Oh, Resident Evil series.
You’re a continuity purist’s worst nightmare, thoroughly hated by critics, and sometimes you just don’t make a lot of sense. Lucky for you, your fans don’t care! You wanna retroactively change who created the T-Virus? Go ahead! You feel like contradicting yourself time and time again? Why not! As long as you keep giving us over-the-top action sequences and ridiculously epic story lines we’ll keep coming back for more.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the original film’s release season, I’ve re-watched every film — both live action and computer animation — to bring you The Scariest Things’ official Resident Evil Dead List.
Here we go!
The one that started it all! The CG monster effects don’t really hold up after 20 years, but it’s always fun watching Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez kick ass.
Based on the video games of the same name, Resident Evil spins an original yarn in a universe similar to that of the games. After an incident at a secret, underground lab owned by the Umbrella Corporation — a massive, multi-national conglomerate — the lab’s A.I. in charge of security systematically exterminates all of the employees. A crack team of corporate commandos is sent in to investigate. Along the way, they bump into Alice [Jovovich] who’s suffering from memory loss, unaware of what secrets she may hold.
Why You Should Watch: (1) It’s one of the few good video game movie adaptations. (2) The laser corridor scene. (3) Employee extermination sequences. (4) Great lab sets. (5) Origin story!
Picking up immediately after the first movie — in fact, it borrows footage from the end of the 2002 film to start out — Resident Evil: Apocalypse finds Alice [Milla Jovovich] once again caught up in the machinations of the persistently evil Umbrella Corporation. The T-Virus we learned about in the first movie has escaped the lab and has infected the population of nearby Raccoon City. The infection is so widespread that the Umbrella Corporation has decided to nuke the town and blame the explosion on a nuclear reactor meltdown. Alice and her ragtag group of survivors have to evacuate before the bomb goes off.
Directorially, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is disappointing, which is surprising given that Alexander Witt spends so much of his career as Second Unit Director and Cameraman, but there ya go. And story-wise, the movie suffers from sequelitis. The whole thing feels slapped together. From having to suddenly care about a very-nearly-peripheral character from the first movie, Matt [Eric Mabius; TV’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered series and multi-movie spinoffs (2013-2021)], who “returns” as a character played by a different actor, to the heavy dose of fan service evident in the women’s wardrobe choices this one’s easily the worst of the live action Resident Evil offerings.
Why You Should Watch: (1) Meh. It advances the overarching story a bit. (2) Jill Valentine’s [Sienna Guillory; TV’s Luther (2013)] thoroughly ridiculous tactical tube-top. (3) Minor set up for the next film in the series.
Vaulting ahead in time, we discover that the T-Virus has not only turned nearly all humans, dogs, and apparently crows into ferocious people-eating machines, but it also somehow managed to destroy water itself? Sure! Why not? Lakes and rivers have dried up, plants died, and everything’s shifted to a more or less uniform shade of brown. Everyone’s outfits have become far more reasonable for the circumstances and the survivors have taken up a nomadic lifestyle to avoid the roaming hordes of the infected.
Towards the end of the previous movie, Alice [Milla Jovovich], displayed some wicked new mental powers à la Scanners (1981) that she picked up in Detroit and they’ve only gotten stronger. After using them to protect a convoy of survivors lead by Claire Redfield [Ali Larter; TV’s Heroes (2006-2010)] — a character from the video game series — Alice convinces them all to drive to Alaska. With fellow Raccoon City refugees Carlos Olivera [Oded Fehr; TV’s Star Trek: Discovery (2020-2021)] and L.J. Wayne [Mike Epps; The Hangover (2009)] returning from the previous movie, the gung-ho group strikes out for paradise after a quick stop in Las Vegas.
Resident Evil: Extinction was filmed entirely in Mexico and uses the stark desert landscape to good effect. Additionally, the filmmakers wisely enlisted Patrick Tatopoulos and his Patrick Tatopoulos Designs studio to spice up the movie’s creature design and zombie effects giving this film the best looking baddies in the series so far. Add in music by accomplished composer Charlie Clouser and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.
Why You Should Watch: (1) Best looking movie in the series so far! (2) Great pacing. (3) Hillbilly fight sequence. (4) Clones!
Straight from Capcom itself comes the first full-length motion capture computer animated entry in the collection of Resident Evil movies. The events depicted in Resident Evil: Degeneration take place somewhere between the fourth and fifth Resident Evil games in the same universe (unlike the live action movies which take place in a modified Resident Evil universe), but follow a completely new story line.
Knowing that the animations happen in a different universe is important as the change from the live action movies is dramatic. The Umbrella Corporation is gone; bankrupt following the events in Raccoon City. After a T-Virus infection at the Harvardville airport, Claire Redfield [voiced by Alyson Court reprising her role from the games] bumps into her old acquaintance, federal agent Leon S. Kennedy [voiced by Paul Mercier who also follows his character from game to film]. Joined by officer Angela Miller [Laura Bailey; TV’s Critical Role (2015-2022)] and her partner, Claire’s group is rescued. Unfortunately, the trucks carrying the anti-virus from the WilPharma corporation get destroyed by an act of sabotage.
As Claire, Leon, and Angela attempt to get more of the anti-virus from WilPharma’s research facility, they’re shocked and amazed to discover that WilPharma is the new “Big Bad” in corporationland bent on doing unethical things with unhealthy materials. They also bump into Angela’s swiftly mutating brother, Curtis [Roger Craig Smith; TV’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2021)], who apparently wants to have sex with his sister.
Okay, that was awkward.
In any case, the story ends up just like you’d expect. The whole thing is exceedingly linear with no interesting twists or surprises. Well, except for that weird incest thing, but we’ll just pretend that didn’t happen. While the artwork is passable for the most part, the animation and characters often look unnatural and move more like digital paper dolls than people.
Why You Should Watch: (1) Honestly, if you love the video games you might get something out of this one. If not, though, just skip it.
Back to the live action series and Paul W.S. Anderson is back in the director’s chair. The movie opens with a flashback showing the start of the T-Virus infection in Tokyo and then skips ahead 5 years launching into an intro segment where Alice [Ms. Jovovich returns to her starring role] makes good on her promise of revenge from the end of Resident Evil: Extinction; much to the dismay of the Umbrella Corporation’s Tokyo headquarters. After a showdown with the film’s main bad guy reaches a thoroughly confusing — and never explained — stopping point, the movie shifts back to the States and begins again.
This time, Alice hooks back up with her old pal Claire Redfield [Ali Larter; TV’s The Rookie (2019-2020)] and the two scrappy ladies fall in with a small group of survivors who’ve holed up in the LARGEST PRISON EVERRRR! A truly massive edifice that apparently stands a stone’s throw away from downtown Los Angeles. Who knew?
In reality, the prison exteriors are exaggerated shots of the John P. Robarts Research Library at the University of Toronto. “Over-the-top” seems to have been the mantra of this film as it permeates filming locations and action sequences as well as the uber-stylish (over)use of high speed photography and bullet time effects.
While nearly every live action movie in the series has been an utter flop with critics, they’re still loved by fans and have been earning progressively more cash with each outing. Because of this, Director Anderson got the green light to bump up the budget and film Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3D using the same Fusion Camera System that James Cameron and Vince Pace developed for Avatar (2009).
Also, the movie makers once again sprung for some top notch SFX artists securing the amazing creature and prosthetics talents of Paul Jones and his FX Studio team. Add to that the musicianship of tomandandy for the movie’s slick score and you’ve got a rousing, mildly splattery, zombie action flick that’s entertaining almost in spite of itself.
Why You Should Watch: (1) Initial Tokyo infection sequence. (2) Over-the-top Tokyo HQ fight! (3) Over-the-top Executioner shower fight! (4) Over-the-top prison rooftop escape! (5) Jill Valentine’s mid-credits teaser scene [Sienna Guillory returns]!
Once again, we (sort of) pick up the story immediately following the end of the last movie, Resident Evil: Afterlife. However, that continued story line only lasts through the opening credits. After that, we’re back in an Umbrella Corporation holding cell and Alice [the ever-resilient Milla Jovovich] is back to being mostly naked and alone. Sienna Guillory [Don’t Hang Up (2016)] also returns as Alice’s pal Jill Valentine. Unfortunately, she’s being mind-controlled by the Umbrella Corporation which causes her to torture Alice and, apparently, overact.
Resident Evil: Retribution feels like a filler entry in the live action series. While the movie looks great, the plot is ridiculous and there are so many retroactive continuity changes that I’m legit surprised the fanbase didn’t riot. Defeated villains from previous films return from the dead and even the whole backstory explaining how the T-Virus spread around the world is changed. Sloppy storytelling. It’s a good thing we like watching things blow up.
Why You Should Watch: (1) Suburban soccer-mom Michelle Rodriguez. (2) Alice’s ability to go from mostly-naked in a hospital gown to wearing a complicated, buckle-laden, latex fetish outfit in less than 10 seconds. And that’s about it. The last few minutes set things up for the live-action series finale, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, but we’ll get it all again when that movie starts.
Our return to the world of mo-cap computer animation is a big improvement over the first time Resident Evil dipped its toes into these digital waters. Character models look much better, the script is more reasonable, and the pacing bounces right along. This is once again firmly set within the video game universe as opposed to the alternate universe of the live-action series and, while the movie does contain characters from the games, Resident Evil: Damnation is a standalone story unto itself.
Special Agent Leon S.Kennedy — this time voiced by veteran voice actor Matthew Mercer from the video game series — finds himself in the Eastern Slav Republic where a civil war has gotten even more horrific with the introduction of B.O.W.s (Bio-Organic Weapons). We’ve got Lickers and Plagas and a few other fun beasties in the mix. Plus, video game character Ada Wong [voiced by Courtenay Taylor who reprises her role from the games] shows up with a secret agenda of her own.
Why You Should Watch: (1) If you’re a fan of the video game series, Resident Evil: Damnation is by far the best adaptation yet! (2) The first fight scene between Ada Wong and President Svetlana Belikova [Wendee Lee; TV’s Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999)]. (3) Unlike Capcom’s first foray into the CG Resident Evil series, this one is Guaranteed Incest Free!™
All good things must come to an end.
This also holds true for fan-beloved, critic-despised mishmashes of rampant retconning, overly complex story lines, and nearly constant action. Which brings us to Resident Evil: The Final Chapter; the end of the Milla Jovovich era of live action Resident Evil fare.
Up until now, the budget for the live action films has been steadily increasing:
- Resident Evil (2002) – $33 million
- Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) – $45 million
- Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) – $45 million
- Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) – $60 million
- Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) – $65 million
After the extravagant yet plotless disaster called Resident Evil: Retribution, however, the production companies put a halt to the ever-inflating price tags. For The Final Chapter, the bean counters sliced the filming budget to $40 million. Almost back to what the very first movie cost!
This had to have been a big factor when it came to FX content, casting, and everything else. Depending on who you ask, many of the often-recurring actors were either “busy” at the time of filming or were flat-out never asked to come in for even a cameo appearance in the very last movie. Fan favorite characters Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Ada Wong (Bingbing Li), and Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb) are noticeably missing.
Also noticeably missing is the super gigantic brawl-for-it-all where Alice (Jovovich) and her rag-tag squad of scrappy survivors were supposed to make a stand at the White House in Washington, DC and face off against the Umbrella Corporation’s forces of evil. The final confrontation was teased at the end of Resident Evil: Retribution and we do get to see some very well done post-conflict panoramas of the US capital city in ruins, but apparently the fight itself took place sometime between the two movies and no camera operators were there to catch it. Too bad for us.
What we do get is an action-packed road trip back to where it all began, the original Hive in Raccoon City, and Claire Redfield [Ali Larter; TV’s Creepshow (2021)] returns to help her ol’ pal Alice do what needs to be done.
Most of the filming took place in South Africa and the filmmakers hired local for the primary SFX studio. The Cosmesis Advanced Prosthetics Studio came in and did a spectacular job with the makeup effects and prosthetics. The squid-faced water zombie was particularly disgusting (in a good way).
Overall, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter brings the Jovovich Era of Resident Evil movies to a reasonable end. It’s unfortunate that budgetary restraints (likely) hamstrung casting and also redirected the story along a more fiscally responsible path, but what we did get is a fun ride. Fans of the series will enjoy it while newcomers will probably find it utterly confusing until they go back into the previous films to fill in some details.
Why You Should Watch: (1) End of an era! Adios, Milla. (2) Alice’s leg trap fight. (3) Clones and clones and clones of clones.
The mo-cap computer animation entries in the Resident Evil line continue to get better and better. Maybe not in all facets, but it’s easy to see how 5 years of tech advancement since the last CG film has improved the graphical rendering of scenery and characters. Plus, Capcom continues to set a high bar with their motion-captured fight choreography.
Resident Evil: Vendetta finds our old friend Leon S. Kennedy [voiced again by Matthew Mercer; TV’s Critical Role (2015 – 2022)] getting pulled away from his vacation once more to deal with B.O.W.s (Bio Organic Weapons a.k.a. the infected). This time a new designer virus is to blame: the Animality Virus or “A-Virus” for short.
Video game character Chris Redfield [voiced by hard working voice actor Kevin Dorman] makes his movie debut teaming up with Dr. Rebecca Chambers [voiced by Erin Cahill; TV’s Power Rangers Time Force (2001)] to enlist Leon in tracking down the bio-terrorist/arms dealer responsible for the new virus.
Resident Evil: Vendetta — as with all of the CG Resident Evil movies — takes place within the same universe as the video games. In this case, the events of the movie happen in 2014 and fall between the Resident Evil 6 and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard video game story lines. Granted, Vendetta doesn’t have much of a story line; it’s exceptionally linear and offers up no surprises to speak of, but that’s not unexpected. The CG offerings are more for spectacle and action than sophisticated script writing.
Why You Should Watch: (1) Great close quarters fight scenes! (2) Quick rail gun scene. (3) Again, if you’re a fan of the games, this is the best entry so far. Not to mention being far more consistent when it comes to story continuity than the live action films.
As a fan of the Resident Evil series — sometimes in spite of how they treat us — and having just watched every single feature-length Resident Evil movie I could find, I was primed to enjoy the reboot, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. Most fans will be, to be honest. Unlike the movies in the Jovovich Era, Welcome to Raccoon City definitely follows the events in the video games it’s based on more closely. Specifically the first and second games of the series.
There are countless Easter eggs for rabid fans of the games to look for: Claire Redfield’s [Kaya Scodelario; Crawl (2019)] necklace, “ITCHY TASTY” in blood on a window, Moonlight Sonata, the list goes on and on. Obviously, this film was a labor of love from a gang who knows the games inside and out. Plus, all the fan favorites show up for the brand new start: Chris Redfield [Robby Amell; The Babysitter: Killer Queen (2020)] and his sister Claire, Albert Wesker [Tom Hopper; TV’s The Umbrella Academy (2019 – 2022)], Jill Valentine [Hannah John-Kamen; Ready Player One (2018)], and Leon S. Kennedy [Avan Jogia; Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)] all feature prominently.
Keep in mind, however, that not all of the characters are played exactly as you might expect. Leon S. Kennedy, for example, is far from the bad ass you’ve come to know. This redo of the origin story takes place in 1998 when Leon is a brand new rookie in the Raccoon Police Department and barely knows what he’s doing most of the time. As long as you keep an open mind going in and remember that Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is completely disconnected from the films that came before and is starting from scratch, you’ll be in a good spot for watching.
With a shockingly low budget of only $25 million — $8 million less than the very first movie back in 2002 — you’d be correct in assuming most of the effects are CGI. Not all, but definitely the lion’s share. Luckily, most of them are done exceptionally well. Thankfully, the filmmakers did spend some cash on the special make-up effects so the various zombies and random civilians on their way to becoming zombies look great.
To be fair, the biggest failing of Welcome to Raccoon City is that it’s not actually all that welcoming. Newcomers to the series may be overwhelmed by the number of characters to keep track of and the lack of detailed explanation for what’s going on. Fans of the series, though, will feel right at home and may even want to watch it more than once to catch things they missed the first time.
Why You Should Watch: (1) The authenticity of the sets for the Spencer Mansion and the police station of the Raccoon Police Department is fantastic. Filmmakers worked hand-in-hand with Capcom to get them right. (2) The fight between lesser-known character Lisa Trevor [Marina Mazepa; Malignant (2021)] and a Licker. (3) Donal Logue‘s [TV’s Gotham (2014 – 2019)] portrayal of Chief Irons of the RPD.
And there we have it.
So much Resident Evil, but there’s still more to come! Netflix has a live-action Resident Evil series coming out in July and, while Welcome to Raccoon City may not have wowed critics (when does that ever happen with Resident Evil movies?), it’s already made more than it cost. In other words, betting against a sequel to this new reboot would probably be a bad idea.
Article by Robert Zilbauer.