Sunday, 1 April 2012

Resident Evil Film Series

Resident Evil Film Series

You may notice, as this blog expands, that I have a thing for horror movies. To further narrow my definition, zombie movies. I thoroughly enjoy a good zombie film, and although the big zombie boom was a few years back, in the early 2000’s, I still occasionally run across one I enjoy. My early adolescence was spent watching films like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. As time passed I branched out into foreign films like England’s 28 Days Later and Norway’s Dead Snow.

The Resident Evil film series is based on a series of video games from Japan. Although they are referred to as Biohazard overseas, the name was changed because it would have been difficult to copyright the word “Biohazard” as a brand. After the games spawned a popular following in the United States, a series of four films was produced between 2002 and 2010, with a fifth film slated for release in late 2012. The films follow a vastly different plot than the games, starring a battle-hardened warrior named Alice who struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland.

Since there are currently four films in the series, I will attempt to discuss each of them without writing a 20-page essay in the process.

Resident Evil (2002) was the film that started it all. It is a near-perfect blend of action and horror, revolving around Alice and a group of soldiers who infiltrate a secret underground laboratory after a mysterious accident. What follows is a series of grisly deaths and more zombies than you can care to count on severed fingers. My first viewing of the film was soured by its drastic departure from the source material, but after shutting off my brain the film proved to mindless (if grotesque) fun. I imagine the producers expected it would do well and took pains to leave a sequel hook at the end of the movie.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) picks up immediately after the events of the first film, in a city ravaged by the spreading undead plague. Anyone who has seen a zombie film knows how fast the disease can expand. Unfortunately, the second movie is far weaker than the first one. The mystery that kept the original’s plot fresh and exciting is gone, replaced with extensive action scenes and an enlarged cast of supporting characters. The first film benifitted by not relying on CGI, but this picture nearly abuses it. Although the fight scenes can be fun to watch, the plot is weak and hard to stomach.

Still, the sequel was profitable enough to lead to Resident Evil: Extinction (2007). Something like five years after the last film, Alice lives in the desert. Humanity has nearly been wiped out by zombies, and the eco-system has taken a turn for the worse. Humans struggle to brave the elements and seek a safe-haven. The film benefits from introducing some dangerous and exciting new villains while keeping supporting characters from the previous film to anchor the audience. Though Extinction suffers from a lot of the camp of the last film, by this point such tactics have almost become a sort of calling card for the series. Additionally, the villains are much more interesting this time around and drew me into their schemes little by little.

The third film leads almost directly into the fourth, Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010). Unfortunately, by the end of the third film Alice had become too powerful of a protagonist, and much of this film’s exposition involves “de-powering” her. This tactic is cheap but allows the zombie plague to remain a menace, whereas by the end of the third film Alice was nearly invincible. The power shift also allows the series to return to its roots in a way. The cast is once again a small group of people, trapped and trying to escape from a zombie-infested prison. However, none of this makes up for the ending, which is a huge and confusing clusterfuck. Additionally, the sequel hook sacrifices any closure we might have received from the aftermath.

Afterlife would have been a bad way to end the series, so I am actually glad a fifth film, Resident Evil: Retribution, is in the works. Unfortunately, the cast listing makes it sound like a lot of characters who perished quite graphically in previous films will be returning. Though it’s not the first time the series has spit on continuity, it will definitely be a blow for hardcore fans. Still, if the audience is already familiar with these characters, more time can be spent fleshing out the plot and answering questions from previous films. I don’t know if this will be the final film of the series, but if it is I hope this ending is more satisfying than the previous one.

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