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.
Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.
‘The Lenny Henry Christmas Show’
A random audience member
Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight
It’s spooky season once again, and what better way to mark the occasion than with this terrifying live action parody of Wallace and Gromit from 1995’s ‘The Lenny Henry Christmas Show’? The lovable, charming duos of Wallace and Gromit have gone from England’s most lovable couple into inter-dimensional abominations wearing skinned flesh in an attempt to blend in with humanity and their canine companions. It’s so grotesque, so horrifying, that at 0:51 in the clip, you can just faintly hear someone in the audience groaning, ‘Oh god…’ I don’t know who this man is or anything about him – and he’s not even a background character, per se – but he sums up the audience’s feelings so perfectly that he becomes the best thing about this sketch, stealing the show from the two things that will haunt my nightmares forever more.
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.
Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.
‘Stranger Things: Season 4’
Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight
Recently, I watched all four seasons of Stranger Things, a show with a great many characters both major and minor, but one of whom stands out as one of the most awesome redshirts you’ll ever see on TV.
For those of you who are unaware, a Redshirt is a minor, typically unnamed character in a movie, show, or book who exists sorely to die and establish how dangerous a situation is for the main characters. Named after the famous crewmembers from Star Trek, they’ve become a joke in pop culture, and I was expecting the two government agents in the fourth season of Stranger Things to be the same.
Boy, was I wrong.
When military spooks break into Will and Jonathan’s house to kill them, I thought agent Harmon would quickly fall like his partner, leaving the boys to fend for themselves. But to my surprise, Harmon immediately morphed from an overweight, lazy, tv-watching agent into a stone-cold warrior who fearlessly takes on an entire squad of soldiers with only a pistol and wins. Granted, he doesn’t kill them all, but he does stop them from getting Will and the others, ensuring that they escape to find Eleven.
What’s so great about this scene is that even though we know so little about Harmon, we quickly become invested in his struggle because we subconsciously know he doesn’t have plot armor and could die at any time, making his fight even more engaging than the main characters who we know are going to survive until the climax of the story. He’s a redshirt who temporarily becomes a main character, one who is responsible for keeping the others alive… but, sadly, at the cost of his life.
Rest in peace, Harmon (AKA, Unknown Agent Hero Man). We only knew you for a few minutes, but if you had gone to the Upside Down with the others in the season finale, you’d have killed Vecna in seconds with that legendary pistol of yours and saved the world.
NOTE: This post spoils pretty much all of ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’. If you haven’t seen it yet… well, today is as good a day as any to see it!
Ah, the 4th of July: A time for barbecues, patriotism, and watching movies about aliens invading earth on America’s birthday. I’m talking, of course, about 1996’s ‘Independence Day,’ one of the biggest blockbusters of the 90’s. Considering how much of a success it was, it’s surprising that it took Hollywood twenty years to give us a sequel, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence.’
Unfortunately, ‘Resurgence’ didn’t repeat the success of its predecessor, and quickly faded from view, taking with it any hopes of any further sequels. Yet, despite its lackluster reception by audiences and critics alike, I’d say that, when compared to the many legacy sequels we’ve gotten since then, ‘Resurgence’ is one of the better ones. In honor of the film’s 6th anniversary, I’d like to list (in no particular order) 11 things ‘Resurgence’ does well.
1. The setting
Reflecting the passage of time in our world, ‘Resurgence’ takes place 20 years after the event of the original, and features a world where humanity has not only rebuilt itself in the aftermath of the war of 96, but also reverse-engineered and integrated alien technology into our societies to grant us hover technology, laser blasters, and casual space travel, among other things. But even better, coming together to defeat the harvesters has resulted in humanity putting aside our differences and enjoying twenty years of world peace.
It’s so rare these days to see a sequel where life is unquestionably better for everyone after the events of a previous movie, and this kind of optimism is a welcome change from countless films where the world may have been saved, but is still a dark and dreary place.
2. Almost all the original cast are back, and have large roles in the story.
When legacy sequels bring back original characters, they usually take a backseat to forgettable newcomers. ‘Resurgence,’ bucks that trend, though, by having almost all of the original cast return from the first film and making them integral to the story, from President Whitmore being a key figure in the fight against the harvesters, David being the leading expert on alien technology, and Dylan and Patricia stepping up to fight the harvesters like their parents did. Even side characters, like Julius, Jasmine, and even General Grey get their moments to shine; as a fan of the original film, I was so happy to see all my favorite characters come back after twenty years and still be treated with respect, so much so that the public still adores Whitmore, and little kids want David’s autograph. Goofy? Yes. Heartwarming? Also yes.
3. The film doesn’t negate the accomplishments of the original.
If there’s one common flaw to be found in legacy sequels, it’s the infuriating tendency to undo the accomplishments, resolutions, and happy endings found in our favorite films for the sake of starting a new conflict (see: John Conner being killed off in the first three minutes of Terminator: Dark Fate, the rise of an even more evil empire in the Star Wars sequels, a new Matrix enslaving humanity, etc.) and rendering everything our heroes did pointless and meaningless. Thankfully, ‘Resurgence’ is arguably the one legacy sequel that completely averts this trope, as Earth has enjoyed twenty years of peace, prosperity, and technological advancements, thanks to the efforts of everyone in the original film. That means that, when going back to rewatch the original movie, we know that all the pain, suffering, and sacrifices endured by the characters do pay off, and lead to lasting change that benefits so many people, rather than knowing that all those efforts will be rendered meaningless.
4. The adventures of Julius
Many reviewers have correctly pointed out that Julius doesn’t have much to do in ‘Resurgence,’ and that his subplot of leading some kids to safety ultimately doesn’t contribute anything to the story. While I agree with this critique, his story allows us to see the more personal, intimate side of an alien invasion, with ordinary people dealing with gas shortages, children losing their parents, and just trying to find safety as everything falls apart. Plus, you could also say that, thanks to Julius, he provided the bus that allowed him, David, the kids, and David’s assistant to escape the harvester queen at the climax, meaning that Julius ultimately ends up helping save his son’s life, while also helping bring hope and comfort to some scared teenagers and pre-teens. That, I think, is a worthy outcome to a road trip at the end of the world.
5. Whitmore’s sacrifice
Poor James Whitmore doesn’t have it easy in ‘Resurgence.’ After rising to become one of the most badass fictional presidents in cinema (helped by having given one of the best speeches in film history), we see him as an older, wearier, and worn-down shell of his former self, a man plagued with mental issues and who needs a cane just to walk around. Yet, as the film goes on, James finds his old strength and once again rises to help humanity once more, culminating in him confronting the harvester queen – the source of all the mental pain he’s suffered for so many years – and sacrificing his life to stop her.
But wait a minute, you might say; James’ sacrifice fails to kill the Queen! And you’d be right… but James did destroy the Queen’s ship, critically damaged her shield, and forced her out into the open, where she was vulnerable and attacked by others, ultimately leading to her death, none of which would have happened if he hadn’t sacrificed himself. Thus, James manages to save humanity from aliens a second time, complete with a great pre-mortmen one liner to boot.
6. It introduces a new faction of aliens
It would have been easy for ‘Resurgence’ to focus its story only on the harvesters; after all, we came to see our favorite characters once again fighting them to save the Earth, and we would have still gotten a good, focused story. But ‘Resurgence’ introduces the spheres, a new species of alien that’s friendly to humanity, one that’s thousands of years ahead of us in terms of technology.
With the sphere, ‘Resurgence’ expands the lore of Independence Day by revealing that the harvesters are a much greater threat than we believed, and that they’ve destroyed countless worlds. And not only that, but there are other species that have been fighting back against them, and that it is possible to defeat the harvesters for good. Now that’s good world-building.
7. Dikembe Umbutu, warrior extraordinaire
If I’m being honest, most of the newcomers in ‘Resurgence’ don’t make much of an impression… save for Dikembe, a veteran of a ten year ground war against the harvesters in Africa, making him a warrior skilled enough that he can take down a harvester in a one-on-one fight with nothing but two machetes. And while he’s not the warmest or most personable of people, Dikembe is a reliable ally who isn’t afraid to help when it’s needed, and to give praise to those who do their part who fight to stop the harvesters. If only one newcomer were to be kept in ‘Resurgence’ while all others were deleted, I would pick this guy.
8. Steven Hiller’s Action Figure
This one is cheating just a little, as it only happens in the film’s novelization, but at the hospital that Jasmine works in, one of the patients – a little boy suffering from cancer – can’t sleep without having his favorite action figure by his side. What is it? A figure of Jasmine’s husband, Steven Hiller, who was so memorably played by Will Smith in the original film. It’s a moment that should be unspeakably goofy… and yet, it works. I just love the idea that Steven is so beloved by the world after all that he did that action figures were made of him; makes you wonder if there are figures of James, David, and all the other heroes of the original film.
9. The Harvester Queen
While the harvesters in the first film were more like the Borg in that they had no leader, ‘Resurgence’ gives us a harvester queen to be the film’s antagonist. And like the xenomorph queen from the ‘Alien’ movies, this queen doesn’t mess around, personally leading the attack on Earth, causing destruction on a scale that the original attack couldn’t even dream of, wiping out all of Earth’s defenses, and beginning the process of drilling down to the planet’s core, an act that would destroy Earth and humanity. And if that wasn’t enough, the queen is then revealed to be a skyscraper-sized colossus who single-handily attacks Area 51; it’s only by sheer luck and grit that humanity manages to take her out.
No matter how you may look at the movie, it cannot be denied that the harvester queen is an incredibly dangerous, determined, and smart antagonist who does not fool around and almost single-handily wiped out humanity by herself.
10. James and Grey’s reunion
It’s a very brief moment, but when James is rushing to warn Earth about the impending alien invasion, he spots his old friend, General Grey. At this point in the story, Whitmore is desperate to get his message out. His mental illness is driving him to act regardless of the consequences, but he still respects Grey enough to stop for just a few moments to acknowledge him. Without any words, it conveys the bond the two share, and the respect they have for one another. It’s a lovely moment, made all the more bittersweet with the knowledge that Grey’s actor, Robert Loggia, was suffering from Alzheimer’s during filming (he passed away shortly before the movie’s release, and the film is dedicated to his memory).
11. The Invasion of Earth
Regardless of what you may think about his storytelling abilities, there’s no denying that Roland Emmerich is a master of presenting disasters on screen, and in my opinion, the arrival of the harvester Queen’s ship to Earth is among his best work: we get a ship the size of the Atlantic Ocean effortlessly demolishing part of the Moon, then arriving on the planet, sucking up entire cities and dumping them down on other cities in addition to causing enormous tidal waves that topple oil rigs and send ships flying. The massive amount of destruction is awe-inspiring, and I just love the shots of Singapore getting ripped from its foundations and getting sucked up into the sky.
It took over 20 years to get ‘Resurgence,’ but it was worth waiting that long to see some of the most creative destruction Emmerich has ever made. What about you? Are there any other moments or elements of ‘Resurgence’ that work well for you? If so, shout them out in the comments!
If you’re going to make grand finale to a franchise that explores the futility of humanity playing god by bringing dinosaurs back to life and suffering the consequences, don’t make your finale be focused on a cloned girl trying to find her place in a world that’s under siege by locusts. That would be just silly!
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.’
With a little over a month to go until ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ is released, we’ve got trailers, screenshots, interviews, toys, and articles galore to keep ‘Jurassic’ fans excited until the big day when the cinematic journey that began almost thirty years ago finally comes to an end. But even with a plethora of material to wet the appetite, there’s still plenty to theorize and ponder about how this final chapter will come to an end, including how the Netflix animated series, ‘Camp Cretaceous’ will tie into the film as well.
While the killer robots, drones, and invisible force fields get more attention throughout the season, I think this communication device is arguably the most important invention in the ‘Jurassic’ franchise. Just think about it: With this device, people and dinosaurs can communicate with one another. We can actually talk to dinosaurs! And with ‘Dominion’ director Colin Trevorrow having said that notonly does season four of the show tie into ‘Dominion,’ but that ‘Dominion’ is a film about how both humans and dinosaurs will have to adjust to living amongst one another, I think this device will play a vital role in the story, possibly going something like this:
At the finale of ‘Dominion,’ Alan, Ian, Ellie, Owen, Claire, and their allies will have to take on the Giganotosaurus. Given that the Prologue established a rivalry and inevitable rematch between Rexy and the Giga, it’s all but certain that the two of them are going to fight at the finale. And, given her age (in human years, Rexy would be a little over 100), it’s highly likely that she’ll be injured or initially unable to win. And unlike in ‘Jurassic World,’ Blue isn’t going to come to the rescue. Who, will, then?
With everything on the line, and the Giganotosaurus on the verge of victory, Dr. Grant will find Dr. Turner’s communication device (or one identical to it), come face to face with with the dinosaur that almost ate him back in 1993, and, for the first time in history, a human will talk with a T-Rex in a way that it can understand. Grant will communicate to Rexy that he and the others will help her fight the Giga, and realizing that she needs help, Rexy will team up with them. But it won’t end there: Grant will use the same device to communicate with other dinosaurs, such as Blue and the Spinosaurus (oh, how I’d love to see it come back to the big screen), leading to a massive, ‘Avengers Endgame’ style alliance of humans and dinosaurs going up against the Giganotosaurs and finally defeating it. And afterwords, humanity will use the device to communicate with the dinosaurs, and finally lead to a new era where both species share the planet and find a way to peacefully coexist.
If my theory is correct, I think it would be a beautiful way to end the ‘Jurassic’ story, which has been about how our efforts to play god and control nature will inevitably fail. But now, we seek to work with nature and find harmony and equilibrium with the beings we have brought back from extinction. While there will still be conflicts and problems between the two species, it will be a better ending than if one side gains total victory over the other, or if both sides destroy the world, and we learn at the end that the whole series has secretly been a prequel to the post-dinosaur apocalypse story, ‘The Flintstones.’