My handle is happyfett, and I remember everything.
Actually, that’s blatantly untrue; memory like a sieve, and in fact I have typically found myself in a Dirty Harry style quandary regarding the Resident Evil movie franchise. Have I seen five movies, or just four? Well, for now at least I know, because with The Final Chapter coming out next year, in time for the franchise’s fifteenth anniversary, I’ve spent the past couple of days catching up as far as possible on the series. I couldn’t get the first and third movies easily, but I had already seen them.
So, here we go with a run down of the first five Resident Evil movies.
Resident Evil (2002)
“A secret experiment. A deadly virus. A fatal mistake.”
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy and Colin Salmon
A woman (Jovovich) wakes up in a mansion with no memory, and through a rapid series of encounters with an eco-terrorist (Mabius) and a team of commandos led by One (Salmon) learns that she was a guard for a top secret bio-weapons lab beneath the mansion. As the commandos die one by one, Alice learns that she was working with eco-terrorist Matt’s sister to bring down the Umbrella Corporation, who ran the lab, before her partner (Purefoy) decided to steal and sell the viruses being developed there instead.
With a horde of mutated zombie test subjects and the lab’s quasi-sentient AI, the Red Queen, out to kill them, Alice, Matt and last commando Rain (Rodriguez) struggle to reach the surface and find the anti-virus before the lab is sealed or any of them become zombies.
Resident Evil has the advantage of going first, but squanders a lot of the franchise’s adaptation goodwill by featuring exactly none of the classic characters, and quickly swapping out the mansion setting – and much too nice and modern a mansion – for gleaming labs and laser death traps. The monsters are icky, although the scariest thing in the film is the Red Queen, not least because she’s got a point. Faced with the imminent release of the most horrible virus ever, a few human lives are kind of meaningless. In fact, by the third film it is painfully clear that if the Red Queen had got her way, it’s quite possible that none of the rest of the series would have happened.
In some ways it’s sad to see Colin Salmon go so quickly, and cut into cubes as well, but he was rocking a deeply dodgy American accent.
Alice survives to wake on a hospital table in a zombie-ravaged Raccoon City, while Matt is transformed into the hulking Nemesis (and also into a different actor.)
For those keeping score, that’s two white survivors, black and Latina characters all deceased.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
“My name is Alice, and I remember everything.”
Directed by Alexander Witt
Starring Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann, Jared Harris, Mike Epps and Sophie Vavasseur
In the aftermath of the first movie, the Umbrella Corporation ingeniously decides to open up the Hive without debriefing the sole survivor of the outbreak, so Alice wakes – as in the stinger – to a Raccoon City gonne madde and sealed up by Umbrella executive douchecanoe Cain (Kretschmann). Elsewhere, nails-hard copper Jill Valentine (Guillory), Umbrella Commando Carlos Olivera (Fehr) and streetwise gangster and regrettable stereotype LJ (Epps) struggle to survive. All of them are directed by Dr Charles Ashford (Harris), creator of the T-virus, to rescue his daughter Angela (Vavasseur) in return for an exit strategy, because Raccoon City is a walled city in the mediaeval model.
In an attempt to stop them, Cain activates Project Nemesis, the former Matt now transformed into an easily programmable, nigh-invulnerable super-mutant. They escape, but Alice is briefly captured before turning out to be a telekinetic badass and breaking loose.
Moving the action to a blasted city and introducing a wider cast of non-disposable characters (and of course a whole bunch of disposable ones as well,) Apocalypse hues more closely to the source material, and game fans welcomed the inclusion of Jill and – to a lesser extent – Carlos. Overall, the plot was less coherent, however, and this film saw the beginning of the franchise’s patented crazy drawn-out endings.
While a lot of incidental characters die, Carlos, Jill, LJ and Angela all escape with Alice, and return in the stinger to rescue her by pretending to be Umbrella executives. Jill won’t reappear for three more films and Angela is gone from this point forward, but Carlos and LJ are in the next one, along with final act antagonist Isaacs (Iain Glen).
So, that’s three white survivors, one black and one Latino (or, actually, Israeli.) I don’t count Isaacs who was only in the final scene.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
“Experimentation… Evolution… Extinction…”
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
Starring Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Mike Epps and Ashanti
Isaacs experiments on clones of Alice to perfect the non-mutatey version of or cure for the T-virus, working in one of a number of Umbrella labs that now serve as bunkers in the midst of a zombie-riddled wasteland, their efforts to cover up the Raccoon City outbreak having only succeeded in allowing the virus to spread unchecked. CEO Albert Wesker (Jason O’Mara, this time) is dubious.
Meanwhile, Alice joins a convoy led by Claire Redfield (Larter), bringing hints of a safe haven in Alaska. En route to Las Vegas to gather supplies for the journey, they suffer crippling losses, including LJ and their nurse Betty (Ashanti). Carlos is also bitten, and gives his life to crash through a wall of zombies so the others can reach an Umbrella helicopter, leaving Alice to confront Isaacs, who turns himself into a giant monster, because that’s how scientists roll, right?
Resident Evil meets Mad Max; my what a concept. Sadly it is no Fury Road, nor even on a par with Mulcahy’s Highlander, but it is different. Alice is at her most unstoppable and, consequently, least interesting. As with the last movie, it’s the supporting (game-based) characters who are most interesting.
Correcting the last film’s failure to trope, Extinction polishes off the black guy and the Hispanic, and the notable survivors are three white women (Alice, Claire and minor character K-Mart.) Technically, Alice survives a lot in this one, activating a whole bunch of clones of her at the research lab and promising to come for Umbrella.
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
“She’s back… and she’s bringing a few of her friends.”
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Boris Kodjoe, Kim Coates and Wentworth Miller
After an atmospheric credit sequence in which Tokyo suffers its first zombie attacks, Alice and her clones attack Umbrella HQ, killing most of the personnel, by Wesker (now Shawn Roberts) escapes and self-destructs the base, killing the clones. Original Alice confronts him and is injected with an anti-virus to remove her powers, but the helicopter crashes and only Alice survives.
Traveling to Alaska, she finds Claire’s abandoned helicopter, and Claire herself suffering amnesia caused by an Umbrella device which Alice removes. They travel to LA for… reasons and find a group of survivors holed up in a prison, led by Luther (Kodjoe), a former sportball star, and Hollywood producer Bennett (Coates). They also find Chris Redfield (Miller), Claire’s brother, locked in isolation by the prisoners before the big breakout, who tells them he can get them out. Unfortunately the plan is a dead end, and when Bennett steals Alice’s plane the rest of them are forced to retreat through zombie-infested sewers after fighting a refugee from some other place.
Then they get a boat to the floating haven Arcadia, which is an Umbrella research ship, defeat Wesker, who escapes, but is blown up, but escapes, and they let everyone out and Luther survived an attack in the sewers and they’re going to make the ship a real refuge but then Jill Valentine turns up with a bunch of Umbrella commandos.
This is the absolute doyen of not knowing when to end. The closing sequence is an interminable seesaw of ups and downs, followed by a truly baffling stinger as Sienna Guillory appears and is utterly unrecognisable from her appearance in Apocalypse.
On the upside, the removal of the T-virus means that for once Jovovich isn’t working against the role to portray any humanity. She has actual bonding moments with other characters and basically acts like a human being instead of a walking plot device. She’s actually quite good at it. Who knew? Conversely, the attack of the clones is not her finest moment, with a lot of stilted badass dialogue and bad compositing.
Claire and Chris pretty much disappear. Claire is scheduled for The Final Chapter, although Chris is not; presumably Miller is off pursuing his epic, career defining bromance with BMM favourite Dominic Purcell. Luther survives and appears next time, as does Jill, so that’s three white women and a black man, with an Asian and a Hispanic among the dead at the prison.
Resident Evil: Retribution (2014)
“Evil goes global”
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Kevin Durand, Sienna Guillory, Shawn Roberts, Aryana Engineer, Oded Fehr, Colin Salmon, Johann Urb, Boris Kodjoe, Li Bingbing
Alice wakes up in a suburban home with a husband (Fehr) and daughter Becky (Engineer), only for a zombie apocalypse to overtake them. She flees with her friend (Rodriguez), but after a car crash she is killed by her zombie husband. Then Alice wakes up in a cell wearing two pieces of A3 paper and some Scotch tape, and Jill asks her questions punctuated by long spells of screeching noise.
A computer glitch allows her to escape into a simulation of a Japanese outbreak, which is actually the credit sequence from the last movie. Then she meets former Umbrella ‘troubleshooter’ Ada Wong (Bingbing), who tells her Wesker has gone off book and wants to rescue Alice from the Red Queen, which is continuing to research bioweapons. As they work their way out, picking up the Rain clone and Becky en route, a strike team including Leon Kennedy (Urb), Barry Burton (Durand) and Luther from last move break in, but the Queen unleashes stored biohazard zombies on them all.
With most of the team dead, they get to the surface, but have to fight Jill and a Rain clone powered up by ‘the Las Plagas parasite’ to get away, finally joining Wesker in the beleaguered White House.
The recreation of the credit sequence as a simulation is far and away the cleverest thing this franchise has ever done.
The attempts to humanise Alice through her bonding with a little girl who thinks she is her mummy are not as effective as the simpler moments with the other survivors. On the other hand, the revelation of hundreds of clones of each of them is pretty chilling.
Leon Kennedy, as played by Urb, is way less interesting than Chris Redfield. If I were Ada Wong, I’d take his hand off my thigh as well. Speaking of Ada, I know that’s her signature look, but is an evening gown really the outfit for infiltrating a secret Arctic base?
Leon, Ada, Jill, Alice, Becky and Wesker all make it through. Luther bites the bullet, once more proving that a black man can’t make it through two of these bad boys (and we also score off a cone of Colin Salmon, two Carlos clones and two Rain clones for good measure.) Still, we have our first Asian survivor, not that any of this lot are slated for The Final Chapter.
What’s wrong with them?
The series tries to do something different from the games, but loses some of the point of them by abandoning spooky mansions for high-tech complexes and Mad Max desert highways, and eliminating most of the world early on in the proceedings.
The films are super keen for us to watch Alice punch zombie dogs. I think Anderson (who wrote even the ones that he didn’t direct) may have been bitten as a child. The films are also keen for us to eyeball Jovovich, but Anderson is at least a less blatant wife-leerer than Len ‘I would produce a film that was just Kate Beckinsale’s butt in a catsuit for two hours if I could get away with it’ Wiseman.
Alice is like the textbook definition of a Mary Sue character. She’s stronger, faster and better than any of the canon characters who do show up, looks great in everything from cocktail dresses to desert camo, and gets superpowers from the T-virus instead of becoming a raging plague monster.
The franchise has real trouble ending a film. From Apocalypse on, they have these weird multi-twist final acts, where there’s a downer ending, then an up, and then a twist downer, and if you’re lucky another twist in the stinger.
The franchise has a pretty poor record on minority survival.
What’s right with them?
The first film had a fairly unique style, although it’s hard to fathom that now, and the monsters – especially the Lickers – were both truly nasty and very much in the style of the game.
Jovovich does a decent job of bringing some level of humanity and vulnerability to the unstoppable death machine that is Alice. She never gets a full breakdown like in The Fifth Element, but the increased range afforded her in Afterlife and Retribution does a lot to lift these weaker entries.
A lot of the supporting characters are pretty good. Not Leon though. He’s… pretty terrible.
While Resident Evil may be no great friend to the black man, it does have a lot of kickass women in it, some of whom – even Alice, when she’s allowed to be a little human – rise above the level of faux action girl or male fantasy figure.
Just for the record, I think Chris and Claire Redfield are my favourites (and thus my breakout PI spinoff,) and I’m sad there’s no sign of Miller returning. I like them at least in part because they spend so much of Afterlife getting beaten up and looking knackered, instead of kicking butt like machines.
How bad are they really?
On some level, the Resident Evil movies are really pretty bad, and it’s kind of sad how much money they make. On the other, they’re usually good fun, and flirt with horror in a way that horror wimps like myself can handle. Okay, your mileage may vary on that one, since although I almost left the cinema during the trailer for forthcoming horror flick Lights Out, I laughed my arse off through Anderson’s claustrophobic space chiller Event Horizon.
Also, and it’s kind of hard to remember this now, the first couple looked so shiny when they first came out. I mean, they were really quite impressive in their way.
Best bit (if such there is)?
- In Resident Evil, the characters are talking to the computer, which is staring into the middle distance using its holographic child interface. Then suddenly it turns directly towards Alice, and by perspective, the viewer, to announce in its sweet, cut glass voice: “You’re all going to die down here.”
- In Apocalypse, there’s a genuinely creepy moment when the characters are hiding in a church. Jill finds the priest, who has tied his zombie sister to a chair and is feeding her bits of people.
- In Afterlife, the denouement includes a tense standoff as the depowered Alice is unable to just smack down the relatively minor goons keeping her from helping Claire and Chris to fight Wesker.
- In Retribution, the recreation of the Extinction credits is an excellent conceit.
What’s up with…?
- Umbrella’s approach to hospital scrubs?
- Umbrella’s genuine committment to corporate douchebaggery, above and beyond the call of profit?
- The disappearance of small children between installments? I don’t want it to be the obvious, I really don’t.
- The Red Queen’s transition between unfeeling devotion to biosecurity in one, to eelctronic evil in five?
- Resident Evil
- Production values – Pretty impressive for its day, and not bad now. 5
- Dialogue and performances – Not good. Jovovich and Rodriguez do okay, but Salmon is hampered by the accent and the rest are unremarkable. 9
- Plot and execution – A straightforward concept is needlessly complicated by webs of conspiracy revealed only in flashbacks to encounters between characters we never really care about. 12
- Randomness – New types of zombie are practically per room, and the laser defence is the weirdest, starting with easily dodged single lasers, and only going to the inescapable grid if they get dodged. 10
- Waste of potential – Squanders goodwill with its avoidance of canon, but is more coherent than many more faithful game movies. 8
- Overall – 44%
- Resident Evil: Apocalypse
- Production values – Still pretty good, but Nemesis is a bit of a letdown. 8
- Dialogue and performances – Much improved, and the film benefits from allowing non-Alice characters more screen time. 7
- Plot and execution – Once more, the basic plot is ‘enlivened’ with extras like Nemesis randomly being ordered to kill the STARS members just… because. 13
- Randomness – LJ crashes his car eyeing up zombie hookers. Raccoon City has a wall. Why is the school full of dobermans? 13
- Waste of potential – In some ways the film improves on the original, but lacks its self contained narrative. 9
- Overall – 50%
- Resident Evil: Extinction
- Production values – There are some good effects, and the whole thing has a nice Mad Max vibe to it. Again, the big bad is a bit less convincing than the zombies. 7
- Dialogue and performances – Bit of a mixed bag. Mostly decent, with a few clunkers in the Umbrella camp especially. 6
- Plot and execution – The film has kind of two plots at once, and also introduces the miraculously still accessible Umbrella corporate network, transforming a global influence into virtual omnipresence. 14
- Randomness – Zombie crows. Weird zombie alchemy. Umbrella douchebaggery. 11
- Waste of potential – Well, on the upside, it was something different, although in its way much less Resident Evil-y than the earlier films. 8
- Overall – 46%
- Resident Evil: Afterlife
- Production values – Again, pretty good, although the inclusion of some gratuitous 3D shots tells against it, and while no worse than earlier installments, by the standards of its time it was more so so. 10
- Dialogue and performances – Once more, basically good. Kim Coates is kind of annoying, but he gets eaten. It’s nice to see Alice get some dialogue that isn’t all quips and badassitude. 6
- Plot and execution – The plot is very busy this time around, with the prison section – which would be the entirety of some zombie movies – coming in the middle of the quest for Arcadia, and the movie just will not end. 14
- Radnomness – There’s a flooded tunnel, like… out of nowhere, that opens into a dry coridor two floors down. Dudes; water does not work that way. 9
- Waste of potential – The film holds together quite well, although the ending is atrocious. 7
- Overall – 46%
- Resident Evil: Retribution
- Production values – Anderson pulls the stops out for his penultimate episode, with some deliriously huge-looking interiors for the facility and a lot of work on the final shot of the siege of DC. 5
- Dialogue and performances – Here we take a bit of a kicking. While the main players are grand, we have the return of Salmon’s accent and Leon. Oh, Leon. 14
- Plot and execution – A simple plot is somewhat overextended, and extra clones just drag things out. Also, not enough Ada Wong. 15
- Randomness – The Las Plagas parasite? Barry and his buddy? Ada Wong in the red dress? Damnit, movie; you can’t suddenly start drawing on the iconography of the games in the fifth installment and pretend it means something. 13
- Waste of potential – Retribution suffers heavily from diminishing returns, and I don’t just mean killing off last installment’s survivors. 12
- Overall – 59%