All hail director Paul Anderson. The man who, in 1995, directed (in my humble
opinion) the only good videogame-to-movie adaptation in history (Mortal Kombat),
has returned to vanquish the painful memories of Tomb Raider and Wing
Commander with a nicely executed action / horror flick.
Both Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil are shameless, brainless
popcorn movies, but the gray matter quotient is a bit higher in Resident
Evil. Anderson did not write Mortal Kombat. He did write the script
for Resident Evil, so we have him to thank for the fact that Resident
Evil doesn't suffer from Mortal Kombat's melodramatic characterizations
and sub-Kung Fu fortune cookie-isms ("Use the element which brings life"
and "You can look into my soul, but you don't own it.").
Mortal Kombat had its share of cheesy acting (I'm not sure how much
to blame on the actors, and how much to blame on the script). Resident Evil,
on the other hand, is blessedly free of moments where you feel embarrassed for
the actors. Part of this is due to Anderson's writing (not brilliant, but not
stupid either); the other factor, of course, is a cast that conveys the terrors
of the situation without devolving into a slab of honey-baked pork product.
Leading the pack are Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez. Jovovich and Rodriguez
are the best kind of action heroines. They're not the "You go, girl!"
empowerment types or the Thelma and Louise male revenge fantasy types
or the wink-and-a-lascivious-smile types. They simply are strong, capable, kick-ass
women. To say that Rodriguez (Girlfight, The Fast and the Furious)
channels Aliens' Vasquez would be to oversimplify her screen presence,
but it does give you an idea of her character type. She glares out at the world
through irises that seem to float too far up into her skull, and somehow even
that is appealing.
As for Jovovich
. Well, after seeing the movie, my girlfriend said, "I
just like watching her," and that pretty much sums it up. While Jovovich
may not ever win an Oscar, she has an effortless way of inhabiting her roles.
The fact that she's a model as well as an actress will lead a lot of people
to underestimate her or dismiss her altogether. But she was completely convincing
as the child-goddess in The Fifth Element, a role that could have easily
been ridiculous. She has a leonine wood-sprite quality that is very engaging.
Two scenes show a lot more of Jovovich's flesh than is strictly necessary,
but (to my way of thinking) that's much less offensive than movies where the
heroine runs around the whole time in a PG-13 cheerleading / dominatrix costume.
Besides, I can't honestly complain about the chance to see Jovovich sans clothing.
Oh, yeah, there are some males in the film too, including James Purefoy, who
had a brief but memorable appearance in A Knight's Tale as Edward, the
Black Prince of Wales.
The makers of Resident Evil decided against trying to use characters
and plots from the videogames. Instead, the movie is a sort of prequel to the
games, exploring the incident that led to all the subsequent festering mayhem.
I can't claim to be a Resident Evil expert (I like Silent Hill and
Parasite Eve). My most extensive encounter with the Resident Evil
videogames involved a few bleary-eyed hours of watching a friend play the
original game. Watching the movie, I did recognize the sinister Umbrella Corporation
and the creatures. I even caught a few little references to the games, and there
are probably some other Easter eggs for more devout fans of the series.
More importantly, Anderson has captured very well the feel of those survival
horror videogames. The abandoned rooms, the creepy lighting, the ominous ambient
sounds that seem to come from nowhere, the threat of gruesome disembowelment
around every dark corner. The plot (and, admittedly, there isn't much of one)
even unfolds as it would in one of those games. The main characters start out
knowing nothing, and slowly learn the story from scraps of clues and flashbacks.
Normally, when you play videogames, you argue over who gets to play next,
right? Well, when my friend Andrew and I played Silent Hill, we actually
tried to foist the controller off on each other whenever we got the chance.
It's only a game, right? But when you can't seem to find a way out of the abandoned
hospital, and that music that's a cross between clanging pipes and a heartbeat
gets louder, and the dark unnamable things start shambling toward you
"Hey, Andrew, it's your turn to play." Resident Evil's greatest
virtue is that it does manage to replicate that "Oh crap, this staircase
is mighty dark, oh crap, what was that noise, oh crap, what's that behind me,
oh crap, there's something crawling on the ceiling!" feeling.
Resident Evil does owe a lot to Aliens, what with its corrupt
megalithic corporation, its military commando unit, its strong female characters,
and its masses of relentless swarming monsters. And also, of course, George
Romero's post-Night of the Living Dead films: Dawn of the Dead and
Day of the Dead. But these similarities are due to the fact that Anderson
has been true to its videogame source material. The Resident Evil games,
as well as the entire survival horror genre, were invented to let gamers act
out the "group of people trapped in an enclosed space with hordes of blood-thirsty
creatures" scenarios that Romero and Cameron made so popular. So, what
we've got here is a movie-inspired-by-videogames-inspired-by-the-movies. That
said, Anderson delivers a film that -- instead of being a limp copy of a copy
-- is a slick gore-spattered thrill ride.