Over the past several days I've been marathon-watching all of the Paul W. S. Anderson Resident Evil movies.
I've been a longtime fan of the game franchise, but was one of the apparently few people who liked the films. Despite liking the first few, I hadn't kept up to date. For whatever reason, I missed the fifth movie, Retribution, when it was released and as a result didn't watch the final film, either.
I'm not one who gets upset when an adaption changes things from the source. I also don't think that the story from the games would actually translate particularly well into a movie. It also doesn't help matters that some of the games don't have any linking factors, which is to say that all of the characters are different - that wouldn't really work for a movie franchise. As a result, we get Alice. I'm still going to talk about links to the game series, because I find it interesting.
What I think makes these films work well is that they capture the tone of the Resident Evil games rather than trying to copy and adapt the stories directly. That said, the films go for a very much apocalyptic end compared to the games. The films end with only a few thousand survivors globally, while the games still more or less have the same amount of people as the real world. All of the incidents in the games are small and contained. The threat of Bio Organic Weapons to the everyday person is more or less the same as the real world threat of a terrorist attack, which is exactly how they're treated in universe.
The first movie (33 on metacritic) hasn't aged terribly well, with a really poor CGI licker and some fairly uninspiring special effects. The plot is fairly unremarkable, mainly centred on a viral outbreak in a top secret underground facility with some minor drama about who stole the virus to give to an informant. I remembered enjoying it more and used to watch it relatively frequently. This time around I mostly just picked up on plot holes and the general stupidity. The film features some saw-esque death traps, which is fine if you like that kind of thing. The worst, and most iconic, of these is a 'laser' grid that doesn't really follow the rules of lasers. Besides cosmetic links to the games (Umbrella, zombies, mansion), everything for this film was original. Marilyn Mansons work on the soundtrack is still just as good as I remember, which is also true for the sequel. The soundtrack also has the first track as the Red Queens famous phrase, "You're all going to die down here," which I used as my SMS alert tone for many, many years.
In the second movie (35 on Metacritic), we leave the confines of the underground facility for the better, but Umbrella continues to be the stupidest evil corporation in existence with the wholesale murder of its own employees, including some who are actually valuable assets. Apparently shooting of of your best people is preferable to shooting a random when you want to make someone fight a weapon made from a friend. The only real story to this movie is that the daughter of one of the researchers failed to be evacuated from the city and a warhead is on the way. The first real links to the games are found in this film, with Carlos and Jill showing up. There was also a newspaper article stating that Leon Kennedy was killed.
The magic that Alice shows at the end of the second film manifests as an array of powers in the third (41 on Metacritic), including a massive wall of flame. The plot in this film is pretty much non-existant, the movie serves more to build overall franchise story than to have an actual story of its own. The world has pretty much ended and it's all looking very 'Mad Max'. Theres a bunch of survivors with a road train trying to find a place they've heard about on the radio, free of infection. Meanwhile, Umbrella are making a bunch of Alice clones, because why wouldn't they be doing that? The fight choreography also managed to get worse - in some scenes it felt like they weren't even trying to make the wire-fu look good. Maybe if we make it bullet time, people won't notice how terrible it looks! Despite having one of the best review scores, my personal opinion is that this is one of the worst entries - I don't care for the apocalypse scenario it set up, the plot is weak and her magic powers don't really fit too well for me. Another link to the game is found in this one with Claire Redfield showing up as the leader of the convoy. Wesker also shows up in a small scene at the end.
In the fourth movie (37 on Metacritic) we again get more overall story plot than a plot for an actual movie. We open in Alaska, where Arcadia, the safe haven mentioned in the third moive, stands empty save for a mind controlled Claire. Alice and Claire fly off into the sunset and eventually find a prison where some survivors have holed up. It turns out that the Arcadia was in fact a ship, which happens to be docked right near the prison. Convenient! Eventually, we get onto the ship, which is an Umbrella controlled mobile research facility. Wesker is on board with a new actor. Chris Redfield shows up, though she doesn't remember him, because memory issues are super common. This movie features more references to the games, specifically RE5. These include the Majini style zombies with the split face, a fight with the executioner majini and the chest-spider mind control device. Albert Wesker also has some of the tricks he had in the fifth game. Jill, with the chest-spider, appears at the end sporting the costume from the game and the new hair colour.
To open the fifth movie (39 on Metacritic), Alice has been captured by Umbrella for probably the 19th time. Wesker has apparently had a change of heart and sent a team in to extract Alice. This research facility is in Russia and contains a cloning facility and a handful of fake outbreak epicentres. The plot is pretty much an escape from this facility while they're being hunted by clones of the team from the first movie, led by a mind controlled Jill. The cloned team isn't the only callback to the first movie - the Red Queen once again states that "You're all going to die down here." The new links to the games in this film are Ada, Leon and Barry, all of whom are excellently cast. There was a chainsaw zombie! That is an important staple of the series.
In the final movie (49 on Metacritic), we open with a weird retcon. Alice is a revealed to be the clone of a little girl with an aging disease, and the Red Queen computer system is based on her. In the first movie, it was stated that the red queen was based on the little girl from the second movie, which matched in terms of both voice and appearance. We're now set ten years after the events of the first movie and there are just over 4000 people left alive on Earth. The Red Queen contacts Alice telling her of an airborne cure that will completely destroy the T-Virus globally. Probably would have been useful to mention that before. This would also indicate that in the movie universe the Las Plagas are based on the t-virus. Anway, the cure is in the Hive, so we go back to the beginning, to the crater that remains of Raccoon City. It's also revealed that the whole zombie apocalypse is basically a twisted Umbrella led version of the great flood, with Noahs Arc being a cryogenic clone storage facility underneath the Hive. We're in the Hive again, so naturally we get more stupid death traps to go with it. Of course this MUST include the laser grid. Iain Glenns Doctor Isaacs is revealed as the true villain, using powers that match Weskers pretty closely, and to truly hit home that we're going back to the beginning, the Red Queens famous phrase is uttered again in this movie. And again after the end credits. When the Red Queen contacts Alice at the start of the film, she gives her a time limit, the amount of time until the last groups of survivors are killed by zombie attacks and that the airborne cure will save them. The very final scene of the movie then says that it may take years for the airborne cure to reach everywhere on the planet, which makes perfect sense, and I was thinking it during the movie. It does, however, make the time limit kind of stupid! This film is the highest rated for a reason, it's an excellent finale to the series, though the others are pretty much required watching for it to make sense.
The series has some strange cinematographic choices, for example, each movie has an introduction sequence from Alice which is the same sequence with events from the last film tacked to the end. This got pretty long towards the end. One of the films features the opening from the first movie scene for scene for the first several minutes. One of the films had an entire battle scene played in reverse, the aforementioned introduction played, and then the battle was played normally. The final 3 movies are a significant step up from the first 3, though I was pretty fond of the first 2 when they originally came out.
I would consider this series to be one of the best hollywood video game adaptions around, save Warcraft. That said, there is some real dreck in here, too. The same team is currently hard at work making a Monster Hunter movie, which they're hoping to make a franchise. I hope they can at least keep the same level of quality in those, if not make some improvements.