“Was this written by a 13-year-old boy?” Ranking the Resident Evil Movies

As you can probably tell from the title (an actual quote from my wife during Resident Evil: Afterlife), I am not a fan of the Resident Evil movies. As a huge fan of the video game series, I left the theater after the first film trying to tell myself that I liked what I just saw.

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Me processing what Paul W.S. Anderson did with the Resident Evil video games.

After the studio rejected two scripts that stayed much more faithful to the first game (including one by George A. Romero!), they approached Paul W.S. Anderson who already had a script. For another movie. Called Undead, Anderson’s script involved a mansion, underground labs, and genetic experimentation. They took those threads (which admittedly do sound like the original Resident Evil), and made the first film in this series. Unfortunately, the studio and Anderson decided to take an atmospheric survival horror game and spin it into a series of science fiction action movies.

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Without further ado, as a fan of the games and horror films, here’s how I’d rank the Resident Evil movies:

*****SPOILERS AHEAD*****

7. Resident Evil: Extinction (Third in Franchise)

I inexplicably dislike things that take place in the desert. Yes that is my entire commentary on this entry.

Best We Kinda Forgot moment of this script:

The initial script explained that shortly after the events of the second film, Angela Ashford was killed in an attack by Umbrella soldiers. While this was left out of the film, the novelization explains that Alice, under Umbrella’s control, killed her.

IMDb Trivia

6. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Sixth in Franchise)

This is an action movie through and through so it ranks pretty low to me as both a horror movie fan and Resident Evil fan. Props where props are due though: the reveal that Umbrella purposely caused an outbreak, cloned their staff, and hid the rich in a place they could ride out the apocalypse is ridiculous but explains a lot about the franchise. Plus Ruby Rose is in this so that’s cool.

Best We Kinda Forgot moment of this script:

After fan criticisms that the film didn’t resolve any of the loose ends that were left hanging after the previous films, the novelization attempted to fill in the gaps. Ada, Leon and Jill, who do not appear in this film, are explained to have died in the Washington Battle, with Jill being stabbed in the eye by Wesker’s tentacle and Ada and Leon being eaten by a mutant. Becky was taken into hiding and is reunited with Alice at the end. Claire explains that she and her brother Chris were taken away in separate helicopters after the attack on Arcadia, and she never saw him again, though she hopes he’s okay. K-Mart is not mentioned in the novelization, so she is presumed to have died along with the rest of the survivors on the Arcadia ship. The White Queen’s absence is also explained by saying that she’s actually the same form of artificial intelligence as the Red Queen, and not a distinct one. The novelization also rewrote a heavily criticized scene in the film, where Alice sneaks a bomb into Isaacs’ coat pocket in the laser hallway and it detonates inches away from the vial of Anti-Virus which is in his other pocket, to her switching the vial with the bomb instead.

IMDb Trivia

Props and vodka to the poor soul who attempted to make a coherent novelization out of this film and its loose threads. At least someone cared to explain where beloved franchise characters ended up.

5. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2nd in Franchise)

In one of the bonus features for this film, they mention that the first film was meant to be a prequel to the games, and Apocalypse is meant to function as/during one of the games. This is very reminiscent of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, complete with the introduction of Jill Valentine, S.T.A.R.S., and Nemesis. It seems a lot of fans are upset about the “taming” of Nemesis, but that didn’t bother me nearly as much as watching Jill Valentine getting sidelined in her own story. Or the S.T.A.R.S. being written as a bunch of idiots who get slaughtered almost instantly by Nemesis. It gave us some of the fan service we were craving with one hand, and then smacked us with the other.

The plot does feel like a game, with a search and rescue mission that explains why the characters would group together. Carlos and Nikolai are charismatic on the big screen. As a fan of the games, it should rank higher, but it’s utterly devoid of atmosphere and comes across as a music video about a zombie outbreak so the horror film fan in me can’t rank it higher.

Best We Kinda Forgot moments of this script:

Although never mentioned specifically in this film, the holographic representation of the Red Queen in the first film is heavily implied to be modeled after Angela Ashford, the daughter of the scientist who invented the T-virus. This was referenced in the first Resident Evil (2002) film. Originally, Angela in this film would have explained that the Red Queen was modeled after her likeness, but it was deleted from the script when the filmmakers realized that this would have required too much flashback footage from the first film to explain the connection, and that it would be more confusing for potential audiences that didn’t see the first film. This was included in the novelization and the filmmakers hoped that audiences would eventually put the pieces together themselves. That being said, the last installment Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017) somewhat retcons this, by providing a retroactive explanation about the origin of the Red Queen, who is said to be modeled after Alicia Marcus.

IMDb Trivia
Good thing they didn’t; apparently if you zoom in its due to the death of her partner Leon S. Kennedy

Although never mentioned in the film, promotional material reveals Alice’s last name as Abernathy. This was intended to merely be a fake identity for the former Umbrella agent and not the character’s real name. This explains why the Umbrella officers usually call her “Project Alice” both in this film and the subsequent sequels. A fake newspaper clipping released as a promotional item for the film also revealed that Alice was simply a code name and her real name was Janus Prospero, and her disappearance prompted her family to start a search for her. As her family was never mentioned in the films, and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017) reveals that she’s simply a clone of Umbrella co-owner Alicia Marcus, this backstory can either be taken as non-canon or a retcon.

IMDb Trivia

4. Resident Evil (1st in Franchise)

Why make the movies a different genre than the game? Why take the rights for an extremely cinematic game and bastardize the story and create all new characters? Why follow the logic “since people expect zombies in a Resident Evil film, we purposely subverted expectations by waiting till nearly the midway point to show zombies”?! Why would a secretive, evil corporation engrave fake wedding rings with the words “Property of Umbrella Corporation”? All these questions, and no answers, await you in the first Resident Evil movie.

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I feel like my fondness for this film is due more to exposure than enjoyment. But there is a genuine enjoyment. Despite my disdain at how it jumps straight from the iconic mansion to the underground lab, and the delay in showing a zombie, the zombie reveal is well done and sufficiently spooky. Marilyn Manson’s soundtrack does make it a bit better, as well as the utterly quotable Red Queen. It’s kinda like “well this is what you got, so you better just accept it into your heart.”

Best We Kinda Forgot moment of this script:

3. Resident Evil (1st in Franchise) with the Film Commentary from Paul W.S. Anderson, producer Jeremy Bolt, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez

This guy gets it! From RateThatCommentary.com

You were probably wondering why my count has seven films when there are only six in this series. It’s because the commentary track on the first film is my favorite film commentary track of all time, and retroactively makes the first film more bearable. I have never heard someone make fun of a movie they worked on so much as Jovovich does on this commentary track. It is incredible.

2. Resident Evil: Retribution (5th in Franchise)

I dozed off the first time I saw this. In theaters. So my expectations weren’t high upon my revisit. But I did have a nagging feeling I misjudged. And now I feel I was right. Yes this movie is also completely outlandish and undoes key plot elements from the previous film, but it is also bizarrely coherent compared to some of the others. If you watched this without any context from the rest of the series…well yes you would still be confused. BUT you would also grasp the premise as a rescue mission within a rescue mission. This felt like Anderson and film editor Niven Howie had finally learned to pace and edit a movie in a sane way.

There are some great nods to the Dawn of the Dead remake and Aliens with a little taste of Kill Bill. The simulations of NYC, Moscow, and Tokyo are just plain fun. The plot is notably reminiscent of one of S.D. Perry’s original Resident Evil novels Resident Evil: Underworld, were the protagonists having to trek through a series of artificial environments called “The Planet” in an underground Umbrella lab.

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Even though the casting left a lot desired, it was fun to see Leon, Ada, and Barry. It was fun to see Wesker as a good guy for two seconds against an evil Red Queen. It was badass to see the beginning of “humanity’s last stand” outside a barely standing White House. And the Uber-Lickers were one of the better original ideas from the films.

One has to wonder why the biggest simulation was just called “Suburbia” (?!) while all the others showed main cities rival armies wanted to target. Or why Alice didn’t immediately knock the red spider mind control thing off Jill’s chest if it was 1) that easy and 2) she already knew that was the trick to stopping the mind control since she took Claire’s off in the fourth movie.

Chris and Claire just kind of disappear at the beginning of this film during the attack on Acadia. In the sixth movie they never explicitly say Jill, Leon, Ada, and Becky died but you are just supposed to assume Wesker killed them? Perhaps the bigger theme of the Resident Evil series is the fleeting nature of our relationships with even the most important people come and go from our lives. That no matter how rich and important we might deem our relationship to another human being, that they could be gone tomorrow. Not because they were punched to death, but because the actor couldn’t return and we couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge their character in the sequel.

Yes all the films are ridiculous. But this was the first time the films combined being outrageous with nostalgia for the films that came before it. It’s like they realized “hey, the people who are still watching these films watched the ones before it. Maybe they would like to see Michelle Rodriguez again. And we can just say there are clones of everyone so we don’t even have to retcon ourselves ala Fast and Furious style!”

Best We Kinda Forgot moment of this script:

Although not mentioned in the finished film the back-story reveals that the majority of the Umbrella soldiers are clones. This accounts for their vast numbers and explains their allegiance to Umbrella. The only time that this is hinted at is during the scene after the reboot in the facility systems. Jill Valentine is activated through the Red Queen and all the soldiers seem to wake up simultaneously.

IMDb Trivia

1. Resident Evil: Afterlife (4th in Franchise)

This movie features a Black man who helps slam dunk the rudder of a plane to help it land, and yet it still ranks as my favorite in the franchise. I’m so sorry.

This movie is ridiculous, but I believe it stays pretty true to Resident Evil 4 and 5 while incorporating elements of the Dawn of the Dead remake (as you can tell I love the Dawn of the Dead remake) and a neat visual nod to The Silence of the Lambs. The Gothic setting with torches and stone looks like some of the crumbling castles of the fourth game. And we get Chris and some of the nonstop action of the fifth game. It actually has a creepy, suspenseful atmosphere in some parts which is completely lacking in most the films but so crucial to the appeal of the games. A great example is the scene where Crystal has to swim through water with zombies in order to obtain the key to the armory, and the ensuing horde that ends up grabbing her. The use of 3D is entertaining, the first appearance of the Axeman/Extecutioner is frightening, and the majini are unnerving.

But for the forty minutes of great atmosphere in the prison, during the rest of the film we are left with a cacophony of CGI science fiction action scenes set to electronic music.

Best We Kinda Forgot moments of this script:

The weird creatures with the flower-like mouths are called majini. They are lifted directly from the game Resident Evil 5 (2009). It is interesting to note that in the game, the majini are not the result of infection with the T-virus, but with a parasitic organism. The movie does not provide an explanation for their different appearance

IMDb Trivia

Although never mentioned explicitly in the final cut, the script clarifies that despite Wesker’s injection Alice’s blood system continues to fight off the antibodies.

IMDb Trivia

You read that correctly. They literally forget to explain that Alice really didn’t completely lose her powers, and so we are meant to presume a human being could survive a plane’s head-on collision with a mountain, and get stabbed straight through her forearm, only to pull the knife completely out seconds later and stab someone else with it. And basically keep going like nothing happened. This series.

In Conclusion

Although rumors have quieted down to a concerning level, there have been rumblings of a movie reboot since 2016. Usually a reboot less than 20 years after the original would be infuriating. In this case, it cannot come fast enough. Hopefully a new movie will see a focus on the more horror-focused games in the series.

It might seem crazy that I enjoyed the fourth and fifth entries in the franchise the most, but I felt like they stuck to the games and more importantly the atmosphere of the games in a way the other entries did not. The ways that the films began to influence the games, starting with the lasers scene in Resident Evil 4 and escalating to the general tone and pace of Resident Evil 5 and 6 doesn’t escape me either. But until we get excellent movies based on Resident Evil 1 and 2 this is all I have to work with.

But thinking about video game film adaptations, and what makes them a success or failure, does leave me with a bone-chilling conclusion. If Silent Hill relies on a knowledge of the game, but the Resident Evil movies are nonsensical action/sci-fi hybrids, are the Resident Evil films technically better films? That’s the kind of idea that can cause a video game adaptation to keep you up at night.

2 thoughts on ““Was this written by a 13-year-old boy?” Ranking the Resident Evil Movies

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