Doomsday Reels
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

resident extinction

THE TRAILER

THE DIRECTOR
Russell Mulcahy

THE ACTORS
Milla Jovovich (Alice), Oded Fehr (Carlos Oliveira), Ali Larter (Claire Redfield), Mike Epps (L.J.), Iain Glen (Dr. Isaacs), Ashanti (Betty), Jason O’Mara (Albert Wesker)

THE CAUSE
Zombie Virus/Ecological Disaster

THE STORY
“The Umbrella Corporation thought they’d contained the infection. Well, they were wrong. Raccoon City was just the beginning. Within weeks, the T-virus had consumed the United States. Within months, the world. The virus didn’t just wipe out human life. Lakes and rivers dried up, forests became deserts and whole continents were reduced to nothing more than barren wastelands. Slowly but surely, the Earth began to wither and die. What few survivors there were learned to keep on the move. We avoided major cities. If we stopped anyplace too long, they would be drawn to us. Only a few at first, but then more and more. A never-ending army of undead. For those of us left, staying on the road seemed the only way to stay alive.” – Alice

THE RUNDOWN
Resident Evil was a horrible mess with a hint of something worthwhile beneath the surface trying to get out.  Resident Evil: Apocalypse was a used diaper filled with hot, wet garbage.  The franchise was clearly on a downward trajectory at this point.  We finished out the last movie with Alice now seemingly under the power of the Umbrella corporation.  She was rescued by Carlos Olivera, Jill Valentine, L.J., and Angela Ashford who we found out is also infected with the T-Virus to no apparent ill effect.  So clearly we’re going to deal with some corporate espionage, a deeper examination of Angela’s mutation, and a third-act betrayal by Alice who isn’t in control of her own abilities, right?  Nope, we’re jumping ahead five years, completely ignoring the existence of Jill and Angela, and going full Mad Max.

The film opens with Alice explaining that the nuclear weapon detonated in Raccoon City did nothing to contain the infection.  Soon the T-Virus had taken over the world, inexplicably causing most of the water to dry up and the plants to die.  Alice roams the wasteland with no apparent goal in mind, Carlos and L.J. are part of a caravan of survivors run by Claire Redfield who are just trying to stay alive, and Dr. Isaacs is cloning Alice in hopes of finding a viable replacement for the genuine article in a subterranean lab conveniently nearby all the other characters.

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Similar to the structure of the second film, Resident Evil: Extinction is a compilation of three aimless but compelling narratives that coalesce going into the third act.  The most fleshed out and compelling arc is that of Claire Redfield’s band of survivors.  This plot thread seems like an early prototype of The Walking Dead.  We have a band of haggard, weather-beaten survivors with serious cases of character-actor face eking out a miserable existence wandering the desert in a caravan of modified vehicles.  Carlos and L.J. have become post-apocalyptic best friends and the biggest missed opportunity of the film is that we don’t see more of Oded Fehr and Mike Epps’ chemistry, or more of Mike Epps in general (more on that in a bit.)

The survivors are all pretty much canon fodder like the other characters from Resident Evil: Apocalypse, but unlike those characters you actually care about these.  With the exception of random people who only turn up for their death scene, every one of the survivors who dies feels like a genuine loss even if you can’t remember what their name was.  The two big set-pieces of the infected crows and the souped-up zombies are filled with devastating losses.

Alice is, of course, the worst part of her own movie.  Even more than in Apocalypse, Alice and all her Resident Evil bullshit seems to really get in the way of an interesting story.  Admittedly the Alice story isn’t bad here, the movie does more with the telekinetic powers she developed at the end of the last film as well as the Umbrella scientist played by Iain Glen.  It does seem kind of strange that Alice doesn’t use her powers more often since there are numerous situations when they would literally be the difference between life and death for a lot of people and there doesn’t seem to be any limit to when or how often she can use them.  It would really be prudent to use them in the film’s opening when she implausibly causes a steel I-beam to be pulled out of concrete by three zombie Dobermans tied to it with electrical wiring.

Iain Glen’s story is pretty much the story of every evil scientist in these movies but Glen brings a lot more gravitas than James Purefoy or Thomas Kretschmann in previous films.  Glen walks right to the edge of descending into camp but manages to not make his character seem too over-the-top.  His story has shades of Return of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead (the scene where Dr. Logan gives Bub some junk to play with is almost entirely ripped off here.)

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For the first time in three films, we actually have some gore effects to go with our flesh-eating monsters.  It’s still pretty tame for an r-rated movie but there are a few visceral moments and blood splatters.  The zombie make-up is a million times better than in the previous films and as a result the zombies themselves are much scarier.  We also have The Tyrant, the boss from the first game, show up as a practical/CG hybrid that mostly works except for a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots here and there.

It’s unclear what significance there is to Claire Redfield being in this movie, beyond just name-checking another character from the games.  There’s nothing special about Claire’s character and I suspect in an earlier draft of the movie she was meant to be Jill Valentine and they just couldn’t get Sienna Guillory to return.  Ali Larter does a perfectly fine job as the character and she’s a far more grounded secondary protagonist (both in writing and acting) than Jill was.

I was hoping we’d keep Mike Epps around for longer but he’s doomed from his first scene in this film.  L.J. gets to be the guy who gets bit and doesn’t tell anyone.  The interesting thing is that they don’t play him off as a scumbag for this like every other movie does.  It seems to be a simple case of hopeful denial and L.J. doesn’t do anything shady other than lie to one person.  Of course he ends up turning and biting someone but I feel he helps carry a good portion of the film and I’m glad they brought him back if nothing else.

Milla Jovovich is finally starting to grow into her role, as much as anyone can grow into a role like Alice.  Her best work is still in delivering emotional reactions to things but her line readings are becoming a lot more natural.  Her story is still terrible but I find myself actually growing to like the character in spite of everything.  For those keeping track, yes Milla Jovovich’s first and last onscreen appearances in the film are nude so the theme is holding up.

Longtime series villain Albert Wesker finally turns up in this movie and he is awful.  Wishing no disrespect to Jason O’Mara his every line sounds like someone just handed him a piece of paper and he read it aloud for the first time right then and there.  It really is no surprise that the role is recast in later films.

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Resident Evil: Extinction was a genuine surprise for me.  I have seen it before and I remember not liking it, but it’s actually pretty good.  The franchise’s trademark stupidity is still very visible but plays a far smaller part than in previous films.  I actually connected with and cared about many of the characters.  There are some legitimately scary bits and the action and new setting all work great, making such a radical departure from the games seems to be one of the best things the series has ever done.  I also appreciate that somebody realized that the music sucked in the previous films and put in mostly ambient music and the eerie theme from the first movie, saving all the garbage pop-rock for the end credits.

Another big boon to the movie is hiring Russell Mulcahy (director of Highlander, Razorback, and The Shadow) to direct.  Alexander Witt had only directed second-unit before taking on Resident Evil: Apocalypse and though I’m not willing to blame most of that movie on him, his relative inexperience certainly didn’t do the movie any favors.  But Mulcahy has been in the business for decades and I think it’s his influence which really beat this movie into shape.  My one major complaint is that it feels like a good zombie movie trapped inside the world of a horrible film franchise.  I’ve still got two movies left to go, one of which I haven’t seen and the other I’ve only seen once, but I feel pretty confident in calling this movie the high point of the series.  We’ll see on Wednesday.

THE SHILL
Resident Evil: Extinction is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Instant.  There is also a Blu-ray collection of all five films.

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