One common critique of the Terminator franchise is that after the first two films, each subsequent terminator model (the T-X, T-RIP, T-3000, and REV-9) feels less threatening despite being more technologically advanced than the T-800 and the T-1000.
Why is this? Perhaps it’s because in the first two films, the characters are under-equipped to take on the terminators, and even those who are trained and know about their opponents (Kyle, the T-800) are aware that they aren’t going to win in a one-on-one fight and act accordingly. Their goal is to stay alive and not fight unless there is absolutely no other choice. They’re underdogs, and there’s a very real sense of danger every time they face the T-800 and the T-1000.
Starting with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, though, the characters become more willing to fight and are better equipped: in T-3, John, Kate, and the T-850 gain a large cache of weapons. In Salvation, humanity knows about terminators and has the weaponry to take them on. In Genysis, Sarah and Pops have built up an arsenal of weapons over several years and are unfazed to take on the T-3000. And in Dark Fate, Sarah and Grace are battle-hardened warriors unafraid to take on the Rev-9. As a result, the sense of danger is largely gone. The underdogs are no longer underdogs.
There are many ways for the Terminator series to make the terminators frightening again, but I think one important lesson is to take inspiration from, of all places, 1993’s Jurassic Park: the park’s game warden, Robert Muldoon was a big-game hunter armed with shotguns and decades of hunting experience, but even he was scared of facing velociraptors, only doing so when he had to. If the Terminator franchise gives its protagonists and robotic killers the same relationship, that can help restore the sense of danger and terror that’s faded since 1991… that, and stopping the terminators from just throwing everyone around instead of snapping necks and punching out hearts.
To close out my analysis and summary of the Resident Evil movies, here’s my own personal ranking of each film in the series, starting from the least enjoyable and working its way up to the most enjoyable.
It has threegoodscenes and twogreatmusical pieces, but no amount of production values, music, or cool sequences can save a generic zombie film with the Resident Evil brand slapped onto it at the last minute. This is a Resident Evil film in name only, and is the most disappointing overall.
The Final Chapter feels like the first draft of a script written by someone who wants to end the series on their terms without caring about what came before. Not only is the story filled with retcons that don’t work, it also suffers from disposable characters and awful editing that makes the movie physically painful to watch. However, the film does have some good ideas, some gorgeous post-apocalyptic scenery, and the surprisingly effective ending saves the movie from being a complete failure.
Favorite Scene: The ending, where Alice is given Alicia’s memories and sets out to continue fighting the undead.
Of all six films, Apocalypse is the one that feels like the most faithful adaptation of the games, due to following the basic story of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, complete with corresponding characters, monsters, and Nemesis himself coming to life via fantastic practical effects. Plus, LJ – while a walking stereotype – is a welcome source of comic relief. Unfortunately, Alice is at her worst here, acting like a smug high schooler who thinks she’s the toughest girl around and doesn’t give a shit about anyone but herself, going out of her way to steal everyone’s thunder for her own glory.
Favorite Scene: Nemesis attacking the STARS members and sparing LJ
Retribution is in the unenviable position of being a commercial for The Final Chapter, and rewatching it knowing that all of the plot points it sets up will never be fulfilled makes it a bittersweet experience. However, it does has a lot of funactionsequences, the greatest variety of locations from any of the films, and the ending is still the best in the series.
The most original film of the series, Extinction is a satisfying, post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-style daylight horror film set almost entirely in a desert wasteland, a setting that has never appeared in the games. Coupled with good action sequences, a fantastic third-act fight against Dr. Issacs, and agreatsoundtrack, it’s a fun film that succeeds at carving out its own identity while staying true to the Resident Evil spirit.
The best film of the series is a blast, starting with an exciting assault on Umbrella headquarters before turning into a perfectly-paced siege film with plenty of memorable action sequences, including a fight against the Axeman, who’s my favorite monster from the games, and like Nemesis, was brought to life perfectly, and finishing with a duel against Albert Wesker, the most memorable character in the series. While the cliffhanger ending does prevent the movie from being self-contained and acting as a satisfying series finale, the rest of the film is a great watch, and I always enjoy watching it again and again.
Favorite Scene: The battle between Claire and the Axeman, which is my favorite scene of the entire series. The water, that massive axe, the music, all of it is just perfect!
Imagine that the year is 2001, and you’re off to see Peter Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You love the books and can’t wait to see them brought to life on the big screen! You get your popcorn, take your seat, eagerly wait as the lights go down… and then watch a movie that follows a bunch of characters you’ve never heard of as they infiltrate a fortress never mentioned in the books. None of Tolkien’s characters appear, and while a few monsters do menace the heroes (orcs, uruk-hai, and a warg), the story ultimately has nothing to do with his books.
How would you feel after the movie was over? Probably infuriated that you got something that has a passing resembles its source material but is more interested in showcasing the writer’s own ideas than the story you paid to see. That’s what the Resident Evil films feel like: a series of movies that had a mountain of material to take inspiration from, but chose to go its own way for better or worse. And while the films were critical failures, they were financial successes, going on to become – for a time – the most successful live-action video game movie franchise, and the most financially successful horror film series in history.
But no matter their financial and critical success, the Resident Evil films were always destined to be B movies meant to provide lots of action and thrills with little to no philosophical musings about the human condition or discussions of morality. And by that criteria, the films largely delivered on what they set out to do, thanks to three things:
1. All the films have simple stories with clear, achievable goals for the characters.
2. They take the basic idea of the games (zombies get lose and have to be stopped before they infest the world) and expand on it (zombies get lose, take over the world, and have to be stopped before the human race is wiped out) in a way that feels true to the spirit of the series, allowing fans to see characters and monsters from said games in new and unique scenarios.
3. They have lots of unique action sequences featuring monsters and characters from the games, sometimes re-created shot for shot.
Yet, for all their success, the films don’t quite reach the height of what they could have been; they suffer from an overarching story that feels disjointed and held together with staples, duct-tape, and Elmer’s school glue when viewed back to back, due to said story being made up film-by-film as the series went along. And while all the elements for great action movies are present, the biggest obstacle holding the films back boils down to one thing: Alice, the main character.
For all the anecdotes listed above, the Resident Evil films have another, unofficial distinction: they’re the most expensive fan-fiction story of all time in that they follow an original character throughout her adventures in the Resident Evil universe. And like poorly-written fan-fiction, said character is a black hole sue whom the entire universe revolves around. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is either:
1. Trying to kill or capture her.
2. Taking orders from her or trying to save her, often at great risk to themselves.
3. Admiring how awesome she is.
Furthermore, Alice is extra-special in-universe because she’s one of only two people in the world to successfully bond with the T-virus without any side effect, the other being Angela from the second film. But then Alice gets a one-up on Angela by becoming the only person on Earth to get psychic powers, and then she gets an army of clones who also has psychic powers, and then she defeats the Umbrella corporation and saves the human race from extinction, sacrificing her life in the process, only to return to life, making her a modern-day Jesus (if Jesus went around killing zombies with guns and psychic powers, that is).
But did you notice something about that description? The established characters from the games – Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Claire Redfield, Carlos, Albert Wesker, etc. – have almost no part to play in the fight for humanity. While they may shoot guns and kill zombies, they’re reduced to supporting characters, only existing to help Alice accomplish her quest. If they get a moment to do something cool that has nothing to do with Alice, she’ll swoop in and steal that moment (see: Jill trying to save Becky, Claire trying to defeat the Axeman, etc.).
While she has her sympathetic moments, and ultimately goes from being an unlikable jerk to a heroic clone trying to save the human race, there’s no escaping the fact that Alice is the biggest problem with the Resident Evil films. If she had been replaced with, say, Jill Valentine, and not gotten any special powers, we would have gotten a series that went like this:
Jill Valentine – a cop with the Raccoon City police department – teams up with her allies to fight off a zombie apocalypse, only to learn that their employer, the Umbrella corporation, is responsible for the outbreak. Armed with nothing but guns, their wits, and their determination, Jill, Claire, Chris, Barry, Carlos, Nicholai, Sergei, Leon, Ada, and newcomers Luther, LJ, Rain, Chase, and Betty roam the apocalyptic wastelands, trying to stop Umbrella and save the human race, eventually having to team with their arch-nemesis Albert Wesker in a final, desperate assault that leaves them just narrowly managing to save the human race and destroying Umbrella once and for all, allowing Jill and her friends to begin rebuilding a ruined world.
Doesn’t that sound like a great story? If we had gotten that, it’s my belief that the series would have been better recieved by both fans and critics. But instead, it was foiled by a newcomer who shoves everyone else aside so she can be the messiah. And in that lies the one lesson the ‘Resident Evil’ films offers to writers:
When adapting a franchise from one medium to another, stay true to the spirit of the source material while keeping the focus on established characters instead of newcomers.
While things will inevitably be changed in any adaptation, writers need to still present the story fans come to see. Tell the story from the original book, show, or game, respect said story, and use new ideas and new characters to compliment and support the original, not overshadow it.
Viewing the Resident Evil films years after the series concluded was a fascinating experience for me: I can’t think of any other series adaptation that has good production values, a real sense that the filmmakers were trying hard and learning from their mistakes, but still runs the gauntlet from awful to fantastic (in a B movie way). Most frustrating is that there was always the feeling that the films were always a few inches away from reaching their full potential, and it does happen a few times! Most of the action sequences – save those from the last film – are a lot of fun, the post-apocalyptic world is well done, the monsters are mostly great, and, despite all the changes made, it really does feel like a Resident Evil story come to life… it’s just not the one we should have gotten.
In the end, despite its missteps, the Resident Evil film series mostly accomplishes what it set out to do, in my opinion. It started weak, gradually got better, reached its zenith, then fell flat on its face at the end, but managed to get to its feet and cross the finish line. If you’re a fan of action movies, zombies, horror, and video games, I believe they’re still worth a watch. But most of all, they’re an important reminder that when we, as writers, are adapting someone else’s work, we’re stewards for that story. It is up to us to faithfully adapt it as best we can and respect it, even when we have to make changes. If we deliver a faithful and respectful adaptation, we’ll not only delight long-term fans, but introduce others to a world that they’ll want to explore, guiding them towards the original books, games,and stories, ensuring that a beloved story will earn a new generation of fans and be kept alive for years to come.
There are a lot of great quotes about writing out there; these are some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, or ‘ah ha!’ ones I’ve come across.
“It’s not just that he’s perfect manifestation of our modern heroic ideal. Superman is a character who essentially casts a purifying light on a cynical world. For both the audience, as well as the fictional world he inhabits, he is someone whose power is great, but his motivations are simple.
He just wants to help.
He just wants to do the right thing.
There’s nothing complicated, nuanced, or elaborate. There doesn’t have to be with Superman. He is just a big, strong boy scout. He’ll engage in an epic, multiverse-spanning fight Darkseid one day and save a cat from a tree the next. Both are equally important to him. He doesn’t even see it as being a hero. Being good, being kind, and doing the right thing is just part of who he is.”
-Jack Fisher, describing what makes Superman such a great character
The above is a snippet of a post by author Jack Fisher on his official blog regarding the departure of Henry Cavill from his role as Superman in the DC cinemantic universe. There’s much more on the full post, where Mr. Fisher eloquently sums up why the character has endured for almost a century in pop culture, and why we need him ever, but this bit is one of the best descriptions of Superman I’ve ever read, and would be something that all writers of Superman – whether in comics, TV, films, or games – would benefit from remembering.
After 12 long years, Indiana Jones is coming back to theaters for his final adventure in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,’ the trailer for which was released a few days ago:
Jokes about Indy whipping kids off his lawn aside, part of the fun after seeing the trailer and reading Empire’s exclusive coverage of the upcoming film is theorizing about what’s going to happen. So far, this is what we know for sure:
*The film takes place in 1969
*The opening features Indy fighting Nazis in the 1940’s.
*Indy’s main adversary is a former Nazi
*Sallah is back
*Indy has a goddaughter
Beyond that though, everything is up for grabs. But after a few days of thinking and brainstorming, I think I might have an idea about what will happen in the film… and if it turns out to be true, then Indy will face his single greatest challenge of his life, and find the fate of Earth in his hands.
To begin with, let’s start with a very interesting quote from Empire Magazine regarding Indy’s nemesis, Jürgen Voller:
Considering how the film has long been rumored to feature time travel, this quote seemingly all but confirms that it will be present in some form: After all, what would an ex-Nazi love more than the chance to go back in time and use more modern technology and advancements to give the Nazis what they need to win World War 2?
There’s another hint that this might happen: Empire’s magazine features a special subscribers-only cover featuring artwork inspired by the film. Looking at the picture and Indy’s body language makes me think of a man who is baffled at seeing something beyond his comprehension, like someone who has been transported from his own time to another (notice how Indy’s hair is dark, not white). Perhaps Indy’s watching New York City be morphed into something different; maybe that light is some sort of cosmic wave washing over New York and morphing it into an alternate version of itself due to messing with time?
There is, however, a far more sinister interpretation: What if the light doesn’t represent some sort of time-warping wave, but the Sun Gun? For those who don’t know, the Sun Gun is a hypothetical superweapon that the Nazis were researching as early as the 1920’s. To quote Wikipedia:
“The scientists calculated that a huge reflector, made of metallic sodium and with an area of 9 square kilometres (900 ha; 3.5 sq mi), could produce enough focused heat to make an ocean boil or burn a city. After being questioned by officers of the United States, the Germans claimed that the sun gun could be completed within 50 or 100 years.”
If Voller really wanted to help the Nazis turn the tide of the war, what better way to do it than by spending 24 years researching rocketry, technology, and weapons, and then using time travel to go back and give that research to Nazi scientists, who could then use rocket technology of the 1960’s to leap ahead of the Allies, construct the sun gun, and use it to incinerate Allied cities, armies, and fleets? Nowhere on Earth would be safe, and there would be nothing the Allies could do to stop the Nazis. It’s conceivable that what we’re seeing on Empire’s cover is the power of the sun being used to incinerate Manhattan with Indy watching on, helpless to stop it… unless he uses time travel to make sure the gun is never made.
Of course, this is all speculation, and we’ll have to wait until June 30th of next year to find out if the theory is true or not. In the meantime, here are a few other thoughts:
*What if the train that Indy rides in the 1940’s is the fabled Nazi gold train? He might find something of great importance on it, including research into time travel, or the dial itself. The train appears to be very well-guarded, suggesting that there’s something very valuable on it.
*If Indy does time-travel to a version of a world ruled by Nazis, it’s conceivable that he’ll run into Hitler again, giving him a second chance to either punch him or shoot him. After all, if he restores the timeline, then Hitler will die as he does historically, giving us two Hitler deaths for the price of one!
*Speaking of time travel, if it is involved, we’re likely to see Del Glocke, another Nazi superweapon that will likely be used as a power source, or as a way to find and retrieve the Dial of Destiny.
*Time travel may seem like a cheesy gimmick, but since this is Indy’s last adventure, I think it can be used well if handled carefully: As he nears his 80’s, Indy is seen as an old relic from a different time, someone who has no real place in the modern world. But thanks to his efforts, he manages to save everyone, and can walk off into the sunset knowing that he literally saved the world from being taken over by the Nazis. If you’re looking for a perfect ending for one of the most famous cinematic heroes of all time, it’s hard to top that.
With the onslaught of legacy sequels we’ve gotten over the past several years that seek to keep telling stories in franchises that should have arguably stayed finished, I was thinking about which ones had a successful passing of the torch: that is, having a new set of characters take over from older, more famous ones, and was drawing a blank.
Then I realized that we have gotten one story that perfectly passes the torch, and it came out over 30 years ago: ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.’
But wait a moment, you might say, none of the characters from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ or ‘Voyager’ or ‘Deep Space Nine’ show up! I would say that you’re correct, and that’s why ‘Country’ works so well: the classic crew get one last story that is focused entirely on them, they get to save the galaxy, the Federation, and democracy without any help from those who will come after them. And when their task is done, they triumphantly sail off into the sunrise (metaphorically speaking) and a journey that began 25 years prior finally comes to a heartwarming end.
Why does this work so well when so many other passing-the-torch stories fail? Because the classic characters have one last adventure all to themselves. They’re not teamed with younger characters the audience isn’t interested in, nor do these newcomers upstage them. The newcomers – in this case, The Next Generation crew – pick up the torch in their first story, and prove to the audience then that they are worthy of carrying it without having to tear down or upstage those who came before.
To contrast ‘Country,’ consider the fourth Indiana Jones movie, ‘The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’: Indy is accompanied by Mutt, who upstages Indy a few times, helps rescue him, insults him, and infamously almost puts on the famous fedora at the end. Now imagine the same movie, but without Mutt: Indy gets more opportunities to save the day, foil the villains, and do awesome stuff with Marion (and in a perfect world, Henry Jones Sr., Sallah and a grown-up Short Round). At the end, he marries Marion with all his friends present and sets off to a happy and well-deserved retirement. Afterwords, Mutt is introduced in his own movie and given the chance to prove himself worthy of being an adventurer without upstaging Indy or stealing his spotlight.
The lesson here? Let your classic heroes get one last adventure all to themselves before bringing in someone else to keep a franchise going. Let them have their grand finale, their satisfying end, and give their fans closure and the satisfaction of knowing that they saw a great story from its beginning to its end.
‘Resident Evil: Afterlife,’ could have – with a few minor changes – worked as a satisfying end to the Resident Evil film series. But with the cliffhanger ending of Alice, Chris, Claire, K-Mart, and other survivors facing a fleet of Umbrella VTOL’s while armed with nothing more than handguns, shotguns, and the power of positive thinking, it was inevitable that we’d get another followup (that, and earning 300 million at the box office). Sure enough, we got ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’ two years later.
Let’s take a look and see what the fifth entry in the series does well and what could use some improvement.
What does the story do well?
It has a memorable title sequence
It has no ultimate impact on the film’s story, but ‘Retribution’ features the most unique opening of the series, depicting Umbrella’s assault upon the Arcadia, but played in reverse.
It’s a great way to get the viewer’s attention by showing Alice’s defeat and the end of the battle first, and then depicting how it got to that point. Having a great soundtrack helps, too!
It has a great cold open to grip the viewer
After the Umbrella attack and Alice’s defeat, ‘Retribution’ cuts to Alice waking up in a suburban home where she’s married to Carlos (who blew himself up two movies ago) and has a deaf daughter. Unfortunately, her suburban bliss is interrupted by a zombie attack that ends with Carlos becoming a zombie and then killing Alice.
Much like the opening to ‘Extinction,’ this is a great sequence because the audience is trying to figure out just what’s going on because it flies in the face of everything we know about Alice: is it a dream? A hallucination? Something from a parallel universe? As a bonus, it also lets us see different versions of Alice, Carlos, and Rain, all three of whom have no combat skills or fighting experience, making their fight to survive all the more gripping. It’s a great way to get our attention while setting up the reveal about the cloning facility later on
It has a great setting
Although the film’s tagline is ‘Evil goes Global,’ ‘Retribution’ actually takes place almost entirely within Umbrella Prime, an underwater Umbrella facility off the frozen coasts of Russia, which houses recreations of famous global cities that are used to test the T-virus. Now trapped inside, Alice and her allies have to fight their way back to the surface before everything is blown to pieces. It’s a great setting for an adventure story that allows the characters to visit a large variety of locations instead of a single environment like the previous films (an underground lab, a city, a desert, etc.).
It has the best ticking clock yet
‘Retribution’ continues the series’ tradition of having a great ticking clock to keep the plot moving, and this is arguably the best one: Alice and her friends have just an hour and a half to escape from Umbrella Prime before it’s destroyed, taking them with it. That countdown gives every action they take and every delay extra weight.
It has more characters from the games
‘Afterlife’ was one of the most entertaining films in the series due to having more elements from the games (Wesker, Claire, Manjini zombies, the executioner, triple-barreled shotguns, and Chris Redfield). ‘Retribution’ continues that trend by having series regulars Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong, Barry Burton, and everyone’s favorite, Sergei Vladimir (you remember him, right?) joining returning faces like Wesker and Jill, the latter of whom gets a much bigger role here as the main antagonist. While these newcomers may not have great characterizations or much to do besides mowing down zombies, it’s still fun to see them on the big screen,
It shatters the status quo
One of ‘Retribution’s best scenes takes place at the end of the first act, where, in a little over five minutes, the narrative of the series is expanded and changed in interesting ways that shatters the status quo.
Among those changes are:
1. The Red Queen has taken over Umbrella and seeks to destroy all life on Earth.
2. Because of this, Wesker has defected from Umbrella and now fights against the corporation.
3. Wesker, Alice, and everyone else must unite to stop the Red Queen, or humanity is doomed.
These changes mark a turning point for the story of the Resident Evil film series, and smartly lays the groundwork for the series finale. We’re not there yet, but we now know what’s at stake and this helps wet the audience’s appetite for said finale.
The main antagonist is now an ally
I’m a sucker for enemy mine stories, and having Albert Wesker now working with Alice and the others against Umbrella has incredible storytelling potential: There’s nothing quite like having an antagonist deciding to join the victims, and seeing their different outlooks, personalities, and histories clashing against each other, which has endless opportunities for not only drama, but the possibility of the antagonist achieving redemption. And one little touch about Wesker’s turn is that he’s now effectively the leader of the United States. In other words, the series’ most awesome villain is now the president of the United States! Awesome!
It brings back the coolest enemy
It’s always a risk to bring back fan-favorite characters, especially if there’s not a good narrative reason to do so, but thanks to Umbrella’s cloning powers we get to see the Executioner return from ‘Afterlife,’ and watch not one, but two of them battle Alice and Ada in the streets of (fake) New York.
While the scene ultimately doesn’t contribute to the story, it’s still great fun to see a great monster come back for an encore performance.
The final battle is different from all the others that came before it
In all the previous films, the climaxes involved defeating a single, overpowering monster or escaping an explosion, often with a hefty dose of CGI. ‘Retribution,’ however, features a massive melee battle between Alice, Jill, Rain, Leon, and Luthor in a snowy field where they have to rely on their fists and hand-to-hand combat abilities and find a way to stop an almost unkillable Rain without relying on guns.
Unlike previous battles where Alice had the upper hand or won fairly easily, she is resoundingly beaten by Jill and would have died if not for freeing Jill from Umbrella’s mind-control at the last second. And as a bonus, it’s satisfying to see Jill – who has always had her thunder stolen by Alice in previous films – get her revenge. Or, rather, her retribution, if you will.
It has the best ending and the best cliffhanger of the series
Cliffhangers are an inherently risky storytelling trope, but when pulled off well they leave the audience excited and eager to see what comes next. ‘Retribution’ does so with flying colors, ending with Alice, Jill, Ada, Leon, and Wesker joining forces in the ruins of Washington DC and preparing for their last stand against an army of undead sent by the Red Queen. Freaking. Awesome.
What could the story have done better?
It could have removed the opening flashback
Though it’s a tradition for each Resident Evil film after the first to recap what happened in the previous movies, it is starting to wear a little thin. And after four movies, it’s safe to assume that people who are coming to watch ‘Retribution’ are fans who know what happened already, making the flashback summary unnecessary.
It could have removed Alice’s bleeding
At two times in the film, Alice looks down to find herself bleeding from a wound in her side… but nothing ever comes of it. Cutting these shots out would have freed up thirty seconds that could have been invested in character moments.
It could have eliminated the cloning aspect
‘Retribution’s biggest draw was the return of several deceased characters from the past films, including Carlos, Rain, and One, via the magic of cloning. However, the film doesn’t do anything with them: the characters show up, shoot bullets, and then get killed. While it’s a stretch to imagine that a zombie action movie would explore the moral delimas of cloning, it doesn’t use the cloning idea in any meaningful way: Pacifist, anti-gun Rain never meets her cold, heartless self, for example, and at one point Ada talks about how Umbrella uses clones and how they’re all disposable; you’d think it’s setting up some interesting moral ideas that will be explored later on (such as Alice seeing clones as people instead of disposable test subjects), but nothing comes of it. In hindsight it might have been better to remove the cloning aspect entirely and perhaps have all the test subjects at Umbrella Prime be prisoners that Umbrella has captured, which would force Alice and the others to decide if they could risk spending the time to save them or continue on and leave them to die to ensure Alice’s survival.
It could have removed the Las Plagas parasite and the enhanced zombies
Another selling point for ‘Retribution’ was that the Las Plagas parasite would make an appearance from the fourth Resident Evil game, which allows zombified people to keep their intelligence and the ability to use weapons and tools. As such, we’re given scenes of Russian zombies using assault rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, chainsaws, and even driving cars and motorcycles.
The problem is, zombies are supposed to be mindless killing and eating machines who are dangerous because of their resistance to physical injury, immunity to pain, and sheer numbers. By giving them guns and vehicles, they’re essentially normal human enemies with bad teeth and rotting skin. A good solution would have been to have the T-virus continue to mutate, giving zombies more abilities and intelligence, which could have been followed up on in the next movie. But the Las Plagas parasite doesn’t return in the final chapter, and aside from making Rain impossible to kill with bullets, it ulitmitly has no impact on the story.
It could have given characters time to breathe
‘Retribution’ is the most action-packed film in the Resident Evil series, with a breakneck pace that never lets up. While this – in conjunction with the ticking clock – is great for keeping the film moving, it would have been nice if the story took a few moments to breathe between action scenes and invest in letting us get to care for the characters, or develop their relationships between one another. It would have been nice to have Luthor and Alice have a longer reunion, given their shared experiences from ‘Afterlife,’ but they only get a few seconds to speak before we’re off to the next action sequence. While well-done action scenes are fun, caring about the people in those sequences is more important.
While ‘Retribution’ exists to set up the final chapter of the series instead of being a standalone story, it at least offers some good action, has a story that is never slow or dull, and while it doesn’t do anything meaningful with the cloning aspect, or giving characters much to do beyond shooting guns, it’s still an enjoyable entry in the saga. More importantly, it sets the stage for the final film; come back next time, where we’ll take a look at how the series ends. With all the elements in place for a truly epic grand finale, there’s no way the series could mess it up!
Ever since it’s release in 1980, ‘The Shining’ has kept viewers guessing for decades about it’s various secrets, including exactly what is going on with the Overlook Hotel itself. The film strongly hints – and the sequel, ‘Doctor Sleep’, all but confirms – that the building itself has a sort of consciousness that forces the ghosts of the hotel to do its bidding and absorb more souls into its haunted walls. And this hotel is an example of the most frightening kind of evil, one that is patient, biding its time as it watches it victims, learns about them, discovers their weakness, and slowly applies pressure to make them give in to their worst impulses without them realizing it, eventually becoming permanent guests in the time-warp that is the Overlook Hotel.
But like all great horror stories, ‘The Shining,’ never reveals what the Overlook’s malevolent self looks like. It is always out of sight, always hidden, and never seen..
But what if the Overlook’s dark core has been hiding in plain sight?
In the 2019 adaptation of ‘Doctor Sleep,’ a grown-up Danny Torrance returns to the rotting remains of the Overlook. What follows is a nostalgic tour of the hotel’s many iconic areas in a state of disrepair, including the Gold Room, where Danny has a ghostly reunion with his father. And while the film rightfully focuses entirely on the talk between father and son, there’s something about this scene that isn’t noticeable unless you’re paying very close attention to the background. Specifically, this shot:
Notice those lamps in the background? They look like mouths. Gaping maws of darkness with the bright, glowing, featureless eyes above them. This, I believe, is the true face of the evil haunting the Overlook, a gaping maw and inhuman eyes, ready to suck in anyone it can get, and they’ve always been there. Compare that shot to the original film:
Notice how in both films, neither Jack or Danny notice these faces. But Lloyd does, and so does Jack when he’s behind the counter in ‘Doctor Sleep.’ How can you tell? Look at their eyelines.
It’s as if they’re silently watching their demonic master before turning their attention back to the latest slave the Overlook wants to add to its collection. And it’s not just the gold room; these lights can be seen throughout the film: the very first time we see Jack, the hotel is watching him.
It watches Jack when he’s working on his book:
Or when Danny is riding his bike:
Or when Rose walks through its halls decades later:
But that’s not all: there are moments when these lights are not lit, like when Wendy is walking around:
The lights aren’t lit because the Overlook isn’t interested in Wendy. It wants Jack and Danny, not her, so it doesn’t bother watching her. Likewise, when Dick arrives at the Overlook and looks for the Torrances, the lights aren’t on; he doesn’t see them:
Yet, moments after he dies, the lights are on, watching Jack, encouraging him to continue his rampage:
Of course, this is just a theory. But perhaps the Overlook has been staring at us for decades; we just never saw it.
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 somereally greatmusic), 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.’
Last year, I gathered all my courage, mourned not being able to watch The Incredible Hulk, and finally sat down to watch the Star Wars Holiday Special, which is commonly called one of the worst moments in television history and one of the biggest missteps in the Star Wars franchise, sentiments that are completely and utterly 100% true. And while I played up this awfulness for comedic value, I figured it was time to actually write out what works well and what doesn’t in the special because, despite what pop culture might tell you, I was surprised to find that the special is… not that awful.
Now, don’t get me wrong; the special is not some misunderstood masterpiece that has aged like fine wine. It is a bad show with seemingly endless padding, almost ten minutes of non-stop Wookie gargling without subtitles, stirring and whipping, and the… inconsistent acting. And that’s before Leia breaks out into song. But as hard as it may be to believe, there’s also some good things, too: the lighthearted, feel-good music, seeing Luke, Leia, Han, and all the other classic characters doing their stuff, the 70’s style that saturates the whole thing, and some downright hilarious Youtube comments.
Now, lest you feel the temptation to actually sit down and watch the special (an endeavor I don’t recommend unless you’ve consumed copious amounts of alcohol) sit back and let me present to you the hard-won writing lessons I got from watching this piece of 70’s kitsch.
What does the story do well?
The core concept isn’t bad
Regardless of its execution, the story of the Holiday Special itself isn’t bad: During a period of galactic civil war, Chewbacca tries to get back to his family on Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, the most important holiday in Wookie culture. But it won’t be easy: the Galactic Empire is in hot pursuit of Chewie, and maintains a presence on Kashyyyk harassing the locals. Not only will Chewie and Han have to escape the Empire, but Chewie’s family will also have to outsmart and outwit the local Imperials before Chewie arrives so they can all safely celebrate. That’s not a bad story at all, which leads the Special to stand as proof that even the best story ideas can fail due to other circumstances.
It has a good introduction to Boba Fett
While fans generally agree that the Holiday Special is awful, there is also agreement that the best part is a short cartoon that features the first appearance of Boba Fett, one of Star Wars’ most famous side-characters. And they’re right! It’s a short, self-contained story that takes full advantage of it’s animated medium to create interesting and unique visuals that would be expensive to do in live-action, as well as give Boba a moral ambiguity that left first-time viewers wondering if he truly was an ally or someone nefarious, all aided by an excellent voice performance by Don Francks. Plus, hearing Darth Vader in any cartoon is always an excellent thing.
It shows what life is like for ordinary people in a sci-fi universe
If there’s only one thing the Holiday Special does well, it’s to show what life is like for ordinary, everyday people in the Star Wars galaxy, the folks who aren’t involved in the war, who aren’t firing blasters at Stormtroopers, and who just want to get through their day. We get to see cooking shows, what a Wookie home is like, the toys a child has in this galaxy, and what common people do to relax and have fun.
While showing ordinary life in a fantasy world sounds boring (don’t we indulge in fantasy to escape from everyday life?), it actually adds a lot of depth to that universe. Films and books typically devote little to no time showing what everyday life is like for people in fantasy worlds because of needing to focus on whatever is threatening that world. Devoting an hour and half to showing people buying and preparing food, playing, relaxing in bars, and celebrating holidays doesn’t bring in the big bucks at the cinema, after all, which makes these kind of stories rare, and even rarer in one of the biggest film franchises in history.
What could have been done to improve the story?
Okay, that’s too easy.
It could have cut out the Wookie porn
Unless it is a vital part of the story, we don’t need to watch an elderly Wookie getting sexually stimulated by softcore virtual pornography.
It could have cut out all the padding
On retrospect, I think one reason the Holiday Special earned such a disastrous reputation is that so much of it feels like padding. Part of this is due to the variety show format, but while parts of it are… tolerable… most are not, such as Malla stirring and whipping, and almost four minutes of assembling a transmitter. If these segments were removed and the story revised to focus on the holiday aspect, it would have been a stronger, more enjoyable tale.
It could have made the story more ‘holiday-ey’
While the slice-of-life format of the Holiday Special is a welcome change from the constant, non-stop war seen in all the Star Wars films, the holiday aspect feels almost non-existant. While it wouldn’t make sense for the Star Wars universe to just copy Christmas traditions verbatim, it would have been nice to see more holiday traditions throughout the special, such as festive decorations, gift-giving, etc. Even having Itchy, Lumpy, and Malla try to spread holiday cheer to the Imperials who come to their house would have helped embody the spirit of a winter holiday. As it is, the special’s only holiday aspect comes at the very end; while this works as the climax to the story, it would have been better to have more moments of festivity throughout.
While it deserves much of the negative reception it’s received, the Star Wars Holiday Special is, like every story, a product of its time. Where the rest of the Star Wars saga is a timeless story, the Holiday Special is a weird time capsule of the late 70’s, for better or worse, a time where where variety shows were viable entertainment, but starting their slide into obsolescence, and the Star Wars franchise was still trying to find its footing. And while there is a lot to dislike here, there’s still some good stuff, too. In a way, the Special is like our own holiday season: If we honestly search for things to be thankful for in a world filled with pain, suffering, and misery, we can find them.