I watched all the Resident Evil movies this summer… parts 1-3 here.


Resident Evil 4: Afterlife (2010)

After the Umbrellas of Cherbourg opening titles, we get the best scene in any Resident Evil movie yet – Alice storming Umbrella headquarters with an army of her clones. I was hoping for an entire Cherbourg musical installment of this horror series, but I’ll happily settle for this instead: Anderson immediately leaves behind the halfassed effects and sorry filmmaking of previous movies and crafts a loving homage to The Matrix, with better-than-usual electro music by former Low collaborators Tomandandy.

Shades-sporting Umbrella boss Wesker (crossover zombie-movie actor Shawn Roberts of a couple Romero Dead films) escapes in a chopper, nuking the Alice clones on his way out, and injects the stowaway Alice with an antivirus, removing her awesome powers, a major bummer.

After somewhat-destroying Umbrella, Alice starts a vlog and goes to Alaska in search of her buddies from the previous movie, scooping up a lone amnesiac Claire (infected by a Cronos scarab), then crash-landing in a prison surrounded by zombie hordes and meeting a new bunch of doomed friends, led by panicky movie producer Bennett (Kim Coates of Sons of Anarchy, Silent Hill) and cooler-headed Luther (Boris Kodjoe of Surrogates, Starship Troopers 3), also including a guy from The Tracey Fragments who will soon be cleaved in half by a superaxe. But before that, we’ll discover Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller of Prison Break, writer of Stoker) suspiciously located in a locked cell. He’s Claire’s brother, not that she remembers, acting kinda like movie star Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim.

Then the zombies break in and everyone dies. New zombie developments since the last movie: sometimes zombies will spawn quadropus parasites from their mouths, a familiar detail from the only Resident Evil game I’ve played. And it’s not really new since we’ve always had final-boss mega-zombies, but instead of a chain gun, this movie’s giant has a pinhead burlap mask and giant axe, with which he smashes in the prison gates. Bennett defects to the dark side, Luther goes missing, and our surviving heroes (Alice and the Redfields) escape through tunnels and head for the offshore cargo ship where Wesker has started eating people (incl. Bennett) to stave off infection. Wesker flees, our heroes free the captive humans, and all is well for about 15 seconds before a fleet of gunships led by a scarab-wearing, mind-controlled Valentine (from part two! with different hair) descends on them as a Perfect Circle song blares to complete the Matrix feeling.


Resident Evil 5: Retribution (2012)

I must have watched the opening titles ten times… starting exactly where the last movie left off, Evil Valentine’s troops wipe out the unarmed survivors on the cargo ship, an explosion throws Alice into the ocean, and it’s all running in reverse super-slow-mo.

In every movie it seems that Umbrella’s head has been destroyed, but there are always new evil leaders and massive research facilities popping up. Now we’ve got an training holodeck in Kamchatka, where multiple Alices and Rains (Michelle Rodriguez, for the first time since part one) and other clones are killed in various zombie-attack scenarios.

Evil Valentine has triggered a bunch of allegiance shifts in the script. Now Wesker, displaced from Umbrella by the still-functioning Red Queen A.I., has sent his warrior Ada Wong (Detective Dee and Snow Flower star Bingbing Li) to rescue our Alice underground, while on the surface, team leader Leon (Johann Urb of the Witches of Eastwick TV series) with Luther (from part four) and Barry (Kevin Durand of Guillermo del Toro TV series The Strain) prepare to destroy the place (a countdown timer is naturally involved).

Alice picks up a deaf girl (Aryana Engineer of Orphan) whose clone-Alice mom was killed. There are good Rains and evil Rains, multiple Michelles Rodriguez. Valentine is back, under command of the evil Queen, alongside resurrected actors from parts one and three. After a clip show near the beginning, this movie is full of callbacks to part one, but the story is also overexplained for the sake of newcomers, and dialogue is never great (it’s still better than the games). With the clones and the new/old characters in virtual environments, we’ve reached new, reality-bending heights… each of the previous movies had an older film it was imitating, from Romero to Cube to Mad Max to Hitchcock to The Matrix, and now the series has come into its own, this film’s primary influence being the previous Resident Evil movies (secondary influence: Aliens).

With Leon and Luther:

I was blissing out to the action sequences and kinda lost track of everything that happens, but here are some notes I took:

Music is good, but all rhythm and no tune.

I noticed in the last movie, but now it’s starting to bug me that one of Alice’s guns seems to shoot coins – an overly literal videogame reference?

Milla dials it down when the movies focus on survivor communities, but whenever her solo warrior awesomeness is called for, she’s happy to comply.

The zombies have guns!

Parts four and five are a total blast, with coherent action, proper lighting and hugely improved CG beasts.

Evil Michelle uses the five point palm exploding heart technique on poor Luther

We end on humanity’s last stand against the red queen’s forces, in the White House, Alice and Wesker newly allied, each with renewed mutant super-abilities.


Resident Evil 6: The Final Chapter (2016)

“I propose that we end the world, but on our terms – an orchestrated apocalypse.”

Based on the final shots of part five, we should have Alice, Wesker, Ada Wong, Valentine and Leon in a showdown against an army of undead at the White House – but that’s not what happens. Instead we get a backstory intro explaining that the Red Queen A.I. was constructed from video of the benevolent Umbrella founder’s child, after Dr. Isaacs (mad scientist killed in part three) has the founder murdered. Then the movie betrays all our hopes, having Alice awaken in the ruins of the White House, beat to hell, with no powers, narrating some shit about Wesker having betrayed them all. And thus begins this increasingly great series’s joyless finale, a color-desaturated, underlit, over-edited slog of close-shot action scenes, where I never knew what was going on or even what characters were in the movie. This is not the kind of homage to part one I was hoping for.

Since we’ve established that anyone can be a clone, Dr. Isaacs is back, now leading a fanatic tank convoy to Raccoon City. Even without mutant virus powers, Alice is still a badass soldier, but she’s knocked out and captured more than once along the way (and Isaacs has super-speed and can dodge bullets, but can’t dodge the computer keyboard she whacks him with).

In another doomed Last Human Settlement, Alice finds Claire, traitor Doc (Eoin Macken of TV’s The Night Shift) and a bunch of newcomers with colorful names who will be killed one by one. An actor from John Wick 2 gets sucked into a turbine, a Cuban TV star is savaged by dogs, and so on.

Here are some of them, maybe:

Finally back in The Hive from part one, Alice encounters the Original Dr. Isaacs, who is soon killed by Fanatic Warlord Dr. Isaacs, who is soon killed by Alice inside the Cube chamber, which turns out to have glass walls so I guess people in earlier movies could’ve just slammed against a side wall with all their might to escape. Alice also meets her former self (the Red Queen, now played by Anderson and Jovovich’s daughter) and future self: a convincingly makeup-aged Milla, playing “Alicia,” from whom all Alices were cloned. Alicia and Wesker are the remaining leadership of Umbrella until she pulls out an excellent Robocop reference (“Albert Wesker, you’re fired”) and security chops his legs off. Alice hands him a Terminator 2 killswitch attached to a massive bomb, downloads her childhood memories from dying Alicia, and heads out to cure the entire world with the airborne antivirus in a tiny capsule, which I don’t think is how airborne antiviruses work, but at least the movie admits it will take a few years to spread globally and in the meantime Milla Jovovich is gonna ride the country in a motorcycle blasting hellbeasts with shotguns, a comforting thought.

Final Series Ranking: 5 > 4 > 3 > 2 > 1 > 6

Best reviews: Neil Bahadur on Letterboxd: parts four, five, and, featuring a Dr. Isaacs/Steve Bannon comparison, six. And Christoph Huber wrote the Cinema Scope story in issue 70 that convinced me to watch this series in the first place (thanks).

Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Paul W.S. Anderson is beloved by Cinema Scope writers, who have grown increasingly excited since he returned to directing parts 4-6 of this series. I saw part one in theaters and thought it was quite bad, skipping the sequels even though the first ends with a killer setup for future installments. So, rewatching it now looking for glimmers of auteurist excellence, then we’ll see how many more Resident Evils I can get through. But first, let’s hear from the termite-art critics on letterboxd:

Autumn Faust:

Genuinely Romeroesque, Anderson sifts his formal preoccupations through immediate objective… and economic allegory … Anderson’s penchant for repeating shapes and patterns lends itself to depicting an environment of conformity for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to attempt to recover her identity within.

Silent Dawn:

With this first installment, Anderson is not only focused on the classicist nature of the narrative but also developing a deceiving signature, paying attention to movements within spacing while observing how the main characters are affected. However, even “character” is a strong word for Anderson’s world. Besides Alice, stock feelings and conversations are the norm, highlighting a top-down observatory creation that is constantly being manipulated, shifted, and flipped on its head. It’s an evident theme from the beginning sequence – an escaped viral infection and an AI’s deliberately inhumane attempt to control the issue – and it’s pushed further and further through each immaculate scene, an array of delicious, pulpy construction rampaging against abstract, controlled motion.

And now the reality – it’s still a pretty bad movie. The characters have almost no traits, the Prodigy-esque music and ugly CG creatures badly date the film, and the middle half is underlit action with a too-close camera and an occasional Cube-ripoff setpiece or cool-blue flashback. Plotting is weak from the start… I don’t believe for a second that a team of super-soldiers responding to an extreme emergency would take along two amnesiacs and a suspicious rookie cop. But I guess it’s faithful in spirit and visuals to the video game series, and Anderson makes his future wife Milla look rad most of the time.

Our heroes:

I like that instead of CG, they just put gore-sweaters on real dobermans:

Milla Jovovich (Fifth Element) lives in the mansion gateway to an underground Umbrella research lab with her fake husband James Purefoy (High-Rise, John Carter), wakes up with amnesia then is interrupted first by cop Eric Mabius (IMDB trivia: “Eric loves mustard and puts it on everything”) then a team of troops led by Colin Salmon (two James Bond movies in the 90’s, Alien vs. Predator). Colin gets Cube’d early on, then Michelle Rodriguez (Machete, Fast & Furious) takes over as team leader, maintaining her head-down/eyes-up badass pose long after it gets tiring. They’re investigating why the lab’s AI killed everyone – turns out this was to contain a zombie-virus unleashed by Purefoy. It also turns out Milla and Eric were working together to take down Umbrella, but given the apocalyptic wasteland that Milla finds after escaping, the company’s not their biggest problem anymore.

The commentary is great, the actors hanging out and talking shit about movies and video games and getting drunk while Anderson tries in vain to focus on what’s happening onscreen. Milla to Michelle: “Yo-va-vich! How difficult is it, for god’s sake? We made a movie together.”


Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse (2004, Alexander Witt)

When this originally opened (and I skipped it, having not enjoyed the first movie) I didn’t realize the ambition of the full series – you don’t usually use the Apocalypse subtitle in your first sequel. We’re now in the hands of director Witt, who has worked on 50 major movies, getting his start with Bergman and Fassbinder in the late 1970’s. Anderson’s still around as writer and producer, but he was off directing the detestable Alien vs. Predator. This movie looks a hundred times better than the first. There’s sometimes a low-framerate blur-cam on the zombies, making me think they’re compensating for makeup shortcomings, and fights are shot like garbage, but everything else is slick looking with less-horrendous music. Not saying I’m yet convinced of the masterpiece status of the Resident Evil series, but it’s a step in the right direction and I’m actually looking forward to the next episode. The critics disagree: “a disastrous step down”… “atrocious direction”… “mostly incomprehensible.”

Picking up right where we left off, Alice walks out into the ruins of the zombie-infested city. She meets badass supercop Valentine (Sienna Guillory of High-Rise) after Alice drives a motorcycle through a stained-glass window, blows it up in midair and kills the beasts that were terrorizing Valentine’s squad with an array of guns. So, Alice has been upgraded since the first movie, and so has her sidekick (Valentine > Michelle Rodriguez). The two of them will soon team up with Umbrella troop Carlos (Oded Fehr of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies) and comic relief act LJ (Mike Epps, star of the Uncle Buck TV series).

Carlos and LJ:

Meanwhile, with the city overrun, Umbrella is trying to rescue lead viral scientist Dr. Ashford (Benmont in Dead Man, Lord Portley-Rind in The Boxtrolls), who refuses to comply unless they also rescue his missing daughter, so Alice, still technically an employee, is put on that task. And Umbrella is happily using the chaos to test their new mega-mutant (formerly Eric from part one, now a bazooka/chaingun-wielding guy in a rubber cenobite suit, which is a huuuge step up from the CGI in part one), having him target city police for some reason.

Very videogamey – check out the ammo count in the corner:

Dudes hide their zombie bites then turn on their friends at inopportune times – this is gonna happen in all the movies, isn’t it? We’ve got a cowboy sniper cop, a corporate baddie named Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann of Argento’s Dracula 3D), a reporter who gets eaten by children and a nuclear blast. Milla now has super-rabbit jump skills, and once she runs straight down the side of a building – it’s cable-assisted, but still great.

The movie ends even more cynically than the first – after the company destroys the entire city to contain the outbreak, a reporter’s tape documenting the truth behind the infections gets out, but it’s dismissed as fake news. Alice is captured again in a new city/lab, might now be a clone and has obtained Scanner powers, and after her friends break her out, her eyes flash with the Umbrella logo.


Resident Evil 3: Extinction (2007, Russell Mulcahy)

So this is when the series gets good. An early action scene is shot like hot garbage, with the action shot way too close and disorienting edits, but things improve later on. The look and plot are now ripping off Mad Max since the t-virus has turned the planet into a desert shithole, while in the subterranean Umbrella labs they’re ripping off Day of the Dead, trying to domesticate captured zombies. I love how the tech in futuristic movies work – they use Ericsson flip phones and point-and-shoot cameras, but they also hologram-teleconference into meetings. I guess Anderson was busy prepping his dumb Death Race remake, so now we’ve got music-video vet Mulcahy with the first feature of his I’ve watched since Highlander 2: The Quickening.

Carlos and Claire:

A band of survivors led by Claire (Ali Larter of the Final Destination movies) and including Carlos and LJ from the previous movie (but not Valentine – the actress was in Eragon around this time) search for gasoline and survivors in a truck convoy, avoiding the zombie-filled larger cities. There’s also a cowboy sniper in the group – wasn’t there just a cowboy sniper in the last movie? In a probable reference to the video game series, whenever these guys need some item, it’s located in a creepy dark passageway full of hidden zombies. Superpsychic Alice roams alone, traveling by night to avoid Umbrella detection. When they team up, she’s visited by the AI girl from part one, making a welcome return, and the crew fights off a cloud of zombie crows. Carlos gets bit and kamikazes a zombie horde… LJ gets bit too, but he’s the guy in this movie who will hide it until too late.

Firestarter Alice, taking care of the killer crows situation:

Underground, Alice’s evil-scientist father-figure Iain Glen (Tomb Raider, Game of Thrones) is using Alice’s blood to transform other zombies, and also cloning new Alices and running them through fatal tests. When the higher-ups get tired of Glen abusing his authority (using Sneakers tactics) and murder him, he arises as a super-mutant with hentai-tentacle powers and goes on a spree until Alice breaks in and lures him into the Cube chamber. Claire and the few convoy survivors are helicoptering to the last outpost of humanity in Alaska, while Alice has got herself an empty facility, hundreds of Alice clones, and the locations of the other Umbrella bases.

Autumn again:

Eschewing the comparatively innocent side characters, the film ends by reaffirming the overarching series conflict between Alice and Umbrella, only this time, discerning the moral high ground between the two is much more complex task. If Umbrella wins, they’ll exert even more control over the new world they rebuild. If Alice wins, “the cure” isn’t found … it’s possible an organization dedicating itself to the restoration of mankind will have been destroyed by a peeved rogue.

A stupid, jittery, high-energy action remake by Anderson, one of Cinema Scope’s 50 Under 50, highlighting what is for me the biggest problem with auteurism these days. In the 1960’s, movies were made on a factory line, some better than others, mostly credited to studios and producers, until observant critics realized that certain directors put out work of consistently high quality – no huge surprise there – but that they also had thematic and structural consistencies throughout a body of films from varied writers and studios. Heroes were belatedly made of Hawks, Ford and Hitchcock, and their films from critically-unloved genres (comedy, western, thriller) were reassessed. Today the studio system is totally different and every director thinks of himself as an auteur. Since the hardcore auteurists have nothing to discover, instead of enjoying the new world of supposedly personal cinema, they stare at the studio genre movies that still get made, searching for new names they can take credit for discovering. My pick was Hong Kong-turned-Hollywood Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky, Freddy vs. Jason), but I lost interest after Fearless. Mubi latched onto the late Tony Scott, and Cinema Scope loves Paul W.S. Anderson, responsible for three of the worst video-game adaptations I’ve seen in theaters (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator) and the underrated Event Horizon.

In a dystopian future, racing legend Jason Statham is set up for killing his perfect wife, and sent to a post-reality-TV prison, where he can earn his freedom by winning a few weapon-equipped car races which are, of course, rigged by the authorities (Joan Allen). He takes the place of a masked driver called Frankenstein (role reprised from the original by David Carradine), gets a mechanic (Ian McShane), a saboteur-spy sidekick (Natalie Martinez) and a rival (Tyrese Gibson, in the Sylvester Stallone role). After some ‘splosiony car races, Statham avenges his wife by killing mohawked driver Max Ryan and Pryzbylewski-looking guard Jason Clarke, then secretly teams up with Tyrese, easily breaking out of prison by shooting the walls with their missile-equipped cars, driving away to a Shawshank-esque incognito freedom.

Also, Ian McShane blows up Joan Allen:

Set in the dystopian future world of 2012. Will someone tell me again why future-movies always take place in the extremely near future? Followed by two sequels starring Ving Rhames and Danny Trejo. Produced by the great Roger Corman, in between Supergator and Sharktopus.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope calls him “the elder, least pretentious, and most consistently amusing Anderson of the current director trifecta: its termite artisan.”