Resident Evil (2002)
Paul W.S. Anderson
Milla Jovovich (Alice), Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), James Purefoy (Spence), Eric Mabius (Matt), Martin Crewes (Kaplan), Michaela Dicker (Red Queen), Colin Salmon (One)
“At the beginning of the 21st century, the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States. Nine out of every ten homes contain its products. Its political and financial influence is felt everywhere. In public, it is the world’s leading supplier of computer technology, medical products, and healthcare. Unknown, even to its own employees, its massive profits are generated by military technology, genetic experimentation, and viral weaponry.” – Opening Narration
“Even in death the human body still is active. Hair and fingernails continue to grow, new cells are produced, and the brain itself holds a small electrical charge that takes months to dissipate. The T-virus provides a massive jolt, both to cellular growth, and to those trace electrical impulses. Put quite simply, it reanimates the body.” – The Red Queen
Our long national nightmare is nearly over. After 15 years, the Resident Evil film series has promised to finally mercifully end in a few scant days with the release of the hopefully not ironically-named Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. As I have done before with other series such as Mad Max, Star Wars, and The Terminator I plan to take a look back at the previous films to look for some sort of unified meaning and judge them on their own merits. I have come here to bury the Resident Evil films, not to praise them. Nonetheless, anything worthwhile along the way will be duly noted.
I am a staunch defender of Paul W.S. Anderson even though I understand that it’s an exceedingly quixotic task. I genuinely love Soldier and Event Horizon remains one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen even if it is peppered with weird action sequences and a supporting character that belongs in another movie entirely. I have issues with Mortal Kombat but it’s still one of the better video game adaptations and an enjoyable experience. I’ve sung the praises of the Death Race remake and I’ll even maintain that about 1/4 of Aliens vs. Predator is fine. I have not seen The Three Musketeers or Pompeii and have no intention to. Anderson is very much a student of the Renny Harlin/Stephen Norrington school of filmmaking which prioritizes raw entertainment value over tight scripting, logic, and coherent storytelling but like his compatriots he’s made that work for him on several occasions.
Resident Evil is easily the point when Anderson’s career took a sharp downturn that has never let up. It’s an unquestionably bad film but it gets a frustratingly large amount of things right.
The movie starts off strong with the automated security system of a secret underground lab going haywire after a deadly virus is released into the facility’s air conditioning system. The entire staff are drowned, gassed, or elevatored to death and we flash to Milla Jovovich’s Alice waking up in a palatial mansion with no memory of who she is or how she got there. A team of soldiers bust in, they grab her and a cop named Matt who is there for unclear reasons and take them below the mansion on a train to the underground facility: The Hive.
In the process of trying to shut down the mainframe, all but three of the soldiers are killed by a security system blatantly stolen from the 1997 Vincenzo Natali film Cube. After shutting down the mainframe they unlock all the doors and the recently re-animated staff of The Hive come out for blood.
We don’t even properly see a zombie until the 39 minute mark and, barring a few hiccups, the film is a wonderfully executed study in suspense. There’s a definite creep factor and a sense of danger around every corner and when the zombies come out they’re pretty effective too. Admittedly they don’t look as impressive as they did then and it’s apparent that about six extras got the good makeup and everybody else just got some fake blood smeared around their mouth and nose. Still, the movie really does work. It’s a little bit Event Horizon meets Aliens with zombies and for a moment you may forget why this movie was so derided. But then this happens:
Partway through the movie, Alice remembers she’s a fucking superhero and after one-shotting 6 zombie Dobermans with a pistol she then does a flying karate kicki into another, killing it inexplicably. This is the mother of all mistakes for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which is that it’s fucking silly. Horror is predicated on a feeling of helplessness, the reason the first Resident Evil game is so scary is because the horrible controls and wonky camera angles made fighting the various zombies and mutated creatures a harrowing experience. The movie went with this vibe nicely as we watched the few remaining soldiers wastefully pump rounds of ammunition into their assailants with no appreciable result. Giving the main character a sudden superhuman level of competence just pulls the rug out from under any danger the audience felt.
Anderson does try to restore that danger by introducing the Licker, one of the mid-level monsters from the second Resident Evil game and easily one of the most iconically terrifying creatures in the franchise. But 2002 CGI wasn’t the greatest thing and while the few practical effects used for the Licker look fine, the CG version looks like a Ray Harryhausen creation and thus isn’t scary at all. The movie just kind of spins its wheels for the latter half building toward a fairly anticlimactic finale.
Milla Jovovich gets a lot of flack for these movies (and most movies she stars in) but she actually does a pretty admirable job. Her character is terrible but that’s her fiance’s mistake, not hers. Her line delivery is not great but for a 26-year-old model-turned-actress who speaks English as a second language she’s doing wonderful. A lot of Alice’s reactions and emotions ring true even if her words sound rehearsed. There are plenty of things that take precedence on the hierarchy of stuff wrong with this movie. Her performance here is positively Shakespearean compared to Ultraviolet.
I seem to recall that sometime midway through Machete I looked at Michelle Rodriguez and thought: “You know, she’s got a certain charm to her and she’s really not a terrible actress. She’s honestly kind of pretty, why did I always hate seeing her in stuff before now?” Resident Evil jogged my memory. Imagine that Jenette Goldstein’s character from Aliens was a real person and that she became a Hollywood actress and starred in a movie and that’s Michelle Rodriguez’s performance here. I’m going to give Rodriguez a bit of mulligan here as she was only about 23 when this movie was made but literally all she does is cock guns and say pithy one-liners through a permanent scowl through this entire movie. She’s so uncharismatic that she seems to drain it from the actors who stand too close to her.
Martin Crewes and James Purefoy give fine performances but their characters ultimately feel like tools used to progress the plot. That might be acceptable except the movie doesn’t have a whole lot of plot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the games its based on are notoriously over-written nonsense but Anderson missed the whole appeal of the first game in spending no time in the mansion and going straight into an Aliens homage in an underground laboratory. Considering that this was the man whose one major good idea in adapting Mortal Kombat was to stick to the kitschy Kung Fu movie style of the games, it’s pretty disappointing.
There are gasps of a good movie in Resident Evil but it’s fraught with clumsy narrative, weak story, and fits of rampant stupidity. I’m sure they hammered all that out in the sequel, right?
Resident Evil can be found by simply going outside and looking around for a couple minutes. There’s likely a copy sitting on a stoop or tucked in a bush. The movie has been released an irresponsible amount of times and as such one must wipe excess copies of it from their shoes when entering a home or business. However, if you wish to actually pay money for the experience it’s available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Amazon Instant. There is also a five-disc Blu-ray collection of all the films thus far.
NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“You motherfuckers is crazy! Look. That big motherfucker got a rocket launcher!”
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