room”) that run simulations of different zombie epidemics, all using living human clones. Is it a silly gimmick? Sure. Does it make any sense? Not really.

However, I don’t give a crap because the sequences the setup leads to are awesome. A zombie attack in suburbia, a massive shootout in Moscow, and two more massive axe-wielding zombie-monsters going after Alice and newcomer Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) in Times Square (with an excellent car chase, to boot). There’s a great car chase, as well. Without the simulation gimmick, all of this stuff wouldn’t be possible, so it’s cool in my book. 

Now, there are some things that aren’t so great. Most notably, when late in the film, every kick and punch the now-evil Rain (Michelle Rodriguez, because she never stays dead in movies) lands on Alice makes an annoying bone-breaking sound. It’s not as annoying as the “whip” sound effect that plagued fights in the second film, but it’s worth mentioning.

Then there’s the end, where Wesker injects Alice with…something that gives her superpowers again, only for her to get mad for some reason. Why would you be mad about having badass superpowers? Then, we see some zombie dragon thingies and shit and oh, who cares, because in the final film, Alice will be going after the “Red Queen” as the series concludes. I was surprised at how great this one was, and it gives me hope for the series’ finale, tentatively scheduled for 2014. The Resident Evil series as a whole is a lot better than I expected and four of the five films are good action-horror flicks. Grade: B+

UPDATE: The sixth and final installment will be titled Resident Evil: Afterbirth.


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