Matthew G. Taylor
zombie action horror
Trivia Resident Evil: Apocalypse is actually based on the third in the popular Playstation franchise, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis...
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Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
15th Oct 04
Alice escapes from the hive into Raccoon City. So does the T-virus.
So, who remembers the end of the first movie… anyone? You know - Alice and Matt escape from the hive only to be grabbed by operatives of the sinister Umbrella Corporation as they do so. Alice is dragged one way, Matt the other, and as Matt starts to mutate from the wounds he's just received, one scientist mumbles "Nemesis project…" and the gamers in the audience gasp (because, having played Resident Evil 3:Nemesis, we know exactly what they're talking about).
We're spot on too. Resident Evil: Apocalypse begins straight after the end of the first flick, where Alice has got out of the hive but so has the T-virus, and in a matter of hours half the population of Raccoon City are zombies. Luckily, with this being a movie and all, the authorities managed to surround the city with some kind of impenetrable wall and can carefully screen the citizens for the virus as they pass through the one remaining gate they have open. They can, that is, until an executive overseeing the evacuation spies a guy turn into a zombie right at the gate and panics. He gives the order, the gates are sealed, and it's game over for all those inside - literally.
Or so you'd think, anyway. Luckily Jared Harris is around to throw the principal cast a lifeline. Harris plays Professor Ashcroft, another name sake from the video game, who is one of the many high profile characters that were whisked out of the city by specialist extraction teams right at the start of the movie as soon as there's even a whiff of danger. Unfortunately his daughter's extraction team don't make it out before the gates are sealed, which leaves Ashcroft distraught. Hacking the Raccoon City surveillance systems, Ashcroft has a plan - find a bunch of photogenic survivors, get them to find his daughter then guide them out of the city to safety.
Can you see where this is going?
Okay, let's get one thing straight - you can only expect so much from a Resident Evil movie. I mean, when it's all said and done, Resident Evil is just a movie based on a video game, and there haven't been all that many good video game to movie crossovers, now have there. Can you think of any? Super Mario Brothers? Tomb Raider? Err, Wing Commander? Please….
But if you roll this story back a few years, we have an altogether different tale to tell. In 1996, when the playstation was just starting to kick off, a young hot shot programmer at Capcom in Japan by the name of Shinji Mikami was given the unenviable task of creating a whole new video game franchise. Until then Capcom had survived on its excellent 2-D fighting games like the Street Fighter series. The company was doing very well for itself too, Street Fighter was still the market leading beat 'em up at the time, but the company knew the genre's days were numbered now that the 3-D revolution was here and so they turned to their creative gene pool to find a game that would really excite the Playstation generation. They needed something that would capture the imaginations of their target game buying audience - the 16-25 year olds - something that was loud, had guns, was scary but at the end of the day was really cool. The answer was simple; the answer was zombies. Almost overnight the survival horror genre was born.
Roll on several years, and several Resident Evil video games, and we get to the turn of the century, with all the talk centering on the Resident Evil movie. It's inevitable - a game which is essentially based on the surge of late 70s zombie movie craze is sooner or later going to end up as it's own movie, but what many people don't know is how close the Godfather of zombies actually came to making the movie himself. Yes, Mikami has never been shy about the influence the Romero movies were on his creation and has always praised them, especially Dawn of the Dead which apparently provided most of the inspiration for how the zombies were animated in the first game. It's the second game, however, that pays most homage to Romero's zombie trilogy, so much so that - get this - the little seen Japanese trailers for Resident Evil 2 the game (known as Biohazard 2 over there) were actually directed by Romero himself. I shit you not - head over to google and I'm sure you'll be able to download them from somewhere…
Anyway, with Romero now officially connected to the franchise, it came as no surprise to anyone that when the movie version was announced, Romero signed on to write and direct. Fans across the globe rejoiced - surely Resident Evil was going to be the best thing ever? Well, maybe. But that's before the big Hollywood moneymaking machine got involved and Romero was sacked for, ahem, 'creative differences'.
What these differences are, I guess we'll never know. Speculations went wild - was his script too gory? Was it too tense? Did it lie too far from the game? Who knows? What we do know is that George has never been too happy with studio involvement, to the tune that he actually made Day of the Dead on much less budget than planned simply because he much preferred to make his movie his way then allow any studio involvement. Romero wasn't ready for Hollywood, or maybe Hollywood wasn't ready for him, either way he was out.
And Paul W Anderson was in. Anderson had made possibly the least bad video game tie-in movie ever - Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat was bad, fair enough, but Mortal Kombat was just 'a bit crap' as opposed to 'totally turgid' like all other game to film conversions. Apparently that was good enough, and he was in.
So, Resident Evil was made the Anderson way, and to be honest it's really not that bad. It's not great, not by a long shot, but it doesn't stink so we have to be thankful for that. What Anderson did was take a Resident Evil-ish kind of story, mix in a few MTV zombies with a bit of CG and finally add a special ingredient - his girlfriend Milla Jovovich in a short red dress. The result was okay - it was faithful to the video games sense of set piece plot device driven story telling, but it suffered from one major problem. That problem was bad editing.
One minute Alice and the remaining S.T.A.R.S. troopers would be pinned against the wall with zombies coming from all angles, the next the movie would jump cut to everyone safely in the next room pressed against the door. Eh? How did they get through the door? What the…
And that wasn't a one off scenario, it happens a good half a dozen times in the film. It's a shame really - if you know the characters can inexplicably escape from insurmountable odds, is there any point watching them in the first place? Do you really care any more? Anderson should have spent more time watching Aliens - he would at least there have a decent template for a squad based action movie - but no. No matter how good the zombie make-up is and how good the CG lickers are (and they aren't) if the film's not scary, it's not scary.
Still, this time around we have a new director in the form of pop video director Alexander Witt who does a slightly better job. Anderson still wrote the script and produced, but he was too busy to direct having been offered the much coveted helm of Aliens Vs Predator (so, maybe he did go back and watch Aliens again after all). Witt's style of filmmaking is altogether more integrated, but like most music video turned filmed directors, he makes a few predictable mistakes.
When he's on the ground and shooting dialogue, there's no problem. When he's taking aerial shots, splicing in second unit news footage, there's no problem either. When it comes to the action, the film goes severely pear shaped.
What is it with former music video directors? Why can't they just shoot a simple punch-up without a handful of jump cuts? Why does the camera have to be so close? And why can't they hold the damn thing still? Let's be frank - an action movie such as this is essentially a collection of up to a dozen set pieces, with each set piece connected to the next by what we critics call 'plot'. These 'plot' bits provide back story (so we know what's going on) and build the tension up in anticipation of the next action sequence, but by the end of Resident Evil: Apocalypse I was worn down. I ask you, what good is getting excited about the next sequence if you know that when it comes it's going to be so jumpy and jerky that it's hard to see what's actually happening. It's all jerk, jerk, bang, crash, wallop and on to the next chatty bit.
So it's out of the frying pan and into the fire. The movie has better content than the first, but it's edited just as badly, albeit in a different way. Apart from that, it's more of the same, right down to the big set piece with huge monster finale. If MTV zombies are your thing then this will hit the spot, but it's not a patch on some of the zombie movies that have come out this year. In fact, there's not a great deal of zombie action at all - most of the movie is about dealing with lickers, Umbrella agents in motorbike helmets and with the dreaded Nemesis (who does look like a cross between the Toxic Avenger and Marilyn Mansun). So, if you're looking for wall-to-wall zombies, you'll be disappointed. My advice to you is to save you cinema going pennies and buy the Region 1 Unrated Directors-cut version of Dawn of the Dead 2004. It makes a lot more sense.