October 5th, 2012

An Idiot's Guide to the Resident Evil film franchise

Written by Dan Collacott

It is funny how the entire Resident Evil franchise is five films in and yet you'd be hard pushed to find a review anywhere that praises any of the films in the series. The standard rating per Resident Evil pictureis two stars or below; with the central press being largely derisory and dismissive about franchise. Even the horror fraternity aren't exactly sold on Paul W.S Anderson's game adaptations. He is not alone though Alexander Witt (2) and Russell Mulcahy (3) have also helped craft this glossy, lycra hugging action series, but Anderson is definitely the daddy!

The huge box office takings so far fly hard in the face of critical opinion and despite it being the horror equivalent of Police Academy, the franchise isn't dead yet. No one wants to acknowledge the fact that The Resident Evil films have been a financial success for Sony and Anderson, proving that there is clearly an audience out there for these films.

Video Games
In many ways the failure of writers and directors out there to convert the popularity of video games to the silver screen means that Resident Evil sits in an almost exclusive club. Think back to high profile turkeys such as Doom, Streetfighter, Prince of Persia, Hitman and Mario Bros and then awful B-Movie fare such as Mortal Kombat, Hitman, Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead (and so on) and you can see how Resident Evil is artificially propped up on the corpses of failure. In fairness Max Payne wasn't all bad although it had little resemblance to the the game. I also quite enjoyed Silent Hill and actually look forward to the upcoming sequel (c'mon it's got Sean Bean in it, what could go wrong?). But despite all this, Resident Evil is still the most consistent and successful video game to film adaptation out there, consistently bad you might say, but hey it can't be that bad can it?

Now, I love zombies and I love the Resident Evil video games, so I've decided to have a little look at the series so far, below are my shotgun opinions of each film and a review of the new film to hopefully help you make a little sense of the franchise.

Resident Evil (2002)
This claustrophobic affair saw Milla Jovovich (Alice) spend almost as much time in the nip as she did in Fifth Element. Alice does battle with the Red Queen in the high tech Umbrella Corporation genetic research facility, The Hive (which sits below Raccoon City). The whole production brilliantly nailed the look and feel of the game, including oodles of zombies, mutated doggies and the Licker! It also felt fairly fresh and original back then, with a winning mix of cool technology and zombies. This sci-fi horror promised much for the franchise.

Rating 4/5 - Even now it holds up as the best in the series and is easily my favourite.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
This one is a little more forgettable, yes it is bigger in scale as we get to see Alice and other members of STARS (including video game favourite Jill Valentine) run around the whole of Raccoon City. The plot sees them rescuing other survivors, avoiding zombies and mutants and pursued mercilessly by the Umbrella bad guys marshalled by Major Timothy Cain and his pet project Nemesis. Yes this film has THE NEMESIS from the game of the same name! But alas he just looks like some big dude in a very bad Halloween costume. I rarely prefer CGI over live FX but in this case the film suffers because they went down the 'guy in a suit' route. Also worth noting that Alice's genetic enhancements are activated by Umbrella at the end, an element that heavily features throughout the films that follow.

2/5: Less nudity, and some Pinocchio like acting. You'd think a film set exclusively in Raccoon City (the signature RE location) would be better.

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Another character favourite from the video game, Claire Redfield leads a survival exodus across the Nevada desert (T-Virus is now way out of hand you see). Alice eventually joins the convoy as they all search for an alleged safe haven free from infection called Arcadia. Meanwhile back in the lovable and wacky world of Umbrella, those evil scientists are trying to clone Alice and her abilities! She again goes up against Umbrella in their Las Vegas underground compound and it is there she discovers her army of naked clones.

The third in the series has an even more impressive sense of scale, bigger zombies and a generally darker and more apocalyptic feel than the last two films. The brilliant Hitcockian zombie bird attack alone gives it a star rating above its predecessor.

4/5: Almost as good as the original.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
So what do you do when you fear a franchise four films in could be getting stale? Go 3D of course, get more PVC and women kicking ass on show, add even more slow-mo fighting and bullet time and hope no-one notices the lack of plot and acting. Actually it's not that bad, the 3D is a bit of a gimmick but it is less bloated and complex than some of the films in the series. This is because it benefits from being largely set in one location (a big prison). Claire and Alice search for Arcadia, find more clones and survivors, encounter more Umbrella bad guys and zombies while Jill Valentine returns!

2.5/5 Not terrible but it felt like a big step backwards after Extinction

Resident Evil Retribution

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson, Run time: 96mins

So does the fifth instalment improve on what went before? Well the short answer is that no amount of slow motion action sequences and tight leather can really lift the franchise above the high velocity mediocrity already established. That's not to say that Retribution doesn't have its moments though.

Kidnapped in Arcadia, Alice wakes up in yet another Hive-esque Umbrella base and ends up face to face with her biggest foe of the franchise, former compatriot Jill Valentine. After a rather fortunate escape, Alice has to find her way through the base conquering mutated baddies and pursued mercilessly by Jill and the evil Red Queen. Alice is aided by some clones of former friends and attacked by clones of some former foes. Most of which crop up fairly randomly. The goodies and baddies have personal scores to settle so with each other so inevitably end up in various vs. shoot outs and action set pieces. There is even a nod to Aliens with an orphaned child thrown into the mix presumably to give a little warmth and depth to Alice's fairly cold and violent character.

Anderson crafts some nice visuals and effects that give the whole film an accomplished polish and feel. Like the games, the film employs high levels of chaotic nonsense, which can be forgiven some of the time, but this in turn means the pacing is cumbersome and the narrative lacks cohesion (the whole thing often feels like a jigsaw puzzle where some of the pieces have been forced into the wrong holes). Still if you kick your brain to one side there is some fun to be had from Retribution and as you'd expect there is a decent cliffhanger that follows Alice's final show down with the Red Queen.

The 3D adds little gloss to proceedings, but the franchise needs a bit more soul to go along with the aesthetics and hi-octane action. My main complaint as a fan of the video game series is that the film franchise has really lost what the games are all about and the more it clumsily brings back and kills off the games key characters the more it devalues it. Still a sixth and final film has already been confirmed with Anderson at the helm.

2.5/5 Semi-enjoyable nonsense that is merely treading more water.

So there you have it. Five films, two pretty good the other three average to mediocre. Not one has earnt any plaudits and yet each film has earned it's money back and millions on top.

Sony seems to treat each movie like none of the other movies really count, almost as though it is throwing that franchise at a new audience each time, whilst just occasionally throwing a bone to the fans. For me I think it is time for a reboot, but in all honesty no matter who takes over the franchise Resident Evil will always be like a vulgar form of 90s pop art, too vulgar to be to the taste of most critics, but gharish and shiney enough to attract the 'average dumb action loving cinema going' that these films are aimed at. Simply put Resident Evil is bubblegum for the brain, best enjoyed with low expectations and your dumbest hat on.

As a fan of the game I would love to see them attempt to convert a specifc game plot line into a linear film that begins and ends with no ludicrous follow on. Say Resident Evil 4 for example. In the meantime maybe films based on Deadspace or Bioshock will steal its thunder if indeed they are made! One thing's for sure though, all the while the ludicrously popular Resident Evil games franchise continues, then so will the films!

Want to Discuss this article? Pay a visit to our Forum to discuss this and many of other topics!
And for even more reviews, interviews and features, visit the film archive!