Here’s a pick up line you may not have heard…
“Hey, you’re Sailor Moon, right?”
(Apologies if you are, in fact, Sailor Moon.)
I literally watched this happen. Multiple times. And I must admit, it made a hell of a lot of sense; there are a lot of people at Fan Expo to hook up and this opening line or one like it was doubtless responsible for at least a few hook-ups.
Sex is in the air…
At the nerd convention.
Going to Fan Expo is a lot like going to a Jays, Leafs, or Argos game for me: all around are gorgeous women in fan apparel, who clearly share one of your interests…which is awesome. At Fan Expo, this goes a step further: these (in my case) girl-next-door types are all manner of revealing, clever, or funny costumes of characters you may not have realized you had a thing for. (Although, the fetishization of super heroes is nothing new; Wonder Woman was created by a bondage enthusiast, the creator of Superman also released a book of BDSM comics, Super Hero XXX parodies are in high demand, and really, who wouldn’t want to bone Robert Downey Jr?) The costumes run the gamut from sexy Hallowe’en style things, to downright creative and awesome things: I must admit, one of the most attractive costumes I saw was a highly accurate and well-executed Saga costume (she was the prince of the Robot Kingdom, with the TV head). The sexiness came, very nerdily, from the depth of nerd knowledge and obscure but awesome choice for the costume.
So, the sexiness on display caters to all tastes, particularly in the realm of the nerd, where intelligence and mutual nerdiness can be as much of a turn-on as exposed flesh (though there is no shortage of that…particularly given the lengths some go to show off, you have to check yourself upon leaving, so as not to be blatantly checking out everyone you see on the street afterwards-a kind of strip club effect, if you will).
And to clarify, this eroticism is not simply tied to straight male nerds like me, happy to see cleavage everywhere. The high degree of fetishization of Doctor Who and anything even remotely Cumberbatch-y is evident throughout Artist’s Alley, where countless images of popular male characters kissing, or posed staring longlingly have elicited sounds fairly close to orgasm in some who have rushed to buy them. Here you can find talented, professional artists, who can draw (and often just have for sale) images of your sexually perferred characters or actors in whatever situation they are comfortable drawing. (There are countless Mary Jane Watsons, Poison Ivys, and Harley Quinns that invariably cause me to miss a step).
The fiance and I have a number of pin-ups drawn by the incredibly talented Laurie B, who specializes in Disney-ified pin-ups of famous characters (as well as adorable baby versions…her Ghostbusters “Don’t Cross the Streams” is a personal favorite). While not as classy as the busts of busts and vaguely French nude painting of my jazzy uncle’s house (which growing up was my first exposure to erotic or sensual art), they suit our style and tastes just fine.
The term, ‘To Each There Own’ seems a highly fitting moniker for the fest in general.
That being said, as with any event (particularly one attended by a social group not known for their social skills), it can get weird and creepy. Despite the charm of the ‘Hey, you’re Sailor Moon’ line, in this particular instance it was weilded with an attitude of ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you here before.’ A standard pick-up in extraordinary terms, but a pick-up nevertheless. He followed up with, ‘Yeah, I’m Deadpool, from the Marvel Comic’; it was played as a casual exchange between cosplayers, but the clear intent and delivery were more Barney Stinson than Deadpool. He then introduced his friend and asked if the Sailor Moon and her friend were there with anyone.
At least there was no where to buy Jaeger Bombs.
There’s also the very, very creepy photo request; often involving a dude asking to either get of a photo of or with particularly hot cosplayers. This is normally within the acceptable realm of ‘Yeah, kinda gross’ but occasionally crosses the line. The fiance and I got the privilege of overhearing one such request, as a Catwoman and Power Girl were told (after posing for one photo already):
“Yeah, now stand closer together. Now turn in to her slightly. Yeah, just like that. Now, hand on your hip. Yeah. Yeah, that’s good.”
It was like hearing bad dialogue in a film and was uttered by the exact kind of nerd you’d expect to be asking two female Expo attendees to pose his way for a second shot. It was easily the grossest thing I heard all festival (second place goes to jailbait Slave Leia…bad call, 16 year old.)
And then, on the positive side, there’s the BDSM.
Lots of people rock leather at Fan Expo (thanks, The Matrix, Bryan Singer’s X-Men, anime, etc…) in varying degrees of fetish-y ways (some, not at all), but then there’s the ‘costume appropriate, but here’s a window into our sex lives’ way, which I saw on the very first day: a Deadpool had a Twi’lek (the two headed tail dancers from Return of the Jedi) on a leash. While conceivably part of the Star Wars costume, it seemed to me, rather, that these two nerds were getting to let their freak flag fly a bit (and public display is often -pardon the pun- tied up in power play). The cool thing is, that no one really seems to mind. There are grumbles about everything everywhere (guys in Catwoman costumes tend to bare the brunt of it, unfortunately, despite the fact that the dude in the leather catsuit was in better shape than anyone else I saw rocking the costume at the Expo), but it’s ultimately a safe space, of a sort. Particularly for us nerdy folk, who often don’t know how to express ourselves (sexually or otherwise). It’s a cool side effect. For all the creepiness of the photo guy, there’s good stuff like this going on too.
For me, I know the great surprise and win will always be that there are all these attractive people who share the same interests as me (which, of course, makes them more attractive). I was lucky enough to find one to be both my Expo and life companion (though we disagree vehemently about which Trek is best…a deep level nerd argument that is, of course, part of the reason I love her), but it still staggers me just how many people there are looking for -and now, in our ‘nerd is cool’ world- finding either a hook-up, or love, or even just validation that they aren’t alone, that we’re all nerdy freaks together. Growing up in the 90’s, it was kind of drilled into us that nerdy girls weren’t really a thing and that we shouldn’t expect to find a companion who shared those interests…now there are girls walking around in (surprisingly attractive) midriff bearing Halo armour outfits.
And for every in-genuine ‘Hey you’re Sailor Moon’ line, you get an incredibly genuine one, like I heard my first day: a girl tore over to a guy dressed (incredibly randomly) as Charlie Chaplain and declared, “Mr. Chaplain! Your costume is beautiful and perfect and I love you very much.”
I don’t know whether they exchanged any words beyond that, but I’m still humbled and thrilled by the fact that we now live in a world where that genuine burst of loving fandom might have gotten that girl laid.
It’s a good day to be a nerd.
As a sidenote: I know lots of guys want to be like the fast-talking, wise-cracking, badass ninja Deadpool…but when you put on a skintight Morph suit, it is your responsibility as a human to take a good, long, honest look at yourself in the mirror, before adventuring off into the world. It shows EVERYTHING. Please use responsibly.
An interesting thing happens at places like Fan Expo, where all we nerds are gathered together: you see, in the greater world, we nerds band together and defend each other against the rolled eyes, snorts of derision, and snarky comments that have been hurled our way since we were old enough to nerd out. But in the safe, smelly confines of Fan Expo, there is no other. There’s just us.
Quoteth Sartre: Hell is other nerds. (This is, of course, Dave Sartre, renowned Star Trek…yeah, this joke is out of steam.)
What this means, in practical terms, is that when you get all us nerds together, we stop being nerds and start just being people again, with all the quirks and qualms we have out there in the real world. Suddenly I don’t want to come to the defence of a guy dressed in an ill-fitted Batman costume, because the asshole just totally shouldered me out of the way so he could look at a fucking TARDIS cookie jar.
This becomes particularly clear in Q&As, where very, very quickly people’s true and often extrordinarily annoying tendencies begin to manifest.
For example, here’s a gem from each and every Firefly related panel for the past 11 years:
“Is there going to be another Serenity movie? Or is the series going to come back? Can you ask Joss Whedon to bring it back?” (I watched Nathan Fillion drop the hammer on a guy about this today and it was glorious). Now remember, we are nerds. By our very definition, we are obsessive, fact, and detail oriented people. We spend enjoyable hours trolling message boards, news sites, everything available sniffing out new info about our favorite franchises.
If Joss Whedon even said the word ‘Firefly’ near a Fox executive, the Internet would explode. We’d know. Immediately. Everyone.
And yet, here we are, listening to yet another idiot ask a question they already know the answer to. It’s not only infuriating, it’s vaguely insulting. These people (and god dammit they are legion: Dollhouse, Firefly, Star Wars -then that actually happened-, I even heard someone ask Shatner if he was going to write any more Tek Wars novels and he practically laughed them out of the Expo.
There are also the ones who really want to espouse their theories about a show (I watched Chief from Battlestar Galactica respond to one once, “I’m just an actor, dude. I’ve got opinions about things, but they’re no more valid than anyone else’s in the room. So, yeah. Next question?”), those who want a hug (Zachary Quinto actually let her. Class act.). Perhaps it’s having a foot in the industry and being and knowing actors, but there is a staggering amount of confusion about the fact that actors are people and not (as many seem to assume) the God Emperor of their franchise.
And then there are the walks.
In a truly classic ‘this is why nerds suck’ vein, you have never seen more actively disruptive and socially unaware walking patterns than you have at an Expo. There’s the ‘lean-forward-stagger’, the ‘I’m trying to dart nimbly through the crowd but lack nimbility’, and, of course, the aforementioned ‘swag seeking missile’ which generally cuts a swarth of awful through any crowd while loudly exclaiming to all within earshot their excitement at swag which is 99.99% of the time from a major, current franchise so it’s no mystery that it exists.
(From last year: the fiancé and I were literally shoved aside by a screaming girl who exclaimed in genuine shock and awe, “OMG! Look! TARDIS earrings!!!” If you throw a rock in any direction at Fan Expo you will hit both Doctor Who merchandise AND someone dressed as the Doctor. It’s the modern day Star Trek. These earrings should be no surprise to anyone with eyes. …unless those eyes were taken out by that rock I threw. In which case, your joy is legitimate and I am sorry for blinding you.)
And for all my ranting, I’m sure I’m in there too.
For the last two years, I haven’t had time to build costumes (as Fan Expo consistently follows a busy theatre season) and thus I’m that ‘half there guy’, the one browsing both the booths and the costumees, but seemingly oddly apart from them.
It’s a little like not wearing a costume to a Hallowe’en party. Particularly the hardcore female cosplayers give you the look of ‘Who wore a Hawiian shirt to Prom?’ thing, which is actually pretty cool. I’m being nerd-shamed and I deserve it.
And yet for all of this, the first time I heard a ‘that is so wrong’ comment from an asshole outside the Convention Centre about a larger girl in an unflattering Sailor Moon costume, I was immediately back on the side of my fellow nerds.
The nerd microcosm is a bit like a family; they’re your people, you’re stuck with them, and some of them are assholes. And frankly, it’s awesome that there’s a place where I can recognize that, because it means we’re all actually being ourselves.
Assholes and all.
Apologies about the formatting, will fix tonight!
The Mr. Spock on my streetcar is violating the Prime Directive several times over.
Rather than the clever combo of a fisherman’s cap to cover the ears and awkward
racial commentary to cover the eyebrows and eyes, which has been used to great effect
in past to hide the presence of an alien on 21st Century, pre-First Contact Earth, he’s
just hanging out. Hanging out and playing Candy Crush on what must seem to Vulcan
eyes to be a hopelessly outdated piece of technology.
I guess he ran out of game time, though, because he swears most un-Vulcanly and
makes a phone call. I guess he missed the whole ‘A Vulcan will show no emotion’ part
of his education (or he was in the heat of Ponn Farr. It’s hard to tell, sometimes.)
We’re getting off at the same stop, so I flash him a ‘Live Long and Prosper.’
He gives me the finger.
If I can find a working communicator at Fan Expo this year, I’m totally going to report
him to Starfleet. Maybe it’ll lead to one of those awesome court martial episodes, where
Kirk has to defend him to a by-the-book admiral.
It’s a fitting start to Fan Expo 2013.
Every year, I make a pilgrimage of sorts to the sweaty, crowded, and infinitely
nerdy (and hallowed) halls of Fan Expo. For the uninitiated, Fan Expo serves as
Toronto’s largest pop culture event; serving the fervent fandoms of film, TV, horror, sci
fi, comics, anime, video games, super heroes, fantasy characters, and collectors (and,
most bizarrely this year, sports fans). The Metro Convention Centre is now entirely
consumed by the event, which has spread across both the north and south buildings
and hosts hundreds fans and celebrities every year.
For many, Fan Expo is about costumes (and indeed some Cosplayers work all year
on elaborate costumes; I have seen some who never enter the Expo itself, instead
installing themselves at the foot of the escalator for adoration and photo ops) or about
scoring rare merch (or in some cases, hilariously nostalgic merch…I saw the mint
condition, unopened Ghostbusters firehouse I spent countless hours playing with going
for $400 today. Glad I still have -and played with- mine). It’s often an orgy of spending
But for me, this is my writer’s retreat; this is where I go to hear my favourite authors,
actors, directors, and effects people unfold their craft. To hear stories from people who
I respect and admire about struggling with writer’s block, or to find acting work.
It’s a reminder that every nerd icon started out (and often still is) just a fan with big
ideas and the ability and perseverance to follow through on them.
The gorgeous women in skin-tight nerd costumes don’t hurt either.
So here I am, embarking once more unto the nerd breach to be inspired, revitalized,
and to nerd right the frak out,
…and also, to have my patience tested by anime fans wearing 6′ wide metal wings
who give exactly zero fucks about crowd control, and nerds with delusions of grandeur,
who really really want to talk at their favourite celebrity while a room of 200 people
wishes a speedy and efficient death upon them.
Game on, Fan Expo.
Fan Expo begins, as is traditional, with a massive ticketing clusterfuck.
Hobby Star, the fine people behind Fan Expo, make a yearly habit of under-estimating
just how many people are coming and -perhaps more importantly- how irate people in
fully leather costumes get when waiting in line.
Ain’t no rage like a nerd rage.
Following the signs to tickets, I blare the Pirates of the Caribbean theme (cuz
I’m cool like that, savy?) which quickly proves to be both highly anti-climactic, though
strangely appropriate. As I am continually rebuked (“No, you need to go down the
street, past Steamwhistle, to a mysterious parking garage.” “No, you have a premium
pass, that’s the north building.” “Oh, that’s actually just your receipt. You had to
click ‘1 of 1’ to open your ticket, then print that.”). Anti-climactic, because by this point
I had played the song four times (each time leading to another dead end, despite my
determination to the contrary). Strangely appropriate, because if viewed from afar, I
was the determined looking guy marching back and forth futility in a highly Captain Jack
Rum would have helped, mind. Why is the rum always gone…?
But finally, I had my printed ticket in hand (leaving my fiancé in line for the shady
underground parking garage, which over my time away had somehow turned into a line
of infinite sadness.)
What followed, was an almost perfect re-enactment of the ‘Jerry gets upgraded to
first class, Elaine does not’ episode of Seinfeld. I arrived to a short line to pick up my
Premium pass (behind an aggravatingly dense nerd in a suit, who repeatedly asked the
ticket lady -who was in the process of giving him his wristband- if she could get him his
ticket. Entitled Suit Nerd earned the coveted position of ‘First Punchable,’ which refers
to the list I will be running of people I want to punch at the Expo.). Got my pass and a
nice, quiet priority entrance, bypassing the frustrated masses (the fiancé, at this point,
was exactly where I left her, as they were processing same day purchases with the
majority of their windows, leaving only one for fools who want to buy a day in advance.)
We premium pass holders get in two hours early, so I was able to take in the sights of
the Expo at my leisure and scoop up a long sought after graphic novel (only to realize I
was a rube minutes later when I found it for my $25 purchase for $4 elsewhere.)
My fiancé, meanwhile, still languished in line.
Then I went to the Premium Lounge. Now, this is a lounge in the most rudimentary
sense; it’s a big fucking subterranean room with a bunch of round tables, but dammit,
it’s our room. (I had secretly hoped to be served drinks by R2-D2 while Slave Leias
danced to Cantina music…but I guess that’s the separate VIP lounge…). I even got to
watch some plebeians kicked out by the awkward 15-year old who was handing out our
premium loot bags. Bwahahaha! Nerd privilege.
The fiancé, by this point, had finally been told a second window had opened, only to
be told by said window that they were only selling same day tickets and to get back in
line for other tickets. This led to a verbal sparring match the likes of which…
Who am I kidding. The nerds revolted and the poor site manager sold them their
Nevertheless, I was feeling pretty happy with the premium tickets by this point. I kept
this to myself.
If you’ve never been, here’s the sight that greets you when you finally pass all the
hurdles and make it to the hall.
PHOTO COMING SOON
The space is roughly divided into a large retail space (in turn sub-divided into comics,
collectables, and costumes), Artist’s Alley which is an incredible place to find some truly
beautiful art or purchase commissions from a favorite comic artist (and responsible for
the majority of the art in my apartment), and large demo areas for new video games and
film memorabilia/displays. Present in this space, one finds horror, sci fi, comics, anime,
and some gaming. There is also a food court, with a surprising amount of options (a far
cry from the ALL PIZZA PIZZA, ALL THE TIME philosophy of years gone by).
In the hallway, smaller rooms are reserved for screenings, games, seminars, and
Q&A’s (which are the core of my experience). This year, the festival wisely spread into
the second convention hall building, moving the celebrity signings and big guests into
the larger space. This also allowed for the addition of perhaps the largest ‘times they
are a-changing’ section of the Expo: the sports section. Was a time nerds and sports
fans were oil and water; now we’re sharing wristbands.
All of this was before me, as I entered the Expo…but Thursday is new and a bit slow. I
picked a couple events and made my way…
SKETCH DUEL, LEE BERMEJO VS RYAN STEGMAN
This is a unique and often under-attended event at Fan Expo and one that only
came to my attention last year (when I had been following comics enough to actually
appreciate who these people were).
The concept is a neat one: two or three artists are given an hour to draw a character
picked by the audience live, while answering questions from the audience. At the
end of the hour, the two drawings are given away by raffle. It’s an incredible way to
score some free work from top artists while also getting a peak at their process and
personality. Unfortunately, due to the time constraints, the process often proves more
enlightening than the forced responses to questions that are really only distracting them
from what they are doing, but it’s a cool process nevertheless.
The two I wanted to see are a couple of my favorites, though their styled wildly differ.
Bermejo is the artist behind Joker, Luthor, and most recently Batman: Noel, with an
incredibly detailed, almost oil painting style (which he admits is heavily influenced by
Norman Rockwell, which was a revelatory ‘THAT’S what it reminds me of’ gasp from
me). Stegman, on the other hand is a regular artist on my favourite Spider-Man comic,
using a much more cartoony style influenced heavily by Todd MacFarlane’s runs on
Spider-Man and Spawn.
One of my favourite parts of such duels is the chance to see artists draw someone
they never do (I saw the incredible Amanda Conner draw a mash-up of Daenerys
Targaryen and Marvel’s Squirrel Girl. Which was awesome beyond explanation).
This year, the requests were Lex Luthor holding Krytonite (easy for Bermjo, who did a
whole book on Luthor), Hawkeye, ‘a totally legit’ Aquaman, Dr. Who (shot down by both
artists), and finally Spider-Man as requested by an adorable little dude holding a Spidey
Stegman applauded this, so it was chosen, which is a bit of a bummer, since we see
his Spidey on a bi-monthly basis, but nevertheless the two drew awesome Spider-Men.
Part of the problem with interviewing visual artists as they work is that they often aren’t
that talkative to begin with, let alone when working. The conversation was fairly stilted,
though there were a few awesome moments between the artists, where they spoke
about each other’s work, and a great anecdote from Stegman about finding out the
entire top secret arc about Doc Ock taking over as Spider-Man from the writer Dan Slott
in a pizza place during a comic expo, where basically the scoop of the year was being
loudly discussed but went entirely unnoticed.
The end results went, improbably, to 395914 and 395915 (who were dour and moody
in victory), but were all made worthwhile by the little suggestion dude, who literally
gasped in awe when the image was displayed, “It’s Spidey!’
There isn’t a lot at these expos just for kids, but in a lot of ways, this duel was. And
There were a bunch of highly specific comic nerd things that came up during this, that
I have neglected to mention, but if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll give you the
HOLY SHIT, IT’S STAN LEE.
I got chills when Stan Lee strode epically onto the stage. At 92, the man has more
energy and wonder in him than half of audience (I’m looking at you, jaded asshole
circling his guidebook instead of listening). The man is a legend, having created
Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, Doctor
Strange, and countless others. Particularly since the advent of the Marvel film universe,
the man’s creations have had an incredible and lasting effect on popular culture and
seeing the legend in the flesh was damn inspiring.
Stan is basically a cross between a kindly, eccentric, elderly uncle and an old-timey
vaudevillian showman. He is unabashedly honest about the real driving force behind
all of his greatest creation being financial (“It was my job. I had to come up with super
heroes or I’d get fired. Your boss says come up with a super hero, you damn well
better come up with a super hero.”), but is also so proud of the stories he’s told that
he practically glows. His voice, if you haven’t heard it, bares a striking resemblance to
George Carlin’s, though with a twinkle in his eye and constant sense of bemusement,
that the gruffer more cynical Carlin lacked.
He is also full of quips and glee, handling many questions with a flippant remark and
a shrug (among the best: “I wasn’t in Wolverine because it was shot in Australia and
it was too far to swim,” Question: “You’re 92, what’s your secret for living so long?”
Answer: “Don’t die.”)
But the true brilliance of Stan Lee lies in his simple, clean understanding of how to tell
a super hero story. He speaks of giving legendary artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko
the story, without dialogue, which he broke down into: the story, who the villain was,
what the villain was doing, how the hero would stop them, and the ending. Reflecting
on older comics, this model is everywhere and helped shape and define the genre. Its
a useful, reductionist attitude for a writer like myself who is generally insistent on wildly
over complicating my outlines.
I also found it found particularly interesting that Stan would only add dialogue after
receiving the art, to ensure that it synced up perfectly with the images (unimaginable in
the industry today, where scripts often resemble film scripts). This proved particularly
useful when Kirby added a random naked silver guy on a surf board to a panel involving
Galactus, since he thought a world eating super alien ought to have a sentinel that
would scout worlds for him. By accident, the Silver Surfer was born.
In his creation, Stan talks about looking at what hasn’t (or hadn’t) been done.
Spider-Man was born of a lack of teenage heroes and heroes with problems (quoteth
Stan “Superman’s biggest problem was that if he took off his glasses, everyone would
know he was Superman or some damn thing.”). Even this was too revolutionary for his
editor who killed the idea stating that people hated spiders, teenagers could only be
sidekicks, and that super heroes didn’t have problems because they were super heroes;
so Stan dumped it on the final issue of a dying book (Amazing Fantasy) and after wildly
successful sales, Spider-Man got his own book. But he’s always looking to fill a gap
which has led to some awesome, awesome characters.
Iron Man, for instance, was born of the idea of taking a character no one liked and
making him likeable. In the height of the 60s, he took all the things his audience hated
-the military industrial complex, wealth, capitalism- and combined them into Tony Stark
(who he based on Howard Hughes, a fact so obvious it has become obscure again).
The response from smitten female readers was through the roof. It was yet another
successful gamble (and he could not be more about Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man.)
When pressed to pick a favourite, he begrudgingly goes with Spider-Man (his Mickey
Mouse), but loves them all. At Expos like this, you sometimes see indifference to things
people created or starred as, but Stan Lee lights up naming all of his characters. He
absolutely loves them, which is inspiring and truly touching. I suspect he loves these
heroes as much as we do.
“I’m my own biggest fan,” he grins.
And he leaves us with one final tidbit, which I think might be a Q&A first for him since
it came so far off the cuff, but he admitted that he has a terrible time with names in life
and writing, so almost all of his characters have the same letter begin their first and last
name (Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Scott
Summers, Stephen Strange, Warren Worthington, Otto Octavious, Dr. Doom, Green
Goblin…) because he could use the letter of their first or last name to spark his memory
for the other name.
As a fan and a writer, there are few more inspiring things than seeing someone who
has created all these wonderfully arresting things, still be as excited about them as you
are; and when he left the stage yelling his trademark “Excelsior!” You can’t help but be
the true believer he always called you in the narration boxes of his comics.
Film: Resident Evil Retribution
Games: Resident Evil 1, 2, 4, 6…sort of.
Resident Evil Retribution opens with one of my favourite Simpsons tropes of all time:
“Well it’s come to this: a Resident Evil plot clip show.”
We get the longest “My name is Alice” spiel ever, as Milla Jovovich troopers through the entire twisted Resident Evil film continuity to-date. For a continuity nerd like me, this is appreciated but needless, however it did highlight something kinda important about this series: The original Resident Evil film debuted eleven years ago, in 2002. It’s a testament both the Milla Jovovich’s charisma, the zombie genre, and Japan’s continued interest in the franchise that these films are still being made.
Yep, there are more movies in this franchise than in Indiana Jones. Look on my works ye mighty and despair.
And thus, a clip show is entirely necessary for bringing us up to speed before launching into the penultimate (and fifth) film in the series…while the film is certainly leagues better than Resident Evil Afterlife (not a terribly high benchmark…), the question remains: how does it link-up to the abysmal Resident Evil 6?
Well, that’s the weird part: 11 years in, the film’s focus has turned its eyes away from the games and inward toward itself; a zombie snake eating its own tale (or an ouroboros, for those supernerds in the house). Much like with Resident Evil Extinction, this is actually a good thing, as the films have created their own mythology over the years which is just as complex and absurd as the games that inspired them. By focusing inward, we get a better movie more consistent with the film universe and thus more rewarding as a viewing audience.
Now, we aren’t entirely free of video game insertions. Not by a long shot. But ever since Resident Evil Apocalypse, the games and movies have had a tenuous relationship at best, often just shoe-horning in name characters for the sake of ‘the fans,’ leading to the horrendously non-nonsensical Resident Evil Afterlife. This is still present in Retribution (adding Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, and Barry Burton into the mix), but their introduction is plot based-ish rather than “Hey, we have Chris Redfield in a jail cell for some reason. Look, a 3D effect!” Also, we don’t get the weird antagonistic ‘our characters are better!’ attitude of Resident Evil Apocalypse, instead we get game characters in the place of random commandos, which works just fine.
Now, given that likely few-to-none of you saw the film (I didn’t) let’s take a quick look at what this damn movie is about:
Retribution opens with a stylish backward action sequence (which is one of the first interesting visual ideas presented in the series in some time), picking up immediately after the ending of Afterlife with the entirely unmotivated assault on the remainsof humanity by Umbrella because sure-why-not. It’s a quick palette cleanser to kill off Chris and Claire and all the other people we don’t want to pay anymore before we’re off to a neat little sequence in a house, which highlights a key problem in a 5-film continuous zombie franchise: if you declare Earth extinct and overrun in the third film, you’re going to have a bad time.
Had to. It’s like internet law now.
So, we jump back to pre-infection, with Alice married to Carlos and yet another kid-to-protect-for-a-film daughter (who is deaf! Instant character depth!). Naturally: zombies happen. And we get a brief pre-infection sequence, which reads a lot like the flash-sideways sequences late in LOST, where we see familiar figures from throughout the franchise exhibiting strange behavior.
She never stays dead.
Well, it quickly ends in death and sadness, before we get our obligatory ‘Alice in skimpy medical scrubs in giant Umbrella room’ sequence, where brainwashed via “Resident Evil 5 chest scarab” Jill Valentine delivers lines like a speak-and-spell. We discover we’re in an Umbrella facility full of clones and simulations (hence that weird ‘Japan outbreak’ at the beginning of Extinction) that Umbrella has been using to build weapons. Okay, so to recap: clones. Every fucking character we’ve ever liked who worked for Umbrella had tonnes of clones around. We’re talking ‘that door room from Monsters, Inc‘ numbers of clones.
Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas‘ handiwork, no doubt.
Alice and Ada (who is a generic super soldiery type) have to fight their way through various locations around the world (in the underground facility) to meet up with an extraction team (of familiar movie and game characters). Along the way, they end up fighting all our favourites: Michelle Rodriguez (back from the dead, just like Fast and the Furious 6!), the captain from the first one who got laser walled (the excellent and highly underrated Colin Salmon), and of course Carlos ‘That Guy From the Mummy!’ Alvarez (we’re missing Lane Pryce and Jorah Mormont…but what’re you gonna do…) It’s actually a really fun conceit and all the video game characters actually make sense in this one (and act like themselves). We also get our first on-screen kill of a video game character (sorry Barry.)
He was infuriatingly close to saying ‘Jill sandwich’ but didn’t. FAIL!
Gamewise, the added characters of Leon (Resident Evil 2, 4, 6) and Ada (2, 4, 6) are two of the 7 main characters of RE6 (you read that right. 7.) so we have our obligatory connection, we get a locational similarity (RE6 was very globe-trotty, the tagline of Retribution was ‘Evil goes global’) and frankly, that’s all we want. I never wanted to see Las Plagus (explained as a mutation. Sure.) or the nail-headed guy (explained as a bioweapon. Sure, I guess.) but seeing a couple of familiar faces instead of randoms? Cool. Other than that, we’ve got a movie about the movies and a game about the games (sort of).
And this makes me very happy.
As I stated above, the inclusion of video game storylines like Nemesis has been consistently frustrating, but here the most references we get are to the earlier films and it’s a lot of fun having them back. The main enemy is the Licker, the Red Queen computer has decided to KILL ALL HUMANS, Michelle Rodriquez is back being awesome. And most importantly, it honours the fans of it’s own series, not the games that spawned it.
Yet again, the film succeeds by giving us the ‘twist ending’ of Alice arriving in Washington (Wesker is still alive for some reason) and learns that former ‘KILL ALL HUMANS’ Wesker now wants to save all humans, makes Alice magic again, and ends with a Helms Deep-esque seige of the White House.
Fuck it, why not.
Word to the wise: don’t get the elven master archer to shoot the bomb guy. Despite that shield-surfing thing a few minutes ago, he will totally fail now that it matters.
It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it evokes my favorite elements of many of the previous ones (especially the first) and has pointed to an actual series ending, which we need after 11 years.
So, yet again, the quest continues. By the next film, Resident Evil 7 will be upon us and we can put this article to bed once and for all. But in the meantime, I’m happy to say the films have finally come into their own (again) and the film franchise might get the ending its fans deserve.
And after 11 years, they deserve one hell of one.
It’ll probably have a laser hallway.
So, much, much delayed, here is the continuation of the Resident Evil Movie/Game comparison; after finishing this piece next week with ‘Retribution,’ I shall be back to more regular material! See you then? *He said hopefully, with tears in his eyes*
Resident Evil Extinction and Resident Evil Afterlife are strange beasts, by comparison to their predecessors, mostly because after declaring global extinction in Extinction, they violently shift the plot away from anything resembling the games’ timeline (where outbreaks are frequent, but never global in scale). As a result, I’m going to give each one a truncated look before moving on to the latest to see just how our little experiment in video game movie adventuring has turned out.
FILM: Resident Evil: Extinction
GAMES: Resident Evil 1, 2
I actually was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed this one. After Apocalypse I was pretty much ready to give up on this whole affair, but lo and behold, here’s a film that operates on its own and is better for it. The three plots follow Alice-in-exile learning to lift rocks with her unpredictable Jedi powers and fighting random evil redneck racists (as seems to happen to every good apocalypse survivor), Carlos and our pimp friend from the previous film have teamed up with a convoy of survivors in Mad Max style vehicles, and Dr. Jorah Mormont who is working hard to impress Resident Evil mainstay Albert Wesker (the perennial villain of the series, portrayed by the guy from Terra Nova in this one) by developing a new Alice and domesticating zombies so the evil corporate retreat underground doesn’t become a permanent home. All these elements work well together and for the first time in a while, Umbrella’s motives start to make sense again: they accidentally wiped out most of the human race, but they want to rebuild, to ‘return to the surface’ as it were.
There’s some fun business about recreating Alice by putting clones through a simulation of the first film that is all kinds of neat, as it allows set pieces (laser Cube room!) to get more play, as well as allowing for a great climax in the laser room. It evokes the best film of the franchise and reminds us why these movies matter at all as a distinct entity.
In game terms, the convoy is run by Claire Redfield, hero of the second game and Resident Evil: Code Veronica
What’s neat about this is that the film Claire is entirely her own film character. She shares the ‘strong, inventive, leader’ qualities of the game character, but the similarities end there. Unlike Jill, they just wrote a character, slapped a familiar name on her and then actually wrote a character. A welcome change.
The story plays out like a mix of The Walking Dead (ragtag band of survivors on-the-move) and serves almost as a sequel to Romero’s Land of the Dead (with highly organized people dealing with a complete wasteland). Alice finds a random book that implies safety in Alaska…
So that’s where the convoy endeavors to go. Along the way we get classic zombie tropes (our friendly neighborhood pimp gets bitten and-in a kind of awesome and rare choice for an established zombie universe-just doesn’t tell anyone. This leads to Carlos getting bitten by his friend, which is a nice little moment.) as well as a couple neat last-stand type of events, first against crows (see below) and then a good ol’ fashioned zombie throw-down in sand-sunk Las Vegas. It’s a fun film with really good action sequences; Alice is likable again, there’s no jerky cam…all is as right with the world as this franchise can make it!
The two major game inclusions in this one come in the form of the Tyrant (the original boss of the first game and a nice inclusion as what Jorah evolves into)
And crows. The central villains of this film are crows, weirdly enough; but if you’ve played one of the original Resident Evil games, you know just how awful these beaked motherfuckers are.
They were, in a lot of ways, the original Nemesis monster, breaking through windows randomly and hard to hit because they were constantly in motion. Given how limited your ammo (and ability to aim) was, this proved to be legitimately difficult to contend with. For the film, they make the biggest damn murder of crows you can think of and have the bastards swarm the convoy. It’s a neat scene, much different than what’s been done previously and leads to a truly stunning visual moment where Alice uses her newfound Jedi powers to set the sky on fire. Badass.
As always, the film can’t just end, so we get a denouement of Alice unplugging her army of clones and declaring war on Umbrella. Nifty.
The film does, of course, have its share of problems: remember that little girl they spent all that time saving in the second film? Neither do they. (Although according to Wikipedia, the novelization details how Umbrella mind controlled Alice into killing her. Neat! Now THAT’S how you open a film! …also, they made an novelization. Tee hee.) Jill is also mysteriously absent (though she does come back in Afterlife) And then there’s Ashanti (yep, that Ashanti) who is inexplicably present as the badass medic. Then she dies. Yep.
But all-in-all, a much better film and a step in the right direction.
So naturally, the only way to follow that up is to take a massive leap backwards into crappytown.
Which brings us to Afterlife.
FILM: Resident Evil: Afterlife
GAMES: Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5
This film just straight up sucks. It’s a mess of boring ideas, awkward slow motion sequences, odd video game inclusions, unlikable/meaningless characters, and useless 3D moments (look! I’m throwing shit at the camera! Be impressed! SO IMPRESSED!)
WOW! A DAGGER CAME RIGHT OUT OF THE SCREEN AT ME! I hope the wonders of 1952 impress just as much!
The film’s plot is tweetable and empty. Allow me:
“Alice goes Matrix, clones die, can’t find friends, then finds one, then goes to a prison, then fights super Wesker on a ship IN 3D #boourns”
So, yeah. All those clones? Dead in one big Matrix shoot-out. Kinda neat, but suffers from the usual clone problems (like Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) where when clones watch other clones die…they just don’t care. No big deal. Despite the fact that they are all independent and individual…they understand we don’t need to care about them, so they don’t care about themselves. Jolly decent of them.
Then big bad Wesker de-powers Alice with a Bag of Spilling maneuver, because, whoops…now she’s too powerful. Awful. She’s still a super ninja, but no more super powers. Ummm…what?
We’ve been told for three movies how she’s super special and magical, but turns out, one good injection…not so much anymore! Bet Dr. Mormont wishes he’d known that.
The prison is the bulk of the film and is filled with cardboard characters that might as well be wearing red shirts on Star Trek. They all have exactly one detail about them and die almost as quickly as you can forget said detail. The main joy of the ‘prison’ is a) No Lori and Carl *winks knowingly at Walking Dead fans* and b) that it is Robarts Library at the University of Toronto, both inside and out. (And if you’ve spent any time in there, you know it’s damn near a prison. I think they actually had to make the interior MORE cheery for the film…)
From the games, we get a bunch of random shit, none of which fits what is actually going on…
For example: in Resident Evil 4 (and later 5), the standard zombie enemy is replaced by a parasite based creature that means when the enemies get up close, the parasite comes out of the mouth and eats your face. Awful. In Afterlife (which came out around RE5), the zombies now arbitrarily do this to tie the film and current game together…but this makes no sense in context of the universe they’ve created. Nothing has happened to change the zombies, they are just able to do this now, magically. Even the zombie dogs can do this now. Just because.
They also included the executioner character who already makes little sense in the game and even less in-film. Why is there a seven foot tall executioner wandering the streets of LA with his death metal axe? Who is he? Why is he here?
The simple answer: he was in the game. As one of the most visually identifiable enemies of the new game, can understand the inclusion, but as is the case with the parasites it doesn’t fit the reality of the film (overblown zombie-tastic reality that it is…)
Then there are the ‘mind control scarabs,’ used in Resident Evil 5 to provide a shootable target for the player to hit while fighting mind-controlled Jill Valentine (as seen at the end of this film). In a game, having something that looks so silly is fine because we understand it has to be hit-able from a gameplay perspective…but in a film it looks horrendously out of place. It’s like when Bubastus shows up in the last few minutes of the Watchmen film. There was a collective “Wtf?” from the audience, who were suddenly faced a creature that one guy yelled out “looks like Snagglepuss.” Comics readers recognized it, but in the world of the film, it came out of nowhere. Same with the weird mind control scarab.
And finally we have Wesker and Chris, long standing characters from the games, who are plunked down into this film because they featured heavily in Resident Evil 5. They even include all Wesker’s Matrix style moves from the game (recreated perfectly) and a weird moment where Wesker throws his sunglasses and Chris catches them.
The attempt to make Wesker the central villain whose goal is using Umbrella to capture survivors to experiment on them is all kinds of ridiculous. In the previous film, Umbrella was just trying to return to the surface. Fine, that all makes sense. Now they’re capturing survivors to…do more tests? What the hell? The world ended and they’re still carrying out pointless, evil experiments? Ugh. Awful. Wesker tries to claim he needs new DNA, but they were already capturing people before he took the T-Virus…soooo….?
The film ends with an army of helicopters attacking our heroes, because apparently Umbrella still has nothing better to do than be the most evil all the time forever.
It’s a complete fumble, incredibly incoherent and generally boring. I don’t really know if the series can redeem itself; but I suppose I’ll find out with Retribution…
Gamers who love consistent storytelling and continuity: we are a dangerous breed.
RESIDENT EVIL APOCALYPSE
FILM: Resident Evil: Apocalypse
GAMES: Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil: Code Veronica
The first Resident Evil movie is a fantastic example of how to take a pre-existing mythology and re-purpose it for film. It took the important elements of the game and transposed them into a strange hybrid action/horror film, filled with scenes that could live just as easily in Final Destination or Saw. It was its own product while still tapping into the series that spawned it.
And then the sequel came out.
The big problem (and it is a big fucking problem) comes with the success of ‘being your own product’: sometimes you begin to think your product is better than the original. That your characters, scenarios, and ideas about the original are superior and should be presented as such. For the most part, this is a big mistake.
See also: X3: The Last Stand, Terminator Salvation, Transformers 2 & 3, Batman and Robin or pretty much anything else that takes characters and stories you like and throws them under a bus to promote their own weird agenda.
And that’s what we get with Resident Evil Apocalypse: a film that decides a) to directly plug into the game continuity and include popular game characters and b) make the film characters much, much cooler and more important than the game characters. This should immediately raise some red flags: much like a film adaptation of a favorite book, why should I be more excited because you’re putting something I already know and like on film? Now, for a lot of fans on Twitter (I follow Milla Jovoitch), the mere close, physical approximation of the video game character is, for some reason, super exciting and the bestest ever. Maybe I’m not the target audience (though as a die-hard Resident Evil fan I could have sworn I was…)
If you’re lucky enough not to have seen this movie, here’s the breakdown:
The film is based primarily on Resident Evil 3: Nemesis while borrowing liberally from cut scenes in Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Following the first film, the T-Virus has gotten loose in Raccoon City and has turned the populace into zombies. Alice, our hero from the first film, has been woken up by Umbrella to test her newly augmented abilities (turns out, they injected her with the virus and made her into a super hero because sure-why-not). Presumably after consulting their ‘Do The Most Evil Thing All The Time Forever’ corporate mandate plaque, Umbrella decides to pit super hero Alice against slow and lumbering Nemesis. Meanwhile, Mad Men‘s Lane Pryce is trying to save his daughter, who is stuck in the city before Umbrella nukes the place.
Alice teams up with video game character and hero of the first and third games Jill Valentine, and Carlos Rivera: hero of the third game and ancestral protector of Hamunaptra.
And a fast talking pimp who, by an incredibly strange twist of fate, ends up being the most likable character in the film. He also played “Black Jim” in The Hangover
This rag-tag group of wacky characters attempt to save Lane Pryce’s daughter (played by the little girl who played the Red Queen computer in the first film; well played, movie.) and try and escape the city.
The plot itself works just fine, with Lane (playing Dr. Ashford, a nod to the most important name in Resident Evil lore as the founder of Umbrella) offering escape in exchange for his daughter’s safety. And frankly, the first ten minutes are all kinds of awesome.
Things go pear-shaped pretty fast though.
I distinctly remember the moment in the theatre when I realized that something had gone horribly awry: zombies are taking over the city (awesome!) and then they mob an alleyway…and the director slaps on a weird, jerky-cam that was, I suspect, meant to dial up the horror of the zombies…but instead reads as a relic of older films that has been rightly ditched because it looks like shit. It takes any horror at impending zombie apocalypse and instead makes you go, “Oh, not to worry. I’m watching an 80’s music video.” It doesn’t affect the plot in the slightest, but stands as a herald of bad things to come.
Despite some awesome zombie scenes (intercut with the occasional jerky-cam fiasco), the undead quickly disappear from the film. You know that film you’re watching about zombies? Neither does the director. In an interview about the film, I recall the writer and director talking about how this was a ‘super hero film’.
NO, IT ISN’T.
These are super hero movies.
And here’s my second major problem: super hero Alice. Now in the first film, we had a kick ass heroine, who pulled off some top-shelf action hero stuff (running up a wall and kicking a zombie dog mid-air, for instance) while still being a vulnerable, likable character. Alice had great empathy for the people and events around her, which made us fear for her (and cheer for her) amongst characters that we really couldn’t care less about.
But then we get slapped with “badass action hero syndrome” where, in order to make the hero seem cooler, Alice becomes an unlikable jerkass. We’re talking ‘Emo Spider-Man’ unlikable. We’re expected to take this as ‘Alice has become hardened by her experiences in the first film’ but instead we get a stoic jackass who insults everyone and their genuine concern about being stuck in a zombie infested city because, fuck them. We get eventual warmth when the little girl shows up (and when they start building the Carlos/Alice relationship a bit, which is nice), but not before any goodwill we had toward red dress wearing, often naked Alice of the first film has burned away. Unto itself, not a tremendous problem, but when coupled with my third major complaint it becomes damn near unpalatable: now that Alice is an unlikable, stoic action hero (with some good ol’ fashioned emo hatred of everything that’s happening forever) all the glib dismissive lines she spews at the beloved video game characters are very hard to stomach.
This is primarily in reference to Jill Valentine, who Resident Evil fans identify very closely with as one of the main characters of the first game (you are offered the choice to play as her or Chris ‘Apparently I was on Prison Break‘ Redfield) as well as the hero of the third game (wearing her hilarious ‘casual outfit’ that she gets stuck in while trying to escape the city). In this film, she is a weird, proxy Alice; embodying all the warm but heroic characteristics of her in the first film, while everyone (herself included) comments on how much less useful she is than Alice. The main culprit line after Alice kills three lickers while nary batting an eyelash:
Jill: I’m good, but I’m not THAT good.
Translation: Hey movie character, you sure are more awesome than I am. Video games suck.
This would be like making a movie set in the Mario universe, introducing a bunch of characters (like Super Carlo, the plumber hero! He wears magenta or something) who reference the fact that they are in the Mario world, then saying “Hey, we should bring in Mario! This is a series set in the Mario world, after all.”
So in comes Mario, but all he wants to talk about is how much more awesome Super Carlo is. WHY BOTHER? Why would you want to bring in a fan favorite character, to appease the fans, and then slag them? Terrible.
Nemesis falls into this camp too. In the games, this guy was fucking terrifying. He would stalk you mercilessly, appearing in random locations and growling “S.T.A.R.S.” (which still sends a shiver down the spine of many an RE player). And then mid-way through the game, because being an unkillable monster that punches your face off repeatedly isn’t scary enough, they give him a fucking rocket launcher.
Here’s my favorite encounter: there’s a safe room, where you can save and manage your supplies that will never have monsters in it. Great. It’s a place of comfort and love, like Joe’s happy place in Fight Club, but with less penguins and more ammo chests. I exited (as I had several times before) into a tight, confined alleyway…and, SURPRISE! There’s my ol’ pal Nemesis standing directly outside the door. He yelled “S.T.A.R.S!” and proceeded to instantly murder me, by lifting my character up and impaling her face with a horrific wrist spike.
It was traumatic. It was an awesome, random, unscripted moment and punished me for thinking I was ever safe anywhere. Lesson learned, Resident Evil.
His story in the game is that Nemesis is a more advanced version of the Tyrant monsters that we’ve been fighting since game one, but where these things have been final bosses or limited to certain areas before, he’s just going to be everywhere. And he’s been sent to kill all witnesses to the events of the first game (namely: you) and thus is hunting you and the S.T.A.R.S team. Makes sense, I suppose. It worked just fine within the game logic and was all kinds of awesome.
The movie, on the other hand, decides this isn’t cool enough, as S.T.A.R.S have never been a part of the series. Fine. Their solution is to turn Nemesis into a Terminator style creature that is controlled by computers and has ‘computer vision’ that gives him threat analysis for some reason. He gets to say “S.T.A.R.S!” because Umbrella decides to test him against them (without explanation as their existence) as they are holed up in a restaurant and they straight-up pirate the Terminator 2 moment where Arnie shoots everything but cops (except Nemesis shoots everything but pimps). This effectively turns this awesome and relentless monster into a glorified RC car. The scheme is that they want to pit Alice (fast and agile) against Nemesis (slow and heavy) against each other to figure out what the best new weapon is.
To recap: the fast, agile, (and painfully stoic) lady with free will versus the slow, lumbering, computer controlled goon. Gee, whoever will win? Also, if we have the power to control organics like computers, why aren’t we controlling Alice like that too, rather than letting her run amok of the town fighting us and such?
So, Nemesis follows orders (until he doesn’t) and takes voice commands instead of computer inputs (sure-why-not) and gets his ass kicked by the faster Alice. Then they remember zombies should be in the movie, so they show up at the end. Yay.
They completely robbed Jill of her villain, robbed Nemesis of his teeth, and all because they wanted to further glorify Alice. Boo-urns.
This is the movie they promised me at the end of the previous film and it was a good one. Instead, Alice immediately finds a gunshop and gets dressed up in this:
And immediately begins riding motorcycles into churches FOR NO REASON!
It’s a shame we lost a chance to follow an interesting character try and navigate Zombietown, USA (aka Toronto) and it’s particularly strange that they advertised it that way.
The ending of the film does bring some hope, as Alice dies in a helicopter accident only to be revived (naked again, as is Umbrella’s way) by the head evil scientist Jorah Mormont!
Leading to a great ending sequence where super-powered telekenetic Alice murders people by looking at them. The ending to this film essentially primes us for super-powered Alice in the next film, the way the first film primed us for ‘human against the world’ Alice. It all works until Carlos, Jill, and “Black Jim” the Pimp show up in Umbrella uniforms and save her from the CNE. (It makes NO SENSE. I particularly enjoy the little girl popping up from the back seat. Standard issue little girl for Umbrella vehicles? That security checkpoint sure does seem to think so!) And then, in a nifty final moment, Dr. Jorah Mormont activates Alice making her pupils go Umbrella logo. What does it mean??? Excitement!
Of particular note to Torontonians is this little gem (at 7:34 in the video): make sure to imagine that Rob Ford is working late at night for this…
You cut Transit City, Transit City cuts you.
And so ends the saga of the horrific hybrid child of Resident Evil: Nemesis and the film franchise. Never again shall we see so much video game weirdness forced into one film, instead seeing various elements and characters bleed in. But this? This is a special kind of disaster.
Call the Umbrella clean-up crew…we need another nuke down here.
PART ONE: Resident Evil-The First Movie, The First Game, and When the Series Worked
The first time I played Resident Evil 1 on PlayStation, I was still squimish about blood in video games. I didn’t like it. I didn’t watch horror movies (I actually fled the theatre in fear when I saw Ernest Scared Stupid as a kid. …but actually.) And the limitations that the game forced on you as a player scared the hell out of me. These limitations were half technological, half by design: every room you walked into was pre-designed, so no matter where you entered from, the camera angle was pre-determined and “forward” (up) meant “forward” everywhere. If your character was facing toward the camera, away from the camera, WAS the camera (okay, that never happened) up meant forward, down meant back, and fuck you for trying to move in general, because Resident Evil wants you to die. Your character moved like a tank. But, for the way they designed the game, it made a twisted kind of sense (at the time they couldn’t render 3D in realtime, so instead they pre-built a nice looking level and let you tank around it). And there were limited save games (based on typewriter ink ribbons.) meaning you could actually run out of your ability to save your progress, if you weren’t frugal. And there was also a permanent limit on ammo in the game, which is (still) horrifying. If you stood in a corner firing bullets, you could actually ruin the entire game for yourself. Awesome, yes. Terrifying…hells yes.
But one day, I was on an airplane back from summer in Vancouver and was reading a walkthrough for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and suddenly I understood. I had a Virgil to my Dante in the realm of Resident Evil (Literary high five, English students!) and so I rented Resident Evil 3: Nemesis…and I got hooked. I played it on Easy Mode (unlimited saves, an assault rifle at the start of the game, zombies who only look at you funny…no, seriously, it was about that lame). It was awesome. A good friend of mine and I fell permanently in love with the series then, and with the help of walkthroughs, I played through the first two games. I also got into Evil Dead and Romero, and suddenly understood the B-Movie Charm of the whole damn series.
And then, suddenly, they were making a movie.
The first description of the movie I heard was that it featured ‘Alice the Zombie Killer’ fighting an evil computer, followed by a sufficient amount of ‘video game magazine covering movie’ eye rolling. (I followed suit…this had nothing to do with the game…)
I would have watched it, and judged it, but I was barred by my parents (because they heard that you saw Milla Jovovitch’s vagina in it…you do, it’s glorious.) from seeing it, until the aforementioned friend and I illicitly rented it (heh, remember when that was a thing?) and watched it.
And actually, that first film was pretty damn good.
Resident Evil actually stands the test of time as one of the best video game to film adaptations of all time…sadly not so for its sequels…but below, I offer for the approval of the Midnight Society (and, you know, Wha Happen readers…we get a lot of overlap)…
RESIDENT EVIL: The How the Movie and Games (Occasionally, only sorta, or in the worst way possible) Line Up.
FILM: Resident Evil
GAMES: Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
First up, we’ve got the best of the bunch. Despite having a plotline entirely separate from the games, this is the only film that attempts to inhabit the same world as the games, which as a fan means a whole helluva lot more to me than: “Oh, there’s my favorite character from the games!…played by the guy from Prison Break…and in the movie for two minutes…and…why?”* *See Resident Evil Afterlife.
I’m here because…uh…Prison Tattoo?
For the uninitiated, the main points are:
1)There is an evil uber corporation called Umbrella that makes pharmaceuticals publicly, but secretly develops weapons for ‘the government or something’ in the form of biological weapons. ZOMBIES! (Amongst other monsters). For me, this was my first ‘science zombie’ plotline and made a hell of a lot of sense to me, particularly because it was spelled out charmingly in absurdly over-detailed Memos that evil scientists left everywhere. Literally, everywhere. Would that life were so easy…
As the stories go along, Umbrella’s power grows radically (think every possible evil corporation trope in a blender and you have the right idea. Evil CEOs, evil commandos, evil scientists…seriously, it’s like an entire company of Bernie Madoffs.
2) There are zombies and various monsters made for…you know, evil sake. There’s a virus (The T-Virus!) that turns things into zombies, or monsters, etc. It means there are a variety of wacky monsters to fight to spice things up (and make you waste your precious, precious items). In the later games, these tend to become more and more humanoid (like the guy with the bizarre super axe…)
“So we made this virus to turn people into zombies and such.”
“Cool. Why does he have that giant, chain-wrapped, axe thing?”
“I saw it on the cover of a metal album.”
3) Everything has an overly complicated puzzle to open things. This can range from passcoded doors everywhere, to regular keys, to Indiana Jones-level-of-wacky key items (you need to find the upper wings, lower wings, and golden dragon fly body, combine them, then put them in a door to open THE LAB. WHY?! WHAT SCIENTIST CARRIES AROUND A MULTI-PART DRAGONFLY KEY TO OPEN HIS WORKPLACE???)
COMPLICATED PUZZLE OF SCIENCE! Science! science! science!
Impressively, the first film brings in all these elements in clever and appropriate ways. The first game follows the S.T.A.R.S. Team (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad) that just so happens to work for the local police department is sent in to investigate a series of murders (and a missing S.T.A.R.S team) in an Umbrella owned mansion. The mansion turns out to be a front for the super evil lab beneath, there are betrayals aplenty, many zombies, and eventually everything gets blown up. Awesome. It’s campy as hell, and opens with the greatest cinematic ever committed to video game disc (jump ahead to the 1:00 mark, that’s where the magic begins…):
Academy Award Winner: Most Batshit Crazy Video, 1998.
It also had such unbelievably awesome lines as:
(Having just escaped a classic ‘walls are closing in’ trap, a la Trash Compactor on the Death Star): “You almost became a Jill Sandwich!”
“…Yes, I almost died. It was horrifically traumatic. Fuck you.”
And one character being declared (unironically) “The MASTER of unlocking!”
I always get Paul W.S. Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson confused…
The film follows another mansion in the outskirts of Raccoon City that covers an exterior entrance to the main lab (different from the game lab…there are a lot of labs. Umbrella’s like that.) guarded by Milla and the guy who played Marc Anthony in Rome. When someone attempts to steal the virus, the facility’s AI locks down the labs and mansion, causing everyone trapped inside to become zombies. Weeeeee!
Tonally, the movie begins with a narration that could be straight out of the games, detailing the vast powers of Umbrella, brands everything in sight with the distinctive logo (also a trope from the game…when we see a bullet-casing with the logo on it, it’s both chuckle-worthy AND accurate to the game, where every last inch of everything, including ammo boxes, in some games, are covered in branding.)
Like Nike, but with less sweatshops. More zombies, but less sweatshops.
We get a gun cabinet with a numeric code, a zoom in on a tiny hand cuff key (you find about a hundred of these damn things), and all the important monsters are there: zombies (though in the games they don’t carry weapons), zombie doberman (dobermen?) known as Cerberus in the game, and the Licker. The Licker is a monster from the second game (and a horrible one at that) that skitters past windows and haunts your dreams…until you murder it’s face off with a shotgun.
Or, you know, punch it in the brain. That could work too.
They jack the Licker up to final-monster status (fine by me), but even go so far as to recreate the above, classic frame from the game. Awesome.
But what makes this first film all the better, is that it plays out as a solid (albeit not terribly original) zombie/horror film. The initial lockdown of the facility features a classic ‘elevator decapitation’ which would be right at home in a slasher film, or Final Destination; we get that awesome laser cutter scene from Cube again…pretty much verbatim but still awesome. We get all the usual fun ‘I’ve been bitten’ stuff and it’s the first time that chick from Zoolander (as I then knew Milla) kicks a tonne of ass. When her character Alice runs up a wall and jump kicks a zombie dog, game fans likely had the same response I did: a resounding “FINALLY!” Because seriously, all I’ve ever wanted to do in a game that requires strict ammo management is to PUNCH AND KICK THE SLOW MOVING UNDEAD! If I don’t have bullets, I still have THE GUNS!
The Goon has it right. Also, read The Goon. And check out this Kickstarter.
And the moment, that got me and my aforementioned Resident Evil friend and I to our feet in amazed shock and awe(someness) was the final line: as they escape, the male hero (having been wounded by the Licker) is mutating and is ordered put in the Nemesis program. This is a reference to the main enemy of the third game and one of my favorite video game enemies of all time (much, much more on him to come next week). It was a beautiful way to link the movies into the game universe, while not stomping on the toes of us game fans. It was a fun, awesome nod to the people who actually CARED about the franchise and I loved them for it. What could be better?
Oh, this could be.
Then the movie ended by setting up an even BETTER movie: nearly-naked Milla (our kick-ass final girl) escapes an abandoned hospital, only to find the city infected, picks up a shotgun, and is ready to take on the world. This was a precursor both to 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead and was just a fucking incredible way to end a film. (After the first game, the virus gets loose in Raccoon City, leading to the second and third game, and a setting they never topped.) The final shot is just amazing in this film. No wonder Anderson won the Oscar for There Will Be Blood.
So, the verdict:
The first film was actually a fine supplement to the series that spawned it: this is the first and only time there had been a game movie that was canonically accurate enough to fit into the pre-existing world…quite a feat. Also, it’s an entertaining film in it’s own right. VERY very loud and silly in a distinctly early 2000’s way. Also, it has one of the holy duo of actors who always die:
And guess what kind of character she plays??
All of the above.
See Cracked.com for a great article about this!
So, the verdict?
It’s great. It doesn’t try to be the game, but it does try to be friends with the games and wins.
Unfortunately…it’s the last one that does so…
COMING UP NEXT WEEK!!!
Resident Evil Apocalypse: repeatedly slaps in the face and demands I like it! (I do not). But it DOES imply the death of Rob Ford, so that’s okay…
Resident Evil Extinction: is it’s own man and that makes it good! It’s forgettable, but enjoyably unoffensive compared to…
Resident Evil Afterlife: What happens when a game that digresses from the zombie plot of video game series gets shoe-horned into a movie series that never did. The result is horrific.
Resident Evil Retribution: I haven’t seen this one yet. But apparently it is the most like the games…weird. We’ll see.
And you will too.
I’m glad to be back.
Thanks for checking back in, too.
So, turns out four plays in four months is a bit crazy! As a result, I realize my blogging has been a bit intermittent (partially because I was convinced I’d be able to catch up) but then I realized I didn’t want to burn down half a season in a day, so I’m just going to pick up and continue from where I was. In future, I will let y’all know when these little busy periods begin so you know I haven’t been lost to space madness or a tragic transporter accident.
Cheers yo. Modern Mythology and the Helpful Nerd will be back with brand new posts in May.
EPISODE SIXTY-TWO: The Tholian Web
Look out! It’s ghost Kirk!
After encountering an interdimensional rift aboard the USS Defiant, Kirk ends up lost between dimensions and the Enterprise engages the Tholians as e search for Kirk continues. The Tholians begin building their aforementioned web around the ship (in one of the more visually engaging space special effects to date) as Spock and McCoy clash over Spock’s new role as captain.
There’s also a tonne of space madness. Space madness all over the place.
The episode is neat, from the ghost ship style opening to the logistics and complications of Spock as captain (which we started exploring way back in The Galileo Seven episode.) As well as giving some insight into Uhura’s personal life (we get to see her off duty in her quarters for the first time) and giving the rest of the crew time to shine as Kirk is barely featured.
The McCoy outbursts against Spock have become an increasingly frustrating feature of the show, as the writers swing between McCoy and Spock clearly being friends and McCoy genuinely seeming to dislike and perhaps even hate Spock. This is usually situational, but in this episode it was particularly heavy handed and almost constant, to set up a contrast for Kirk’s ‘watch in case I die’ video, which is actually very sweet and well played (with Kirk commending Spock and asking him to trust his emotions and telling him to seek out McCoy whenever he needs to get in touch with his human side)
It’s an interesting episode, but the pacing and characterization are a bit wonky.
Oh, and Kirk survives. FYI.
EPISODE SIXTY-ONE: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky
This is one of the more beautiful episodes they’ve had this season and one that ties nicely into the Superman mythology, of all things.
After discovering that Dr. McCoy is terminally ill, the crew discovers an asteroid that launches missiles and is nuclear powered. Upon beaming down, they find a planet-like atmosphere and are ambushed by hilariously dressed soldiers wielding the swords that the prop department acquired for Doves. Taken below the surface, to a race that worships ‘The Oracle’, a malicious tablet that likes controlling people, they quickly discover that the inhabitants believe themselves to be on a planet, not a ship, and have no idea they are traveling through space. This is particularly unfortunate, as a programming malfunction has set them on a collision course with a heavily populated planet. And so, Kirk and Spock set out to find out how to divert the massive ship without breaching the Prime Directive and telling these people their life has been a lie.
McCoy meanwhile falls in love with the high priestess, even going so far as to decide to stay on the ship (until the end of the episode, of course, where he determines he must continue his mission through the stars. This is actually on of the better love stories on the series so far, as McCoy points out (after his lady asks him to marry her after one conversation) that they’re basically strangers (true of every instant romance in the show to date) to which she replies, “But isn’t that the way with all men and women? Aren’t we always strangers to each other, at first?” Point goes to the Priestess.
As to the Superman parallel; the reason they are on this ship made to look like a planet is that their sun exploded long ago and their ancestors gathered the best and brightest and launched them into space, with a tome containing all the race’s knowledge to be read upon arrival. To prevent the madness of being stuck on a fake planet (I guess) they created a religion around this Oracle to keep them on track until at last they reached a new planet. Unfortunately, Oracle went all dystopian on their asses and decided to electroshock or kill anyone who discovered the truth of the planet (like the awesome, crazy old seer who gets to deliver the line, “For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky” which has got to be one of the best 60’s scifi poetry titles I’ve ever heard- Bradbury in particular has a real knack for these). In a way, this entire race is Superman…but if Ma and Pa Kent were tyrannical supercomputers. Superman’s mythology shows what happens when the ‘jettison the race’ thing goes well, this shows what happens if it doesn’t. Instead we get a Truman Show level of wackiness, which is all kinds of good.
Solid sci fi at work, and got me rethinking the possible outcomes of Superman’s parents’ attempt to save the race. Awesome.