It turns out that after completing my mission to watch all five films currently in the Resident Evil film franchise, I am highly surprised by my overall takeaway from the series. The biggest part of that surprise is that I cannot come up with a summary label with which to apply to the films as a collective that unilaterally defines my feelings about them. In many ways, I feel like they are five entirely different films and that they do not tell a single cohesive story. And in many ways, that is an incredibly good thing from a creative perspective. I cannot think of another film franchise that is so varied in terms of the creative vector of each movie. For that, I’ll give a big nod to the franchise’s overall mastermind, Directer and Writer, Paul W.S. Anderson for that factor alone.
Resident Evil, the OG chapter of the series, is a true video game movie. It tries to pay homage to the original content with enough cameo-like appearances of in-game content, if not actual characters, to make gamers interested, while not hewing to it so closely that Anderson could not tell the larger story he was likely angling at back then.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a Night of the Living Dead call-out, with a whole city falling and the horror escaping beyond the bounds of a singular set of locked rooms.
Resident Evil: Extinction is a swirly mix of a Mad Max film along with a futuristic savior-flick. In Extinction, you get the first notion of what a rendition of “The Walking Dead” on a screen would look and feel like. Intermixed with the dystopian / post-apocalyptic world factors.
That dystopian theme continues and expands in Afterlife, a movie that evokes tones of The Matrix, especially in the opening sequence.
Finally in Retribution, we’re totally off the rails in a Terminator-like, Timecop, Escape from New York, the world is burning kind of yen. All over the place to say the least. But in a good way.
And I could leave off by applying that over-arching label and walking away. Saying that the franchise never finds a settled footing or specific creative vision that it channels consistently would be one way of looking at it. My take is that individual stories of one direction or another were deliberately taken, maybe so that lots of different people could enjoy the films, I don’t know. One positive thing I can say is that while I did not like every film, I do not find the series as a whole boring. These are films that I purchased during the course of this assignment, and I am glad that I have them in my digital library as I can see re-watching them at some point, even the two I do not care for.
As far as rankings go, they break out like this, along with the Geeks World Wide scoring mark I would give them:
1. Extinction (3rd film, release year: 2007) – Score: 8.0
2. Evil (1st film, release year: 2002) – Score 7.5
3. Afterlife (4th film, release year: 2010) – Score: 7.0
4. Retribution (5th film, release year: 2012) – Score: 6.5
5. Apocalypse (2nd film, release year: 2004) – Score: 4.5
I really dig Extinction. You can see my thoughts on Apocalypse in comparison. One of the things that Extinction corrects that Apocalypse put in the toilet is a more compassionate and thinking/feeling Alice. That holds so much weight in these films. Without it, there is not a lot of glue to hold these things together, and they just become another Schwarzenneger/Van Damme film. The connection she has with Oded Fehr’s Olivera and that she then builds with Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield lends a personal connection element to the film that you do not get unless you go at it right on the nose.
Retribution could have been something better, but it goes towards the cartoony end of a CG + Gore film that makes it feel much less smart than Extinction, Evil, or Afterlife. It gets its head above Apocalypse simply because it has a slightly glib Alice, which is a pleasant change, and it adds the wonderfully sarcastic Wentworth Miller, in a turn that channels shades of what we would later see as The Flash’s Mister Freeze. I should also give it a plus for being the most inclusive of all members of previous casts. Although strangely missing is Ali Larter, who had been in 3 and 4. If Anderson can just manage to get Jovovich, Guillory, Larter, and Rodriguez in one film, I’ll be set. This movie also made me realize how very much this series is like The Fast and Furious franchise, with cast members who float on and off iterations of the series, leaving space for fans to get jazzed whenever a favorite makes their way back to an installment. Add that the common element between those two franchises is Michelle Rodriguez is very interesting.
The biggest misstep about this property as a series is the discontinuity around what constitutes Alice’s super-powers. At one point we see her supposedly depowered and returned to her supposedly human state. But is her regular human skillset so high that being returned to “normal” just means that she no longer has her psionics? Or was everything taken except her physical abilities, despite whatever Wesker says? And is Claire Redfield powered up when she is captured? Depending on what you assume the answers to some of these are, then some of what follows or is in-between does not make sense. Unquestionably, there are some things that are supposed to be the state of affairs that get blown off in certain sequences. At various points, Alice, Claire, and Jill either exhibit weaknesses or power levels that they should not have.
All in all, Resident Evil is a pretty slick set of movies that bridges elements of the video game, horror, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, and action sub-genres or genres. And yes; that’s a mouthful. And yes, it speaks to the accomplishment of PWS Anderson’s vision here; to mix and blend all of these themes into a fairly unique extrapolation of a video game property that stands wholly on its own. The series branches far and wide from the primary themes of the RE video game franchise, and then brings it back in a lot of ways in nRetribution. In fact Retribution, despite its problems, is the most video gamey of the bunch, offering an off-axis explanation as to what is going on when you are playing the games. This a pretty decent series to binge watch over a three-day weekend. A welcome Saturday afternoon + night marathon. Or if you just want to watch Evil, Extinction, and Afterlife, that’s a great way to go to.