What We Can Learn From The Resident Evil Film Series: Part 3 – ‘Extinction’

With the conclusion of 2004’s, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the Resident Evil film series was in a unique position: because of Apocalypse’s open ending, future movies could either stick to the story, characters, and settings of the games, or forge a new path that wasn’t tethered to its source material. While the safest option was the former, the series went with the latter, but with a twist: it would take characters, monsters, and ideas from the games, but explore what would happen if the T-virus escaped into the wider world instead of being stopped time and time again.

The answer? Disaster.

Picking up five years after the events of Apocalypse, Extinction drops us into a world where the T-virus escaped Raccoon city and spread worldwide, causing billions of people to turn into zombies and turning the planet into a barren wasteland on the brink of total collapse. Now, Alice and the few remaining survivors struggle not only to escape the undead, but end the pandemic once and for all (and presumably struggle to find toilet paper). It’s a great setup for (what was supposed to be) a series finale, so let’s see what worked, and what didn’t.

What does the story do well?

It has an opening that sucks the viewer in right away

If there’s one thing that Extinction does truly well, it’s getting the audience’s attention from the very start by having Alice wake up in the shower from the mansion from the first film.

But this can’t be; the mansion was destroyed when Raccoon City was nuked. And then when Alice leaves the main room, she enters the famous laser hallway, and then a hospital hallway, leaving us to wonder if this a dream, a flashback, or something else… only to discover that Alice is actually a clone going through a murder training simulation run by Dr. Issacs.

By showing the audience something familiar, yet mixing up to play with expectations, the movie gets their attention immediately and makes them want to see more.

It has a unique twist on a zombie virus

Most zombie movies have their respective virus turn people (and the occasional animal) into zombies; Extinction mixes things up by having the virus affect water and vegetation as well, something I don’t recall any other zombie film doing.

Granted, this idea is retconned out in future films (and it does bring up the question of if there are undead plants that desire to eat the flesh of the living), but it’s a fascinating idea that makes the T-virus a truly diabolical threat to humanity: by wiping out plants, then herbivores, then carnivores, and eventually the entire food chain, it means that humanity will inevitably go extinct, lending even more urgency to find a cure.

It has a clearly defined goal for the characters

Extinction continues the Resident Evil film series’ tradition of giving the characters a clear, concrete goal to work towards. Here, it’s to reach a settlement in Alaska that’s free of infection, a safe haven in a world that’s dying. By making the film’s goal have a clearly defined finish line, it gives both the characters and the audience something to focus on instead of just meandering around.

The comic relief character has become more mature

While Apocalypse had it’s share of problems, one of the most egregious was making LJ little more than a walking cliche of the trash-talking, sassy black gangster. Thankfully, Extinction corrects this; while LJ is still the story’s comic relief and cracks a few jokes, he’s much more serious this time around, focusing on doing his part for the convoy, trying to save people, and mourning his girlfriend after she dies. You really sense that LJ has gone through a lot in five years and has grown as an individual… which makes it all the sadder when he (and we) realize that his death is inevitable after being bitten by a zombie in the first act.

The post-apocalyptic convoy gets along with each other and has a good leader

One small thing I like about Extinction is the lack of conflict among the survivors in Claire Redfield’s convoy: there’s no infighting, squabbling, or backstabbing. After countless post-apocalyptic tales where everyone is at each other’s throats, it’s a welcome change to have a similar story where people can get along and work together. This also extends to the convoy’s leader, Claire, who – instead of being a tribal warlord who rules through threats and fears – treats those under her care with respect, is honest with them about difficult decisions they have to make, seeks their input before making those decisions, and works hard to keep everyone safe, even if it means charging into battle instead of letting others fight for her.

It has a unique monster that relies on numbers instead of strength

Aside from the zombies themselves, the Resident Evil film series likes to focus on individual monsters to antagonize the heroes; while Extinction does feature a Tyrant at the climax, it is unique in all the films in that it has monsters that rely on sheer numbers to win instead of being bullet sponges, and that’s the undead crows.

While it would be fairly easy to kill a single crow in a fight to the death, having hundreds attack the convoy makes them a much bigger threat that’s impossible to stop with bullets or conventional weapons, making them into a truly unique enemy in the series.

It has a great setting for the final act

Compared to the dark, gloomy settings of the two previous films, Extinction spends most of its runtime in the desert during bright, sunny days. But at the end, Alice has to got into another underground facility to face off against a heavily-mutated Dr. Issacs and save humanity. But it’s not that the facility is deep underground that makes it so compelling: by the time Alice arrives, the place has been wrecked and torn apart by Issacs. There’s no one left alive, all the lights are flickering on and off, and evidence of Issac’s rampage are everywhere. Alice knows that Issacs is somewhere in the facility, and it’s just her against him. And, smartly, the film holds off on showing him as long as it can, letting our minds race and wonder just how grotesque he must look after mutating and inflicting so much carnage.

This buildup is surprisingly suspenseful, and arguably the tensest sequence in the entire series. Having the final battle take place in a replica of the mansion from the first film is also a clever way to end the series where it began (sorta), and using the laser hallway to finish off Issac once and for all is a great example of why bringing back fan favorites to save the day is always a win.

It tones down Project Alice

Compared to the previous film where Alice was an arrogant Mary Sue who could take on anything that came her way with ease, Extinction learns from those mistakes and tones her down considerably, making Alice more subdued and getting rid of her ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude. And unlike the last movie, the other characters have more opportunities to have their own action scenes and moments to shine without Alice coming in to steal her thunder.

While she’s still the main character and still the focus of this film’s universe, Alice feels more like a normal person, and that’s a welcome change from the previous film.

What could have been improved?

Issacs could have had a more logical plan throughout the film

Dr. Issac’s plan of domesticating zombies to create a loyal work force to rebuild the world is not only silly, but flies in the face of all logic: Considering how the T-Virus has brought humanity to the brink of extinction and turned the world into an uninhabitable wasteland, you’d think that Issacs would realize it makes more sense to destroy the T-virus and everything it’s infected instead of creating zombie butlers, zombie farmworkers, and zombie retail employees, which could have led to an interesting conflict between him and Alice: both groups would want to save the world, but Alice and her companions wouldn’t trust Umbrella or Issacs, a relationship that could have had all sorts of compelling drama. That’s also not factoring in the nonsensical ‘tests’ he has the Alice clones go through. (Why not just grow one and regularly extract her blood instead of wasting an unimaginable amount of resources putting dozens of them through unwinnable deathtraps?)

This point could be negated, however, if we theorize that Issacs is actually using his research as a mask to create an army of super-zombies that he alone will be in control of, allowing him to overthrow Umbrella and become the sole ruler of Earth. It’s still a silly plan, but a bit more logical and reinforces his sociopathic nature.

LJ’s inevitable death could have been explored more deeply

Near the end of the first act, LJ is bitten by a zombie while investigating an abandoned motel and hides this from the others, progressively becoming sicker until he finally succumbs at the end of the second act and bites Carlos before being killed. And while it’s depressing to see the admittingly charming LJ die an undignified death (In the original script LJ actually accompanied Alice into Issac’s underground compact), the movie misses the opportunity to have LJ confess to the others that he’s been bitten, and the drama that would come from that: perhaps the convoy would have decided to let him live long enough in the hopes of finding an antidote, with LJ determined to do as much as he can to help the others before he succumbs. But instead, we get him hiding his zombie bite, which makes the other characters look quite dumb for not realizing that he’s getting progressively sicker and weaker.

The secret facility could have been guarded by more than a single chain-link fence

This has little impact on the story, but it’s improbable that Issac’s super-secret, camouflaged underground fortress is protected from billions of zombies by a single chainlink fence. How it hasn’t been breached after five years of zombies banging against it is beyond me!

It could have cut down on the number of characters

It’s a tale as old as time: a zombie movie comes out, and it’s filled with lots of expendable characters who are only there to be killed off by the undead, and Extinction makes the same mistake of introducing lots of new characters without giving us reasons to care about them. K-Mart, for example, is a teenager who was found in a K-Mart and… that’s all we know about her. Similarly, all we know about Betty is that she’s the group’s medic, LJ’s girlfriend, and the two care about each other.

To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to make us care about everyone, instead letting most of the convoy’s survivors be nameless masses to be eaten, but it would have been better to cut down on the new characters. Instead of a multi-vehicle convoy with dozens of people in it, perhaps it could be a three-vehicle convoy with a dozen people maximum, giving the story a bit of breathing room to let us get to know them better.

It could have removed the cliffhanger ending

When originally created, Extinction was billed as being the final installment in the Resident Evil film franchise, complete with Alice learning that she can wipe out the virus for good near the end of the movie. Yet, instead of cutting to ten years later where the undead are gone and nature is healing, Extinction ends with Alice waking up her clone buddies in preparation for an assault on Umbrella’s Tokyo headquarters. While this ending would have worked if the series had ended (the main conflict is resolved and Alice has everything she needs to wipe out the virus and bring justice to Umbrella), Extinction doesn’t feel like the end; the story clearly isn’t over, and there’s more to come (an idea that would be revisited later in the series to better effect).

Personally, I find Extinction to be the best of the original trilogy: it manages to achieve a respectable balance between plot and action (along with some really great music), as well as trying to tell it’s own unique story while being faithful to the spirit of the games. It doesn’t do anything overly well, but neither does it falter too much, making a solid, respectable B movie, and would have made a satisfying end to the series… but the truckloads of money it got at the box office ensured that it would rise once more and continue on. Come back next time, where we’ll head into the franchise’s second half with ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s