10 Years: “Resident Evil: Extinction”

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As a series goes on, ideas can sometimes come to a stall. The creative well is almost dry. No matter the previous film’s success, it could prove risky for another outing. Keeping things fresh is no longer as simple as it was before. With some franchises, this could backfire in big ways or could be of almost no consequence. I guess it’s going to come down to the audience and what type of film and franchise they’ve accepted and come to expect.

By now, the Screen Gems film “Resident Evil: Extinction”, based on the Capcom series of games, had a very clear identity. All those who worked to bring it to life, aimed for just that and while a long way from perfect, if even truly that good, it works. It builds on ideas established in the previous film, introduces some elements that were largely missing before and just manages to maintain a certain level of fun. I may be jumping the gun on this film’s 10 year anniversary (by several months), but I couldn’t very well leave out this film, and as it turns out, I was right about the reason why. It’s the most entertaining and best one in this franchise and surprisingly, has aged quite well.

As Dry As The Eyes Can See
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The scope for “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” was thankfully much bigger. Everything could improve and allow for the film to not only be more fun, but be a drastically different film than the previous one. Here, that approach is continued, but done so on an even bigger scale and one that could’ve backfired more than it probably did at the time.

The country, and according to Milla Jovovich’s Alice, the world, was consumed by the T-virus and the undead that resulted because of it. While not all that original, when you go back several decades, it works. It makes sense and is the logical next step, especially from this narrative standpoint. It also allows for a global picture to be painted, and it’s a bleak one.

For me, which again surprised me this time as it’s been some years since I last saw the film, it works best because of all the isolation that so many people are forced to experience. In a superficial production capacity, it works, too, because of the locations used and the way the world was created and shot. While things could be very different in other parts of the country, I imagine, here, in the desert, it’s just sand and abandoned buildings, that look like one storm could knock them down. There’s even just the nature of the changed landscape. It’s so open, but so empty. Sure traditional dangers can’t really lurk anymore, at least out in the open countryside, but that doesn’t stop hopelessness from settling in. Maybe I’m overanalyzing this bit, especially as this type of film has been done before, minus the zombies, but as I’m trying to focus on just the franchise, it brings a pretty solid change for the overall story.

I mentioned not being able to have dangers lurking in the traditional way, and while that’ll always be true, it doesn’t change the fact that something had to come in and replace that or this film would’ve just been a drama in the desert. With scares and thrills, that aren’t truly effective now, if ever, writer Paul W.S. Anderson, needed to get inventive. Those damn crows certainly fit that bill. It’s also because of this approach, that a positive note in a larger exploration of human drama can be had.

While this is only one example of humanity being explored, albeit a bit cliché now, for this film, it also offers the first bit of fun. When Jovovich try’s to help the hick like people, it backfires. Least spectacularly for them and their dogs. Apparently in all zombie films and TV shows, especially now, everyone’s out for themselves and will do anything to survive or gain something they previously didn’t have. With this one small scene and sequence, a much bigger picture is painted. If this type of chaotic behavior is happening here, just think of how things are going elsewhere. Thus, part of the film’s true scope is illustrated. Afterwards it’s just more open roads and no sign that there will ever be another human interaction again.

Merrily We Emote Along
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I say this quite a bit, but most action films lack much emotional depth. Sure there are plot points that are supposed to serve as dramatic human moments and ways into the various characters, but they largely fall flat. I’m not trying to say this film presents itself as a prime example of how to construct human drama, but it’s the only time in this franchise where that truly seems to be accomplished. Mind you, it’s not terribly deep, but if I can be affected by the deaths that happen during the crow sequence and in the big Las Vegas fight, even a little bit, then I’d say something good was accomplished.

Perhaps it’s just the fact that there are so many more people in this film. While none of the character drama that’s shown is a very good way into the characters, you get enough that makes up for that lack of character depth. Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield is leading a band of survivors. This convoy is full of adults taking charge and younger survivors in need of protection and hope. You get this. Larter may not reveal much on a personal level, even that she has a brother, which if you didn’t play the video games, you’d never know (until the sequel), but makes up for this with the command she has. She’s in charge, charismatic and makes sure to show an interest in as many people as possible, to make sure they’re doing as good as they can. It’s about as motherly as you’re going to get, and it’s something that still manages to go beyond simple likability.

Returning character L.J., played by Mike Epps, even manages to show growth. He’s taking an interest in Ashanti’s Betty, as well as overseeing one of the vehicles in the convoy. It’s not much, but that, along with their interactions with the rest of the adult characters, which is perfectly displayed in the character introduction scene, where they’re trying to figure out who amongst them has a cigarette, allows for me to look past the lack of personal insights.

Oded Fehr’s Carlos Olivera is somehow different. He’s noticeably different, but you don’t get that look into him until Jovovich shows up. There’s apparently a lot that happened before she disappeared and the events of this film. Perhaps a reason why Fehr’s lack of depth and Epps’s is because they’re returning characters. As long as they’re being the badasses we know them to be, that’s all we’ll ever need.

Or, maybe it’s actually because Anderson did something right. He crafted scenes, with all of the above in tact, and also took some time and explored life amongst this group of survivors. You could see how and what each person more or less meant to another. You could see why this group had survived this long, even if it was now smaller than it was months ago. These scenes not only slowed things a bit between action sequences, but gave you a reason to care. To become more invested than you previously had before. It’s certainly a lot more than the other films managed to do.

The previous films weren’t about human drama. Not really. Again, there were moments designed to appear emotional, but they could never really even penetrate the surface of my emotions. The one time we really got something was once Angie and Dr. Ashford were together again, but then he was shot. That was the big emotional pull, and it still lacked any meaning. It was really just a plot device to piss off the other characters. With this film, after various attacks, however, it really manages to come about and affect you. You’re given time to grieve, complete with a whole bit with graves and crosses. There could be other little tidbits pulled off that make the human drama surprisingly strong, but not that strong, and make this film so much more than many viewers probably thought they’d ever get. Going in this time, I certainly wasn’t expecting it, and I love it all the more.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
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That she does not. For some time now, I’m not sure how many years this film jumps, Alice has been Jack Kerouac-ing it. Not a bad way to live, all things considered. She gets to see the sights, get a haircut, new clothes and even cooler weaponry. I mean, come on, those knives are awesome! However, with all this traveling, she does know how to find herself in the right place at the right time, or wrong for those the event’s happening too, or be the cause of everyone’s misfortune.

It’s though this basic plot structure, which is really what this film relied on more than a truly solid storyline, that audiences get some stellar action sequences!

The crows attacking the convoy may possibly be the coolest sequence overall. Sure it’s sad and exhilarating all at once, but it’s the end that makes it all worth it. While it makes me sad to think about who died and how, the overall execution was fun and non-stop! One can and the birds go crazy. Swarming and swooping at anything and everything. All those moving vehicles trying to flea, and then go back to save others. It was tough to know where to look, at least until specifically told where. I really think it was just the way it was shot and edited that got me so engrossed. Of course, the fact that these are crows attacking, and it’s daytime instead of night, and you’ve got yourself a terrifying new menace. Something, that unless you’re Tippi Hedren, shouldn’t be terrifying. For that, I’ll always love this sequence. Well, and the massive fire cloud, thing, whatever, that occurs when Alice shows and uses her powers to save some people. What a sight to see.

The Las Vegas sequence is just massive in scope. If the backwards hick people at the start of the film were one specific example in how different the world is and how screwed up humanity is, this shows another part of it. It’s also, just a different part of the country. When the remainder of the convoy rolls into Vegas, it’s amazingly shot to show how the Earth has reclaimed itself. Buildings buried. I applaud the creative minds behind this look and the visual effects used to make it look so real. Which brings us to those stronger and faster zombies. They’re vicious! But, fortunately, there were so many amazing fighters to watch, especially Alice. Jovovich just gave it her all. She jumped, twirled, kicked and sliced to her heart’s content! Never giving up! Another time I’m hoping she did as much of the stunt work herself. Everyone else just fought, shot and did their damnedest. This sequence is able to excel even more because of various set pieces, Eiffel Tower, and the big cargo containers which brought these crazed zombies into the film in the first place. Once more, editing and shooting is responsible for this. It’s chaotic all the way through! Certainly a top notch sequence that deserves a high rank when listing the action sequences in the franchise.

These two (above) are big, fun and dangerous. There’s more at stake, which is also another reason why I think the emotional drama can hit a bit more. Even during it, when Christopher Egan’s Mikey is finding himself a tasty meal, Larter’s not only shooting to save him, but is visibly upset. It’s one of the only other clear emotional moments that’s just so refreshing in this series. Of course, she also does that cliché thing where she tilts her head up and screams out in frustration. I can forgive it, but it’s still sad too see.

The Tyrant finale fight, while fun to watch, isn’t as big as the others. However, I felt this time that that wasn’t really the goal. It was a narrative choice, but it was also a decent fight that showcased the extent of the powers these two highly capable and deadly characters had. It was basically a big boss showdown. Like something from a video game. While I’ll enjoy it for the few minutes it goes on, it lacks a big scope, which really sucks after the other incredible sequences that came before. There’s almost no vision to it. That being said, the choreography was good and intense enough, and the special effects, while not perfect, worked and don’t look overly cheap, especially after this last decade.

The badass and exciting trailer that still impresses me:

Original Release Date: Sept. 21, 2007

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Writer: Paul W.S. Anderson

Starring: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Ashanti, Christopher Egan, Spencer Locke, Matthew Marsden, Linden Ashby, Jason O’Mara and Mike Epps

 

 

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