Dec 5 2012 11:00am

Why the Resident Evil Films are Great Entertainment, Part II

Why the Resident Evil Films are Great Entertainment, Part II

Resident Evil: Extinction grossed $147 million on its 2007 release. Narratively, it may well be the weakest instalment in the franchise:* the combination of its sere desertscape and mad-scientist-lair settings fail to disguise a fundamental structural/thematic incoherence that make it, despite its best efforts, a decidedly off-kilter affair. Whether or not one can get invested in the outcome of l’affaire Alice here depends on how ridiculous one finds the mad science plot... and I find it too ridiculous for words.

*As before, all my generalisations must be taken to exclude Retribution.

Iain Glen chews the scenery with gusto as Dr. Isaacs, a mad scientist with a thing for Alice clones, a problem with authority, a habit of unauthorised zombie experimentation, and a penchant for self-experimentation....

Also, he wants to capture Alice. This works out well for everyone, yes?

But the ridiculous meets the sublime in this post-apocalyptic desert landscape, where Alice, after encountering mad cannibals** and abandoned convenience stores, and wrecking her kickass motorbike with her newly-developed psychic powers,*** finally hooks up with the third leg of the wobbly tripod that holds this film up—and the one that pays for all.

**They’re either cannibals or utterly batshit insane. I’m voting for both.

***I don’t even, either.

For this film, I’m here for the ensemble cast. And Claire Redfield’s convoy, trailing through empty desert, raiding deserted motels for supplies, holding things together with the skin of their teeth and desperate determination—that’s good ensemble.

Joining Redfield (Ali Larter) are our old friends Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Mike Epps), with Ashanti Douglas, Christopher Egan, Linden Ashby and Spencer Locke rounding out the plucky band of ragged heroes. When zombie crows attack, and Alice turns up just in time to save the day with magic psychic powers, things begin to explode in interesting configurations.

And once again, a Resident Evil film passes the Bechdel test multiple times.

Claire: Everyone is grateful for you helping us out.
Alice: But how long am I gonna stay?
Claire: Don’t get me wrong, we really are grateful. They’re all talking about what you did, and they’re scared.
Alice: I don’t blame them. People have a habit of dying around me.
Claire: Not just you.

Try as I might, I can’t actually follow a thematic thread in the actions which follow. Alice knows of somewhere in Alaska that might be safe! They need supplies! There is an ambush in sand-swallowed Vegas, masterminded by Evil Scientist Iain Glen! LJ goes zombie! Carlos gets bitten! Many people die! Alice leads them to Mad Science Underground Base! Carlos has the honour of playing forlorn hope, survivors steal a helicopter, and Alice goes into the Mad Science Base for a showdown with Iain Glen (now with extra tentacles), and discovers an army of clones of herself.

There’s a tentacle boss-fight that goes on forever. And finally, BOOM! Lasers, cutting tentacle-monster Iain Glen apart.

Now there’s more than one Alice. Lots of Alices. And they’re out to get the headquarters of the Umbrella Corp in Tokyo, which is where Resident Evil: Afterlife opens.

With a bang.

Afterlife grossed $296 million, making it the highest-grossing installment of the franchise to date. Its explosive opening, in which multiple Alices attack the Umbrella Corp’s headquarters under Tokyo, and the last surviving (and, we presume, the original) Alice loses her powers in a battle with the Umbrella Corp top guy, segues rapidly to Alice, in a prop-engine plane, searching for the survivors of Claire Redfield’s caravan in the north, in fabled “Arcadia.”

She arrives in a field of abandoned planes (let us handwave the issue of fuel) to find no people—apart from Claire herself, who has lost her memory thanks to a mysterious Mad Science! device attached to her chest. So Alice, being Alice, essentially abducts Claire and goes in search of other survivors, while hoping Claire’s memory will return so that she can figure out what the hell happened.

Flying south, they happen across another group of survivors, who’ve been holed up in a prison since the outbreak began. Alice lands on the roof, and here begins a saga of internal dissent, zombies, zombies with tentacles, giant zombie monsters, an unexpected brother (Claire’s), and escaping from zombies-with-tentacles through tunnels.

For it turns out that this group of survivors has been in touch with “Arcadia,” and that the sanctuary is a ship. To get to the bottom of the mystery, Alice and her handful of survivors—whittled down eventually to Claire and Chris Redfield—get aboard Arcadia.

And find more Mad Science! And a tentacle boss to battle, whom we’ve seen before....


Despite making very little logic, it is enormously fun. And it passes the Bechdel test. I’d give an awful lot for there to be more films with this much sense of their own ridiculousness (and explosions) that pass the Bechdel test so easily, I tell you what.

Great entertainment. Fairly awful films, these two, though. If Roger Ebert had some terrible things to say about them, I’d probably agree—even if I do watch them again and again, cackling with enjoyment.

Liz Bourke procrastinates @hawkwing_lb on Twitter.

1. Lalo
I agree these movies aren't what you would call logically sound or deep thinkers--but they're not trying to be. Milla and Anderson have said in multiple interviews that as long as people keep coming to them, they'll keep making them regardless of how ridiculous they get.

I was sick and on cough medicine when I saw the 4th movie in theaters and apparently I was convinced that Alice and Wesker were fighting because they broke up at some point because Alice doesn't like Tentacle Sex and Wesker thought she was still in love with Carlos (which who wouldn't be omg I love Oded Fehr). My friends recall trying to get me to hush so that I stopped 'rooting for Wesker to go down on one knee and propose'.

And yet it might still make more sense then some of the plot of that movie...

But I do so enjoy them and I am looking forward to 6 XD
Jack Flynn
2. JackofMidworld
Agreed on all counts (even the Robitussin-induced hentai fever dream, since I'm sure there's a slash out there somewhere that is exactly that).
Amy Palmer
3. wayfaringpanda
I found the fourth movie to be a total hackjob. It was the only RE movie I walked out at the end of feeling as if I maybe had wasted my money. RE3 wasn't great, but RE4 is removed from any future marathon I may hold - I'll skip from RE3 to RE5.
4. GuruJ
I've only seen RE4, and except for complete incomprehension at the first 3 minutes of the movie, it holds up pretty well standalone.

Plot is complete nonsense, of course; but some of the set pieces are so ridiculously over-the-top awesome that you can't help but have a goofy grin while watching.

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