Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies break from the games to create their own alternate narrative, but how do these movies stack up?
Following the Capcom game franchise of the same name, Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies blend action and horror to fight zombies and the evil Umbrella Corporation that created them. The films break from the storylines of the games, however, to follow main character Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, who was once the head of security at a secret Umbrella facility known as the Hive.
Over the course of the six Resident Evil movies, Alice learns that Umbrella has been conducting illegal genetic research and decides to fight back. She becomes their test subject, gaining superhuman strength and reflexes, and eventually psychic powers as well. Alice joins up with various familiar faces from the Resident Evil games along the way as she repeatedly escapes from Umbrella and fights back against them while also dodging zombies along the way.
While the Resident Evil movies are divisive due to their frequent departures from the source material and propensity towards action movie tropes, they still offer a unique and enjoyable experience both for Resident Evil fans and newcomers to the franchise. That being said, some movies in the series certainly offer more than others—here’s how they stack up.
Resident Evil: Retribution is the weakest in the series, following Alice as she fights to escape from an Umbrella facility buried deep within a frozen lake in Russia. With very little plot, this film is essentially just an hour and a half long fight scene, which lands it squarely at the bottom of the list. Retribution is the first and only film in the Resident Evil franchise to include Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong, and Barry Burton, mainstay characters of the game series. It also brings back Jill Valentine after Apocalypse and the Umbrella special forces team from the first movie. The film suffers from a desire to bring in so many elements from the game series and the films, then combine them into one movie.
It incorporates Jill’s new look and spider-shaped control device from Resident Evil 5 as well as zombies that sprout a fleshy, flower grabbing appendage from their mouths. Combined with a sudden desire to cram in as many Resident Evil characters as possible, this film, while not unwatchable, is one empty action scene after another with only the thinnest plot to hold them together.
The fourth film in the series, Resident Evil: Afterlife follows up the events of Extinction by having Alice and an army of her clones attack the Umbrella headquarters in Tokyo, but Wesker escapes and blows up the entire facility. As the last Alice is stowed away on Wesker’s helicopter, she attacks him, but is injected with a serum that removes the T-virus from her system, also destroying her superpowers.
The rest of the film follows Alice as she searches for any survivors and the Arcadia, which was mentioned in the radio broadcasts she and the caravan of survivors had been following during Extinction. The first movie made after Resident Evil 5, this film is the first to incorporate game character Chris Redfield, the spider-shaped control device, the new flower-mouth zombies, and the giant axe-wielding enemies shown in the game, with no explanation of why they’re suddenly a part of the movies.
Like every movie in the Resident Evil series, this film is far from being unwatchable, but it’s just not very engaging. Between characters that the audience doesn’t care about and a super-thin plot, Afterlife suffers from action movie tropes and a lack of direction, making it feel disjointed and too fast to keep track.
The last movie in Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil series, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter tries to do a lot with its plot—probably too much—but it ranks higher than some of the other films in the franchise simply because it tries. Three weeks after the events of Retribution, humanity is on its last leg after Alice is betrayed by Wesker, and Alice is approached by the Red Queen, the AI that controls the Hive. She wants Alice to come back to Raccoon City and release an airborne antivirus that will save the world.
This movie tries to bring together a lot of plot threads, but fails to do so in a cohesive and effective narrative. This combined with a headache-inducing number of cuts, slow-motion shots, and a castle-storming scene obviously stolen from Lord of the Rings, this movie is a total mess. That being said, the overly complicated and confusing story means that at least someone tried to write a plot for this movie. This is in stark contrast to many of the other films in the series, which are clearly just a bunch of fight scenes held together with mere threads.
Resident Evil: Extinction is the third movie in the franchise, following Alice after she has escaped from an Umbrella lab with newly developed psychic powers. She roams the desert, coming upon Claire Redfield leading a convoy of survivors in search of someplace safe. When she rescues them from a mob of attacking crows, Claire agrees to take her on as part of the convoy as they head to Las Vegas to gather supplies.
This film introduces the Tyrant enemy from the original Resident Evil game, and has Alice fight him as the convoy breaches an Umbrella facility in the middle of the desert. The survivors take an Umbrella helicopter while Alice stays behind to fight. This film is fairly simplistic, but it has a solid plot that it follows throughout the film. It’s early enough in the series that the story hasn’t gotten too ridiculous or convoluted yet, making it one of the franchise’s better efforts.
Paul W. S. Anderson’s first Resident Evil film introduces audiences to some of the lore from the game series through its main character, Alice. Alice wakes up in a mansion she doesn’t recognize with no memory of who she is as special forces working for a company called Umbrella breach the house and lead her underground into a secret research facility known as the Hive.
While this movie spearheaded the whole series and solidified Resident Evil as a worthwhile movie franchise in addition to the games, the movies get a lot of hate for not following the lore of the games; this is the movie that started that trend. Writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson said from the beginning that he didn’t want to do tie-ins to the game franchise in an interview with Shivers Magazine.
The Resident Evil movie is clearly what Anderson wanted it to be, but it’s not a great film and suffers from straying so far from the source material. A film actually based on the Resident Evil games, especially following the storylines of any of the early games, would have been much more successful in terms of creating an engaging and cohesive narrative along with relatable and enjoyable characters.
That being said, Alice is an interesting and relatable character that audiences enjoy, and even though the series may not be what fans wanted, these films are a guilty pleasure for many. This first film is a solid story with interesting characters and an engaging plot, though it’s very simple and doesn’t quite nail the mood of Resident Evil.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the second film in the series, comes out slightly ahead of its predecessor. Following the events of the first film, Alice escapes from an Umbrella testing facility to discover that the world around her is crumbling, and the T-virus has been released on the public.
Teaming up with S.T.A.R.S. operative Jill Valentine and Umbrella Special Forces agent Carlos Olivera, she helps the team try and escape the sealed city before the government destroys it to try and stop the virus’ spread. Along the way, she encounters a creature called Nemesis, an enemy from Resident Evil 3 who is controlled by Umbrella and sent as a test subject for new technology.
While this movie isn’t lacking ridiculous action sequences like Alice driving through a church window on a motorcycle for no reason, it makes more of an effort to nail the feeling of the Resident Evil games than any of the other films in the series. It also includes Nemesis and Jill Valentine, nailing both characters’ looks, though it takes some liberties with characterization. Featuring things like the deserted, destroyed city and the requisite cemetery scene, it includes a lot of the feeling of the Resident Evil games that are missing from both the first film and the rest of the franchise.
Certified horror addict and linguistics nerd, Maisy has been watching, reading, and reviewing horror since she was old enough to get a library card. She is most often found hiding in the woods with her nose in a book, usually horror or weird fiction, or in her bedroom snuggling with her husband and many pets while watching horror movies or playing Skyrim – usually both.
Elusive and rarely out in public, Maisy can usually be baited with cheese, punk rock, or the promise of a rousing discussion on sociolinguistics and dialectology, though she has sometimes been known to come out to explore local parks, zoos, and distilleries on occasion.
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