Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thirty One Days of Horror: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Day Three: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Something I forgot to mention about the first Resident Evil film becomes increasingly relevant as the franchise plows along. Specifically: Milla Jovovich.* In many ways these films are like “action porn” for Milla fans. Indeed, by the time you get to the latest the films have to offer, it’s pretty obvious that the Resident Evil trappings are just there to frame the tale around the adventures of Alice, who of course is played by the best female action star to appear this century. The fact that her character takes center stage from the get-go, and all other characters, including the ones named after characters from the games, are there to serve as a frame and foil to her exploits becomes strongly evident with the second film and onward. She’s not quite a Mary Sue…yet….but she’s destined to be, if only for a short time.

Released in 2004, Resident Evil: Apocalypse starts the day after the last film ended, keeping pace (so far) with the chronology of the games (barring the 1998 date of the games vs. the “not too distant future” implied date of the films). A bit of back story reveals that not all is well in Raccoon City, and introduces us to Jill Valentine, or a version of such modeled after the actual Jill from the game universe. This Jill dresses similarly and is quick to shoot zombies as they pop up in the police precinct where she has just been drummed out of service with the STARS (Special tactics and Recon Squad) on trumped up charges. STARS are a sort of SWAT group for the Raccoon City set, and it’s never clear in the movie universe if they are some local independent group or some sort of special deal set up with Umbrella’s approval. In the game universe it’s sort of unclear, too. Almost as if the game were written by Japanese authors with only a loose notion of how US law enforcement worked, or a concern with how to justify why half a dozen heavily armed special ops agents are investigating what seems to be a private mansion conducting modest bioresearch in the middle of nowhere.

The movie then proceeds to break down rapidly in terms of pacing, over-the-top action and an utterly implacable plot with herky-jerky pacing that feels like someone writing the script was trying to squeeze as many elements of the game in as had been explained to them by a third party who had talked to someone who had a son who had played it and explained the plot. Sort of.

All of the story credits on the Resident Evil movies go to Paul W.S. Anderson, who has a list of credits that include a variety of films I’ve never seen, with the noted exception of these movies plus the Death Race film (which was fun but also nonsensical).  He also wrote Pandorum, which means much to me as I plan on watching and reviewing it soon, too. In any case, if I had to guess, I would say that Paul probably didn’t play the RE games before working on his scripts. And if he did, he was probably hampered by two factors: the first being how to translate the game plot to screen, the second by the fact that I’m pretty sure someone behind this movie had the hots for Milla Jovovich. I wonder who. Hmmm. The fact that Paul happens to be her husband makes me a tad suspicious. Also, a tad jealous. (To my lovely wife if you are reading this I mean that in the least offensive way possible!)

Yeah so anyway, keeping in mind that this entire franchise has been co-opted for films to serve as a churning engine of Milla Jovovich action flicks helps to frame what happens from here on out to the series. This is very important, because this is the film that jumps the shark, and it does so by making Milla’s character Alice a super hero. A horror super hero, yeah, but dress it up however you want: she can do super kung-fu, wire-fu, and before the end of the movie she’s even pulling a note from Akira and F.E.A.R. by giving people psionic nose bleeds and “hearing” thoughts occasionally. Oh, and she has this all thanks to being genetically ideal for bonding with the t-virus, making her a compatriot to the Nemesis himself. Yeahhhh…

Still, this movie has moments that work when its characters aren’t being too ridiculously clich├ęd or one-note for their own good. The best part of the movie was when they were looking for the little girl in the school. The second best part….hmm. Well, okay then. So that was the part that felt most like Resident Evil.

The end sequence was fun, too, if head-scratching. It was also a continuance of the tradition started at the end of the first movie, where the story runs past “stop” and carries on with the frame for the next movie installment.

In the end, this movie is about an event which begins with the tale presented in a game and then rapidly spirals into utter oblivion, ending as a completely new franchise about a psychic super warrior named Alice who just so happens to have some coincidental relations with another universe that it left almost completely behind.

If I had to rank it, I’d give it a D+. The D is for managing to take what could have been a much, much better “zombies invade rural America” film that has been done so much better so many other times, and instead making it kind of a crazy, outlandish wire-fu action hero flick with barely a nod to its source material. That’s okay, though. Later films will make this one look downright canonical and respectful of the IP.

Oh, and the Mary Sue? She's not quite there....yet. But she will be. Oh yes, she will be...

Next up: Resident Evil – Extinction Review

*You can see Milla go from "healthy" to "emaciated" between the first and second movie, too. Kinda scary. Her semi-naked shower scene in the first movie has her looking somewhat healthy and normal, but by the end of Apocalypse she looks like she's on a starvation diet. The ease with which Milla does nude and semi-nude scenes means its possible to notice stuff like this. Purely from a clinical perspective, of course. The clinical perspective being, "you need to eat a bit more before you disappear."

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