2002, Dir. Paul Anderson
Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius
Of course I went to go see Resident Evil. I couldn't resist. Surprisingly, it was a damn good thing I did go because I enjoyed it thoroughly. While far from a gutmunching splatterfest, it worked well as a horror movie, an action movie, a video game adaptation, and as a zombie movie. Here's why, with potential spoiler material in yellow font. Don't say I don't take care of you.
1. Milla Jovovich
I had some misgivings (ok, I had plenty), one of which was Milla Jovovich, model, as a kick-ass action hero. Guess what? She makes a kick-ass action hero. No frail twig her, she has a very athletic body that makes her character's stunts look very convincing. I had no problem believing it was her kicking and karate chopping and whatnot.
While most horror movies nowadays feature characters you know are just not going to be hurt at all, Resident Evil throws all it's characters to the wolves (or to the zombified Dobermans). It also isn't afraid to let horrible things happen to innocent people, an occurence that these kinds of movies usually tease us with. In the early scene aboard the elevator RE teases us but actually delivers, letting us know right from the get go that yes, this is a movie in which bad things are going to happen. Bravo to them for having the cojones not to flinch at that. And even though Milla makes it out alive (someone has to) her situation is hardly enviable.
3. The Game
While the film doesn't go as far as to present scenes taken directly from the games, it builds off of those events to create new situations with the same feel as the games. Obvious details like the zombies, the dogs, and the train recall the game strongly but there are little details that help just as much. For example the shot of the crows taking off from the trees. Anyone who's played the games knows how much of a pain in the ass those crows are. Also the characters often find themselves doing things that are a big part of the game, such as figuring out codes and combinations and such. The movie doesn't take this too far though, so I guess we'll never know what exactly is in "first aid spray".
3. Zombies, etc.
Resident Evil doesn't take any cues or try to align itself with the "rules" of zombies according to George Romero. The soldiers don't recognize the creatures as zombies and immediately know to shoot them in the head; why should they? "Zombies" don't exist! It's a wise choice that grounds the film in reality, making the fantastic and terrible events even more so. The dogs and the "licker" creature were impressive but for all their good looks didn't seem to present much of a threat.
4. A Plot
Notice I didn't say the plot, I said a plot. There's a little bit of whodunit going on, not exactly The Usual Suspects but enough to keep you awake in between zombie scenes.
5. Matrixesque stuff kept to a minimum.
While it's a very flashy, modern movie, RE shows considerable restraint in employing what seems to have become standard devices in special effects. The floating kick that Milla gives the dog and the slo-mo bullet, both of which are featured prominently in the commercial, are about it in regards to those types of effects. CGI, the bane of many a gore fan's existence, isn't going to bother you much either. Some of the zombie faces look like they were helped out a little bit, I've heard the dogs were completely real, and the "licker" is the only creature totally created by CGI. Can't complain though, the thing looks incredible. The computer graphic motif that is used in the first half of the film starts to get annoying but goes away just in time.
1. Why so loud?
I don't know what it is about these movies nowadays, but why does every mildly surprising moment have to accompanied by a deafening shock note? I can understand the reasoning behind amplifying some sounds, but just regular doors closing, or even those huge metal industrial size doors closing don't have to be that loud. As for the music, it's the typical thumping techno rock crap that we've heard a million times before, but it seems like it's never going to go away in RE. A good many scenes would've been enhanced by silence, or at least some quieter suspense music. Eh, at least they saved the Slipknot song for the end credits.
2. Weird editing
There are a couple of jarring edits in which people suddenly pop up in different places and / or separate from the group without explanation. Nothing I haven't tolerated in Italian horror flicks that I like.
3. Shallow characters
This isn't too much of a problem seeing as how shallow characters are par for the course in this sort of thing. But there is really no development for any of these people, who are simply zombie fodder. No one has any meaningful dialogue, simply exposition and "snappy" one-liners. I even had a hard time telling the two white guys in the SWAT team apart. In addition to flat characters, the actors aren't exactly talented enough to inject any life into the roles. Michelle Rodriguez gets saddled with the "tough girl" cliche, and that's exactly what she delivers: a cliched tough girl. Milla's character is the only one to get any kind of depth, and she handles it fairly well, but that's really about it. I imagine, should we see a sequel, that because of her circumstances in this film (it'd be way too much of a spoiler if I told you) she'll be fleshed out a bit more.
4. Random zombie bite survival
Much like Roger in Dawn of the Dead, Rain (Rodriguez) holds on for a damn long time before succumbing to zombie infection. And she got bit a whole bunch of times. To be fair, it's just like the game where one bite doesn't turn you into a zombie, but it's kinda silly when other people go zombie a whole lot quicker. But again, nothing I haven't tolerated elsewhere.
Looking at the film from a pros and cons prespective, things teeter towards the pros side of the scale. It had plenty of those modern touches that bug the hell out of me, but it was worth enduring for a new zombie movie on the big screen in 2002. I managed to put my preconceptions aside and have an enjoyable experience at the movies, something that rarely happens anymore. If you're a zombie / horror buff who's swearing not to see this movie on whatever grounds, just suck it up and go. You may not be doing backflips out of the theater, but you won't be disappointed.