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.’

The Spiritual Side of Waterworld

While 1995’s, ‘Waterworld’ can be seen as a parable about industrialization vs. sustainable living, I realized the other day that it can also be viewed as – believe it or not – a spiritual film.

First, let’s consider the film’s setting: a wild, desolate world where people struggle to survive and constantly fight each other for food, resources, and housing, much like our own.

Secondly, consider the world’s inhabitants:

1. The Smokers, who represent the darker side of humanity: unmatched cruelty, out-of-control egos, stupidity, self-righteousness, inability to plan for the future while satisfying immediate, short-term goals, etc.

2. The Drifters, who are neutral and focused sorely on survival. With only one exception (an elderly man in the extended cut) all of them are selfish and greedy.

3. The Atollers, who represent the more enlightened side of humanity: cooperation, law, living close to the land, etc.

Seems simple enough, and it’s easy to guess who the good guys are supposed to be. But a closer look reveals the Atollers to be xenophobic, closed-minded, judgemental, prejudiced, paranoid, and isolationists with no interest in helping others unless there’s something in it for them. If the Smokers are the uneducated masses who are religious fanatics, then the Atollers are the science-oriented elites who see themselves as superior to everyone else who will let you drift away to your death unless you have something of use for them.

Now, both the Smokers and the Atollers want safety and security: the Smokers seek the mythical Dryland to rip up and use as they please, while the Atollers see it as superstitious nonsense and hide in gated communities. But in the end, neither get what they want: the Smokers are all killed, and what few Atollers are left are stuck out at sea. And while Dryland exists, only a few people make it there:

*Helen, who tries to persuade the Atollers to change their ways, and devotes her life to protecting a child.

*Enola, an innocent (if annoying) child.

*Gregor, a kind man of science and learning who accepts the Mariner, despite him being a mutant.

*The Enforcer, a firm, but fair lawman who assists Helen and Gregor in saving the Mariner and Enola.

*The Mariner, who starts off as a selfish Drifter, but learns to care for Helen and Enola and risks his life for them.

And if that’s not enough, all five of them make it to Dryland by flying through the clouds, like souls flying up to Heaven. Heck, the events of the movie begin (offscreen) with Enola’s parents – the only inhabitants of Dryland – sending off their only child to give humanity a way to Paradise. While anyone can still find Dryland, taking the time to learn and understand the message Enola brings will make it much easier and quicker.

When we combine all these elements, ‘Waterworld’ can be seen as a spiritual parable for life: We are all drifting through the world with various levels of comfort and privilege, and while everyone wants something better beyond the life they have, only those who are willing to change and help others freely will make it to Paradise.

A Random Thought About ‘Waterworld’

If you take the 1995 film, ‘Waterworld’ and flip the protagonists and antagonists, it becomes fossil fuel propaganda about a group of brave industrialists struggling to restart civilization after the apocalypse, and it’s only their willingness to do whatever it takes – and their oil-powered jet skis, boats, planes, and other vehicles – that can make it happen! But then some water-hippies recruit a terrorist who kills all those courageous industrialists and dooms humanity to be stuck forever as hunter-gathers instead of a society with lots of leisure time and a high-level of technology that only oil-powered machines could have brought.

What we can learn from ‘Let’s Go’

Armageddon. Ragnarok. The end of all things. Almost every culture and mythology has its version of the moment when everything ends and the human race is wiped out.

But what if someone survived?

A few days ago, I came across the above music video, which tells the story of a Chinese astronaut who devotes his life to making it to the Moon, only for it to be all for nothing. Though only a little over three minutes long, it’s a gripping story, so let’s take a look and see what it does well.

You audience admires determined, focused characters

Though he gets no lines, or even a name, the astronaut in the video gets our attention thanks to his strength of will: Thanks to a very efficient montage, we see him devoting everything to accomplishing his dream of getting on the Moon, sacrificing joy, happiness, or even love. Yet, we still root for him to succeed: How many of us wish we could devote every waking moment of our lives to accomplishing our dreams? Sadly, many of us can’t, which makes us envious and (begrudgingly) admiring of those who can. The same goes for fictional characters. Perhaps your character wants to become president, or go into outer space, or win a spelling bee. Seeing them striving to accomplish a dream makes for compelling drama as they learn whether their dream is really worth everything they’re sacrificing.

It’s important to note that determined, focused characters don’t need to be heroes. Consider the T-800 and the T-1000 in the first two Terminator films, Sauron from ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ and the Thing from the 1982 Universal film of the same name: All three have solid, achievable goals (kill John Conner, take over the world, and take over the world by assimilating everyone on it), and stop at nothing to achieve those goals. Both antagonists and protagonists benefit from laser-like focus, and when their strength of wills clash, it can make for some of the most compelling drama ever put to page or screen. Need proof? Consider Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in ‘Return of the Jedi’: The former wants to redeem his fallen father, and the latter wants to convert him to the dark side. Neither will budge, and their duel of wits becomes what is arguably the most dramatic sequence of any Star Wars film:

Consider exploring what would happen to the lone survivor of a world-ending event

What would you do if the world was destroyed, and you were the only survivor? What would you do? How would you live? Would you even try to, or let yourself succumb to despair and throw yourself out the airlock? In the case of the music video, the astronaut realizes that what really mattes to him most is achieving his second chance of experiencing love, and he stops at nothing to make it happen.

While destroying the world shouldn’t be done lightly in any medium, doing so has the advantage of forcing a character to confront reality without all the masks that they put up to protect themselves from other people and society at large. Do they go nuts and indulge their every whim? Succumb to despair and meaninglessness? Or do they defy the odds and refuse to give in, searching for others who might have survived, or chronicling everything for whatever sapient life form comes after them? There are countless possible answers, and wanting to see what happens to isolated, vulnerable characters will keep an audience engaged in our stories.

Consider having your character escape/navigate/survive the fallout from a world-ending event

When something big – like a building, a city, or a planet – is destroyed, it creates a lot of debris and wreckage. In some situations, it gives us an opportunity for a unique action scene of characters having to escape said debris. ‘Let’s Go’ has the astronaut fighting to reach the space station before it gets out of reach, but to do so, he has to go through a debris field consisting of wreckage from Earth, making it extremely difficult for him to reach his goal, and with the promise of certain death if he fails.

When writing our own stories, having to navigate the ruins of a wrecked mega-structure can lead to some exciting action scenes that we don’t get to write very often. If the opportunity arises, embrace them and milk them for all they’re worth. One of my favorite examples comes from 2016’s ‘Independence Day: Resurgence,’ in which David Levinson and friends have to dodge falling debris sucked up from all over the Earth that subsequently rains down on London.

Consider having your character/s decide to accept death and pass the time as best they can

In disaster movies, it’s very common for the survivors and main characters to either find a way to stop the disaster, or start rebuilding afterwords, hopeful and upbeat that one day, things can return to normal.

But what if they couldn’t? What if they had no chance at all of rebuilding, or surviving, and death is inevitable?

One type of story we don’t see too much of these days is the disaster story where there’s no way for the characters to survive in the long run. It’s easy to understand why: Audiences want a happy ending, or a hopeful one. A story where everyone is going to die, won’t leave them feeling good after leaving the theater, closing the book, or turning off the game console. But if we choose this path, writers have a unique opportunity to explore what characters might do if they only have a little time left to live. Will they weep? Try to make peace with their god? Resolve any lingering conflicts with their loved ones? Or will they accept it and try to have fun before the end? Both astronauts choose the last option in ‘Let’s Go,’ deciding to play video games together as they drift off into the void.

Choosing the path of inevitable death need not be dark. It can be sad, but it also gives characters one more chance to enjoy themselves, or to choose how they will spend what little time they have left. And if they go out having fun, or healing long-simmering hurts, that can be just as uplifting as a happy ending.

The Takeaway

Our audience will always admire a protagonist or antagonist who has a goal and obsessively pursues it, even at a cost of personal happiness. They’ll be even more interested if that individual is the only survivor of a world-ending event, and applies that determination to surviving or continuing on, no matter how bad things get. But if they are doomed, those characters can become their most interesting selves when they have to decide how to spend what little time they have left.

Perfect Moments: ‘Mad Max: Out of Gas’

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

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The video:

‘Mad Max: Out of Gas’

Why it’s perfect:

The post-apocalyptic world of the ‘Mad Max’ universe is a crazy, dangerous, and awesome place, filled with action, crazed lunatics, and some of the most awesome looking vehicles ever to grace the silver screen. It’s a world of desperation and incredible action series as humanity fights to survive and gather all the gazzoline gasoline they need to fuel their engines of war.

But what if all the gazzoline gasoline ran out?

‘Mad Max: Out of Gas’ takes a look at what Max’s world would look life if all the gazzsoline gasoline ran out, and everyone still tried to fight the epic wars and battles of before, but on children’s tricycles. It’s the funniest parody of a post-apocalyptic world I’ve ever seen, and even made my parents – who aren’t action movie fans – laugh while watching.

This world may not be as cool as when it had cars, but it’s certainly a a lot funnier.