Resident Evil at 20: Imperfect adaptation of the video game that gave birth to an unlikely franchise
Resident Evil (R16, 100mins) Directed by Paul WSAnderson**
Big-screen video game adaptations have had a notoriously checkered history.
From Super Mario Brothers for street fighter and Lossmost attempts to recreate the joy of the game on celluloid have failed miserably.
One of the most anticipated released 20 years ago this month – a special effects-laden adaptation of one of Capcom’s most popular series of the previous decade – resident Evil.
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Our story is set in the 21st century town of Racoon, home to the Umbrella Corporation, an all-powerful multinational conglomerate that claims nine out of 10 homes contain their products. Computer technology and healthcare are their forte, though they do dabble in a bit of military technology, genetic experimentation – oh, and viral weapons.
When someone tries to steal the potentially deadly T-virus from a maximum-security research lab, things go horribly wrong. The lab’s Red Queen supercomputer locks all 500 employees in – and it’s up to an elite special ops team to get them out. But, as one character so prophetically puts it, “it’s much more complex than that.”
Before directing this and eventually becoming synonymous with bad Hollywood action movies (thanks to drecks such as Alien vs Predator and Pompeii), director Paul W.S. Anderson had been credited with making one of the few decent video game adaptations – the original 1995 version of mortal combat. There, he managed to capture the spirit of the game with a main course of chop-socky action and a parallel order of the plot.
Immediately after that, his career began its downward spiral with the inexplicable Event horizon quickly followed by the unspeakable Soldier. resident Evil is an improvement on them and has enough sly references to satisfy fans, but will leave others with a distinct sense of rambling and deja vu.
Species, aliens, The last kiss good night and 2001 – the list of inspirations for this film is potentially endless. As for the plot, it’s a hybrid of all and badly hampered by superficial and obvious dialogue. It’s also not helped by an overuse of moody looks, as well as synthesizer and bass guitar music to mask the breaks.
Most infuriating is the obvious borrowing of ideas from both the Canadian cult film cube and George Romero’s classic zombie movie night of the living dead. The latter is explained by Romero’s involvement in the original concept – he left citing creative differences.
Zombie movies of course allow for a degree of bad acting – and that’s certainly the case here.
However, the only bright spot is Ukrainian-born model-turned-actor Milla Jovovich. Always watchable, since its debut in Junction of the Two Moons in 1988, Jovovich’s career had apparently been derailed by mixed reception for her performance as Joan of Arc in Luc Besson’s 1999 tale The messenger. While that film was making money, she earned a Razzie nomination for Worst Actress.
Here, her “Alice” has a presence similar to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley (and a real estate agent similar to Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft, judging by her mansion) as she battles her own “aliens”. Whether it’s finding a high-powered rifle among his underwear or eliminating the latest undead threat, Jovovich does it in style, most often wearing a flashy red robe.
Arguably, it’s really only because of his dedication, dexterity, and ability to attract a loyal following ready to follow his character, no matter how predictable or superficial the plot, that this growing zombie franchise lame managed to work on five other sequels, before finally giving up the ghost with the years 2016 The last chapter.
resident Evil is now available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.