What Went Right: Resident Evil Part II
By Shalimar Sahota
September 12, 2012

Sure, he's scary, but if you kill him you get a ton of pesetas.

Just a few months after the theatrical release of Resident Evil: Apocalpyse, Capcom released on the Nintendo Gamecube what many would argue to be the videogame series’ magnum opus, Resident Evil 4 in in January of 2005. The game completely reworked the series. There were no fixed camera angles, instead offering an “over-the-shoulder” perspective, less scares, more action, and new enemies known as Los Ganados. It has been ported to many consoles, with a Nintendo Wii edition enhancing the game with motion controls, while in 2011 it received an HD makeover for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. The game was a hit with fans, newcomers and critics, winning many “Game of the Year” accolades.

Following a completely reworked game, the third film, Resident Evil: Extinction, appeared to be a different take on the franchise. Anderson was still on board as writer and producer, but they brought in Russell Mulcahy (of Highlander fame) to direct with a production budget of $45 million. Taking inspiration from spaghetti westerns and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, it presented a very bleak representation of what’s happened to the world, something that doesn’t really get covered in the games (we see human survivors turning on each other).

With the virus having now spread across the globe, the film presented a post-apocalyptic world. Claire Redfield (a main character from the games Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica, played in the film by Ali Larter) leads a group of survivors across the desert. Midway they are joined by Alice, who is getting to grips with her telekinetic powers. Also included are those damn crows as well as Crimson Head zombies, referred to as the “Super Undead”.

The film is the most removed when compared to the videogames, and probably shouldn’t really have worked. The majority of it is also set in broad daylight (possibly taking its cue from the opening half of Resident Evil 4). The most absurd moment comes when Umbrella scientists attempt to domesticate a zombie, only it struggles with a toy (putting a star shaped block in a circular hole), causing it to get angry and kill the scientists.

As well as the Resident Evil name, the success of Extinction likely comes down to keeping to the videogame-like formula, something that is somewhat inherent in all of the films. Alice picks up items and clues (a diary which hints at a safe area in Alaska), new weapons (two kukri knives), disposes of zombies (the super undead kind), builds up her experience points (or telekinetic powers), and finally takes on the end of level boss (a mutated Dr. Isaacs/Tyrant). The film ended with a pullback shot revealing plenty of Alice clones. Who’s going to say no to another sequel with multiple Milla Jovovich’s?

Released in September 2007, it appeared to bring out the same number of fans in the US, with an opening weekend of $23.6 million. It followed the same pattern as the previous film, with a domestic total of $50.6 million. An overseas gross brought its worldwide takings up to $147.7 million. The film was a success.

2009 saw the release of Resident Evil 5 on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. With the game set in Africa, its generalization of racial stereotypes did not go down too well, with overblown issues of racism attracting controversy. A unique touch to the game was a co-op mode where a second player can join in. Players can heal each other and share weapons and ammo. It failed to reach the level of acclaim that was bestowed upon Resident Evil 4, but was still well received amongst gamers and critics. Many elements would find their way in the next film. Nintendo Wii owners were not left out, with The Umbrella Chronicles released in 2007 and The Darkside Chronicles in 2009. For anyone that couldn’t be bothered to play through the franchise’s back catalogue, both titles aimed to summarise the story and events of previous games for newcomers by condensing important plot elements into an on the rails shooter. As with most lightgun games, there is a co-op mode.

The biggest surprise came with the fourth film, Resident Evil: Afterlife, which became the highest grossing installment. One of the contributing factors to this was 3D. After the release of Avatar, 3D looked to be the next big thing, with almost every 3D film generating mega bucks. A brilliant teaser trailer for Afterlife made sure to mention that it was, “Filmed with the James Cameron / Vincent Pace Fusion camera system.” It was in odd thing to stick in a trailer, but it appeared to be speaking to those who had been let down by hasty 3D conversions, notably Clash of the Titans, which showed the world the difference between “shot in 3D” and “(badly) converted.” A 3D Resident Evil movie meant that fans weren’t going to wait to catch this on DVD. It had to be experienced on the big screen. With Anderson as writer, director and producer, the film went into production in September 2009 with an increased production budget of $60 million.

During a convention in April 2010, Sony’s Executive Deputy President, Hiroshi Yoshioka, spoke out against 3D conversions, saying, “Poorly executed 3D is harmful, and it threatens its long-term success…we must give consumers great 3D that looks natural and feels wonderful.” Afterlife became one of the films Sony used to help promote their range of 3D televisions. It also helped that it was a good-looking 3D film, utilising a lot of “in-your-face” effects.

There’s always an underground lab, and the film opens with Alice and her clones storming the Umbrella lab in Tokyo, Japan (the clones don’t last very long). Following this she makes her way to Alaska and reunites with Claire Redfield before the two fly to Los Angeles, meeting up with a small group of survivors. Thinking about it, seeing what Alice has had to go through since the first film, she’s actually had a pretty horrible life. Yet not once do we ever hear her complain and say how she wishes she were at home baking cakes.

Anderson described Afterlife as “the one that’s been most heavily influenced by the imagery, and the story, and the characters of the videogame. Certainly more so than any movie since the first one.” The film does include a lot of elements from Resident Evil 5, such as the game’s lead character, Chris Redfield, and his adversary Wesker is also now seen in action (a villain so bad ass that he wears sunglasses indoors). As well as Majini undead creatures there is also The Executioner (credited in the film by his more popular name, The Axe Man). There’s no explanation as to what he’s doing in LA, or how he knows where Alice and Claire are. That he was featured in all the trailers and TV spots was the film’s way of saying, “pay for a 3D ticket, and you’ll experience a humongous axe thrown in your general direction.” Claire also joins Alice in her fight with The Executioner (enter Player 2?) and both “share” the use of Alice’s shotgun. In the conclusion Chris and Claire are both seen battling Wesker. Seeing multiple characters blasting zombies is nothing new, but this method of lead characters working together to eliminate a ‘boss’ goes some way to replicating the co-op experience found in Resident Evil 5, as well as the Chronicles titles, and to an extent Resident Evil: Zero.

The inclusion of the mind altering P30 Scarab device from the game is seen used in the film on Claire Redfield and Jill Valentine. In fact the inclusion of Sienna Guillory’s cameo as Jill Valentine (who was absent in Extinction) came about due to a strong response from fans. Anderson said, “We definitely listened to fans who missed her in the third movie and really wanted to see her make a return. And also she had made such a strong impact in Resident Evil 5, the videogame, when she came back as “Evil Jill”, that we thought it would be great to bring her back.”

Released in September 2010, on the week that Afterlife opened in the US it was the only new film on wide release. Reviews predictably slammed the film, but the critics should have known by now that they weren’t going to have any effect. It opened to $26.6 million and raked in $60.1 million domestic; the highest for the franchise so far, though this is mostly down to the increased cost for a 3D ticket.

3D is a big seller internationally, too (boosting the likes of Step-Up 3D’s worldwide gross as well as saving the 3D converted Gulliver’s Travels). I doubt anyone expected Afterlife to gross $236 million overseas. When looking at the overseas gross of each film, Japan always comes out on top (Apocalypse and Extinction earned over $20 million there). Given that it is the birthplace of the videogame franchise, this is no surprise. However, Afterlife earned a surprising $55.1 million from Japan alone. As well as the 3D, this is probably down to the marketing promoting that it features singer/actress Mika Nakashima in the opening sequence. While her appearance amounts to nothing more than a cameo, she managed to get her own character poster in Japan and will appear again in the fifth film. Overall, the film accumulated a worldwide gross of $296.2 million, twice as much as the previous film. It’s a total that eclipses the worldwide takings of 2010 blockbusters such as Salt, Shutter Island, The Expendables and Knight & Day.

September 2012 brings a fifth installment, Resident Evil: Retribution, one that brings back former characters Rain, One and Carlos, as well as finally including the likes of Barry Burton, Leon S. Kennedy and Ada Wong. There are suggestions that this will be the last one, though Jovovich has hinted that Anderson does have an idea for a sixth part. The number of fans that the films have picked up with each subsequent installment means that it’s highly unlikely to stop. The videogames continue to grow too, with more spin-off titles and a new sequel.

The synergy of a new film and new game released so close to each other does help one promote the other, with Resident Evil 6 released in October, just a few weeks after the film. The release of the latest game will bring the total number of Resident Evil titles to just over 20. If the games continue to evolve and expand the storyline, then the films too will continue to take inspiration from them.

The first Resident Evil game I played was Resident Evil 2 for the Nintendo 64 back in 2001. I was unprepared for what I was letting myself in for. It wasn’t long before I was hooked, eventually purchasing a Nintendo Gamecube the following year to experience the rest of the titles. I was excited about the prospect of a film and so was there opening day to view Anderson’s Resident Evil back in 2002. There was a slight twinge of disappointment, which ultimately comes from just how much you can really translate from an immersive game to a film. I was convinced that it was rather unfortunate fans will never see the mansion incident on film, but from looking back when playing the Resident Evil remake on the Nintendo Gamecube, I don’t see how a film can better this experience.

I do have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the films. Unlike *some* of the games, they fail to connect with me emotionally and end just when things start to get interesting (though the cliffhanger endings are a great way to bring people back for another). Despite being based upon the most popular survival horror series, I don’t find them scary, either. Then again, just like the games themselves, the later films have shifted the emphasis more towards action and less on horror. They do occasionally take some wild plot turns that sometimes don’t bear any resemblance to the story or timeline of the games (though to be fair, the games are also rather convoluted, hence Wesker’s Report). I’ve come to see the films as a scenario B; basically, what if Resident Evil turned out like this? It’s an alternate world that I can still appreciate.