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.