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.
Hey-ho, faithful reader! This is the start of the new format for the Helpful Nerd; since I realize a lot of you might be familiar with the subject matter of the Nerd Topic in question, I’ve decided to separate my personal experience with said Nerd Topic into the first section of the post while going into the gritty details of the Topic afterwards. So, if you’re just curious to hear my take on the Nerd Topic, feel free to ride off into the sunset after the first section, or, if you are here for help understanding why the hell your boyfriend/girlfriend/roommate/delightfully-eccentric-uncle/Siri-enabled phone is so into this particular Nerd Topic, read on into the second section for terms and a basic breakdown of what the damn thing is. Enjoy!
How I learned to stop worrying and love Magic cards.
Requested by Nyree Macpherson
It was the summer of ’96 (not a dyslexic moment), and I was visiting my buddy Russ in Vancouver. Russ was always one step ahead of the curve in my eyes, he liked Metallica before I did, bought me my first rock CD (Big Shiny Tunes 2, an eternal favourite; Song 2 -which is also track 2, incidentally- by Blur was the coolest thing I had ever heard in my life, ever.) and I would always glean new interests from Russ that I would quietly stow when I got back to Mississauga, as my friend groups had other interests. In ’96 it was all about the marbles. Russ had gotten me into them the year before (I visited every summer) and we’d spent the summer of ’96 rocking out with said marbles. It was pretty sweet.
But there was a dark cloud on the horizon. I distinctly remember still being super excited about the marbles I only busted out once a year in Vancouver, but Russ was out of sorts.
“No one at school wants to play marbles anymore,” my world began to shake, “They’re all into these stupid magic cards now.”
My first thought:
At the end of the summer, I took my marbles and went home. The next summer, Russ had defected. The magic cards, as it turns out looked like this:
Magic: The Gathering to be precise, by Wizards of the Coast (whose success with this franchise allowed them to later buy the rights to Dungeons and Dragons). It is a collectible card game that casts the players in the roles of powerful wizards (called Planeswalkers) who draw power from the elements (using Land cards to produce ‘mana’) to summon creatures and cast spells with the goal of defeating the other player by reducing their Life total to zero. At its core, that’s the game. There are a shit tonne of extra rules that have been layered on over the years (Wizards of the Coast quickly realized that they needed to make each edition of the game make the prior one obsolete so as to continue to sell cards). But ultimately, that’s it. There’s also the joy of trading and hunting rare cards, often by flipping through binders at comic book stores or buying ‘booster packs’ of random cards and hoping for gold.
My experience with Magic was great most of the time, but then went a bit sour. My friends in Vancouver and I (and then a couple intrepid folks in Mississauga) spent countless hours hunting cards, choosing what to put in our decks, and playing games and making occasionally heartbreaking trades. Then the updates started coming fast and furious, and we realized we were being had by the company (which would render our favourite cards and decks useless every other month) so we quit, for a time.
Then they started releasing pre-made decks and all my friends in Mississauga got back into it. I reluctantly followed suit, vowing not to buy any more cards…and then ate my words, diving back in head first. For a time this was awesome, but then the problems began: since my previous brush with Magic this new-fangled thing called the Internet had become much more accessible and thus strategy was not longer found through trial and error, or passed about through word-of-mouth, but looked up. Cards had also become easier to find, for better or worse, and my love of hunting for that one awesome card you’d heard about was killed by an increased supply. Instead of luck, now you needed money; which in turn led to a pretty sharp division amongst my friend group. Some had disposable income at their disposal to stack their deck with anything they wanted, others of us (myself included, as I was also spending cash on video games and Warhammer…yep, rock star.) who spent little on buying specific cards and thus began to fall behind the curve. The cards also became increasing absurd, as Wizards of the Coast tried to one-up their previous cards: it went from old cards with powerful, but limited, powers to a particularly memorable: “If this creature damages you, you lose the game” card essentially declaring the Age of Reason dead and the era of Absurd Super Bullshit a go.
And then came the ‘proxy’ cards, which were cards my friends would print themselves (eat it, SOPA), that stuck it to the system and made the game affordable, but drained any last remnant of scarcity, making every combination possible; with balancing the game through scarcity of the best cards gone, the ‘now I have infinite life’ combos began…which basically broke the game. It became a game of one-up-manship as professionally designed tournament decks became the norm, rather than the patchwork labours of love that my earliest decks were. It was a disappointing commercialization of the game and stripped away the individualistic quality I enjoyed so much. That did it for me.
I’ve still got my cards, though-if anybody wants a game…?
The Helpful Nerd Presents: A Primer on Magic the Gathering
There are a number of card types in Magic, but the two I’m going to go over are creatures and lands.
Here’s the breakdown of a creature card:
A lot of these are tiny works of art, with beautifully painted dark fantasy images and often witty flavor text. For a long time, there was a running plot in the Magic universe that played out on the cards and in books, some of which were incredibly fun fantasy epics. They’ve since redesigned the cards to more closely resemble their major competition, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! which is a damn shame. In the early days, I liked feeling like I was part of something more mature and dark, now it’s a bit too cartoony for my taste.
The casting cost refers to how many land cards (see below) need to be used to cast the creature. The icons refer to specific types of land (the water drop means islands) the grey can be any colour.
The special abilities affect how the creature works; in this case the creature has Flying which means only a flying creature can block it.
The flavour text is a little passage to flesh out the story of the game and the cards.
The attack/defense scores refer to how much damage the card does when it attacks and how much damage it can receive.
These are essentially the currency of Magic, you ‘Tap’ these (the most common action in Magic, involving turning your card on its side to denote that it has been used, or what you aim to do after picking up a hot Magic card after a few drinks at the bar) to generate mana which is spent to cast cards from your hand. There are five basic types which correspond to the different deck colours:
Colours of Magic
There are five, associated with different elements and themes:
-Black: Swamps, necrotic and undead, destruction based spells
-White: Plains, Healing and defense, angels and knights
-Green: Forests, Abundant creatures and mana, jungle creatures and elves
-Red: Mountains, Fire, destruction, goblins and dwarves
-Blue: Islands, Spells, water, tricks and illusions
Players draw a hand from the deck they have constructed beforehand and then each take turn playing cards. Each turn you are able to put down one new land card and then as many things as you have mana to cast. Turn by turn, you play creatures, enchantments, and spells and use them to either attack the other player (who is given a starting life value of 20) or to attack/interfere with the opponents’ creatures. If a player is attacked, they can opt to block with a creature or cast immediate effect spells to stop or reverse the attack and all manner of hijinks result. The game ends when only one player remains. Then comes the grumbling, changing of decks, and commencement of another game, or possibly the purchasing of many, many more cards.
When attacking, you select a creature or creatures to attack with and declare that you are attacking. Creatures have an attack and defense score, denoting how much damage they can give and receive. So, if I attack you with a 1/1 and you fail to block, you will take 1 point of damage. When you defend with a creature, the two deal damage to each other instead of to the player, so if my 2/2 attacks and you defend with a 1/1, my creature deals 2 to yours, yours deals 1 to me, so your creature dies and mine wins, but deals no damage to you as a player. If yours was also a 2/2, they would destroy each other. If a creature survives a fight, it heals back up to full defense following the fight, so my 2/2 that took 1 damage in the fight is back up to a 2/2.
There is a huge variety of ways to go about winning, whether it’s hammering your opponent with a blitzkrieg of tiny monsters or just messing with your opponent’s ability to play cards while you whittle them away. The style and tactics are up to you and chosen before the game by altering the structure of your deck.
To sum up:
Magic is a collectible, competitive card game, where two players face off with epic powers and abilities, in an attempt to destroy each other.
Like the Republican Primaries…but with cards.