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Resident Evil: Afterlife (in 3D, lest we forget) debuts tomorrow. For fans of the franchise, it's been a long ride thus far. We (Max and Simon) are going to revisit and take you through the first three chapters of the saga, which to this point is the undisputed champion of the video-game film world. We'll present background info for the films, talk about the various references to the game series and discuss our thoughts on each film.
Released back in 2002, Resident Evil would be one of the first video-game-to-film adaptations to not be completely hated/bemoaned by the gaming community (or theater audiences for that matter). Inspired largely by the characters of Alice in Wonderland, “Evil” puts the iconic Umbrella Corporation at the center of a biological disaster within one of its underground facilities known only as the “Hive.” When Alice (Milla Jovovich) awakes inside a mansion above the Hive with no memory of who she is or how she got there, she is forced into containing the spread of the virus, which has broken out in the facility, turning any organic life form into either a mindless zombie or a genetically altered killing machine (here's looking at you, Licker and dogs).
The first film was originally meant to be helmed by the godfather of the zombie genre, George A. Romero, but due to scheduling and creative differences, Paul W.S. Anderson -- who had helmed the successful adaptation of Mortal Kombat -- was tapped to take over the writing and directing duties, bringing the film out of a year long stay in developmental hell.
While the film was not met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, audiences responded well. “Evil” took in over $103 million worldwide, making it a huge hit as the film's budget was only $33 million. The film spawned a fresh film franchise that helped the game-film genre cross over into the next decade.
With Resident Evil being a film based on a game, one cannot speak to it without noting the numerous nods and inclusions of scenarios seen in the video games themselves, despite the fact most references are rather subtle in the first film. While “Evil” includes no known characters from the game franchise, there are allusions to several other facets of the “Resident Evil” universe: notably the S.T.A.R.S. organization and Nemesis program both making appearances towards the end of the film.
Alice's discovery of the mansion is a big shout out to the original game, taking place in a mansion located in the mountains outside of Raccoon City (a major location for the franchise, notably RE2). The climactic train sequence is an homage to the train sequence Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield encounter near the end of “RE2” and the (five minute) countdown for the survivors to escape the Hive is a reference to the ending of nearly every “Resident Evil” game that requires some form of timed escape. Finally, while an original character, Alice is in many ways an homage to the character of Ada Wong. She was introduced in “RE2” as a mysterious woman in red who can kick major ass.
Oh, and there were zombies nipping at the main cast's feet. Those have been known to show up in “Resident Evil” games -- once or twice.
It's a rough bet to make when you are a film studio who greenlights a film based on a video game. After all, even the most basic of filmgoer can tell you those translations rarely go over well. With Resident Evil, we don't get The Dark Knight of video-game movies, but the time spent was certainly not wasted. Arguably the best of the first three films, what makes “Evil” an enjoyable romp is in its affinity for the franchise while attempting to stand on its own legs in a number of ways. Not giving us any characters from the game franchise was a wise idea, as it allows a viewer (fan and newbie alike) to build something new with those on screen, notably Alice. Despite the homage to Ada Wong, Alice is just as new to the franchise as the first film was as a whole, and that's a positive way to get the ball rolling.
While nodding its head towards the franchise (including the Licker and dogs was just enough without being too much) and attempting to create it's own space, “Evil” succeeds in being a loud, violent and mindless (not unlike the denizens of zombies in the film) trip down the rabbit hole. While some of the effects and CGI have not aged well (Alice's kicking of the dog still rocks however), “Evil” knows what it is and what it is not and performs well for its purposes.
Plus, the film gets extra points with its home release. Watching the first “Evil” on DVD with the commentary track on is fantastic. Paul W.S. Anderson, producer Jeremy Bolt and stars Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez had to have been drinking when they recorded it because simply put, it's funny as hell. Rating: 8/10
For a genre with wincingly low standards, the original Resident Evil still remains one of the most respected among critics and audiences alike (whatever that may be worth). Resident Evil found an inherently fun blend of action movie basics and video-game aesthetics while catapulting Jovovich to the status of an action sex symbol that would eventually set her as a benchmark of feminine badassery in films. In many ways, this is an origin tale, setting the tone, characters and context for those not familiar with the series. Resident Evil still gives plenty of “in” references for gamers but those looking for scares of any kind will likely come away wanting. Sure, frights may be hard to come by in this or any film in the series, but first and foremost Resident Evil is a shoot-em-up gory B-movie and it succeeds in realm of that narrow sub-genre. Rating: 7/10
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
With the first Resident Evil being such a success, you'd be foolish to think Screen Gems would stop at one. Enter Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Sporting a budget of $45 million (roughly $10 million more than its predecessor), the film proved to be an even bigger worldwide draw at the box office, making over $139 million and besting the first film's total by $30 million.
Taking place directly after the events of the first film, “Apocalypse” brings game favorites Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) to the stage with a newly revived Alice, now hell bent on destroying Umbrella while containing the fallout of the T-Virus, which has reached the surface and completely overtaken Raccoon City. While attempting to escape the city, Alice and company uncover further details of Umbrella's experiments, ambitions and dedication to maintaining their image in the face of humanity's destruction.
With “Apocalypse” came not only a change in setting, switching out the confined corridors of the Hive for the wide open spaces of Raccoon City, but also a change in the production team, notably the director chair going to Alexander Witt. With a history based primarily in cinematography, “Apocalypse” served as Witt's first (and to date only) directorial outing, much to the chagrin of fans who felt Anderson (who served as an executive producer on “Apocalypse” and “Extinction”) was more connected to the fanbase of the franchise. Regardless, the film was a financial success despite drawing even harsher reviews from critics and audiences alike.
Unlike the first film in the franchise, “Apocalypse” feels very much like a game-to-film adaptation, taking in large part from Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Code: Veronica. This is felt is in the principal cast of characters, with Jill Valentine and Carlos Olivera being major players in the “Resident Evil” franchise. Not only are notable human heroes worth referencing, but villains, particularly the inclusion of Nemesis, long considered to be not only one of the best villains in the franchise, but also in video games as a whole.
Also worth noting when translating game to film is the inclusion of the Ashford clan, a prominent family responsible for the founding of Umbrella in the game franchise. Although the film does touch that it was the Ashford family that created the T-Virus, it does not give information on whether or not the Ashford's were responsible for Umbrella's founding in the film universe (and given the context of Umbrella in the upcoming Resident Evil: Afterlife, it's unlikely to be fully explored).
Several scenes take directly from the games, such as Alice's fight with an Umbrella helicopter (used in “Veronica”) or a zombie reflection off a police helmet (used in “Nemesis”). The graveyard scene, the missile attack and Nemesis giving an unstoppable chase (while yelling “S.T.A.R.S” more than once) are all cornerstones to the games, particularly “RE2” and “Nemesis.”
If you're going to gamble with a sequel, go small. This did not happen with “Apocalypse,” particularly when the less-experienced Witt replaced Anderson. Unfortunately, it shows in the final cut of “Apocalypse.” Too much of the film is taken directly from the games themselves (numerous shots being lifted exactly from the game) and the inclusion of several main figures from the game feels more like pandering to the fanbase rather than an organic inclusion to the developing events begun in the first film.
In many ways, it feels as if Witt read about the “Resident Evil” world and opted to simply include prominent figures without really asking what they were doing there, such as with Nemesis, who not only felt tacked on (and looked ridiculously fake) but also followed a path that -- without giving anything away -- did no justice to the original character. Suffice to say, the game version of Nemesis would have kicked the film version's ass ten times over.
Nobody would expect “high art” to come out of a franchise like “Resident Evil”; they would expect entertainment, and “Apocalypse” has not aged well in that regard. Where the first film at least attempted to be an original take on the franchise, “Apocalypse” attempts to take too much from the games, almost to the point of feeling like one long cutscene from one of the games rather than a stand-alone movie. Ultimately, when comparing the two films, it is safe to say that less can be more. Rating: 6/10
In this Resident Evil sequel, almost every element of the original has been supersized: the action set pieces, the creatures and the larger-than-life characters to name a few. Resident Evil: Apocalypse also offers two more threatening (if still extremely cartoonish) villains for Alice to battle: the grotesque Nemesis and the evil Dr. Isaacs. The narrative seems to sprawl so much more than in the original, jumping from location to location, from skirmish to creature confrontation across Raccoon City. One certainly can’t hold this against the original which was set almost entirely underground but that setting offered less in the way of campy diversity. Additionally, in a deviation from the original, “Apocalypse” is more of a straight-up zombie flick than the original, a genre for which I will forever be a sucker, and for that reason alone, I enjoyed this follow-up more than the original. Rating: 7/10
Resident Evil: Extinction
Proceeding more like a stream of direct-to-DVD sequels then an incredibly successful action/horror franchise, Resident Evil: Extinction saw its third straight change of director since Paul W.S. Anderson kicked things off in 2002. Anderson was busy with his gritty (and underrated) action remake Death Race, so it was up to Australian music video director and creator of the cult hit Highlander Russell Mulcahy to take the helm.
The key ingredient of the then trilogy made her return, however; Milla Jovovich as the sexy, genetically-altered heroine Alice. The wise cracking L.J. (Mike Epps) who joined the anti-Umbrella team back in Raccoon City also opted for another round against the undead.
Set in a decimated Las Vegas, “Extinction” drew inspiration from westerns and (of course) post-apocalyptic films. The third instalment also (finally) saw the debut of Albert Wesker (Jason O'Mara), a famed villain from the game series. All these ingredients again proved savoury to audiences, even though critics continued to be harsh to the series. Even fans of the games began to see the franchise sweat in terms of action. Still, it was the fans, lovers of action films and those lusting after the sexy Jovovich that propelled “Extinction” to a number one opening at the box office. It ultimately grossed a few million shy of $150 million worldwide on a budget a third the size. Resident Evil: Extinction continued to show the viability of this consistently popular franchise and acted as a narrative bridge to the inevitable fourth film
While references to the games were not nearly as heavy-handed as “Apocalypse,” they were definitely abound in “Extinction.” Perhaps one of the bigger additions to the ensemble was the character of Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) of Resident Evil 2 fame, who appeared as the leader of a convoy of survivors making their way across the desert looking for shelter. Claire aside, the other major addition was Wesker, though he was only in the film for maybe 10 minutes. It should be noted that a major deviation was taken in his character for “Extinction" -- he was made the chairman of Umbrella. Although he has a history with Umbrella (and the S.T.A.R.S. Organization for that matter) never was Wesker the chairperson of Umbrella, a trait likely to be carried into “Afterlife.”
Two fan favorites make their debut in “Extinction”: packs of crows and the Tyrant. This signaled a shift in what kind of creatures would show up in the film franchise: ones stronger and more cunning than the zombies. These additions aside, “Extinction” did its best to not go overboard with the numerous game references found in “Apocalypse,” but perhaps to its detriment in a few areas.
Call it franchise fatigue or simply non-source material stretched to the extent of transparent, but three times wasn’t quite the charm for Resident Evil: Extinction. After the action-centic “Apocalypse,” this entry scales things back, focusing on uninteresting stock characters and boasting only a few action sequences among a journey across a desolate Nevada, it becomes something a film of this ilk should never be: dull.
Like its predecessors, the crutch of “Extinction” is not scares or tension, but lead-soaked confrontations with walking dead. The death-blow to this film is its more self-serious tone (something which butchered another video game adaptation, Max Payne) which should never be a staple of a video game adaptation. Qualms aside,Jovovich remains as sexy as ever and is still more than able to kick ass with the best of them, and though a weaker entry is still better than the majority of critics would have you believe. Rating: 6/10
While not overjoyed with “Apocalypse,” I could appreciate its consistent stream of action and over-the-top set pieces (impressive for such a limited budget). With “Extinction,” most everything that I'm sure sounded good on paper does not transition well to the screen. For all the marketing done on the landscape of a decimated Nevada, the movie could have taken place in any desert. What action there was (have to agree with Simon -- it was toned way back) was brief and nonsensical most of the time. With the prior films, you had an explanation for most of the actions sequences that came at the characters.
No such luck for “Extinction,” which opted to be something the franchise just isn't: a character study. As cool as Alice is, she's not a complicated archetype. She's on a mission of revenge, pure and simple. Those going to see “Resident Evil” are not looking for the questions of what makes us human and what is right. They want to see memorable scenes of action, fueled by likable characters. While the ensemble of “Extinction” is certainly likable, they're not very interesting and “Extinction” trying to make them so was water on the fire of the franchise. Not to mention they include Wesker in the lightest sense of the word, and you just don't do that to Wesker (he'll kill you, actually). Rating: 4/10
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Max's First Impressions
I will openly admit that I had almost given up on the film franchise. I'm a fan of the first to be sure and can stomach the second but by the time the third film rolled around, was ready for the film franchise to simply go away and make room for the much improved “Resident Evil” games making their way to market.
Then word came of a fourth film, again featuring Jovovich (who will always have a place in my heart after The Fifth Element) and bringing original Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson back to direct. I'll admit I was a little giddy when I heard the news.
Over a year later, a number of promotional releases and a few trailers, I can say I am looking forward to “Afterlife” with a cautionary mindset. From everything I can tell, the film is set to take a number of things from the games, notably Resident Evil 5 (Chris Redfield, the Majini and Executioner set to appear). Perhaps my biggest anticipation is the inclusion of Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), though how his character will be handled remains to be seen. Please let him rip someone's heart out, Anderson.
However, what makes me cautious is how many liberties Anderson may have taken with the games. As a result of the prior films, he cannot take the approach he did with the first “Evil,” so by including such characters as Wesker and Chris, while incorporating Alice and Claire (who seems to be superhuman now?), could prove to be a bit crowded. However, if there is anyone to be trusted with the franchise, it'd likely be Anderson.
With a production budget around $60 million, “Afterlife” looks to be the most expensive “Resident Evil” movie yet. This cannot be a coincidence as the film has been (heavily) marketed as using the same 3-D technology that was used to shoot Avatar, so before we get our torches, we best take a minute and think of the potential opportunities such 3D could have on a “Resident Evil” movie. Bullets flying, swords clashing, giants wielding axes...all shot in 3D (rather than converted) could prove to be effective.
Simon's First Impressions
Mixed opinions on 3D aside, it is more the awkward buzz that flowed out of this year's Comic Con that raised my concerns about this sequel’s potential. When honestly considering this franchise’s origins, the success that befell these adaptations is quite impressive, but now four films deep, how much can there truly be left to tell about one sexy mutant?
Also, returning for the first time since the original as director, Paul W.S. Anderson is back in full control. Now this is not exactly like Steven Spielberg making a new "Jaws" film, but Anderson did craft what is considered by most to be the best of the three. The most intriguing aspect of “Afterlife” is that it is being filmed using James Cameron’s Fusion Camera System that he used to craft the biggest movie of all time, Avatar. If the format can bring even a sliver of that film’s success then we will undoubtedly see a fifth film in the series.