EVIL: EXTINCTION (2007)
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Since the early 1990s, movie studios and filmmakers looking for a quick buck have turned to video games for inspiration. Unfortunately, the idea of doing movies based on video games got off to a rocky start when the lackluster Super Mario Bros. movie was released in 1993, and the genre has been struggling to prove itself ever since. While there have been a few notable adaptations that could be considered good (specifically Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill), the majority of video game movies that enter production usually end up being pretty bad. Or if it's directed by Uwe Boll, they'll end up being hideously, miserably, appallingly terrible. But it should be noted, though, that a few fall through the cracks and end up being somewhere in between. Among them are Paul W.S. Anderson's movies based on Capcom's Resident Evil franchise. The games are considered sacred gems of the "survival horror" genre, but when the first movie based on them hit theaters in the spring of 2002, the reception from the core fanbase was decidedly mixed. Some liked it and defended it, while others loathed it due to its drastic departure from the source material. Differences in reaction aside, it was still financially successful enough to spawn a sequel that tried to satisfy disillusioned fans by bringing things closer to the universe of the games. And though it still polarized the fanbase, it racked up plenty of money at the box office and prompted Sony Pictures to approve a third Resident Evil movie. Once again heading down its own path while borrowing a handful of elements from its source material, Resident Evil: Extinction is evidence that even if a movie isn't great, it can still be somewhat entertaining.
Our story begins five years after the events of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and the world is much worse for wear. Thanks to the T-Virus managing to escape its quarantine, the human race has been pushed to the brink of extinction. Earth has become a barren, desolate wasteland, and those who haven't become flesh-hungry zombies are forced to stay on the road and struggle for survival. This tiny little setback hasn't stopped the malfeasant Umbrella Corporation from continuing their experiments in their subterranean compounds around the globe. Chief researcher Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) postulates that the undead masses could be domesticated with a new strain of virus synthesized from the blood of his favorite lab rat, Alice (Milla Jovovich). Of course, Dr. Isaacs neglects to mentions to his superiors, including Umbrella chairman Albert Wesker (Jason O'Mara), that he's also using it to create zombies that are faster, smarter, and a million times more aggressive. But that's just a minor little detail, isn't it? Dr. Isaacs is committed to developing this new virus, and has no qualms with sending hundreds of Alice clones through a deadly obstacle course to obtain the samples he needs. However, he'd much rather have a pure specimen from the real Alice.
However, Alice is taking every precaution necessary to avoid detection. She has taken herself off the grid, living a nomadic life as she tries to cope with the ever-escalating telekinetic powers bestowed upon her by Umbrella's experiments. But her eremitic existence is about to get a little less lonely. While on her way to a supposedly isolated spot in Alaska, she crosses paths with two old friends: Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Mike Epps). The pair are headed to Las Vegas, and have a caravan of fellow survivors in tow. Among these survivors are Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), the caravan's leader; Betty (Ashanti), L.J.'s girlfriend and the resident medic; and a teenage girl called K-Mart (Spencer Locke), nicknamed as such because the others found her living in an abandoned K-Mart store. Plus there's also a few people who are let's face it anonymous cannon fodder. The caravan agrees to follow Alice to Alaska, but a choice encounter with Dr. Isaacs and his army of super-zombies leads to a change in plans, as making it to Alaska becomes secondary to the destruction of the Umbrella Corporation.
It seems apparent that Resident Evil: Extinction, as with the two movies preceding it, was made merely as a vehicle to showcase Milla Jovovich's monster-fighting skills. The series of movies are ostensibly a triumvirate of adaptations of the Resident Evil games, but all of that seems to have been eschewed so we could watch "The Adventures of Super-Milla." If you're a fan of the games and are upset by the movie trilogy's great distance from the source material, then you'll absolutely loathe this chapter in the film franchise. Outside of a few character names and a handful of certain minute details, there's really nothing at all to connect it to the games. So as a video game adaptation, I think the movie is a failure. But as a sci-fi action movie, it's actually somewhat entertaining.
Let's start things off by discussing the direction, handled by Russell Mulcahy. Particularly notable for his work on Highlander and dozens of music videos, Mulcahey does a very good job here. Unfortunately, there are a few spots that I had trouble with his work. One was his overusage of the CGI mapping of Umbrella's underground complex. Once is good, twice is okay, three times or more is a waste. I also absolutely hated the scene in which the Alice character fights off some zombie dogs. The scene is poorly shot and atrociously edited, to the point that you can barely tell at all what is supposed to be happening. However, Mulcahy does reign in his editor after that, and he and cinematographer David Johnson craft a film with an exciting, ambitious visual flair. The action scenes are well done, and they put the desert setting to good use, making things look dirty, gritty, and lifeless. They also give the same lifeless feel to the underground bunker scenes, except adding a colder, more bureaucratic tone befitting the moments that happen there.
Mulcahy's work is also bolstered by the great special effects, as well as the musical score composed by Charlie Clouser. Though the CGI blood splatters look fake (whatever happened to stunt guys using the old-school squibs?), the other visual effects and Patrick Tatopoulos's makeup effects are well done. I specifically point to the nasty super-zombies and the enormous creature Alice fights in the film's climax, which look both amazing and frightening. Meanwhile, Clouser's music does much to pull the viewer in. His work echoes the score composed by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson for the first movie, and its aggressiveness suits Extinction to a T, going a long way to enhance the film's visuals. If anything can be said in the positive about this movie, it's that it looks and sounds pretty good.
The bad news is that all the great direction, music, and effects in the word couldn't save the horrible screenplay. Once again written by Paul W.S. Anderson, the movie feels like we've skipped over the franchise's third movie and are now watching the fourth. Characters are missing with no explanation as to what happened to them, and certain events we weren't privy to are only vaguely hinted at. Is it so wrong to expect at least a little more information to bridge the events between Apocalypse and Extinction? And let's not forget the horrible misuse of characters from the games. Albert Wesker is the Keyser Söze of the Resident Evil franchise, but here, he just sits around and acts smarmy. And how about Claire Redfield? I don't remember her being anything like her movie counterpart in the games. My guess is that she was just supposed to be a stand-in for Jill Valentine. If I understand the facts correctly, Sienna Guillory, who played Jill in Apocalypse, was supposed to reprise her role in Extinction. But since her commitments to Eragon made her unavailable, we're instead stuck with the same character getting a different name. I mean, was Anderson even trying? It's like Anderson figured he'd just throw out some random names and factoids from the games and hope the fanboys will be satisfied.
But the real problem is that there's nothing resembling character development or anything like that. In fact, any character who isn't Alice, with the possible exception of Dr. Isaacs, is simply a complete non-factor. As I said, the movie might as well be renamed "The Chronicles of Milla Jovovich, Bad-Ass Superheroine," because she comes across as the only character Anderson really gives half a damn about. I'd like to avoid making accusations, but I think he made the Alice character such a huge focus because he's dating the actress that plays her. Not to say that's the truth or anything, but still. And even if that weren't the case, the script is still pretty bad. The scenes feel like they're just strung together with no real rhyme or reason, including a few scenes that fail to contribute anything at all to the movie. Like the "Alice vs. zombie dogs" scene at the beginning, for example. Not only is the scene incomprehensibly shot and edited, but I can't think of any reason for it to be in the movie in the first place. The primary demographic for the movie is the crowd that liked the first two movies, so did Anderson assume that they'd forgotten Alice was über-powerful? My assumptions are either that, or they just needed a scene to pad out the movie's running time. This scene being included is probably just as much Russell Malcahy's fault for leaving it in the movie to begin with, but somebody had to write it.
Okay, time to move on. The more I think about Anderson's lame writing, the more upset I get. Let's discuss the cast, shall we? Since she's the star and the entire movie revolves around her, let's talk about Milla Jovovich first. She obviously enjoys playing the role, and her enthusiasm shows. She's acceptable during her dialogue moments, but she's a lot of fun to watch during the physically demanding fight scenes. If the intent of these movies is to turn Jovovich into the next big female action star, she's off to a good start. The cast's other big gun, Iain Glen, is entertaining to watch as our scenery-chewing villain du jour. His portrayal of Dr. Isaacs as an over-the-top mad scientist contributes a lot to the movie, making for an entertaining villain that is fun to watch. Unfortunately, because their characters are so flat, it affects how the performances of the other actors are viewed. Because of that, it seems like the rest of the cast are just skating by on auto-pilot. Ali Larter is fine in her role, though I don't really believe the character was written to suit her strengths. I also thought Oded Fehr did well, and that Mike Epps was quite funny and likeable. Spencer Locke is just kinda there, and while Grammy-winning singer Ashanti actually does a better job than I thought she would. However, since her character only has two or three scenes, it's really hard to gauge the quality of her performance. I should also make note of Linden Ashby's entertaining performance in his tiny, thankless role as the caravan's resident cowboy. And lastly is Jason O'Mara as Albert Wesker. Though the links between the video game version of Wesker and his cinematic doppelganger are loose at best, O'Mara still does a decent job replicating the character's style.
Though I don't believe this movie will ever be considered a piece of classic American cinema, it's most certainly a "guilty pleasure" kind of flick. It is a movie that is quite focused; it knows exactly what it wants to accomplish, and who its audience is supposed to be. And although there are some big flaws, the movie never tries to be anything more than a simple slice-and-dice zombie movie. That's really the best that can be expected from it. So I'm going to give Resident Evil: Extinction three and a half stars. If you loved the first two movies or obsessed with any and all things Resident Evil, go check it out.
Final Rating: ***½