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John’s Horror Corner: Resident Evil (2002), Milla Jovovich versus viral zombies and mutant monsters.

January 30, 2017

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MY CALL:  Still a pretty fun watch for fans of mindless action and some occasionally decent gore, balanced by some terrible CGI and a lame boss.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Resident EvilThe Silent Hill movies (2006, 2012) and the Underworld franchise (2003-2017) come to mind.

I remember seeing Resident Evil in theaters in 2002 (LOVED it; I was 21), again in 2003 after I bought the movie, and once more (rewatching parts 1-2) before seeing part 3 in 2007.  Three times I had seen it and I recall quite enjoying it. But it’s been ten years and I was easier to please back then.  So I wondered, how would these videogame-to-movie-adaptation films hold up to my criticism now…?

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Profiteering from bioengineered virus technology (weaponized for the military) while masquerading as a home wares conglomerate whose products can be found in every household, the Umbrella Corporation is an original Proctor and Gamble…only evil.  Or at least one of their scientists was; the one who threw a glass vile of evil virus across the laboratory to volatilize through the vents and corrupt humanity.

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Sometime after the incident, we find Alice (Milla Jovovich; The Fifth Element, Faces in the Crowd, Ultraviolet) with amnesia, leaving her memory as bare as her breasts.  Awakening naked in the shower in a lavish mansion, she has no idea who she is or how she got there.  She is taken by force by some sort of black ops team who expect her to remember much more than she does, and then things get interesting.

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There’s a nice mix of characters, even if none of them ever develop into anything (except for more zombies, of course).  As Rain, Michelle Rodriguez (Furious 7, Machete Kills) continues her cute tough girl flavor that began with Girlfight (2000) and has persisted 17 years later (Fast & Furious 8).  In that vein, she has sort of a Hicks and Vasquez (Aliens) relationship with a colleague, both part of a larger team infiltrating the Hive and taking Alice along for the ride.  We also find Spence (James Purefoy; The Following, Rome, High-Rise) who, along with Alice, works for the Umbrella Corporation protecting the Hive’s entrance… but now neither of them remember that.

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We come to learn that The Hive, a subterranean research megaplex below Raccoon City, has an artificial intelligence: the Red Queen.  Her defense systems whittle down the infiltration team and at least one such scene really stuck with me.  To that end, the effects held up well enough and included some much-appreciated nuance. The CGI was pretty damned good for some parts and very bad for others.  For example, after getting laser-cubed, a soldier’s eyeball leaks some white goo before its severed parts fell asunder.  I also liked the zombie dogs, which were less CGI and more live dog covered in goo suits.  On the other hand, certain zombies missing chunks of their face were blaring examples of obsolete CGI technology and the main monster almost looked as it would in the actual videogame complete with 128-bit graphics.  The boss creature was little more than a dumb tongue-lashing monster depicted as a CGI mess. I preferred the dogs and the chop suey lasers over this nondescript beast.

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Director and writer Paul W. S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Soldier) did justice to the popular videogame with this popular horror-action franchise starter.  The movie may lean on heavy exposition (e.g., the introductory narration)—but, hey, so did the game.  A lot of it is videogamified over-the-top…and that’s okay sometimes.  We have Milla jumping off walls to do jump kicks like Donnie Yen or Carrie-Anne Moss.  But I don’t mind at all.

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A major shortcoming for me was that the zombie action scenes were all pretty weak.  The bites were lame, the horde was uninspired, and outside of a few zombie kills by Milla, I could have done without them entirely.  It felt like stock footage from The Walking Dead—you know, the kills you don’t really care about as the characters kill their way from points A to B.  Although I did enjoy our first meetings with zombies as the team was learning what they were (i.e., not alive).

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In the end, a bunch of Umbrella scientists “just appear” as Alice and our other surviving (but clearly infected) hero escape the Hive.  Back to the exposition, one says: “He’s mutating. I want him in the Nemesis program…we’re re-opening the Hive…”  Aaaaannnnnd cue the sequel as Alice wakes up again, now in a lab, and stumbles into the Apocalypse!

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So there you have it.  There’s nothing particularly thoughtful to be found here, yet still a lot of effort was evident behind making this fun and exciting.  It came as no surprise that it was successful and infected multiple sequels.

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