Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, May 18, 2019

VIDEO GAME MOVIE MONTH: Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

When “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” grossed 129 million dollars at the box office, against a significantly smaller budget, a third film in the series was guaranteed. The second film, of course, planned for this, with its gratuitously long-winded sequel hook. Even though the first two “Resident Evil” movies annoyed critics and fans of the games, the continued success gave producers little reason to change things up. For “Resident Evil: Extinction,” Paul W.S. Anderson would stay on as screenwriter/producer, while the story would remain centered on Milla Jovovich's unstoppable Alice. In fact, all of the marketing seemed to revolve around Milla and Milla alone.

The Umbrella Corporation thought they contained the T-Virus at the end of “Apocalypse” but they apparently didn't do a great job of it. The zombie outbreak quickly spreads across the globe, turning all of Earth into a barren wasteland. I guess the evil corporation is still hoping to rule that wasteland, as they continue to develop projects. Such as domesticating zombies or cloning Alice. Elsewhere, a convoy led by Claire Redfield and Carlos Oliveira tries to find survivors, bringing them food and resources. Meanwhile, the growing-more-powerful Alice wanders the world, trying to avoid being tracked by Umbrella.

While Anderson remained involved in the production of “Extinction,” neither he nor his mini-me Alexander Witt directed. Instead, the reins of the sequel were handed to veteran genre man Russell Mulcahy. And it's like night and day. While Mulcahy is very familiar with schlock, he is not shackled to Anderson's obnoxious tics. Save for some slow motion in the action scenes or a moment when Alice comes face-to-face with her dead clones, “Extinction” is totally free of the stylistic quirks that made the last two movies so irritating to watch. In fact, the action scenes here are very fun and well done. A sequence involving zombies overturning a bus or a disastrous fight against super-zombies in a sand-buried Las Vegas are easy to follow, excitingly edited but not overdone. It's amazing the difference hiring an actually competent director can make.

In the first two “Resident Evil” movies, the zombies – otherwise known as the primary monsters in most of the games – had almost nothing to do. They were obstacles that the heroes easily tore through. In both entries, some other genetic mutation emerged as the actual threat. Mulcahy's film course corrects in this regard. “Extinction” actually feels like a zombie movie. The undead appear early, cool make-ups shambling alongside the war wagons the heroes ride around in. There are multiple scenes where the flesh-eating hordes feel like an overwhelming force. Especially in wide shots when we see just how many zombies are inhabiting the country now. “Extinction” never grasps the feeling of creeping dread the best of the genre succeeds at. These are, after all, fast zombies. Yet it's actually trying to reach that goal, which is more than you could say about the first two films.

In fact, “Extinction” proves that even the annoyingly overpowered Alice was not necessarily why the previous “Resident Evil” movies sucked. In part three, Alice is more powerful than ever. For ill-defined reasons, she has also developed telekinetic abilities. She uses it to hold back a wall of flames, toss enemies around, and even levitates motorcycles in her sleep. Despite being as much of a super-powered zombie killer as ever, this is the first time Alice actually feels like a real person. She has friendships and endeavors to rescue others. She has a weakness now too, the Umbrella Corporation having gained temporary control of her mind. Milla Jovovich even emerges as a likable actress for once, smiling and cracking jokes during a few key moments. It turns out, when a character has more to do than be as excessively bad-ass as possible, they can actually be interesting. Or at least sort of likable.

In general, it feels like “Extinction” is willing to have more fun than the stiflingly self-serious earlier entries. The zombie dogs show up for the third time but they are actually threatening for once, instead of being another foe Alice can easily dispatched. There's also zombie crows, infected after feeding on undead flesh, which leads to one of the film's wildest sequences. The subplot involving Alice clones allows the sequel to riff on the first film in fun, amusingly misleading ways. This episode's final boss – a variation on Tyrant finally being put on-screen – is also pretty cool. As a foe with an established connection to Alice, the climatic fight is exciting for both character reasons and action-packed reasons.

By this point, the “Resident Evil” film series has strayed so far from its video game roots, that it barely resembles Capcom's creation at all. Yet this does not bother me too much, as “Extinction” manages to be pretty fun on its own. That's a first for a series that had just been punishingly lame action scenes, obnoxiously in-your-face direction, and an annoyingly flat lead character up to this point. (Fans seem to be divided on this one, some liking it and others hating it.) Sadly, Paul W.S. Anderson would return for the next installment so I suspect my enjoyment of the “Resident Evil” movies will be short-lived. I'll find out soon enough. [7/10]

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