To close out my analysis and summary of the Resident Evil movies, here’s my own personal ranking of each film in the series, starting from the least enjoyable and working its way up to the most enjoyable.
It has threegoodscenes and twogreatmusical pieces, but no amount of production values, music, or cool sequences can save a generic zombie film with the Resident Evil brand slapped onto it at the last minute. This is a Resident Evil film in name only, and is the most disappointing overall.
The Final Chapter feels like the first draft of a script written by someone who wants to end the series on their terms without caring about what came before. Not only is the story filled with retcons that don’t work, it also suffers from disposable characters and awful editing that makes the movie physically painful to watch. However, the film does have some good ideas, some gorgeous post-apocalyptic scenery, and the surprisingly effective ending saves the movie from being a complete failure.
Favorite Scene: The ending, where Alice is given Alicia’s memories and sets out to continue fighting the undead.
Of all six films, Apocalypse is the one that feels like the most faithful adaptation of the games, due to following the basic story of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, complete with corresponding characters, monsters, and Nemesis himself coming to life via fantastic practical effects. Plus, LJ – while a walking stereotype – is a welcome source of comic relief. Unfortunately, Alice is at her worst here, acting like a smug high schooler who thinks she’s the toughest girl around and doesn’t give a shit about anyone but herself, going out of her way to steal everyone’s thunder for her own glory.
Favorite Scene: Nemesis attacking the STARS members and sparing LJ
Retribution is in the unenviable position of being a commercial for The Final Chapter, and rewatching it knowing that all of the plot points it sets up will never be fulfilled makes it a bittersweet experience. However, it does has a lot of funactionsequences, the greatest variety of locations from any of the films, and the ending is still the best in the series.
The most original film of the series, Extinction is a satisfying, post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-style daylight horror film set almost entirely in a desert wasteland, a setting that has never appeared in the games. Coupled with good action sequences, a fantastic third-act fight against Dr. Issacs, and agreatsoundtrack, it’s a fun film that succeeds at carving out its own identity while staying true to the Resident Evil spirit.
The best film of the series is a blast, starting with an exciting assault on Umbrella headquarters before turning into a perfectly-paced siege film with plenty of memorable action sequences, including a fight against the Axeman, who’s my favorite monster from the games, and like Nemesis, was brought to life perfectly, and finishing with a duel against Albert Wesker, the most memorable character in the series. While the cliffhanger ending does prevent the movie from being self-contained and acting as a satisfying series finale, the rest of the film is a great watch, and I always enjoy watching it again and again.
Favorite Scene: The battle between Claire and the Axeman, which is my favorite scene of the entire series. The water, that massive axe, the music, all of it is just perfect!
Imagine that the year is 2001, and you’re off to see Peter Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You love the books and can’t wait to see them brought to life on the big screen! You get your popcorn, take your seat, eagerly wait as the lights go down… and then watch a movie that follows a bunch of characters you’ve never heard of as they infiltrate a fortress never mentioned in the books. None of Tolkien’s characters appear, and while a few monsters do menace the heroes (orcs, uruk-hai, and a warg), the story ultimately has nothing to do with his books.
How would you feel after the movie was over? Probably infuriated that you got something that has a passing resembles its source material but is more interested in showcasing the writer’s own ideas than the story you paid to see. That’s what the Resident Evil films feel like: a series of movies that had a mountain of material to take inspiration from, but chose to go its own way for better or worse. And while the films were critical failures, they were financial successes, going on to become – for a time – the most successful live-action video game movie franchise, and the most financially successful horror film series in history.
But no matter their financial and critical success, the Resident Evil films were always destined to be B movies meant to provide lots of action and thrills with little to no philosophical musings about the human condition or discussions of morality. And by that criteria, the films largely delivered on what they set out to do, thanks to three things:
1. All the films have simple stories with clear, achievable goals for the characters.
2. They take the basic idea of the games (zombies get lose and have to be stopped before they infest the world) and expand on it (zombies get lose, take over the world, and have to be stopped before the human race is wiped out) in a way that feels true to the spirit of the series, allowing fans to see characters and monsters from said games in new and unique scenarios.
3. They have lots of unique action sequences featuring monsters and characters from the games, sometimes re-created shot for shot.
Yet, for all their success, the films don’t quite reach the height of what they could have been; they suffer from an overarching story that feels disjointed and held together with staples, duct-tape, and Elmer’s school glue when viewed back to back, due to said story being made up film-by-film as the series went along. And while all the elements for great action movies are present, the biggest obstacle holding the films back boils down to one thing: Alice, the main character.
For all the anecdotes listed above, the Resident Evil films have another, unofficial distinction: they’re the most expensive fan-fiction story of all time in that they follow an original character throughout her adventures in the Resident Evil universe. And like poorly-written fan-fiction, said character is a black hole sue whom the entire universe revolves around. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is either:
1. Trying to kill or capture her.
2. Taking orders from her or trying to save her, often at great risk to themselves.
3. Admiring how awesome she is.
Furthermore, Alice is extra-special in-universe because she’s one of only two people in the world to successfully bond with the T-virus without any side effect, the other being Angela from the second film. But then Alice gets a one-up on Angela by becoming the only person on Earth to get psychic powers, and then she gets an army of clones who also has psychic powers, and then she defeats the Umbrella corporation and saves the human race from extinction, sacrificing her life in the process, only to return to life, making her a modern-day Jesus (if Jesus went around killing zombies with guns and psychic powers, that is).
But did you notice something about that description? The established characters from the games – Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Claire Redfield, Carlos, Albert Wesker, etc. – have almost no part to play in the fight for humanity. While they may shoot guns and kill zombies, they’re reduced to supporting characters, only existing to help Alice accomplish her quest. If they get a moment to do something cool that has nothing to do with Alice, she’ll swoop in and steal that moment (see: Jill trying to save Becky, Claire trying to defeat the Axeman, etc.).
While she has her sympathetic moments, and ultimately goes from being an unlikable jerk to a heroic clone trying to save the human race, there’s no escaping the fact that Alice is the biggest problem with the Resident Evil films. If she had been replaced with, say, Jill Valentine, and not gotten any special powers, we would have gotten a series that went like this:
Jill Valentine – a cop with the Raccoon City police department – teams up with her allies to fight off a zombie apocalypse, only to learn that their employer, the Umbrella corporation, is responsible for the outbreak. Armed with nothing but guns, their wits, and their determination, Jill, Claire, Chris, Barry, Carlos, Nicholai, Sergei, Leon, Ada, and newcomers Luther, LJ, Rain, Chase, and Betty roam the apocalyptic wastelands, trying to stop Umbrella and save the human race, eventually having to team with their arch-nemesis Albert Wesker in a final, desperate assault that leaves them just narrowly managing to save the human race and destroying Umbrella once and for all, allowing Jill and her friends to begin rebuilding a ruined world.
Doesn’t that sound like a great story? If we had gotten that, it’s my belief that the series would have been better recieved by both fans and critics. But instead, it was foiled by a newcomer who shoves everyone else aside so she can be the messiah. And in that lies the one lesson the ‘Resident Evil’ films offers to writers:
When adapting a franchise from one medium to another, stay true to the spirit of the source material while keeping the focus on established characters instead of newcomers.
While things will inevitably be changed in any adaptation, writers need to still present the story fans come to see. Tell the story from the original book, show, or game, respect said story, and use new ideas and new characters to compliment and support the original, not overshadow it.
Viewing the Resident Evil films years after the series concluded was a fascinating experience for me: I can’t think of any other series adaptation that has good production values, a real sense that the filmmakers were trying hard and learning from their mistakes, but still runs the gauntlet from awful to fantastic (in a B movie way). Most frustrating is that there was always the feeling that the films were always a few inches away from reaching their full potential, and it does happen a few times! Most of the action sequences – save those from the last film – are a lot of fun, the post-apocalyptic world is well done, the monsters are mostly great, and, despite all the changes made, it really does feel like a Resident Evil story come to life… it’s just not the one we should have gotten.
In the end, despite its missteps, the Resident Evil film series mostly accomplishes what it set out to do, in my opinion. It started weak, gradually got better, reached its zenith, then fell flat on its face at the end, but managed to get to its feet and cross the finish line. If you’re a fan of action movies, zombies, horror, and video games, I believe they’re still worth a watch. But most of all, they’re an important reminder that when we, as writers, are adapting someone else’s work, we’re stewards for that story. It is up to us to faithfully adapt it as best we can and respect it, even when we have to make changes. If we deliver a faithful and respectful adaptation, we’ll not only delight long-term fans, but introduce others to a world that they’ll want to explore, guiding them towards the original books, games,and stories, ensuring that a beloved story will earn a new generation of fans and be kept alive for years to come.
It’s the evening of January 26th, 2017. Five years have passed since ‘Resident Evil: Retribution,’ and two friends and I leave the theater, where we were the only people to watch the premiere of ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.” As we enter the lobby, one of the theater employees asks us how it was. I tell him about the film’s ludicrous mistakes, continuity errors, and how it wants us to care about all the newcomers, like Bearded Man, Blue Shirt Girl, That Guy With The Skull Sword, etc., and how it so desperately wanted me to feel sad when Blue Shirt Girl is chopped into mincemeat via a giant fan, despite the fact that she had been on screen for maybe two minutes and I knew nothing about her.
The longer I talk, I realize just how absurd everything is that’s coming out of my mouth to the point where I laugh at realizing I’ve watched one of the worst films in recent memory. Now, having watched the film for the first time in six years, I’m surprised to find that the passage of time has softened my views and made me realize that ‘The Final Chapter’ isn’t bad: it’s hilariously awful.
Join me now as we take a look at the comedic masterpiece that is ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.’
What does the film do well?
It has a cool armored vehicle
Post-apocalyptic films frequently show humanity creating wicked-looking vehicles to help them survive in the wastes, and ‘The Final Chapter’ features a particularly cool mobile command tank equipped with missile launchers, miniguns, hidden compartments for storing motorcycles, nasty spikes, and the ability to communicate with Umbrella headquarters. Granted, all this firepower can’t kill someone driving away from it in a straight line, but it’s still a cool design that almost single-handily destroys the tower Claire and her fellow survivors have taken in, and is a worthy adversary for them to take on in a fight.
It has two memorable villains
Despite being sliced to bits in ‘Extinction,’ we get not one, but two Dr. Issacs in ‘The Final Chapter’: One is a clone who’s an insane religious fanatic, and the other is is the original Issacs, the calm, collected CEO of Umbrella ultimately responsible for the T-virus outbreak, making him the main villain of the entire saga… and unlike other greedy CEO’s, he’s a shockingly good fighter who can hold his own against Alice thanks to some nifty implanted computer technology that lets him dodge bullets, predict what his opponent is going to do, and even heal him after a grenade blasts out his torso, and would have killed her if she hadn’t used her wits to win.
It has the triple-barreled shotgun from the video games
The post-apocalyptic world is a great place to utilize awesome weapons, and what’s better than a sawed-off shotgun? A sawed-off shotgun with three barrels! It may not survive past the movie’s halfway point, but it’s still a cool gun that gets a decent amount of use.
It goes back to where the saga started
‘The Final Chapter’ takes place almost entirely within Raccoon City and the Hive, the locations of the first two movies. For the final film in the series, coming back to where the story began not only gives the story a chance to revisit old locations and reveal new areas within them (such as the cryogenic chamber and that sweet office located beneath the Hive), but to also let the audience reflect on how much has happened since Alice woke up in that shower stall so many years ago, and how she’s changed since her quest to destroy Umbrella began.
It brings back one of the characters from the previous films
Aside from Alice, Wesker, and Issacs, the only returning character from the previous films is Claire Redfield, who is now the leader of the survivors based in Raccoon City. She may not have much to do other than run, shoot guns, and accompany Alice into the Hive, but it’s nice that Alice gets at least one ally from the previous films to help her out, including helping her take on Issacs at the climax.
It gives the Umbrella Corporation a clever motive for everything they’ve done
The biggest revelation of ‘The Final Chapter’ is that instead of the viral outbreak being the result of corporate sabotage and greed, the outbreak was done on purpose: After realizing that Earth was heading towards global catastrophe due to climate change and societal breakdown, Issacs decided to release the virus to ‘cleanse’ the planet so that Umbrella could repopulate it afterwords.
While it may fall apart upon closer inspection (see the entry below on retcons), this revelation not only shows how cold and heartless the Umbrella corporation really is, but also reveals that Issacs is the main villain of the entire series, a man responsible for the murder of billions of people. And shockingly, the plan is… logical. While it’s a horrific, immoral plan that no sane person would dare go through with, it does make sense on a cold, logical level. The best villain plans are ones where the viewer pauses and wonders if they might have a point, and this revelation is an excellent example.
It concludes the series, yet still has an open ending
Unlike so many other franchises (especially horror) that claim to have final chapters, ‘The Final Chapter’ actually follows through on this promise in a clever way: Alice manages to release the airborne antivirus, which will cover the globe and destroy all the zombies, monsters, and undead, saving humanity. The only problem is that it will take years for this to happen, giving Alice plenty of time to continue roaming the earth and killing monsters.
This is a great example of the ‘And the Adventure Continues’ trope: It concludes the series’ story, but lets our imaginations run wild at all the adventures Alice will have as she roams the world (assuming she isn’t eaten by those three bat-things seconds after the screen cuts to black).
What could have been done better?
It could have edited the film so it didn’t look like a 2000’s music video
Here on Imperfect Glass, the focus is primarily on story and characters instead of production values and the physical aspects of filmmaking, but I’ll make an exception to say that the editing on ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’ is awful.
If there was ever a film to showcase why ultra-fast editing with handheld camera shots should be permanently done away with, ‘The Final Chapter’ is it.
It could have not made so many retcons (that don’t work)
Beyond the awful editing, ‘The Final Chapter’ is most notable for featuring numerous retcons that alter the saga’s storyline all the way back to the first movie. While retcons are not a bad thing in and of themselves and can add new and exciting ideas to enhance past events, none of ‘The Final Chapter’s retcons work. At all.
1. In ‘Retribution,’ the Red Queen had taken over Umbrella, gone homicidal, and wanted to wipe out all life on Earth. But in ‘The Final Chapter,’ she still works for Umbrella and wants to help Alice save the last remaining human survivors by bringing Umbrella down.
2. The Red Queen states that she cannot harm an employee of the Umbrella Corporation, forgetting that she killed everyone in the Hive in the first movie. (maybe they were independent contractors?)
3. In ‘Retribution,’ Wesker made it clear that he broke Alice out of Umbrella Prime in order to give her back her psychic powers so she could help him defeat the Red Queen and save humanity. But in this movie, the Red Queen tells Alice that Wesker only pretended to give Alice back her powers, and that his plan was actually a trap in order to kill her and everyone else.
This plan makes no sense. If Wesker really wanted to kill Alice and everyone else who could stop him, then here’s what he needed to do:
-Go with his strike team to Umbrella Prime.
-Plant the explosives and follow team into Umbrella Prime.
-At the first opportunity, abandon the strike team and head back to the surface.
-Detonate the explosives to destroy the facility and kill everyone in it, including Alice.
-Head back to the Hive, enjoy alcoholic beverages, and play Mario Kart 64 to pass the time while waiting for the T-virus to finish wiping out all life on Earth.
4. The aforementioned retcon of Umbrella purposefully releasing the T-virus is a great idea… but the first film clearly shows that it was released in the Hive as an act of sabotage, and subsequently released into the open by idiotic Umbrella operatives. ‘Extinction’ showed that Umbrella was trying to find a way to control the zombies and stop the outbreak instead of just waiting for the virus to do its thing, ‘Afterlife’ had Umbrella kidnapping survivors to use them as test subjects to make even more powerful zombies, and ‘Retribution’ had the Red Queen-controlled corporation trying to wipe out all life on Earth (despite the Red Queen wanting to save humanity).
To be generous, it is possible that while Umbrella high command knew of the plan, their underlings and armies of clones didn’t and were trying to contain and control it, but why make all those clones in the first place? And why would Issacs make not one, but two clones of himself? And if Wesker is part of Umbrella high command, why would he stay awake for the apocalypse and run around instead of staying asleep with everyone else? Wouldn’t Issacs have wanted to keep him under instead of risking Wesker betraying him?
5. The second film established that Charles Ashford created the virus to save his little girl from dying, but this film says that it was actually a man named James Marcus who discovered it to save his daughter from dying. So who was it that ultimately created the T-Virus?
6. Alice says that the US government nuked Raccoon City when it was clearly the Umbrella Corporation that fired the nuke in an attempt to keep the virus under control (and again, if they had purposefully released the virus, why bother trying to contain it?).
7. It’s stated that the T-virus is airborne and infected the world in days after escaping Raccoon City… but at the end of the film, it’s said that it will take the antivirus years to spread to every corner of the globe via the same method. Yes, it traveled faster with jet planes, but it’s still airborne. Furthermore, it’s been established in every film so far that the T-virus is spread via bites from the undead; if the T-Virus is airborne, everyone in the series should have been infected by the end of the second movie and turned into zombies.
It could have brought back the characters from the cliffhanger ending of the last movie and removed all the new ones
Arguably the most exciting idea from the end of ‘Retribution’ was the thought that Wesker, Alice, Leon, Jill, and Ada would join forces to save humanity in ‘The Final Chapter’ after an awesome fight at the White House.
It doesn’t happen, and the battle we want to see is already over when the film starts. Like ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Terminator: Dark Fate,’ which both killed off some of their most important characters in the opening minutes, ‘The Final Chapter’ kills Leon, Jill, and Ada (and presumably, Becky) before ‘The Final Chapter’ even starts. They’re never seen, never mentioned, and Alice doesn’t even mourn Becky, who she fought so hard to save in ‘Retribution.’
Now, while killing off beloved side characters can and often is a bad idea, it can work: Focusing a story entirely on the main character and their attempts to overcome grief and loss while trying to save others is a powerful story idea and give us even more reasons for us to care for them. That could have worked with ‘The Final Chapter,’ had it focused mainly on Alice. Problem is, the film introduces a horde of new characters to work with Alice, and none of them are memorable. We have:
1. Doc, the group’s medic, Claire’s boyfriend, and a traitor who works for Umbrella
2. Post Apocalyptic Leather Guy Who Hates Everyone And Has A Goofy Skull Sword
3. Blue-Shirt Girl
4. Bearded Guy Who Never Talks
5. Guy From Issac’s Tank
6. That Other Guy
The climax of a story is not the place to introduce hordes of new characters: You don’t have time to do it well enough to get the audience to care about them, and the purpose of a climax is to see the characters who have gone on a journey reach its end. We’ve invested time following them and want to see how their story ends. Introducing one or two new characters can be pulled off (Denethor from The Return of the King, for example), but writers need to focus on resolving the journey of those who have come this far.
It could have made Wesker the main villain
As if things couldn’t be more disappointing, Wesker, the suave, smug, and oh so fun to watch villain from ‘Afterlife’ and ‘Retribution,’ is butchered in ‘The Final Chapter.’ Instead of being the ultimate bad guy who everyone has to work together to even stand a chance of defeating, he’s an incompetent adversary who spends the movie giving the Red Queen orders, preparing alcoholic drinks like a James Bond villain, and eventually resorts to waking Issacs up to stop Alice, all because Wesker failed to close a door hours before Alice got even close to Raccoon City.
It’s hard to imagine Wesker dying any more pathetically, short of choking to death on a pretzel; as a refresher, Wesker survived getting his brains blown out in ‘Afterlife,’ and then survived an explosion powerful enough to destroy a city-sized subterranean complex. Having him die in such a laughable manner is insulting to the character. To be fair, killing off such a powerful villain is always a hard task, doubly so if writers have had them survive impossible odds in the past. But while a memorable death scene can be the most satisfying moment of a story, a laughable death scene is memorable, too, but for all the wrong reasons.
It could have had a more memorable final boss fight
The finale of ‘The Final Chapter’ has Alice fighting Issacs to get the antivirus, then running to the surface to release it. While it works fine as it is, it would have been more gripping if Issacs had been replaced by Wesker, and their final fight wasn’t in the laser hallway, but something similar to how Wesker is fought and killed in Resident Evil 5. While putting a volcano underneath Raccoon City wouldn’t make sense, having it take place in an area similar to one of the final boss fights of Resident Evil 6 would work equally as well.
Plus, if the film had brought back Chris, it would have been an opportunity for him to punch a boulder into lava. Goofy, yes, but it would have been a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. But most likely for budget reasons, the final fight is a simple fistfight in the laser hallway from the first film. It works, but feels like a missed opportunity.
Even now, all these years later, it’s still shocking to see how the final chapter of Anderson’s saga fell flat on its face. While it does have some good ideas, and manages to have a good final few minutes, it’s not enough to save the film as a whole. But what about the series as a whole? Join us next time when we examine all six films at once and see what conclusions can be made about the series and the lessons it offers to writers about writing video game movies.
‘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!
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.
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.’
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 it and escape.
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 own 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).
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.
It’s October once again, and our annual celebration of all things spooky: Vampires, skeletons, ghosts, witches, political lobbyists, and everything else that lurks in the shadows under the midnight moon. But there’s nothing to celebrate about the troubled times we live in: democracy is under siege worldwide, the climate is changing for the worse, and a virus is running rampant that causes some people to go mad and attack others for the most trivial of reasons. In light of all these troubles, I thought, in spirit of the season, why not take some time to unwind by watching a movie series about a virus running rampant that causes people to go mad and attack others, eventually destroying civilization and bringing humanity to its knees? The series of which I speak is the long-running, seemingly undead saga of ‘Resident Evil.’
Ever since the introduction of the original Resident Evil on the Playstation in 1995, the series has gone on to encompass 28 games (!), several novels, action figures, and even a freaking restaurant. It’s not surprising that a movie adaptation would eventually come along, and we got such an adaptation with the Paul W.S. Anderson series that ran from 2002 to 2016. While a critical failure, the series was a financial success (they remain the highest-grossing zombie movie series in history), which means that they must have been doing something well. That’s why we’re going to dive into all six films and see if we can discover just what those things are.
Much like my previous analysis of Friday the 13th, the Matrix fight scenes, and the Jaws series, we’ll be taking a look at each movie and seeing what they do well, and what could have used some improvement. And once we reach the end, we’ll see what the series accomplished and what lessons it can offer writers. So without further ado, let’s dive into the world of movies about video game zombies. We’ll start at the beginning, with the simply-named, ‘Resident Evil.’
Released in 2002, the movie follows a group of heavily armed Umbrella soldiers and a lady in skimpy clothes as they infiltrate the Hive, an underground research facility where a killer virus has broken loose and turned the people inside into bloodthirsty zombies, hideous monsters, and other icky horrors that our heroes must fight in order to escape.
What does the film do well?
It has an effective horror location
Any self-respecting horror story has its characters eventually stuck in an isolated, out-of-the-way location where it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get help, forcing the characters to rely on their wits and each other. ‘Resident Evil’ is an interesting variation of this: the film takes place almost entirely within the Hive, an underground research facility located beneath a major metropolitan area. This serves a dual purpose: It makes it so that the characters are so close to help, but are still cut off, and since the facility is deep underground, they can’t just jump out of a window, run out through the main door, or otherwise easily escape. Worse still, if the virus breaks free, everyone the surface will suffer the same fate as the poor souls who have been transformed into undead ghouls.
It has an effective ticking clock
One of the best ways to keep a story moving is to have a ticking clock, something bad that will occur if the protagonists don’t accomplish their goals in time. ‘Resident Evil’ features a particularly effective one: Alice and the other security forces heading into the Hive have to get back out or they’ll be trapped inside when the Hive is permanently sealed. That’s a good incentive to keep moving and ensure that the story does, too.
It has a great psychological death scene
‘Resident Evil’ gets off to a good start by having a bunch of innocent workers die during the initial virus outbreak, most by being gassed, some by being dropped to their death in an elevator, and one poor lady getting her head smashed into goo. It’s all suitably unnerving, but I think the most effective part takes place in a sealed lab.
There, three workers realize that, because the lab is sealed, the water pouring in has nowhere to go. If they don’t find a way out, they’ll drown. Later, when Alice and the soldiers pass through the lab area, we learn that the workers did indeed drown.
The other deaths in the opening may be more graphic, visceral, and direct, but for my money this is the most unnerving death scene of the film. It taps into the fear of facing a horrible, painful death and not being able to do anything about it. Worse still, it’s not a quick death: you would have plenty of time to watch the water slowly rise, covering your knees, then your waist, then your chest, and shoulders, until there’s only a few inches of space left for you to breathe… and then there would be nothing. And all the while you’re trying to cut your way out with an axe, only to realize that there’s no way out. You’re going to drown, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s a terrifying thought, and a perfect example of how horror is more than just decapitations and buckets of blood being thrown all over the screen: It’s about suffering and being helpless to stop it.
It has an awesome deathtrap
If the James Bond and SAW series have proven anything over the years, it’s that people get a kick out of elaborate deathtraps, and ‘Resident Evil’ features a particularly infamous one: the laser hallway.
This scene is a doozy because it’s so simple, yet devastatingly effective: our operatives are trapped inside a tight, confined space with nowhere to hide, and their only hope to survive is to dodge the lasers until the system is shut down. But the lasers’ path is unpredictable and constantly changing, culminating with an inescapable grid that chops One into bite-sized pieces.
Yet, like all great traps, it is possible to survive. The people facing it have a chance if they’re fast, flexible, and have taken plenty of Zumba classes, but messing up just once means losing body parts if you’re lucky, or death if you’re not. It’s simple, effective, and memorable, so much so that even the Resident Evil video games featured a homage to it.
It has a villain doing the wrong thing for very justifiable reasons
The very best villains are the ones that make audiences ponder what they would do in their place, making them more memorable than the routine, ‘kill ‘em all for money/power/the evulz/etc.’ villains we see so often. It’s hard to beat a villain who relies on logic instead of malice and does horrific things for the right reasons (and is even willing to let Alice and the others escape if they kill the one infected member of their group).
It features a great cliffhanger ending
As is so often the case in action-horror movies, only a few people make it out alive at the end (Alice and Matt) before the Hive is finally sealed. But the movie doesn’t end there: the true ending finds Alice waking up in a hospital and emerging into an abandoned Raccoon City. There’s no help coming, no rescue party, and all Alice has is a single shotgun to face off against the unseen armies of the undead. Even worse is the knowledge that Matt is being put into the Nemesis program, a great tease for fans of the game as to who will appear in the next film. And while it’s always risky to end a movie on a cliffhanger (there’s no guarantee you’re going to get that sequel), this one is terrific, leaving viewers imagining what’s going to happen next in a world that’s on the brink of the apocalypse.
What could the story have done better?
It could have been much more faithful to the games
The biggest flaw with ‘Resident Evil’ is that it has almost nothing to do with the game it’s based off of. While the main elements are here (a team of trained operatives, a mansion, zombies, a licker, and the Umbrella Corporation), none of the characters from the game appear, and we have a plot that bears little resemblance to the source material, a massive disappointment for anyone who hoped to see Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, and Barry Burton’s Jill Sandwich jokes.
When a book, a video game, or other property gets adapted into a film, fans of those properties expect to see the story and characters brought to life on the big screen, and ‘Resident Evil’s lack of faithfulness to the source material leaves it feeling like a In-Name-Only adaptation designed to deprive fans of their cash without giving them what they were expecting.
There are too many side characters
‘Resident Evil’ features the undead horse-trope of ‘large group of individuals go through a horror movie where 80% of them exist to die horribly.’ While there are plenty of deaths to satisfy horror fans, those deaths would have much more impact if we got time to know more of the soldiers, giving their deaths more emotional weight. As with so many other films of this type, it might have been better to have only a handful of characters instead of a lot.
It has a cliffhanger ending
The biggest risk of having a cliffhanger ending is that, unless you’re doing an installment of a major, pre-established franchise or already filming the sequel, a sequel is not guaranteed. People may just not go see the movie, the hoped-for profits never come, and a followup is never made, leaving a cliffhanger eternally unresolved. While ‘Resident Evil’s gamble paid off, it could have also left fans angry at never seeing the coming zombie apocalypse or Nemesis stomping about while yelling about stars.
Cliffhangers, while effective, should be used carefully, both in case a project never gets a followup, or if the followup itself is… well, we’ll get to that later. But we’ve still got five movies to go through, so tune in next time where we’ll see Alice jump out of the frying pan and into the zombie-infected fire in ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse.’
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.
Why it’s great
No, this isn’t a long-lost relic from the 80’s that should have stayed lost: this Funny or Die video pokes fun at the Star Wars Holiday Special by imagining what might have happened if TRON had a special of its own. The answer? It would have been as terrible/awesome as it’s infamous real-world counterpart.
While my favorite moment is poor Santa being de-rezzed, the whole video is a great example of the Christmas Special trope, and why it’s a near-perfect formula for comedy gold:
1. Take any franchise and give it a Christmas special, no matter how absurd it might be (Can you imagine a Hellraiser Christmas? How about a Waterworld Christmas?).
3. Have said characters learn the True Meaning of Christmas (which may or may not involve Jesus, depending on your audience).
Imagine how hilarious it would be if Darth Vader had to deliver presents to all the good Stormtroopers on the Death Star and learn that it’s better to give than to receive. Or imagine Gandalf, Frodo, and the Fellowship traveling to Mordor to save Santa after he’s been kidnapped from Sauron. Or contemplate how amusing it would be for the Umbrella Corporation to feel the holiday spirit and work to make everyone’s Christmas a little merrier while simultaneously trying to destroy it with with zombies.