Let’s Play Movies: The Resident Evil Series
Love ‘em or hate ‘em (and there are plenty on both sides), the Resident Evil movies have been big bank at the box office for Screen Gems. Who can say how these movies have pulled in over $500 million combined (I credit series star Milla Jovovich), especially given how none of them can be considered achievements in cinema. Not a single Evil movie has pulled in an overall “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes to date.
Although my own review was among the more favorable, even I recognize how inept these movies can be. Many fans of the games have their problems with Paul W.S. Anderson's take, as in many ways, the films are similar in names only: Raccoon City, the famed monsters and a growing roster of such all-stars as Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield and Albert Wesker. Despite all of these Evil ingredients, the movies come off as pale imitations of the classic series that preceded it.
The Resident Evil game franchise has been able to grow, adapt and reinvent itself over the past 15 years. Rooted in its love of horror, the series is a ton of fun but even fans (like myself) recognize the story and characters are (relatively) flat. So when the games come off as having more depth than your film adaptations, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. And by go back, we mean go back; take us back to the games and their concepts. To the very foundations that longtime fans can respond to and newcomers can discover. Scrap the Hive. Scrap the former Umbrella. Scrap Alice. Scrap it all and take us to where the 1996 original started everything: the Spencer Mansion.
And this is during the daylight hours.
For all of the locales the films have taken audiences to, none of them had the memorability or character of Oswald E. Spencer's creepy estate. The heart still skips a beat when entering for the first time — it doesn't help there are mutated dogs chasing you into it. While briefly nodded at in the first film, Anderson and company went a more sterile route with the Hive — an Umbrella facility that had plenty of corridors and metal edges, but not much in ways of personality — just like any Resident Evil films to date.In the context of the games universe, the Spencer Mansion is damn near a character on its own. From it's creepy decor to its twisted designs and many hidden horrors, the mansion is a spiral staircase that takes players (and potentially viewers) down the rabbit-hole relationship of the Spencer and Ashford families, two powerful entities who would co-found the Umbrella Corporation. Yes, we know the Ashfords made an appearance in the second film, but we're opting to forget that, as well as most of the second movie.
The idea of families with far-reaching power that spans generations is an enticing sell for viewers. Get Guillermo del Toro on the phone, now! Del Toro, James Wan or Matt Reeves even. Get someone with a decent track record in fright flicks that can appreciate the fact the games are meant to bring about a sense of fear as well as action. Stumbling across your first zombie in the original Resident Evil remains a gaming highlight for many out there. The soft squishing sound, the decapitated head (with half its face chewed off), the zombie locking eyes on you. It was a defining moment in a series filled with creatures that wanted to gut you then serve you over rice. Giving "dead behind the eyes" a whole new meaning.
The movies have done an inclusive job incorporating undead, lickers, mutated dogs and even Nemesis, but none of these appearances has given off a sense of dread. If anything, you look at these versions and go, "well that looks like plastic." Not only do you have to get a director who knows their way around the horror genre, but you've also got to get a top-tier makeup team to bring the monsters to life. If you want to leave an impression, you can't be cheap and unfortunately, Resident Evil isn't known for subtle "bump in the night" scares. So cough up the dough, call Dick Smith (famed for his work on The Exorcist and Dawn of the Dead) and ask him "who is the best?" I want to see flesh falling from bones, people. Be creepy! Have gargoyles! Anything! Stakes need to be raised if you want to get a thrill out of an audience and you can't cut corners. If you're going to raise the stakes, you've got to make people give a damn about the main players of the story, and that tends to be the biggest complaint of the movies. The only character anyone gives a damn about is Alice and she isn't even from the games. Regrettably, she could be, given how flat and lifeless her character is. Evil heroes such as Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield and/or Leon S. Kennedy are great to have in a fight, but they don't stand out at parties.
Instead of capitalizing on this and building up these characters into something worth watching, each and every Evil movie has made them arguably more boring, bland and lifeless. A reboot of the series is a great opportunity to expand and build on the foundations of the cast. David O. Russell — who notably left the Uncharted film, twice — could make a good choice to guide a new cast into their roles (and he certainly wouldn't fear violence). But when you are near the bottom of the barrel, you can only go up most of the time, unless it's a Brett Ratner movie, and it would be a true nightmare if he ever got his hands on the Resident Evil series.
Albert Wesker does NOT approve of your shenanigans.
Nearly all of the characters from the games could use an overhaul. All except for one Albert Wesker, a man literally driven to make an impression on the world. Of course, we're talking about the game Wesker; we won't go down the path of how poorly the film Wesker has been done (really ... he's just awful). There is nothing grounded about the man. He's pure Machiavellian. He also has his own (literal) powers, glowing red eyes and a trench coat that seems to be made from several crocodiles. He's wildly over-the-top and easy to dress up as for Halloween, almost like a version of the Joker, without the humor. He's certainly the most endearing antagonist in the series, having been there since day one, playing any angle that works for him, and his extensive history with both Umbrella and S.T.A.R.S. gives weight to his involvement in multiple films.
He's the kind of villain who keeps on giving. Why he hasn't been capitalized effectively is still baffling. Whether they be comic, grounded or supernatural, audiences love a villain who is three steps ahead, and Wesker fits the profile.
Wesker makes a great face villain, but the real villain (and intrigue) of the series has always flowed from the Umbrella Corporation: an organization that even Wesker must keep on his toes around. While the films have done a moderately decent job of painting Umbrella as the far-reaching bastards they are, they've done little justice to its history: the founding families, the development of the various viruses, Umbrella's subsequent rise to power, etc. With Umbrella involved, you have an opportunity to play with the thematics of the series. Think espionage...with zombies.
Umbrella Corporation: We Own Your AssIn the current film universe, we know Umbrella is big, but they never really come off as a real threat. Their prime focus seems to be Alice, when clearly Umbrella would have a hand in many dealings around the world that could inadvertently effect her. But this is never explored. Umbrella (on film) needs far more attention to detail. It needs to be a character unto itself. It needs to be a monster with a heartbeat that can be ripped out. Just flashing the logo everywhere won't cut it if the power said logo holds is never established.The Umbrella logo is classic in how its mark is a sign of horror. Wherever you find it, there is likely evil nearby. That feeling exists in the games. It deserves to transition to film successfully.
Ultimately, any fan of the Resident Evil games knows that we're not going to see an Oscar-caliber production out of Hollywood and that's okay. The games themselves, while fun and engaging, are hardly the most involving games of all time. That said, they're hardly the bottom-of-the-barrel fare the films have gained a reputation for. It's a universe that is ripe with over-the-top creatures, scenarios and villains. It'd have to be bloody, it'd need the proper hands and a movie-going public willing to start over, but the possibility could not only bring a wider base to both film and game, but potentially expand on the quality of the series overall, taking it from B-status to a truly respected franchise steeped in atmosphere, adventure and nightmares.