Ready for yet another fanboy heresy?
Here we go.
The Resident Evil movies are a lot more enjoyable than the Resident Evil video games.
Here’s the deal: Zombies are no longer scary.
Once upon a time, the concept of the zombie was pretty freaky. Some mysterious plot point allows for the dead to rise back up. The dead like to eat the living. If the dead bite/claw/whatever one of the living, they become the walking dead as well. It’s that classic existential dread, much like pod people, pandemics, or the dread of an alien invasion. There’s some inescapable fate that takes the form of a monster. The longer said monster is walking the Earth, the harder it becomes to stop. It’s a foe that grows with every victim, decreasing the odds of survival and increasing the odds of death and/or assimilation.
But really, does that scare anyone anymore? Yeah, when you first come across the concept it’s kinda freaky. Gets you thinking and shit. But it’s that dread, and not the actual creature, that generates the fear. Monsters aren’t scary. Being scared is scary.
Yeah, zombies ain’t scary anymore. They’ve become the new Nazi– that all-purpose killable cannon fodder we get to blow up and mutilate with no moral regret. They ain’t monsters, they’re fucking Koopa Troopas.
Sure, the occasional zombie-like movie comes out that’s pretty cool. I loved 28 Weeks Later (Weeks, not Days. Days sucked.) for its “you have no idea who’s going to live” attitude. No one was safe in that movie. Main characters died at unexpected moments. It had the same appeal those early episodes of Book of Bantorra had. But those are the exception to the rule. Most zombie stories post- Romero still act like Romero’s Night/Dawn/Day movies never happened. Hell, even Romero’s newer zombie movies act like we haven’t gotten the message. They still act like the story’s new and terrifying. The Walking Dead’s especially bad about this, turning the same old thing into a fucking comic book and TV series. Yawn.
Resident Evil– the movie series that is– gets this. While the games still try to go for fright, the movies toss this out all together. Not that they’re bad or anything. No. They’re pretty well made for that sort of thing. They’re just behind the times, thinking we’re still cowering at these imaginary undead hordes.
The movies embrace that cannon fodder mentality. The zombie isn’t scary, it’s something to be shot at in a stylish way. These movies don’t even need to be about zombies. It could be dinosaurs or aliens or some other monstrosity hidden away by an evil corporation that just happens to get out and start an apocalypse.
The Resident Evil movies are action movies, and decent ones at that. The action scenes aren’t on that Hong Kong level of sophistication as far as choreography goes, but they’re clean and clear enough to follow and flashy enough to amuse. I’d say that they “suffice” when compared to the usual shaky handcam, in the middle of the action sort of stuff we get in most Hollywood movies.
But if it were just that, these movies would just be alright. They’d be the disposable entertainment of which they’re often accused. What elevates them is their sense of escalation and ridiculousness.
Each movie ups the ante. The first one pretty much mirrors the first Resident Evil game in that it takes place in a base under a mansion. Self-contained and all that, but it ends with Milla Jovovich’s character standing in the streets of a ravaged Raccoon City. The sequel starts right there, with Raccoon City devastated and Milla trying to fight her way out of the place after Umbrella has quarantined and walled the city off from the outside world. The third movie moves on to a post-epidemic world, where the zombies outnumber the survivors all across the world and things are more like Mad Max than they are your usual survival horror scenario. That movie ends with us seeing Umbrella’s stock of Milla clones, and the fourth sequel pays off on that promise by having a small platoon of Millas assaulting an Umbrella base.
It’s that sequence of ever-increasing preposterous situations that makes this series pretty damn enjoyable and memorable. The first one could have been some throwaway attempt at trying to cash in on the popular games, but they kept at it and kept building on every silly plot point, never winking at the audience and never really slowing down in an attempt to rationalize this shit. Even the “recap” moments at the beginning of the later sequels don’t make much sense to someone unfamiliar with the series’ madness. Even as someone pretty familiar with it, seeing Milla try to explain all of this is downright laughable in all the right ways.
And it’s all built up to what has to be the best moment in the series. Each of the movies have had some awesome last moments, giving us a glimpse of a sequel that defies us to anticipate it, and Retribution gives us the best one yet. Milla’s character, Alice, and a bunch of other characters from the series make it out of this video game-like Umbrella base in Russia. They’re picked up by a helicopter and whisked away to Wesker’s HQ (Yeah, Wesker’s a good guy now for inexplicable reasons.). Turns out he’s set up base in the fucking White House, and he’s commanding the last vestiges of humanity to fight against the hordes of undead that lay siege on Washington D.C. The last scene has Wesker sitting in the Oval Office, lounging around like he’s just been elected president. He takes the survivors (Ada Wong, Leon Kennedy, and Jill Valentine) to the roof of the White House and the camera pans out. The White House is surrounded by what looks like wall straight out of a medieval castle. Towers are spewing fire out into the zombie hordes. The sky is blood-red. Things are flying in the sky. The world is ending, and all that’s left is Milla Jovovich and President Wesker.
It’s a truly beautiful sight and a perfect picture of why I dig these movies.
Also: Michelle Rodriguez is the final boss and becomes Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, complete with x-ray views of limbs and organs shattering.