The Resident Evil movie franchise has become something of a phenomenon among game-to-movie adaptions: successful. Mainly due, I suspect, to the lure of leading lady Milla Jovovich, and rampant zombie-ism throughout, the series has developed a cult following over and above the game’s it’s spawned from.
In the original film, Jovovich was studio-bound in a production that was slickly made, sly and frightening; yet still in keeping with its video game origins (from the music to the production design). In the sequel, in which the old Hollywood cliche of “bigger and *cough* better” reared it’s ugly head, with a messy, contrived and uninspired effort from Alexander Witt from a scipt by Paul WS Anderson, Jovovich manged to escape her Racoon City laboratory confines and move into a larger playground with her zombies. In RE:Extinction, she’s in a totally different arena altogether. Outside, in daylight, in the dustbowl desert of post apocalyptic USA. Directed by pulp filmmaker (and Australian) Russell Mulcahy, Extinction is a return to form for the series.
Unlike most films of this ilk, Extinction never for one moment takes itself seriously. The bad guys are hammily bad, scowling across the film like they’ve undergoing permanent enema treatments with acid, and the rag tag band of good guys are uniformly cardboard cutouts. But where you’d expect this film to fall down with stupidity, strangely, it’s quite lively.
An understanding of the series is perhaps essential, otherwise the film will make almost no sense, so if you have yet to view the previous entires into this series, I suggest you do so before watching this film. That said, there’s plenty here to keep new viewers entertained, as well as bring the odd smile to the face of returning gore-hounds.
The graphic violence is on par with the original films, and the effects crew have worked doubly hard on this (thats not to say there are some godawful effects in the film, they just fade into the background compared to the real money shots). The zombie jump moments are plentiful, although the reliance on the zombie horde for story momentum is effectively relegated to second tier cliche and instead, the more brutal methods of the evil Umbrella Corporation are unleashed upon the world in this, the most “human” of all the three films.
Jovovich’s character Alice has developed from the frightened, timid lost soul from the original film into a kick-ass fighting (somewhat telekinetic) superhero, an arc that seems slightly ludicrous, yet strangely fulfilling as she goes about with ruthless efficiency dispatching those poor, maligned undead creatures that stalk them all. Alice is ice cold throughout, something that often prevents us as viewers from really empathising with her like we did in the first film (and to a lesser extent the second) yet this facet is skillfully layered by Jovovitch and director Mulcahy. Jovovich is still a second rate actress, but this character suits her to the ground.
Returning from the previous installment is Oded Fehr as Carlos (looking slightly bewhildered at himself for still being in this series) and LJ (Mike Epps, who might as well have not shown up, for all he does) and wonderfully scathing Iain Glen, who is still scheming to find a way to beat the T Virus and return humanity to…well, humans.
Watch also for the barest of appearances by singer Ashanti, as a member of the group (who gets a decent death scene too… …what, it’s not like I’m giving too much away really!!!) Lacking anything resembling logic, the film blasts along with a jovial unashamedness at being a sequel, and certainly never tries to hard to be anything more. With this feeling pervading the screen from the outset, your brain automatically switches to automatic and just enjoys the ride.
Ali Larter joins the lark as the leader of the band of refugees trying to find sanctuary against the undead population: since the Earth has “withered and died” the desert of Las Vegas has reclaimed the city and results in a stark Planet of the Apes styled revisionism that is actually quite striking. Larter’s motivations are unclear, and although given plenty to do in the film, her character arc is disappointingly thin. She is never explained, never really understood. She’s there to move the story along, and that’s all. Carlos’s motivations are seemingly altered from the previous film; here, he’s simply a method of carnage and reason for things to happen, rather than the other way around.
Stylistically, it’s similar in feel to the previous films; aesthetically, it’s a whole new ball of wax. In his interviews for the film, Mulcahy decided to set the film in daylight, rather than the more cliched nighttime setting used by the previous films. Which means that the zombies are never quite as scary coming at you in the bright, desert-lit sunshine. And that’s the best idea in the film: the zombies are not really the main enemy, and consequently are not what’s really scary. The main antagonist this time round is the evil Dr Issacs (Glen), who is seeking to use Alice for his own ends.
There are several moments of inspired scripting in the film: the lengthy homage (or ripoff, depending on how you take it) to Hitchcocks The Birds, the epic feel to the landscape of the film, the twists in how the Unbrella Corporation uses Alice (and her clones) and most definitely the way society has been portrayed as breaking down. Unfortunately, for every positive, there’s a negative, and in Extinctions case, there’s more than plenty.
The supporting cast are little more than zombie fodder, each one getting bitten/slaughtered/impaled/speared/decapitated/eaten/etc etc in due course: it’s practically zombie-film-by-numbers in the end. Carlos’ ultimate fate is little more than a cursory send off, almost as if the writers couldn’t think of something interesting for him to do. Some of the effects shots on the birds sequence are a let down, although for the majority of the time, they hold up well in other areas. The action does seem a little disjointed, like the highly kinetic editor tried putting his Avid through a threshing machine; yet once could argue this creates a sense of 28 Days Later ferocity about the pacing, something the second film sorely lacked.
Perhaps the greatest single fault with the film is the final battle with the key antagonist: specifically, the reappearance of a device used in the first film that really is a weak way of defeating the villain. To be honest, I was expecting more from the film than that. If anything almost ruined this film for me, it was this. I mean, why recycle a great moment from the first film and debauch it like this?
Nevertheless, in spite of its faults and leaps of logic and sense, Extinction is quite a decent outing for the Resident Evil series. While touted as the final film in a trilogy, it’s hard to imagine Sony Studios letting this money making machine sit quietly for very long.
Indeed, one only has to look at the internet for moree details on upcoming CG films and other projects in the pipeline, to realize that Resident Evil is a real stayer. If, however, Extinction really is the last chapter of the Jovovitch incarnation of Resident Evil, then it’s gone out with a bang, and plenty of unresolved questions on which to build future storylines.
In terms of entertainment, Resident Evil still packs a solid, enjoyable punch.
(Rating for Resident Evil: 9/10)
(Rating for Resident Evil – Apocalypse: 5.5/10)
All pictures on this post (C) Sony Pictures Corporation.