What We Can Learn From The Resident Evil Film Series: Part 4 – ‘Afterlife’

The third entry in the Resident Evil film series, Extinction was supposed to be the end of the franchise: by the end, we saw how Alice was going to go wipe out Umbrella’s last remaining executives, had learned that a cure for the vaccine could be created, and realized that there was hope things would finally turn out well… but box office money has a funny way of undoing even the most conclusive endings, three years later we got Resident Evil: Afterlife, kicking off a new trilogy of movies.

Taking place a year after Alice awakened all her new clone buddies, Afterlife follows their assault on Umbrella’s Tokyo headquarters and Alice’s subsequent quest to find her missing friends. Let’s see what worked – and what didn’t – in our fourth journey into the world of the undead.

What does the film do well?

It’s closer in spirit to the games

By the time Extinction arrived in theaters, many fans of the video games complained that the film series had little to do with them aside from having characters and monsters, and the most bare-bones interpretation of the plots. ‘Afterlife’ seeks to remedy this by bringing in more elements from the games, such as having Wesker be much closer to his video game counterpart, having more monsters (the Manjini, Axeman, and zombie dogs from Resident Evil 5), as well as bringing back Claire and introducing her brother, Chris Redfield, and including a location from the game as well (the ship from RE5, albeit highly modified for the film). Though the film still follows it’s own story, it deserves credit for bringing in more elements from the game.

The opening act is an excellent introduction to the villain

While the assault on Umbrella’s headquarters acts as an action-packed way to get the story and showcase Umbrella’s well-deserved beatdown, the sequence also serves as an excellent introduction to Albert Wesker, chairman of the Umbrella corporation, and the only individual in all of Tokyo who can face off against Alice and her clones and win. And not only that, but he escapes, kills all the clones by destroying Umbrella’s headquarters, and then takes away Alice’s powers, leaving himself free to continue frolicking about and do Umbrella-related shenanigans. And all of that within the first 18 minutes of the film!

It’s a great way to show how dangerous and powerful Wesker is, setting up the film’s final confrontation.

It takes away Alice’s psychic powers

One of the main problems with the previous two Resident Evil films is that Alice becomes too powerful, easily overshadowing everyone else in the series – including the villains and people from the games – and making her a god-mode sue. Thankfully, Afterlife remedies that by having Wesker take away Alice’s powers before the end of the first act, making her (in theory) a normal human again. In the words of TVTropes: “Wesker beat the Sue out of Alice. And for everyone who wanted to see that moment? It. Was. GLORIOUS.”

It has a celebrity survivor who doesn’t have an ego

Like the films before it, Afterlife features a large cast of new characters who mostly exist to become zombie fodder, and among them is Luther, a former pro basketball player. But despite his pre-zombie fame, he doesn’t expect any special treatment or privileges because of it, and even laughs it off at one point. He’s a nice guy, and a great example of a celebrity character who doesn’t let fame get to their head.

It gives the characters a concrete goal

Afterlife continues the series’ trend of giving the characters a clear and concrete goal to strive for: in the first, it was escaping the hive before it was permanently sealed, in the second it was escaping Raccoon City before it was nuked, in the third it was reaching Arcadia, and here it’s… to reach Arcadia. So while it may be repeating what came before, the revelation that Arcadia is a boat and not a town is a nice touch (and then the further revelation that it’s a mobile Umbrella research lab is another nice twist, too, so that just reaching the finish line doesn’t mean everyone is automatically safe and sound).

It has two ticking clocks

Like the previous films, Afterlife once again gives the characters a ticking clock, but ups the ante by having two of them: after we’re introduced to the prison where most of the film takes place, we see a zombie digging around underground, telling us that this seemingly impenetrable fortress won’t stay that way for long. Then the Axeman shows up, and now Alice and the others not only have zombies to deal with, but a monster who’s immune to bullets and can break down the doors keeping zombies from rushing in. Twice the pressure, double the drama!

It has a funny expletive

As I’ve written before, cursing can be funny when it’s done sparingly. ‘Afterlife’ has a particularly amusing moment where Bennett steals Alice’s plane and flies away, only to seemingly plunge to his death, leaving Luther to yell, “That’s right, bitch! Fuck you!”

Not only does Boris Kodjoe do a great job delivering the line, but it’s darkly funny that no one is sad to see Bennett face his seemingly imminent demise.

It has an awesome monster fight

Afterlife brings in one of the most memorable monsters the Resident Evil games in the form of the Axeman, a towering monstrosity of a man who wields a freakishly huge axe that can cleave someone in two with a single stroke. Not only does this guy look exactly like he does in the game (a big plus), but he’s also reinvented to make him more threatening: where the Axeman from the game is a slow, lumbering brute who can take a ton of damage, the movie makes him a monster who can not only kill you in one hit, but also run after you as well! To balance this out, the Axeman doesn’t have the durability his game counterpart has, meaning that if you get the right weapon – such as a shotgun – and hit him in the right spot, you can take him down with a single shot, giving the characters a fair chance in a fight against him. To further sweeten the deal, his big fight takes place inside a shower room drenched with falling water.

The slow-mo can be cheesy, but it’s an awesome fight with an awesome monster (and awesome music).

It gives Wesker a counter to his superpowers

Wesker is the easily most powerful character in the movies, even moreso than Alice: he’s not only an expert hand-to-hand combatant, but can dodge bullets, survive wounds that would kill a normal person, and even survive a nuclear bomb blast a point-blank range! But while his power level approaches that of a god, Afterlife wisely balances this out by forcing Wesker to constantly consume human flesh to keep his T-virus under control, making his abilities a case of powers at a price: he can do incredible things, but if he slips up, it will cost him everything.

It brings one of the best scenes from the games into the movie

It may be pure fan-service, but it’s fun to see one of Wesker’s fight scenes from Resident Evil 5 become the final fight of Afterlife.

Say what you will about just copying something from one medium to another, but it’s still a great way to show how hard Wesker is to put down. And to top it off, the end features Chris and Claire pumping Wesker full of lead by shooting him approximately 17 million times. It’s not enough to kill him, but boy is it satisfying to see villains get reduced to hamburger to ensure they can’t come back

It spares Luther

Luther is the most likable character in the film, which makes it a shame to see him get dragged away by zombies in the sewers… which makes it a treat when Afterlife decides to be merciful and spare him at the very end. In a series full of interesting side characters getting killed off left and right, it’s refreshing to see one survive to the next movie.

It gives Bennett a moment of sympathy

Bennett is not a sympathetic or likable person. He’s selfish, rude, and arrogant, willing to kill and abandon his companions to save himself, making his final comeuppance very satisfying. But before he becomes Wesker chow, his selfishness and smugness melt away for just a moment when, in the face of death, he whimpers that he just wants to go home. In this moment, we see that beneath all his arrogance and selfishness, Bennett is a sad, tired man who just wants things to go back to the way they were before the T-Virus outbreak. It’s not enough to redeem him, but it does make him just a little more human, and a little more relatable.

What could have been improved?

It could have turned Alice into a truly normal person

One of the best things Afterlife does is have Wesker take away Alice’s powers. The problem is that Alice is still capable of taking on crowds of zombies, jumping over six feet high to kick a monster in the face, swing through the air like Tarzan, scoring hits on zombies with revolvers while falling to the ground, and kicking falling shards of glass into zombie dogs. While it makes sense that Alice would still have the knowledge and experience gained from the previous three films, it would have been more better to see her struggle with the limitations a normal person would have facing zombies and undead monsters, which would make her victories all the more satisfying.

It could have explained why the world is no longer a desert wasteland

Extinction made a big deal about how the T-virus was turning Earth into Tatooine by killing vegetation and causing bodies of water to dry up. Yet here, a little over a year after the events of the previous film, there are giant glaciers, sprawling forests, and enough water to solve all of the southwestern United State’s drought problems. While this could be hand-waved by saying that Alice was able to create the antivirus the White Queen had mentioned from the previous film, it’s still a huge stretch to go from a world that’s a barren desert to a world that looks pretty normal.

It could have dropped the video logs completely

After escaping Tokyo, Alice starts recording video logs as she hunts for Arcadia and other survivors. But after arriving at the prison, she stops making them and they’re never mentioned again. It would have been better to drop them completely and invest the freed-up time in more character moments.

It could have had a better reason why the prison group doesn’t trust Chris

In the film, Chris is kept locked up in the prison because nobody trusts him and believes that he’s there for a reason. Problem is, that flies in the face of all logic. If you have a man who says he knows a way out of your safehold surrounded by thousands of zombies, and you’re trying to get to your one refuge from said zombies, it makes more sense to see what he has to say. Besides, the other survivors outnumber him and have guns in case he tries anything.

It could have given Bennett a better reason for his betrayal

When Bennett learns that the APC – the group’s would-be escape vehicle – will need at least a week to fix, he responds by pulling out his pistol and killing Angel, and then stealing the plane to fly to Arcadia. The problem is, this makes no sense. Bennett is a selfish jerk no doubt, but he has a way out of the prison, and a path to safety. Killing the one man who can repair the vehicle is too much; perhaps if he had lost patience and demanded that Angel have them all draw straws and fly away in the plane, and then get turned down, it would have made sense for him to snap and kill Angel. As is, Bennett’s decision to murder someone feels too sudden and too illogical to accept.

It could have let Claire kill the Axeman instead of Alice

One of the more egregious moments in Apocalypse was when Alice stole Jill Valentine’s victory against the zombie dogs in Racoon City’s grade school, and here she does it again: after Claire struggles against the Axeman and almost kills it, Alice literally runs in and delivers the killing blow. Having original characters steal canon character’s moments of glory is a big no-no.

It could have had a more conclusive ending

As like all the films that came before it, Afterlife ends with a cliffhanger: Not even a few minutes after stopping Wesker, freeing all the prisoners on the Arcadia, and having a moment to just relax and feel safe, Alice and her allies now have to contend with a fleet of Umbrella VTOL’s bearing down on them, led by a brainwashed Jill Valentine.

Unlike the three cliffhangers that have come before – which were hopeful or promised that our heroes would do something awesome – here the odds are so heavily stacked in Umbrella’s favor that there’s no way Alice and the others could possibly stop them. A cliffhanger implying that things will eventually work out for the heroes is acceptable, but one that implies that the bad guys are going to win is just an unpleasant way to end the story, as it gives the audience a feeling that everything the protagonists went through was ultimately for nothing. It might have worked out better to have Alice broadcast her message of hope, and then end the film there, leaving us with a satisfying conclusion, and moved the arrival of Umbrella’s forces to the next film.

Despite just pointing out how many flaws Afterlife has, it still remains my favorite of the series: the action is engaging, the visuals are great, the pacing is pretty much flawless, the elements from the games are well-translated to the screen, and there are no slow or tedious moments. It’s an action film that delivers on what it sets out to do, and I’d be happy to rewatch this one again and again. In my opinion, it’s the best film of the series… but unfortunately, it’s not the last. We still have two films to go, so check back in next time when we take a look at Resident Evil: Retribution.

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.’

What We Can Learn From The Resident Evil Film Series: Part 2 – ‘Apocalypse’

NOTE: Some of the links and videos in this article contain language that is not safe for work.

Despite bearing little resemblance to the video game it was adapting, 2002’s ‘Resident Evil’ was enough of a hit at the box office to warrant a sequel, one that arrived in theaters two years later with ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse.’

Picking up almost immediately after the events of the first film, ‘Apocalypse’ follows Alice as she heads out into Raccoon City to fight the undead and escape while the sinister Umbrella Corporation – proving that they have the intelligence of a rotting cucumber – reopen the zombie-infested Hive, triggering a citywide outbreak, and forcing Alice and several newcomers to find a way to escape the city before the whole place is nuked to prevent the virus from spreading to the wider world.

Much like its predecessor, ‘Apocalypse’ was not a critical hit, and is rated among professional critics as the worst in the series, while fan reception was (and continues to be) mixed. But despite this, the film was a box office hit, making $129 million worldwide on a $45 million budget, which meant there had to be some things in the film that fans liked. So with that, let’s wade into the hordes and see if we can figure out what they are.

What does the movie do well?

It’s more faithful to the games

Compared to the previous movie, ‘Apocalypse’s greatest virtue is that it actually feels like an adaptation of the games instead of a standalone zombie film with the Resident Evil brand slapped on it. The movie has locations from the games (Raccoon City, the police department), monsters (zombies, zombie dogs, lickers, and Nemesis), characters (Jill Valentine, Carlos, Yuri, Nicholai, and Ashfords), and does a much better job embodying the spirit of the original Playstation games, while also leaving out elements that wouldn’t translate well to the big screen. (Burn in hell, water-tetris puzzle)

It has a very effective stairwell scene

Though it’s more focused on action, ‘Apocalypse’ does feature its fair share of horror elements, with people being eaten alive by zombies, unstoppable monsters, and abandoned environments. But one scene early on stands above the rest: a woman flees from a horde of zombies inside a stairwell, only to come to a locked door and just barely manages to enter the code to unlock the door and break out onto the roof.

Though a short scene, it taps into the primal fear of being trapped in an enclosed area and facing a horrific, painful, and slow death.

It has a great introduction for Carlos

In fiction, first impressions matter, and Umbrella operative Carlos gets a great one, as seen in the above clip: Seeing a woman fleeing from zombies, he immediately abandons his current mission, rappels out of the helicopter, kills all the zombies, and tries to save the woman, who, having been infected, takes her life.

While Carlos’ efforts were in vain, the scene establishes that not only is Carlos an accomplished marksman, but despite being an employee of the most evil corporation ever, he has a heart and is not afraid to go out and save innocent people even if it means defying his orders, instantly making him a likable man we’d want to be around if we got stuck in a zombie outbreak.

It has an effective ticking clock

The first film had Alice and her friends racing against the clock to escape the Hive before it was sealed, and ‘Apocalypse’ ups the ante by forcing Alice, Jill, Carlos, and the others to escape Raccoon City before the Umbrella Corporation destroys it with a nuclear bomb. Having an unbreakable deadline gives the characters a great motivation to constantly keep moving, as well as giving their every choice and decision additional weight, forcing them to be strategic with how they spend the limited time available to them.

It gives all the characters a good reason to risk going into a zombie-infected area

So often in stories where a character or a group of characters are forced into performing an unpleasant or dangerous task to gain something they must acquire, ‘Apocalypse’ has a rare twist: In order to secure an exit from Raccoon City, Alice, Jill, and the others are recruited by Umbrella Scientist Charles Ashford to rescue his daughter before she’s turned into radioactive ash by the incoming nuclear missile. Having a loved one rescued is a refreshing change from so many deals where one side is aiming to get more wealth, power, or selfish desires. Plus, audiences will always applaud characters who go out of their way to rescue children from dangerous situations, even ones they don’t know.

It has an effective backstory for the virus

Though the first film revealed that the T-Virus was going to be used as a military weapon, ‘Apocalypse’ reveals that the virus was actually created by Charles to save his daughter from a disease that would have left her crippled for life. Such a revelation makes Charles Ashford a tragic figure: the father who only wanted to save his daughter and help humanity, only to lose control of his creation to a heartless corporation who defiled his creation and turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Even worse, by creating the T-Virus, Ashford – a fundamentally good and decent man – unknowingly became the person who brought humanity to the brink of extinction. Yikes.

It has a fantastic main monster

If there’s one thing that both fans and critics can agree on, it’s that ‘Apocalypse’ does a superb job with its main monster, Nemesis, who is brought to life directly from the third game via great use of prosthetics and practical effects. Unlike the Nemesis of the game, who is a nearly mindless killing machine, the Nemesis of ‘Apocalypse’ is a monster who doesn’t slaughter everyone in sight, but only attacks enemies he’s ordered to; in my favorite scene of the movie, Nemesis, having killed a group of STARS operatives, comes across LJ, the film’s comic relief and a civilian armed with two handguns. Realizing that he doesn’t have a chance of taking on this hulking brute, LJ tosses his guns and surrenders. Seeing that LJ doesn’t pose a threat, Nemesis spares him and leaves.

Much like the title monster from the Predator series, giving Nemesis a moral code (for lack of a better term) makes him a much more interesting foe than if he just killed everyone and everything in sight.

But what truly makes Nemesis so interesting is the (fairly obvious) reveal that he’s actually Matt from the previous film, now mutated and twisted into a monster under Umbrella’s control, forced to fight and kill against his will. And like any great monster, seeing him break free from his unjust fate is a crowd-pleasing moment of the highest caliber: Matt may still a monster, but he’s now on the side of the angels and helps Alice and the others escape, sacrificing his life to do so. Audiences love a monster who abandons its killing ways, and who fights to save good people of its own free will, and Matt/Nemesis fits that role perfectly. No matter what other flaws ‘Apocalypse’ has, Nemesis stands apart as its single-best element, and becomes one of the best characters – and the best monsters – of the entire series.

What could the story have done better?

It could have given the characters a concrete goal earlier in the story

As noted above, ‘Apocalypse’ gives Alice, Jill, and the others a ticking clock to up the tension and drama. The problem is that they aren’t given this clock until about 42 minutes into the film. Had they learned about the nuke by the end of the first act – or been given an equivalent goal to work towards – the story would be more focused and had a more tangible finish line instead of the generic, ‘Oh noes we gotta get out of the zombie-infested city.’

It could have come up with a more definitive reason to do Project Alice

Pop Quiz time: You are an evil Umbrella Corporation agent in charge of Raccoon City and have just learned that the T-virus is rampaging out of control. You order a nuclear strike to obliterate the city and (hopefully) stop the virus. What is your next move?

A: Immediately evacuate all Umbrella personnel, equipment, and vital data as far away from the city as possible, as quickly as possible.

B: Decide that now is the perfect time to set up tents and do a field test on a biological weapon.

The film chooses option B, and it comes off as nonsensical; why spend your limited time doing a field test when you should be running for your life? Adding a scene where Major Cain decides that deploying Nemesis to ensure Alice is killed to prevent her revealing what happened in the Hive would have alleviated this problem. Or, better yet, have Cain be ordered to do the test from his superiors, much to his annoyance, showing that he’s more interested in taking care of the men and women under his command, and only does such a test begrudgingly, hating that he has to risk his personnel for such a stupid reason.

Speaking of Project Alice…

It could have removed Project Alice

While ‘Apocalypse’ has issues that most action horror films have (too many characters who exist just to serve as cannon fodder, an unremarkable story, cliched ethnic stereotypes who serve as comic relief, etc.) and issues with logic and common sense (The Umbrella Corporation couldn’t find Angela after the crash, but her father can locate her in a minute with a personnel tracker), it’s biggest problem is the decision to give Alice superpowers and an unpleasant, smug attitude who is stronger, faster, and better than established canon characters at everything and puts them down at every opportunity in an attempt to look cool and awesome (all of whom eventually come to devote all their efforts in helping her).

The problem is, by making Alice ‘cooler’ than Jill, Carlos, and everyone else, the film has her constantly coming in where she’s not wanted or needed, and stealing the spotlight away from characters who are in the game and should be having their own moment to shine. Instead of seeing Jill and her companions using their wits to escape the church by the skin of their teeth, Alice drives inside on a motorcycle and kills all three attacking lickers with ease. Instead of seeing Jill triumphantly kill the zombie dogs after fighting to keep Angela safe, Alice literally comes out of nowhere and kills them instead with no effort. And instead of seeing Jill and the others fighting to within an inch of their lives and expending every bullet they have to take Nemesis down, Alice beats him in a horribly edited fistfight.

Now, imagine a version of ‘Apocalypse’ where Alice has no superpowers. She can’t jump over a fence in a single-bound, can’t take out three hunters with barely any effort, and can’t fight Nemesis in hand-to-hand combat. She’s an ordinary person fighting for her life with other people who are just like herself, with only their wits, courage, and whatever supplies they can gather. Worse, the Umbrella corporation wants Alice dead before she can reveal to the world what was going on in the Hive, and sends Nemesis to kill her. Now she not only has to fight an entire city filled with the undead, but a homicidal monster with a minigun and rocket launcher while she has, at most, a pistol and shotgun, forcing her to constantly run from a beast she can’t kill until the climax where she has to stand and fight. Doesn’t that sound more engaging than superhero Alice killing everyone and everything with ease? Watching overpowered characters escape from danger again and again is not engaging; watching ordinary people fighting and overcoming impossible odds while completely out of their element is.

While Project Alice drags ‘Apocalypse’ down and would cast a shadow over the rest of the series, the rest of the film is a perfectly serviceable action film. I admit to enjoying it quite a bit more than its predecessor, and it moves the story forward in a logical way, and serves as the cutoff point for the series: Up to this point, the movies have followed the games, more or less. But from here on out, Anderson’s films head into uncharted territory and forge their own path separate from the games. Tune in next time, when we’ll take a look at the 2007 sequel, ‘Resident Evil: Extinction,’ and see just how that path begins to play out.

Great Quotes About Writing: Survivors Aren’t Fearless

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.

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‘Sigourney Weaver is such a great actress. I love how unlike some “women” (I used quotes because they don’t really seem that human , just “perfect”) in film, you really believe her terror but at the same time really see her in that adrenaline rush and just doing everything she can to survive. Those are my favorite types of characters in horror/thriller films in general. Their not made of stone with no sense of fear, but they also don’t sit around weeping and waiting for the killer to get them. These characters are terrified and can barely think or move, but they dig as deep as they can into their primal survival instincts and they just do what they need to do to survive.’

David Ganderson, commenting on Ellen Ripley’s escape from the Nostromo in ‘Alien’ (emphasis mine)

Not much to add here: This is one of the best summaries of survivor characters I’ve ever come across, and a reminder that even a character who is brave and works to save themselves can still be scared out of their minds.

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.

Favorite moments: ‘You’re going to die. That’s what’s happening.’

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Movie

‘The Grey’

The Scene

Why it’s Great

It happens all the time: Someone gets injured. They’re bleeding out, they’re in shock, and their comrades, friends, and those they love are frantically telling them that they have to hang on, that help will be there soon, and that they’ll pull through.

How often do you see someone tell the injured person that they’re going to die?

When I first saw ‘The Grey’ back in 2011, this is the scene that stuck with me after I left the theater. Very rarely had I come across a story where a dying person was told, point-blank, that they’re going to die. But while Ottway’s honesty seems as cold as the frozen wastes of Alaska, the resulting scene is – surprisingly – quite touching. While he doesn’t mince words with Lewenden about what’s happening, Ottway does his best to make Lewenden’s last moments as comforting as possible.

Death has a way of revealing who someone really is when they’re faced with the unknown, and all their defenses are gone. There might be no better way to find out what a character is like than when they’re staring death in the face. in ‘The Grey’ we learn everything we need to know about Ottway in one scene: he’s a man who doesn’t hold back on telling the truth, no matter how hard or uncomfortable it is. Yet, he’s not a cruel, heartless person, and does his best to help others, no matter how grim things are, even if it’s only making someone’s death a little less fearful, a little terrifying as they slip away, turning what could have been a sad, heartless scene into one of the most touching moments of the film.