So Resident Evil: Apocalypse had one thing going for it. It lowered the bar for the third to limbo levels.
But I honestly enjoy Resident Evil: Extinction. It couples the over-the-top qualities of Apocalypse with a coherent storyline. It’s a much better looking and a lot more stylish than the second one. In some ways, Extinction works as a counterbalance to all the pointless “cool” of the second movie.
The premise is simple: Claire Redfield heads a convoy of survivors across the desert looking for a safe haven. Maybe even a promised land, to help them escape the plague of zombie crows, and oh wait, here comes Alice who tells them of such a place — Alaska. Problem is, Umbrella’s put a tracker in her brain, so she brings danger in her wake.
Resident Evil: Extinction has style and efficiency bundled together.
Extinction begins with a familiar set piece from Resident Evil — Alice waking up in the shower. But things rapidly shift, turning into a “spot the difference” game for the viewer. The manor opens directly into the laser grid room; the laser grid room opens into the Raccoon City Hospital that she escaped from at the end of Apocalypse. As a sign that something is off, this opener is great — not only does it start us off on a tense and wondering note, it gracefully reminds us of where she’s been and what she’s running from. And that’s before we see her murdered by a drone, her body collected by Dr. Isaacs, and flung into a pit full of dead Alices, all dressed identically.
This is one of those “cool” moments that shouldn’t work. Hasn’t Umbrella ever heard of workplace hygiene? Shouldn’t those bodies be at varying stages of rot? But it’s forgivable because of the scope of what’s been revealed: high tech cloning and Umbrella’s continuing obsession with the one that got away. Plus, Milla Jovovich does a good job of playing Alice’s clone self as innocent, confused, thrown into a nightmare, and murdered — there’s betrayal on her face as she dies. It’s a moment of humanity that’s thrown into sharp relief by the discarded bodies. The pit has echoes of Very Bad Things like genocide. So far, we’ve seen Umbrella be short-sighted, foolish, stupid, and venal. But here, here, they’ve progressed to flat-out evil. Dr. Isaacs is supposed to be working on a cure, or ameliorating the zombie hunger; instead, he’s playing god with Alice clones and creating faster, meaner zombies.
Extinction is also kind of stylish. Alice lies dreaming in the desert of her clone’s death (somewhere around Alice 85, I think), and, while she does, her telekinetic ability manifests causing stones to float, sending her fire pit flaring, and her motorcycle hovering. When she wakes, they all crash back to earth. It’s a striking scene and one of my favorites.
The first real SF/F book I bought for myself as an impressionable youth was The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts. So, yeah, I think telekinesis is cool. Especially when Alice’s reaction is an exasperated “Oh, shit.” But this is the good kind of cool — equal parts awesome and inconvenient. Because of this single moment, she’s forced to seek out the convoy.
More good traits: Extinction has smooth writing in general.
Apocalypse had a whole slew of characters poorly introduced in the dark, unidentifiable before or after death. Extinction uses the convoy’s CB system to establish character names right off the bat, and it flows naturally. By the end of their first scene, we’ve identified Claire, Carlos, LJ, Otto, and Mikey. Sadly, they do not name Linden Ashby’s character so for most of the movie I thought of him as Teen Wolf’s Sheriff Stilinski in a cowboy hat.
The writers could have done the awkward thing — when Alice arrives, pause all the action to introduce her to the convoy characters, plus their duties and backstories — but they skip that. She’s only introduced to two people, Claire and K-Mart. K-Mart, who does get the backstory, becomes a stand-in for all the other nameless characters, who likely have similar pasts.
There’s competent characterization: Alice is alone and lonely. She’s circling the desert near the convoy; at first, it seems like she’s just in the area. Then, after she smashes her motorcycle in a moment of nightmare-induced telekinesis, she hoofs it across the dunes to join them, and arrives just in time to save her old friend Carlos from zombie crows.
As one does after using massive quantities of psychic powers (or so the movies have taught us), she passes out. She wakes and finds K-Mart watching her. Alice has been on the road; she’s been attacked more than once; Umbrella’s hunting her, and her first reaction to K-Mart is… to seek connection. Alice is still talk first, attack second.
She also seeks to repair her connection to Carlos by explaining why she left him — Umbrella was tracking her and she wasn’t safe to be around. Then she falls into his embrace. No longer alone. While Carlos is definitely her love interest, to me that embrace is more about reconnecting with people as a whole. She knows she can’t stay but she wants to.
Her psychic episodes have allowed Dr. Isaacs to catch up to her and sic his “super undead” on her. He wants her body for his experiments. Even after he attacks them, she only leads a force after him for one reason: she wants his helicopter to help her surviving companions escape. She’s still not a killer for the sake of it. She’s a defender.
But then she finds the pit of discarded Alices, and all bets are off. Milla Jovovich is an actress who conveys emotions through twitches and breath and wide-eyed staring, and that can be off-putting, or it can evoke an emotion really well. Here it’s evocative. Alone and faced with the appalling evidence of all her clones’ deaths for Isaacs’ amusement, words wouldn’t have worked.
She goes into the Hive after him. His inhumanity crosses the line; he’s too dangerous to leave alone.
She hunts Dr. Isaacs, now mutated into a psychic monster, through the playground he set up for her clones — fighting him through some of the worst places in her memory. He dies in the entry to the Red Queen’s server room, sliced to pieces by the lasers that nearly killed her years before. She is spared by a clone’s hand on the controls. Alice 88. Together they create an army of Alices to go after the head of the Umbrella Corporation: Wesker.
Now, defending is not enough. Alice has a vendetta against these people who released death into the world, and who still keep killing instead of healing.
It’s a nice arc that takes her from the defender to an avenger.
Resident Evil: Extinction also has death scenes that are satisfying. I’m not usually a fan of death scenes, especially of likable characters, but this is one of my favorites: Carlos Olivera is a military-minded guy, big on duty and saving people (as we saw in Apocalypse). Here, he has a death sentence on him already: a festering zombie bite and here, he has a way to make his final moments useful. More than that, his sacrifice will help his people find a safe home away from zombies forever. That he then finds one last smoke wedged into the seat of his truck, allowing him to die with even that small craving satisfied? He gets to die happy.
There couldn’t be a Resident Evil movie without a list of the bad.
The most irritating bad: the attempted rape scene. It’s just not necessary. The post-apocalyptic Bender Family are horrible enough when they lure people in and steal their stuff and feed them to the zombie dogs they keep in the basement. Attempted sexual assault? Infuriating.
The ridiculous bad: the whole Vegas fight scene had a clown car effect. There’s a single cargo carrier that seems to spit out endless super undead to fight. In response, the convoy starts spitting out endless victims to scream and die. It’s a confusing mess of extras. The less said about Milla’s wirework the better, too. Some of her fight scenes feel plausible. This is not one of them.
The writerly bad: world-building problems abound. Why does killing off the humans create a global desert? Does the T-Virus effect plants? Insects? We see it change dogs and crows. But non-vertebrates? Does an earthworm have enough in common with the human neurological system to be contaminated? Only the Umbrella Corporation knows and they’re not telling. What gets me about this is that it’s utterly unnecessary: the Las Vegas setting lets me know they’re roaming around in the west and makes the desert explicable (and a little biblical, but I’m pretending not to notice that part, because jeez…).
The real world bad: I’m sad to realize that these movies are not nearly as diverse as I recall them being — talk about unconscious bias on my part! A few non-white characters in a big cast and my brain was happy. I’ve learned better. I will say that there are a lot of female characters to like here, but with the exception of Betty (who dies a third of the way through), they are all white.
The upcoming bad: one of my vital disappointments with this series hit me at the start of the next movie, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and I’m not looking forward to revisiting it. All I can say is if you offer me an epic battle? You’d better not run out of energy to write that epic battle….