Resident Evil (2002)
Or: Fun with lasers for the whole family!
Long before the first Resident Evil came out, video game movies were already the red-headed stepchild to their better, more popular sibling: the comic book movie. Blade and X-Men had previously made waves and the filmgoers were all abuzz with this fancy Spider-Man movie coming out in a few months.
Prior attempts to bring well-known video games to the big screen had fizzled and ridiculed because of the odious smell emanating from such films as Super Mario Brothers (1993), Double Dragon (1994), Street Fighter (1994), Wing Commander (1999), and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001). As such, hopes that a Resident Evil movie might break the curse weren’t at an all time high.
As with lesser comic book movies, the central problem plaguing video game adaptations was a lack of respect for the source material. Mario Bros is, at heart, a fantasy epic, not a grungy battle waged against an oppressive regime in a dystopian society and Street Fighter was, is, and always will be about an international martial arts tournament, not a shooting war against a mad tyrant.
A mad tyrant easily defeated by foot odor.
Prospects were further dimmed when geek lightning rod Paul W.S. Anderson, director of Event Horizon, was announced as project head. On the bright side, his Mortal Kombat movie was the highest-grossing video game adaptation at the time and pretty faithful to its source. On the flip side, Anderson was best-known for delivering middle-of-the-road movies that looked stunning on the outside but felt empty on the inside. Sort of like a Kardashian.
Resident Evil was released on March 15, 2002. Upon viewing the movie again for the first time in almost a decade, I was struck by how different in tone and feel it was compared to its sequels. Early promotional material billed the movie as a prequel to the first RE game, but those claims are dubious at best since the timelines fail to match up. Not important, seeing as how the film series quickly ditched its video game forefather’s story for an increasingly post-apocalyptic mish-mash of genres and ideas.
Milla Jovovich stars as Alice. The word “stars” is indeed the correct word here as Jovovich, in all four turns as the character, never brings anything other than her A-game to the role, seemingly never having grown bored with the role despite a decade of it. Resident Evil takes a cold, almost sterile approach to the series, contrary to the game’s zombie infested wonderland. Taking place beneath the game’s famed Spencer Estate, an amnesiac, Alice; a tag-along reporter, Matt; a fellow memory-loss enthusiast, Spence; and a team of commandos from the Umbrella bio-tech firm must uncover what happened to the company’s underground laboratory, The Hive.
The game borrows willy-nilly from the video game canon, but is clearly interested in doing its own thing with a few nods to its electronic counterpart, such as Alice’s red dress, clearly a wink at Ada Wong’s similar clothing in various video game entries.
In a nice bit of art imitating art, the movie’s most famous sequence, involving a blue laser net chopping hapless members of the commando team to bits, was acknowledged in Resident Evil 4 three years later in a similar moment.
All told, Resident Evil isn’t half bad. Some of the special effects for Umbrella’s biggest monsters are wonky and there are the usual zombie movie tropes to get past, but the cast, including Solomon Kane actor James Purefoy and professional tough chick Michelle Rodriguez perform admirably, some might say they manage to elevate the material a bit, much like the gratuitous full frontal nudity on Jovovich’s part no doubt managed to elevate… oh, you know where I’m going with this so let’s just move on.
Should Resident Evil: Apocalypse have lived up to its name for real?
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