Analyzing Video Game Movies: The Resident Evil Franchise

Analyzing Video Game Movies: The Resident Evil Franchise

While video games have become a major mainstream media and I do love to play them ever so much, video games have also expanded in their own right, onto the big screen. Now as well as being a huge video game player I am also a movie buff and I tend to have a sort of soft spot for watching video game movies, whether to enjoy them or laugh at how bad they are. I thought I would take some time to talk about some of the video game movies that are out there right now and the prospect of the future of this adaptation inspired medium.  This will be a feature that will be broken up into chunks and I will be making them as relatable as possible but for this first look we are going to examine probably the biggest and most expanded offender of the video game movies, the Resident Evil franchise.

Now at this point we currently have five live action and three CG Resident Evil movies which have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. Now I’m only going to focus on the live action films and the two most recent CG films as the first CG film was only released in Japan and I have not seen it all but what I have seen looks extremely dated and uninteresting. You can find clips on YouTube if you are really curious but overall you can just skip it. I’m going to look at the live action films first as they are the most notable and successful of the franchise and the ones people will be more familiar with. The live action films also tell their own contained story while the CG films actually fit into the timeline of the video games and are considered to be canon.


The first Resident Evil film was released in 2002 and like all the rest starts Milla Jovovich and was written and directed by (except for the third movie having a different director) Paul W.S. Anderson. So I’m going to start off with talking about the things I like about this movie before I start breaking down the bad parts. First off the music was made by Marilyn Manson and Marco Beltrami and is fantastic! The music sets a great tone with its new age electronic horror sounds and really fits the laboratory environment that the film takes place in. Also I felt the tone of this first movie was really well managed and really felt like a horror film overall, even if it wasn't a scary movie at all and that starts my problems with the film. This movie isn't even slightly scary. Now I have a high tolerance for horror movies but even with that in mind this movie couldn't even give me a jump scare, and this is a consistent problem throughout the film series. So this is supposed to be our introduction into Resident Evil and instead of focusing the movie on the mansion, where you spend about 80% of the game, they focus on the underground lab which is a small chunk of the original game. The ratio of time in mansion and time in laboratory is completely flipped between the game and the movie and that is maybe the biggest mistake as the mansion is the most iconic part of Resident Evil. Even taking the setting aside, what’s even worse is that none of the characters from the game are even in the movie. While some of the main characters from the games would appear in later movies the first has only all original characters and none of them are even that interesting. The story is explained by character motives that just don’t seem to make sense at all and there is hardly any emotional connection to these characters that you shouldn't want to get eaten alive.


This movie definitely has the first attempt feel that you sometimes see in a movie franchise. Unfortunately the second film has that same feel. Now I will say that out of all of these movies, the first three are the only ones I would call enjoyable. I like the first three films and I would say I like the second one the most because it is the only one that follows the games relatively close even though it is still its own thing. However I will say that it is my opinion and overall, Resident Evil Apocalypse is really bad. It takes the best two games in franchise and just ruins them. This is the first one of the films to introduce an actual game character in Jill Valentine and Nemesis. However one of my biggest problems with this film franchise is its characterization. These films idolize women as being completely bad ass (either that or the cliché damsel in distress) and almost everyone is a crack shot and almost invincible. There’s hardly ever any fear for any of the characters. The third movie did pull this back a little and actually added some tension and danger but all of the other films it feels like all of the main characters are The One from The Matrix. The first film did have some horror elements to it but overall felt like a low rent action movie and the second film just blows it out of proportion. I’m pretty sure the main characters never miss a headshot and there’s even a cliché flick a cigarette into gas fumes like a bad ass scene. The second film holds a special place in my heart by actually incorporating things from the game and by being based off the best games in the series but it is a shameful movie that falls short even by the standards set by the original. The second film is just a huge step backwards from the first. Even the music was changed to be more of an orchestra and just doesn’t hold that same appeal.


Resident Evil Extinction is where this series finally picked up some steam and is easily the best produced movie in the franchise. While sometimes it is said that the third time is a charm, the third Resident Evil movie definitely steps up the game and excels where the first two movies failed. The first thing to note is that this movie is much more bloody and violent. Resident Evil and Resident Evil Apocalypse are two of the tamest zombie movies I have ever seen as there is very little graphic gore to the zombie attacks. Resident Evil Extinction actually has zombies tearing into people and while you don’t see anything as graphic as guts being pulled out of bodies, it is still very bloody and pretty graphic. What’s unique about this film is the setting which has never been done before in a zombie movie but because of that it strays farther away from the games than any of the previous movies. By this point in the story the virus has somehow spread all over the planet with very little explanation as to how that happened. It is then barely explained that since no one is around to manage the planet that it is just withering away and the main characters are no traveling across the Nevada desert which eventually brings them to a Las Vegas that is almost completely buried in sand. This film plays on a lot of other movie inspirations such as Mad Max and sets a very original tone for zombie movie.


Resident Evil Extinction brings back some characters from the previous movie and also introduces us to another character from the games in Claire Redfield played by Ali Larter. However this time around the characters feel even less like their video game counterparts then before and really only share the name alone. That being said this movie actually takes some of the better and more obscure elements from the games and starts to incorporate them in a way that is actually entertaining. The story here is pretty solid and the ending is probably the best of the series. It is also worth noting that the soundtrack is back to the greatness that the first film had and this will remain consistent among the rest of the sequels. It may be worth noting that this is the first and only film of the series not to be directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and is easily the best one to date. Could this be a coincidence? While this may be the best film of the franchise it is also the beginning of one of the worst aspects of the series. Milla Jovovich’s character has gained powers from the T-Virus and this is just a ridiculous concept even thought it was technically in the game Code Veronica. As I mentioned before most of the main in these movies feel a little too invincible and with the main character Alice receiving telekinetic powers she becomes pretty much unstoppable. So this movie actually ends with her discovering hundreds of clones of herself that Umbrella was making to try and find a cure and sets them free to exact her revenge on Albert Wesker who has the lamest introduction and role in this movie. I wonder how they will deal with that in the sequel.


So enter movie number four and within the first ten minutes Alice has lost her powers supposedly killed Wesker (yeah right) and all of the clones have been killed. Whoo that was fast! And the best part is that it all takes place in 3D. That’s right folks! We have stepped into the 3D territory now. This entire film was just advertised as a big 3D gimmick and brags about using the James Cameron 3D technology that was used to make Avatar as thought that could make a bad movie somehow amazing.  News flash, it doesn’t. This movie was a nightmare of boring. This film opens with a huge action scene involving Alice and her clones storming Umbrella and then there is basically no action until the end. Now this film at this point is the worst in the series (until the release of the fifth film but we’ll get to that) but there are things that I find enjoyable about it. First of all let’s get it out of the way. The soundtrack is awesome! Unfortunately this was the first movie not to also have a licensed soundtrack and only had a score. The licensed soundtracks for the first three movies were pretty epic if you were a metal fan and I suggest checking them out. I was disappointed the fourth and fifth movie didn’t get the same soundtrack treatments.


So here we are with the fourth entry and the world is in even more dire straits and we are introduced to another character from the games Chris Redfield. This interpretation of Chris is fine by appearance but lame by story. In fact the whole story is just boring. A group of survivors are held up in a prison surrounded by zombies and they believe that a ship in the harbor is their only hope. It’s a pretty thin plot and there is less zombie killing in this movie than any of the previous but that’s not even the worst part. Anderson loved to pull everything he could from the games and put it in the movies but this is where it goes off the rails. This movie was released after Resident Evil 4 and 5 which didn’t feature zombies but people controlled by a parasite. Well in Resident Evil Afterlife the zombies now have features of the aforementioned video game creatures and we are given literally zero explanation! It is safe to assume that the zombies have just somehow evolved into faster deadlier monsters but even one throwaway line of dialogue could have been inserted to give us that assumption. Instead we just get fast zombies and the executioner monster for no reason. This gets even worse in the next film but again I am getting ahead of myself.


So like I said Alice no longer has her powers in this movie but she actually seems even more superhuman without them. There is a scene where she literally jumps off of the huge prison with just a rope and just rolls out of it when she hits the ground. This wouldn’t even fly in a Die Hard film and John McLane jumped onto the back of a jet in his fourth movie. So this movie builds up to a rather anticlimactic conclusion that rips out fight scene choreography directly out of Resident Evil 5 which manages to be the best part of the movie. Strange to notice the best parts of these movies were all things that came from other people and not Anderson. So the movie ends and Wesker (who has some of the cheesiest acting I have ever seen in my life) either does or doesn’t die (he doesn’t) and we get a huge camera pull back showing the boat being attacked by a bunch of Umbrella ships. Cue the fifth movie.


Now I’m not going to get too deep on this movie because it isn’t even on DVD yet but let me just tell you that unless you are heavily invested in these movies that you shouldn’t even bother watching it. Literally nothing happens in this movie that moves the plot forward on the condition that the world is in which was such a big focus of the last two movies. In the third movie we were told that a cure could be made and here we are in movie five and that still hasn’t been mentioned again. We get even more video game characters shoved into this film for no reason so now we get to see Leon Kennedy, Barry Burton, and Ada Wong all ruined in a film. Thumbs up to Anderson for being able to take some of the most bad ass characters from video games and making them incredibly lame. This movie feels like the biggest half step in a franchises history and just like the last movie is just a big 3D gimmick. This is the worst film of the franchise and I can only say that the more of it I watched the more offended I became. This is the only movie experience I have had where I was literally offended.


As a fan of video games when I see a movie based on one and they want to throw in something from the games I think that’s okay as long as they contextualize it. Resident Evil Retribution literally name drops things from the game with zero explanation as to what it is. Anyone watching this that hadn’t played the games would be completely lost. As a film maker you should think of your audience as being completely uninformed and lay everything in a way that makes sense and is understandable. I guess Anderson forgot all about that after making Mortal Kombat. This movie also has some of the worst interpretations of the video game characters and the previous movies had set the bar pretty low so that’s saying a lot. There’s no need to worry however because this film has no ending and sets us up for one last crack at it. A sixth movie can’t be as bad as this one right?


Now this is a lengthy article but that’s because the Resident Evil film franchise is the largest video game movie series to date. We have made it through the live action films so I’m going to talk real quickly about the two CG movies, Resident Evil Degeneration and Resident Evil Damnation. These two movies focus mostly on Leon Kennedy but Claire Redfield is in the first one which gives us their first reunion since Resident Evil 2. Needless to say these are the best two Resident Evil films that exist. They actually fit within the game continuity and look amazing. The second film, Damnation, is easily the best Resident Evil movie. Degeneration is a solid film for fans but overall is kind of boring. Not a lot happens and has a slow pacing. Damnation however has a well written story, lots of action, and great interpretations of the characters. Not to mention we get to see Ada Wong well represented in a movie. These CG movies are a great approach to the source material and I would love to see Capcom try to adapt the original game in this form. If I had one wish for the Resident Evil franchise aside from a complete reboot of the live action films, it would be a CG movie of the original Resident Evil game.


So we’ve talked a lot about the Resident Evil films and hopefully this sixth film will come and go and we can just get the reboot that we all deserve. Paul W.S. Anderson has tried to justify his approach by saying that no one wants to see the story they already know played out in a movie and to that I say nay. The reason we watch video game movies is to see the story we already know and love played out in a way that we can relate to. Video games have told amazing stories and that’s why we would want to watch the movie version in the first place. Take it from a fan, if you want to make a good video game movie, the first step would be to follow the story that gave the game a fan base in the first place. We will talk more about that next time when we discuss Silent Hill. So stay tuned for more talk about video game movies as I continue to talk about them and give my analysis.