Over the past week or so, I watched all 5 Resident Evil movies to date. There were some positives and a lot of obvious negatives. To date, this is my favorite video game movie franchise, but I hesitate to call any of these films “good.” In this edition of Troubleshooting, we will explore what the film industry can learn going forward as it pertains to adapting video games into movies.
The franchise learned from early miscues and eventually became a respectable series within the action horror genre. The first Resident Evil was clearly inspired by the works of Ridley Scott (Alien), George Romero (____of the (Living) Dead films), with glimpses of John Woo action-ers. The second expanded to a dark, city-wide romp with heavy emphasis on action, less emphasis on horror. There were some more memorable characters, but they lacked depth. The third saw the T-Virus all but wipe out the human race and improved greatly in terms of the scope, action, and character depth. The fourth, while not making any significant strides forward, maintained the momentum of its predecessor as Alice and friends attempted to escape a prison to a ship called the Arcadia. The fifth chapter saw Alice meet up with a group of characters made popular by the video games while escaping another Umbrella facility and took bad acting, bad writing, and mindless (in a bad way) entertainment to new levels. In other words, the series improved from film to film, with the exception of the last instalment (so far).
Resident Evil should get credit for revisiting the zombie horror drama before the likes of The Walking Dead could get their hands on the genre. If Resident Evil came out now, it would be seen as a sad and pathetic alternative to the character-driven AMC series. As it stands, Resident Evil was ahead of the zombie curve, but eventually resorted to being an action-driven horror franchise with few scares but lots of bullets.
The one clear standout from the Resident Evil films has to be Milla Jovovich‘s Alice. She was a character created specifically for the first film never having appeared in the game. Director/Writer Paul WS Anderson (the future Mr. Jovovich) utilized Jovovich’s experience as Lelu in The Fifth Element and added a little humanity to create Alice. As a result, a film franchise devoid of interesting characters hitched its wagon to the star power of its main character. The result was a profitable formula of cheap action movies with a strong female lead.
What Didn’t Work:
While each film improved from one film to the next, many of the early mistakes felt like the result of amateur filmmakers learning on the job rather than attempts to find the right formula for portraying the video game on the big screen. Most of the problems (writing, acting, low budget special effects) had less to do with the game and more to do with the studio’s confidence in the subject material. The first film felt like the studio acquired the rights to a popular video game franchise and made a conscious effort to get the least talented people possible to make a film for the lowest amount possible with the only aim to sell tickets to pimple-faced gamers that just want to see girls, guns, and guts. But they stumbled upon a strong character in Alice and used her to pump out sequels without learning from their mistakes as it pertains to the talent they hired. Instead, the same directors and writers stuck around and improved their skills, but only marginally. Sure, the budget increased, but most of that went towards special effects.
While Alice is an interesting character that deserves a lot of screen time, it seems as though a series based on a video game would attempt to utilize the star power of the game’s characters a bit more than just as a supporting character for fan service. With the exception of Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller, most of the game’s characters were portrayed by actors you may never see again. And their performances were far from memorable. Out of the five films, few central characters appeared in more than two films (and I am not including mind-wiped clones).
While there were clear differences in setting and plot in each of the films, some felt as though they were a thirty minute story told over the course of 90 minutes. The fifth film, Retribution, definitely fits this description as it is a simple “escape from Umbrella facility” script. One of the franchise’s weaknesses is that at the end of each film, the give a glimpse at what is to come, but the next film usually fails to deliver on that promise. Alice clone army? All of them killed in the first scene. Umbrella planes attack survivors, Alice, and Redfields? Survivors play no role and Larter and Miller are nowhere to be found in the sequel. I like the idea, but it loses its significance if you don’t deliver on your promise.
What the Movie Industry Can Learn:
If you acquire the movie rights to a successful video game franchise, don’t rest on your laurels and expect to make a profit on the existing fanbase. To be successful, you need to hire talented professionals who know how to make a good movie. Otherwise, what you have is a mess of what filmmakers think fans want and what they think will sell tickets. To date, that formula has not made a coherent film that critics and fans can enjoy. Resident Evil failed to garner critical success because the studios hired filmmakers with little in the way of experience and talent and it showed. To the filmmakers’ credit, they improved drastically within the first few films, but they had little ability to maintain that momentum and could not reach outside their established fanbase. With a lot more emphasis on script and production value, Resident Evil could be a huge summer blockbuster with fans from the outside of the gaming community.
Anderson indicated that the sixth Resident Evil will be released next year. Hopefully, this will be the last chapter as the franchise is on its last legs. With any luck, there will be a satisfying resolution that sees Umbrella taken down and a group of scrappy survivors that will live on. Perhaps Alice dies, but the point is the franchise and Jovovich need to move on. And since the franchise largely ignored some of it’s more integral characters from the video game, a reboot is the logical step after the sixth instalment. After all, after the first film, it became all about Alice.
Ideally, a reboot would revolve around a larger cast of characters and would be grounded in the horror genre a bit more. There would be more thrills and suspense rather than bullets and slow-mo. Less telekinesis and more human interaction. I would start with a few main characters like Leon S. Kennedy, Chris and Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, and Albert Wesker and tell a few short stories that intertwine within the film. Think Pulp Fiction with zombies and soldiers. And while many of these characters are well-versed in combat and weaponry, they may be paired or grouped with survivors who are not, adding a dimension of vulnerability and less emphasis on constant fighting and increased emphasis on scares and suspense. This first film of the rebooted franchise would have three parts, each focusing on a different group of characters, and a fourth part where these three stories come together.
Part 1: Olivia Munn as Ada Wong
In this part, Wong is portrayed as an Umbrella researcher who is in a top secret Umbrella laboratory when the T-virus spreads. She, along with other survivors, run for their lives as their friends and colleagues begin to change into mutated zombies. They reach out to the police for help and are guided by Special Tactics and Rescue Services (STARS) Captain Albert Wesker via telephone. At the end of this chapter, Wong proves to be resilient and is the sole survivor of her group. She is apparently rescued by STARS and Leon S. Kennedy and Chris Redfield.
Part 2: Stana Katic (Castle) as Claire Redfield
Claire is working as a school teacher when news breaks of a city-wide quarantine of Raccoon City. Claire, a natural leader, attempts to lead several students and faculty to safety, but all along is concerned about her brother Chris. He is her only living relative and as an officer of STARS, is in the middle of all the danger and likely has more answers than the local news. As the chaos spreads through the city, Claire goes to STARS headquarters with a small group of survivors looking for answers and for her brother. What she finds is Captain Albert Wesker, who takes in Claire’s group. But when members of the group start to become even more mutated versions of the creatures outside, Claire begins to question if there isn’t something more sinister afoot. In the end, Leon S. Kennedy and Chris Redfield arrive with Ada Wong in handcuffs, each of them battered and bloody.
Ryan Gosling as Leon S. Kennedy and Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire) as Chris Redfield
Albert Wesker calls upon his two best officers, partners Kennedy and Redfield, and orders them to rescue the survivors of a what appears to be a terrorist attack at the Umbrella Corporation. Kennedy and Redfield lead their team into the corporation’s top secret lab below Raccoon City and what they find is much more than a simple terrorist attack. While at first they just find zombies, they eventually encounter several large, mutated creatures that want nothing more than to tear their flesh from bone. Along the way, they uncover clues as to what happened. It seems Umbrella was working on a method of regenerating dead cells, a way to accelerate healing. In the process, they developed a virus that could wipe out an entire population. Umbrella’s leaders, seeing potential for a significant profit if sold to the right bidder, kept the virus locked away until they could find the right buyer. Unfortunately, the virus got out and spread to all the researchers and employees. Kennedy and Redfield fight their way to the control room in an effort to lock down the facility as it appears there are no survivors and they need to contain the virus. When they arrive, they find Wong and are instructed by Wesker to get her to the surface for questioning. They escape only to find that the T-virus has already reached the surface. They soon realize that Wong is not all that she seems. Wong is an operative for another company that wants to acquire intelligence regarding Umbrella’s research. Wong was simply dressed as a scientist, but is actually a trained spy that can infiltrate top secret facilities and is a trained martial artist. Eventually, Redfield and Kennedy subdue her and return with her to STARS headquarters for questioning.
Part 4: Conclusion featuring Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood) as Albert Wesker
Leon S. Kennedy, Chris Redfield, and Ada Wong arrive at STARS headquarters to find Albert Wesker and Claire Redfield waiting. While Kennedy interrogates Wong about what she knows and how to stop the virus from spreading, Claire expresses to her brother Chris that blaming Wong for the days events seems illogical. While its true that Ada lied about why she was there in the first place, releasing the virus does nothing for the company she works for. She has no motive to release the T-virus or to put herself in a locked facility with flesh-eating zombies. Kennedy is getting nowhere with the interrogation and Wesker decides to interrogate her himself. Outside STARS headquarters, the streets are empty as most Raccoon City residents have fled or turned. STARS is spread thin all over the city trying to help the survivors. Kennedy is itching to get back out there and help, but Chris Redfield says he has an obligation to protect his sister. They argue about their duty to the people of Raccoon City and Claire’s ability to fend for herself. Just as they are about to come to blows, they hear a loud thumping coming from outside. A hideously-mutated zombie the size of the Hulk is at their doorstep and trying to charge through the door. Kennedy and the Redfields fight it to the death and are victorious.
Meanwhile, in the interrogation room, the interrogation appears typical, but then Wesker removes a needle from his coat pocket. He reveals to Ada that the Umbrella Corporation intentionally released the virus as a demonstration to potential buyers of the T-virus’s power and value. Wesker is employed by the Umbrella Corporation and was instructed to use his resources to contain the virus within the city and make sure there were no survivors that could reveal what really happened to the outside world. He attempts to inject Wong resulting in an engaging game of cat and mouse as Wong is still handcuffed. When the raging battle outside spills into the interrogation room, Kennedy and the Redfields discover Wesker’s involvement in the days events and attempt to defeat him. In the struggle, Wesker is injected with the virus. He reveals that he has already taken an experimental antibody that prevents infection, only to learn that once injected with the virus, there are unexpected results. Wesker becomes, strong, fast, and nearly impossible to defeat. The four eventually escape Wesker and manage to flee the city. Umbrella uses their power to cover-up the infection as a terrorist attack and Ada Wong is arrested. Without proof of Umbrella’s involvement and Wong’s innocence, Kennedy and the Redfields go into hiding fearing the Umbrella Corporation with attempt to silence them. The film ends as Wong escapes with the help of her newfound allies and we see a crow perched upon the roof of the Washington Monument.
The action would be less-stylized and more realistic. The zombies would be faster, but hidden for much of Ada Wong’s story. There would be more emphasis on suspense and less on bullet-time. It would feel more like a horror movie with action elements rather than the opposite. Alice could make an appearance in sequels, but perhaps as a different character entirely. I would find it interesting if she were the daughter of Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. By no means am I a screenwriter, and these ideas may just be the musings of a naive fanboy. But it is difficult to argue that what we have seen so far in the franchise is much better than this.
That will do it for this edition of Troubleshooting. Please feel free to post your ideas below.