Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Resident Evil: Extinction
Alien vs. Predator
One of the problems of trying to adapt video games to film is that so much of any given game is based not on story but on gameplay, presenting the player with increasingly challenging threats to test their skills. History shows us that it is easy for creators of movies based on these games to follow that format too closely. They create a situation that tests the main characters' abilities to survive in the world in which they have been placed, but since we're not playing, it doesn't turn out to be nearly as fun. In movies like this, the action has to be both intense and inventive, or else the film is dull. Resident Evil gets its main plot points down right, but since the story is such a small element of the movie, its inability to create compelling action sequences and sufficiently dynamic imagery leaves it a purposeless experience.
In an attempt to bring down the massive and corrupt Umbrella Corporation, someone has undertaken the extensive task of infiltrating the company’s subterranean laboratories and letting loose one of Umbrella's designer viruses into the air. With the virus as dangerous as it is, the facility’s master A.I., the “Red Queen,” locked everyone in, flooded rooms, and otherwise killed everyone down there. On the surface, two Umbrella agents masquerading as a married couple live in and guard a mansion that serves as an entry point to the compound. During the Red Queen’s fatal lockdown, they were administered an amnesia gas. When they are awakened by an Umbrella security team and brought down to the compound to investigate, they find themselves under attack not only by the Red Queen’s security system but by undead humans and animals as well.
The elements of corporate evil, espionage, genetic and viral engineering, and insidious artificial intelligence are loaded with possibilities for intriguing storytelling, but they are not used for the story. Everything is used to create action sequences. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but they are used only for the sake of having twists and turns, not to examine the characters or the morals of the situation. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson admirably allows his characters to be expendable in order to create tension -- there is one early security system kill sequence that is almost shocking for the number of important characters it dispatches -- but the merits of Anderson’s willingness to allow his characters die is diluted by their two-dimensionality. We have little reason to care about these characters, so when they do die, no matter how important they are, there is little lost emotional investment. Nearly all opportunities to create a compelling story are passed up for action.
Resident Evil’s attempt to be an action movie instead of a more cerebral thriller is not an inherent flaw, but what hurts the film is the generic nature of the action. Despite there being zombies and mutant Doberman Pinschers, the action is only once or twice more imaginative than “point gun and shoot” or “do martial arts.” Michelle Rodriguez is in the movie, playing the same type of character directors always make her play, and she is given little more to do than yell at people, stare at people (in a way that makes her look both angry and incredibly bored), and shoot at zombies. There just isn’t a lot going on in this film.
Further diminishing whatever effect Resident Evil may have as a story is the fact that some aspects of it don’t make sense and were clearly included solely to manufacture tension. When an intruder breaks a vial containing the virus in the movie’s opening moments, he does so in the room in which that virus was stored, and it is shown to immediately enter the compound’s ventilation system. If this stuff is so catastrophically dangerous, why didn’t Umbrella have the room sealed off to protect against such an accident, which could have occurred at any time? That seems like a pretty huge oversight. At another point, a character nearly kills himself, thinking, presumably, that there is no way he can escape the zombies that surround him, but then he decides to simply crawl away through a nearby corridor. It’s not like he has to look around for it. He just turns around knowing exactly where to go. Why didn’t he do that to begin with? It is too obviously an attempt to frighten the viewer into thinking someone important is going to die, which is strange considering the film otherwise generally avoids the “fake-out main character death.” At these points in the film, it seems like Anderson has become desperate to make things exciting.
With Resident Evil, we learn once again that video games don’t readily adapt to cinema. Such adaptations are possible, I am sure, but while guns and bad guys make for good game fodder, they aren’t enough for movies, even if the bad guys are zombies. This one needed either better action or more emphasis on the science, politics, or morality of the situation and of the Umbrella Corporation as a whole. With those elements and with the Resident Evil games’ trove of unique monsters, the possibilities for this film were endless. Unfortunately, this adaptation leaves its greatest possibilities untouched.