Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

*. There were many times during the previous Resident Evil films when I thought they didn’t make sense. In both minor and major ways. This is the first movie in the series though that I thought downright stupid, and stupid right from the start.
*. In the opening act an army of Alices (clones of Milla Jovovich’s character) take out the Tokyo HQ of the Umbrella Corporation. This is done in a spectacular, cartoonish way, where many of the Alices are treated as expendable. Then the “real” Alice gets the drop on the Umbrella CEO Wesker but is injected with a formula that takes away her super powers. Alice is always letting people get the drop on her. She’s really dim in this regard. Apparently she also didn’t keep any clones in reserve, which was poor planning to say the least. But Wesker’s formula seems to be only partially successful as it erases Alice’s psychokinetic abilities but still leaves her as a super-ninja warrior in the rest of the movie.
*. Seriously, I don’t think you could take any three-minute section of this movie and not find something in it to make you shake your head in disbelief. Alice crash lands her plane on the roof of a prison building and everyone just stands in the way and has to duck or dive at the last moment to avoid being run over. Then a guy catches her plane with a cable and holds it back from sliding over the edge of the building with the strength of his brawny arms alone! Please believe me when I say this stupidity is not a rare occurence. The whole movie is this dumb. It even looks dumb. How do they keep all those torches lit on the upper floors of the dining hall in the prison? How do they reach them?
*. At the end of the film, when they get to the Arcadia, Claire lets everyone know that the whole thing is a trap. Which they then walk straight into when a door slides open (sliding shut immediately behind them). But then, it’s not a trap. It’s just the next level they have to play in the game. It’s that kind of movie.
*. I think Paul W. S. Anderson had originally envisioned a Resident Evil trilogy, but by the second movie that plan had probably already fallen apart. In any event, at this point I had the distinct sense that he was just making stuff up as he went along. I felt like he might not have finished writing what he had scheduled for each day’s shooting until the night before. I know that sounds crazy, but the plot has that much of a slapdash feel to it.
*. For example, at the end of Resident Evil: Extinction we’re told that Alice’s blood is the cure for the virus, casting her in Charlton Heston’s role in The Omega Man. But at the beginning of this film Wesker “cures” her so that this is no longer in play. What one thought would be a major plot point is casually disposed of and we’re off doing something else. But then at the end we’re told that Alice’s blood still has some magical property that makes it of value. There’s no attempt at consistency.
*. I mentioned in my notes on the first three instalments that I quite liked Milla Jovovich in this role. That good feeling changed with this movie. I know I’m making too much out of it, but at the end of the opening scene, when Wesker takes away her super strength and she thanks him for making her human and (as he is about to kill her) putting her out of her misery, I couldn’t help thinking that this was Jovovich begging to be released from this franchise. In the rest of the movie her personality seems to change quite a bit from the first three films, and I don’t mean she’s become more human. I think Jovovich wanted to play the part as more of a wise-cracking action hero but it doesn’t work. For one thing she doesn’t crack wise (“My name is Alice” is her only tag line.) I think she just seems tired and cranky here.

*. The commentary has some great stuff on it. I already talked a bit about the opening act, where a bunch of Alice clones attack the Tokyo HQ. There’s almost no dialogue here, but just a lot of Alices jumping, running, shooting, and swinging swords. Here is what Anderson has to say: “She [Milla] really put a lot of thought into this. If you go back and watch the movie you pretty much see every single clone she plays she plays in a slightly different way, and she had worked out characters for each one of them. Different mannerisms, a different approach that each clone would have to danger, they would move in a slightly different way, and she had it all mapped out, she knew exactly which clone she was playing, because she was really trying to differentiate them as much as possible.”
*. Really? Really?! I mean, I know she was your wife at the time, but . . . really?! What differences can Anderson be talking about? All the clones do is run, jump, and shoot.
*. Robarts Library is the main library at the University of Toronto. It’s a slab of brutalist architecture that students dubbed Fort Book (though I think it was supposed to look like a swan). Anyway, I spent many hours there as an undergrad, and it’s the inspiration for the prison building here. Producer Robert Kulzer: “It’s really interesting how the architecture of Toronto has influenced the architectural style of the Resident Evil movies, and how closely connected at least in my imagination the Umbrella Corporation and Toronto architecture are.” I was living in the future . . . thirty years ago! Also Anderson: “Educational establishments in Toronto seem to love concrete and they have this rather scary institutional feel. I don’t know if it’s somewhere I would choose to go for my higher education.” I think he’s talking about the new campus, which is all pretty ugly. The older buildings on the east campus are nicer.
*. To my (partial) amazement, the CGI isn’t getting better. For some reason the zombies (even the dogs!) now have heads that split apart and blossom into starfish-shaped things when they get angry. They look sort of like the creatures from John Carpenter’s The Thing, nearly thirty years earlier. Only the practical effects in that movie looked better than the crappy CGI here. Actually, they look better in the video game as well (where the creatures are known as Majini).
*. Speaking of the video games, they also strike me as scarier than this film series. On the commentary tracks Anderson and others talk about doing things in order to make the movies scary (like the use of 3D here, which is supposedly scary because it’s “more immersive”) but I don’t recall a single creepy or suspenseful scene in the entire franchise. Or, for that matter, any jump scares. These really aren’t horror films. They’re just straight-up action flicks.
*. Despite having the flavour of a pure serial — that is, episodic with no clear resolution or end in sight — the other movies did at least provide some sense of closure. Here we get a cliffhanger as the indestructible minions of the Umbrella Corp. are coming in for the kill. Remarkably this was not in the original script and was only added because the producers insisted on a “signature” pull-back shot. Even more remarkably, how does this organization keep going, years after the end of the world? They can’t be making money because there’s no longer a functioning economy. So what is their purpose? Are they in competition with anyone? In Resident Evil: The Final Chapter we’ll find out about their Wannsee Conference plotting “orchestrated apocalypse,” but I don’t see much sign of orchestration in all of this.
*. I know I really shouldn’t be asking questions like these, but does anything about this movie make sense?

Advertisements

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

*. In my notes on Resident Evil: Apocalypse I remarked on its strange ’80s vibe. With Resident Evil: Extinction we finally enter the twenty-first century with a much slicker production, one that eschews the cheap video-game levels of the dark and claustrophobic earlier films for the sun-drenched great outdoors and a post-apocalyptic spaghetti Western with slightly better CGI. At least I thought they were doing fine with the CGI until the tentacles of the “Tyrant” monster came into play.
*. According to producer-writer Paul W. S. Anderson the zombie genre had become so overrun since the first film that setting the action primarily in the desert was just a way to try and make it new. And I guess it does that. I can’t remember too many other desert zombie movies, aside from the Eurotrash Oasis of the Zombies. Oded Fehr might have felt some déjà vu though after being in those Mummy movies.
*. I liked the look of the film, but I felt it only played like an episode, and not a very inspired episode, of The Walking Dead. Apparently five years have passed, the zombies have taken over, and now we’re just wandering the waste lands, mixing up scenes involving a bit of talk and plot exposition with the usual splatter orgies (there was a conscious decision to make this the bloodiest Resident Evil movie).
*. And when I say “a bit of talk and plot exposition” I mean a very little bit. About half way through Extinction I was wondering when I’d last seen a movie with so little actual story. The intro gets us up to speed as to what’s happening with the Alice Project and then . . . nothing much happens. Sure there are action sequences. A lot of them. Firefights. Zombie violence. An attack by a murder of zombie crows (the one signature scene in the film). But for all this nothing much seems to be at stake. We realize by now that this is just another episode in the Alice saga and that there isn’t going to be any resolution but just another step up to fight more powerful bad guys.
*. Meanwhile, Alice’s powers are growing but she isn’t growing as a character. I like Milla Jovovich in this series but by this point it was clear she was just another superhero, and as uninteresting as that sounds.

*. Other movies continue to be drawn on. There’s a lot of The Road Warrior here, especially with the caravan. There’s The Matrix. We are also reminded at times of Day of the Dead, The Birds, The Andromeda Strain, and The Omega Man. More than most other franchises the Resident Evil movies go in for pastiche. They’re really not interested in doing anything new.
*. How is it possible no one understands LJ has been infected? Isn’t it kind of obvious? And didn’t they explain in the previous movie that Alice can sense infection automatically?
*. Three movies in and I still don’t understand what the Umbrella Corporation is up to. This does make it hard to care, since the nature of the conflict is murky. We can see Alice progressing through different stages and taking out level bad guys to finish each instalment, but any larger explanation of what’s going on keeps getting pushed back.
*. The point is to just let yourself be carried along, knowing that each movie is only going to provide more of the same. You enjoy the sight of Vegas reclaimed by the desert, and wonder at how only the hottest girls survived the zombie apocalypse and still manage to maintain their looks so well under such harsh conditions.
*. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this series though, and what stops it from growing on me or ever being particularly memorable, is the total absence of wit. You’d think the fact that Alice is wearing garters would at least be worth a mention at some point, but these movies are totally humourless and the scripts only functional. Dialogue serves simply to give the requisite amount of information we need to keep things moving along. Because moving along is all we’re doing here.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

*. I began my notes on Resident Evil by remarking that I thought I’d seen it before but that I was mistaken. I’d actually seen this movie before. The only reason I know this is because I remembered the final battle at Toronto’s City Hall. Otherwise I had forgotten everything about this movie. The plot, the characters, the monsters, everything.
*. I don’t think it’s as good as Resident Evil. I thought Milla Jovovich was great in the previous film but there’s less of her here. Instead they decided to double-up on the Lara Croft figure, giving Alice (Jovovich) a partner in the figure of Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). The plot is even more fragmented than this implies, though with the same device of a countdown to a bomb going off as used in Resident Evil.
*. It’s more of a traditional zombie apocalypse movie, though again they’re not calling those infected with the T-virus zombies. But that’s what they are. The basic idea is the reverse siege, where the heroes are trapped inside with the monsters.
*. Despite the table being set several times, the traditional zombie feast is eschewed and it’s not a gory film. Which makes the nudity surprising.
*. Directed by Alexander Witt, not Paul W. S. Anderson (who wrote the screenplay). I would defy anyone to be able to tell the difference.
*. Most fans consider it to be the worst of the series, though that’s not a universally held opinion. Roger Ebert (who was not a fan): “The movie is an utterly meaningless waste of time. There was no reason to produce it, except to make money, and there is no reason to see it, except to spend money. It is a dead zone, a film without interest, wit, imagination or even entertaining violence and special effects.” That’s pretty bad. But it still got half a star!
*. Personally, ranking the Resident Evil movies seems to me like an exercise even more pointless than ranking the films in the Saw franchise. I mean, they really are pretty much the same.
*. For a 2004 movie, the second instalment in a series that had several more episodes to run, perhaps the thing that strikes me the most about it is the curious ’80s vibe. Maybe it’s the way the Nemesis creature reminded me of the Toxic Avenger. Maybe it’s those triple spinning back kicks Alice does that look so much like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s finishing move. Maybe it’s the changes in film speed (which are irritating), or the shattered choreography of the fight scenes. I don’t know. But everything here seems like a throwback.
*. I can’t think of much else to say. I don’t think it’s aged well, but it’s cheesy and fun if you’re not too picky. The gang play better than the first time around, and the ending made it clear that the Alice Project was going to be a long haul. But who was counting the sequels? No matter their number, I’ll soon have forgotten all about this film, again.

Resident Evil (2002)

*. I thought I’d seen this movie before. At least I had vague memories of somebody fighting a pack of mutant dogs. Well, Milla Jovovich does fight a pack of mutant dogs, but the doggies are also in the next instalment in the franchise, Resident Evil: Apocalypse. And it turns out Apocalypse is the movie I’d been thinking of. So I’m pretty sure this is my first (and likely only) viewing of Resident Evil. Though it’s possible I’d just forgotten it completely.
*. In subsequent films in the series it would become part of the formula to begin with a recap. I like what Frank Scheck had to say about this in his review of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in the Hollywood Reporter: “As with the recent edition of the similar Underworld franchise, the film begins with a recap of what’s gone on before, which seems less designed for newcomers than viewers who’ve actually seen the previous entries but can’t remember a thing about them.” I might add, from recent personal experience, that this is true even if you’re binge-watching them back-to-back.
*. The reason this first movie is easy to forget is because it’s so much like a lot of other, better movies. Because it’s a zombie movie (though one that never describes the risen dead as zombies) George Romero was originally tabbed to write and direct. That fell through, but there’s still a lot of Romero here. Especially Day of the Dead, with the underground lab. The blowing newspaper with the headline “The Dead Walk!” is a direct reference. (For some reason Day of the Dead was in everyone’s head, as it’s also borrowed from extensively in Resident Evil: Extinction.)
*. The more obvious comparison, however, is to Aliens. There’s the same kick-ass heroine accompanying an elite team investigating a place where something seems to have mysteriously gone wrong. Even the members of the team are the same. The capable-but-doomed team leader. The tough-as-nails Latina. The wimp who keeps saying things like “We’re all gonna die!” The duplicitous corporate tool.

*. Throw in the video game features, because it is, after all, based on a video game, and you have a pretty generic adventure. I was surprised reading some reviews of it that the scene where the team gets sliced and diced by lasers was seen as an original element, since it had been done before in Cube. And done better. So in sum this is, to get back to where I started, a movie that’s easy to forget.
*. But for all that, it’s not a bad movie. Milla Jovovich is surprisingly good as the leggy Alice (a name that is never actually used in the film). The story moves along at a frantic pace. The CGI is terrible, but the extreme editing helps cover up just how cheap it all looks (and in fact was). A budget of $33 million isn’t that much given the product. These SF-action epics aren’t cheap.
*. Of course there are plenty of issues with the plot, but in movies like this you probably just have to let them go. It bothered me, however, that the basic set-up seemed so off. For such an advanced lab the spread of the T-virus through the air system seemed kind of easy. And given that the Red Queen (the Hive’s AI) had a valid reason for wanting to shut the facility down and, yes, kill everyone in it, why couldn’t she just have explained that to everyone? Why the need to inject the team into the Hive to find out what went wrong?
*. So Jovovich is really good. The action is silly, but there’s a lot of it. Paul W. S. Anderson’s direction is, as usual, just barely competent. Many more films were on their way.

Hellboy (2019)

*. This is awkward. After Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army things had been left open for a final film to conclude a projected trilogy. That never happened, for various reasons. So instead, over a decade later, the franchise (such as it was) had to be rebooted entirely. Technically this film should be considered a prequel, since the events it describes take place before those of del Toro’s movies. But really it sets up an entirely new universe.
*. In the intervening decade Marvel had swallowed up the film business. So with this relaunch of Hellboy they were basically going for a piece of the same, very large market. When it was poorly received David Harbour (who plays Hellboy) complained that it was being unfairly judged as a Marvel movie. He would have had a point if they hadn’t been so obviously trying to make a Marvel movie. Right down to the mid-credit and post-credit sequences setting up the next round (wherein Hellboy would presumably face off against Koschei the Deathless).
*. Mike Mignola’s comic is, in fact, something a little different than the usual Marvel fare. And his art has a different style as well. Now it would have been possible for the art director and other people involved in this movie to have taken inspiration from that style and done something distinctive. Sort of like how the Sin City movies visualized what Frank Miller did. Comic book movies don’t have to all look the same. But, alas, what they stuck with here was CGI. Lots of CGI.
*. If you live by CGI you die by CGI. I thought the CGI in this movie to be very poor, especially for 2019. Which means the movie was always going to struggle. Though not necessarily be this bad.

*. Believe me, I don’t want to just dump on this movie. I’d heard all of the bad press and was expecting the worst, but through the first half-hour or so I was enjoying it well enough. Harbour is no Ron Perlman, but he’s not a disaster. I liked seeing Ian McShane, even though he seemed wrong for the part. The hunt for the giants started off well.
*. But then it was hard not to notice the crumby CGI they used for the giants. And then begin to wonder what the hunt episode had to do with the rest of the movie. Absolutely nothing, as things would turn out.
*. The rest of the movie then descends into the usual business about Hellboy coming to grips with his destiny, and his humanity, while being pursued by a wicked witch (Milla Jovovich). Chunks of the plot float around in flashback so we can caught up on all the different characters and their relations to each other. There’s a lot more (fake CGI) gore and bad language than in del Toro’s movies and of course none of del Toro’s honest enthusiasm for the material.
*. As a result, it’s hard to overstate just how dull the second half of the movie is. Giant CGI monsters rise from the pits of hell and start tearing London apart. Because that’s what giant CGI monsters do. There’s more blood than usual, but otherwise that’s it. There are attempts to liven things up with some Marvelesque banter but most of it falls flat. Even the quips are predictable.
*. Bottom line: I didn’t hate it as much as most critics did. But it’s no good. Fans of the comic, or the earlier movies, were disappointed, while I reckon anyone going in cold must have felt pretty confused by what was going on. Given that I doubt there will be a sequel, is it too soon to hit the reboot button again? Or should they just let Big Red lie? I vote for giving him another decade off.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

*. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, didn’t have a story credit for the first Hellboy movie but it was loosely based on some of his comics. He does share a story credit for this film, but overall I get the sense that The Golden Army is a lot more del Toro than it is Mignola.
*. This sense was pretty much confirmed by del Toro’s commentary, where he calls Hellboy II a more personal film than the first one, in which he could indulge his “fetish” for gears and underground places. He also explicitly drew on Pan’s Labyrinth for things like the Troll Market and quotes from the same Tennyson poem as was used in The Devil’s Backbone.
*. This is del Toro’s franchise now. Mignola’s horror cult has been replaced with something lighter, even referencing the classic creatures of Ray Harryhausen and the cartoon style of Tex Avery. Which is good or bad depending on your tastes. Del Toro apparently thought of the film as a “fairy tale for adults” but for kids too. Or maybe primarily for kids. If there is a difference anymore. Kidult is a label that defines a lot of our culture.
*. The Golden Army is also more of a CGI extravaganza, though Hellboy himself maintains his rugged durability and I was stunned to hear that Mr. Wink was actually a real guy in a monster suit. As I’ve said before, many times now, what CGI is really good at is destroying cities and showing armies in battle. So the technology does determine the plot at least somewhat.
*. As with the first film the plot is pretty much formula. Hellboy is “out” in public now and soon becomes the Misunderstood Hero. The villain has bad designs, but is somewhat sympathetic. There’s lots of self-sacrifice because love is what really counts.
*. They couldn’t get Marco Beltram back and replaced him with Danny Elfman, who wanted to stay true to the original score. Why didn’t they just keep the original score? Didn’t they have the rights?
*. Of course you could tell they were setting everything up for a sequel, which I believe was meant to be the final part of a trilogy. This didn’t happen because it was going to cost too much and the Hellboy movies, while they made money, weren’t the guaranteed box office of Marvel Studios output. Apparently the Hellboy movies made back most of their money on the back end and DVD and video income had basically disappeared by this time. Something to keep in mind when considering the homogenization of so much of this kind of filmmaking. Only a sure thing, meaning a totally predictable thing, is going to be attempted at this price point.
*. So, at least as of this writing, Hellboy III, or del Toro’s franchise, remains a what-may-have been. Instead of a sequel, ten years later they went for a full reboot. One couldn’t be hopeful.

Hellboy (2004)

*. I’m not a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro, but I find it hard not to respond to his own fandom. He genuinely loves movies and comic books. The obvious affection and enthusiasm he has for his various projects, which all seem to be labours of love, is a big part of what sets them apart from the usual run-of-the-mill, superhero/fantasy, CGI epics.
*. It also, I think, allows him a certain creative latitude. Having Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola, on board for this movie probably also helped in this regard. While I think del Toro’s Hellboy is true to the spirit of Mignola’s comic book, it also takes a lot of liberties that another director might not have gotten away with.
*. Another thing that really helps this production is the cast. John Hurt is great as Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced “Broom”). Selma Blair is perfect playing a low-energy Liz Sherman, someone withdrawn without being emo. I didn’t see the point of the Jeffrey Tambor character but he’s always fun to watch. Rupert Evans is Myers, a regular guy not in the comic who serves as a friend to the audience.
*. It’s Ron Perlman though who really makes the movie work. He’s laid-back and low-key as well, but it’s his physicality that sells the role. When he charges into action you don’t get the feeling you’re just watching a CGI cartoon fight but someone really getting knocked around. This is important because Hellboy gets knocked around a lot. It’s one of his defining characteristics, so you have to buy into that.
*. Of course the visuals are great. Del Toro is a natural fit with Mignolo’s mythos, which is all ruined castles and monasteries and strange mechanical creatures. The end looks a bit too much like Tomb Raider for my tastes, but by this time that had become a generic look. It’s all part of the fantasy world we (or at least our movies) live in now.
*. But it’s precisely del Toro’s reliance on visuals that puts me off him as well. Frankly, the story here, which is loosely based on Mignolo’s early Hellboy titles, is just the usual superhero stuff. Hellboy is more of a Marvel type, being the adolescent rebel with special powers that make it hard for him to have a girlfriend and just be a regular guy (something that is emphasized even more here by making the B.P.R.D. into a secret society). There are Nazis to fight. There is a supervillain (Rasputin) who is looking to, you know, destroy the world. He’s going to do this by, you know, opening a portal in the sky to another dimension. How many times has that portal been opened in superhero movies? Avengers: Age of Ultron and Fantastic Four are a couple of others that come immediately to mind. Hell, they even used it in The LEGO Batman Movie.
*. The moral lesson is also familiar and simple. Learn to like yourself. Resist labels, since you create yourself through the choices you make. That might almost qualify as sub-Marvel, if I thought there were such a thing.
*. I would still, however, rate Hellboy an above-average superhero movie. The cast is good and del Toro gives the film a warmth I rarely find in the video game aesthetic of other comic book/video game adventures. The groovy score by Marco Beltrami is also a big plus. But it’s still a movie where all such praise has to be qualified by acknowleding what kind of movie this is. Shouldn’t “generic fantasy” be an oxymoron? It’s a bit upsetting that it isn’t.