Looking back at Resident Evil: Extinction

Feature Sarah Dobbs 26 Sep 2012 - 07:19

Director Russell Mulcahy took over for the third in the Resident Evil film series. Sarah looks back at 2007’s Extinction…

It’s fascinating to watch how different film franchises develop as time goes on. With each new sequel, the filmmakers need to decide how much they want to cater to fans, how much they need to recap from the previous films to make sure everyone’s up to speed, and how welcoming they want to be to new viewers. The Saw movies, for example, get so convoluted that even by the time the third movie rolls around, you’ll be lost if you attempt to watch it without having recently swotted up on the previous movies.

Resident Evil: Extinction is the third Resident Evil movie, and it seems determined to pander to fans at every possible opportunity, even at the expense of coherence. It’s rammed with call-backs and references to the earlier movies, but with very little actual explanation of what’s going on – if you’re new to the franchise, it’s just going to seem like nonsense. And actually, as something of a Resident Evil apologist, I’m not convinced it’s much better than nonsense even if you are a fan.

It’s disorienting right from the beginning. Alice wakes up naked in the shower, lying in a heap with a conveniently placed shower curtain preserving her modesty. She walks through her house, dazed, and finds a familiar red dress laid out on the bed for her. She looks blankly at a photograph... and then finds herself having to run a gauntlet of traps and zombies. It soon becomes clear that this isn’t the Alice we’ve come to know and love from the first two films. She doesn’t have the skills and memories she’s gained. We’re back at the beginning. 

Or, at least, she is. Because soon it’s revealed that this is all one big Umbrella experiment. Having failed to contain the spread of the t-virus, the Umbrella Corporation has essentially caused the apocalypse, as the whole world falls victim to the disease. Time has clearly passed since the last movie, because while Umbrella has lost track of the real Alice, one of their scientists, Dr Isaacs, has managed to figure out that her blood is the key to creating an antivirus – and he’s got an enormous laboratory filled with Alice clones to test his theories on.

That first sequence is among the most game-like in the entire franchise. Alice attempts to escape, fails, and then, essentially, reboots from her last save point: another clone is put in position, and takes her turn to try to get through the trap. Each time, she does a little bit better – and gets to try again, and again. But since this isn’t a game, the corpses are mounting up. It’s probably my favourite idea in the whole franchise; a sort of weird behind-the-scenes vision of the world of a computer game avatar. Unfortunately, it’s the only game-like bit of the film that really works.

Because for the next hour or so, the film feels very much like watching someone else play a game. Alice levels up, finding that she now has telekinetic powers, and meets up with a convoy of survivors led by Claire Redfield, the lead from the games Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Like Jill Valentine before her, she’s there as a nod to fans, who’ll recognise her name, but she doesn’t really get to do anything worthwhile here at all. Basically, Claire and her gang – which includes Oliviera and LJ from Resident Evil: Apocalypse – are there as cannon fodder, to add a little drama to Alice’s battles with the undead. But though it’s undeniably cool to watch Milla Jovovich hacking away at zombies with a knife in each hand, there’s something lacking from this movie. 

Since this instalment wasn’t directed by Paul WS Anderson, it looks different from the previous two. Russell Mulcahy, primarily a TV and music video director (but also the chap behind the Highlander movies), abandons the bright blue sci-fi palette of the previous Resi movies in favour of a monotonous brown. Much of the movie is set in the desert, so the landscape is brown – and so are the zombies. And the zombies’ clothes. And the survivors’ clothes. And Alice’s clothes. Even the Mad Max-style armoured trucks are brown.

It seems like a conscious decision to make this movie look different, maybe because it’s no longer a sci-fi romp but more of a post-apocalyptic survival nightmare, but it’s not fun to look at. The cinematography is flat and uninspiring. Everything looks weirdly airbrushed; Milla Jovovich barely looks human, they’ve smoothed out her skin so much. And the monsters are monotonous, too: we get more zombie dogs, a few super-aggressive zombies, and another Nemesis-style boss. There’s a scene that might have been fun, featuring a flock of infected crows attacking a bus, but the birds are so hideously rendered that it’s impossible to suspend disbelief for even a moment. 

There’s a distinct lack of original ideas in this movie. Mostly, it seems like a greatest hits reel: we get to revisit the Red Queen (or, at least, her ‘sister’ computer); we get to see Alice in her familiar red dress again; and we get to go back to the laser corridor, which is everyone’s favourite Resident Evil moment. It feels like fan service, though, because it’s hard to find anything new in this movie that’s interesting. The few bits that aren’t taken from the previous movies are robbed from other horror movies – the zombie crows recall The Birds, for example, and the idea of training and domesticating zombies is taken from Romero’s original Day Of The Dead. You could play some kind of Resident Evil bingo or drinking game with this movie, and that might be fun, but as an actual film, it’s a bit, well, boring.

I’m not sure anyone has ever said this about any film, ever, but I think I’m glad that Paul WS Anderson took back the reins for Resident Evil: Afterlife. Well, at least until I get round to re-watching it. Watch this space…

You can read Sarah's look back at Resident Evil: Apocalypse here.

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It was horrible but still better than the second one crap fest.

I'd rank them (haven't seen Retribution):

1 (solid atmosphere, great music)
4 (loved the campiness)
3 (desert postapocaliptic climate)
2 (i want to forget this)

Disagree with all of this. I thought Extinction was a lovely departure from the second film and remains distinctive as far as the RE movies go. Though I did prefer Afterlife to this one, I still enjoyed the heck of out Mad Max: Alice Style.

It's been a while since I've watched this but I remember enjoying it a lot when it came out in cinema. I liked the desert setting even if it was a little bland color-wise. I was pleased with the way they brought out Tyrant and felt it was handled much better than Nemesis was in Apocalypse. I still quote Alice's "No. You're just another asshole" line to my friends. Maybe I'm wearing some rose-tinted glasses this morning. I'll have to dig up the dvd for a full refresher.

I really dig this movie. Much better than the second. Enjoyed the look, the feel.
I'd also like to say that as a general rule I've seen Den of Geek pick people who actually like the movies review them. For instance there are a lot of people who absolutely hate Jason Statham and everything he does, but that's not who reviews his movies or interviews Statham for Den of Geek.
But as far as the Resident Evil franchise goes that doesn't seem to be the case. Where's the love man? The Resident Evil movies rock! Please find someone who thinks so too and have them write these reviews.

Extinction is where it (the series) takes off for me.

Couldn't disagree with this review more. Visually, the movie looks fantastic with excellent cinematography, lighting and direction - and I love the overall colour palette. Certainly the most interesting of the bunch in these criteria. Also, it's a damn fun romp in the best, well, zombie butt kicking tradition.

Although this is an echo of the previous comments, I'd like to add my voice to the disagreement.
I think this is my favorite of the series - it is the one I remember the most details from I think, it just felt more real and I loved the fact that they commited to the apocolyse and had this desolate world - which in many ways feels, in setting, like a pre-cusor to the fantastic South African zombie film 'The dead'.

I've only seen the first three movies, but this was the best, I thought... Mulcahy always brings an impressive visual flair to his films (even in the shoddy Christopher Lambert Se7en rip-off, Resurrection).

I also totally disagree with this review--and I thought Afterlife was a trainwreck. Liked the first three films a lot, hated the fourth. (Haven't yet seen the fifth).

The whole run of films were an awful waste of a superb setup. The first film wrongfooted so much that any followup was on thin ice. REC managed to pull of the taught game atmosphere that was totaly overlooked in all of the res movies in favour of big cinimatic (and shoddy looking) set pieces.

Strange... This is my favorite of all the Res movies... Afterlife was awful, taking Alice's powers away reminded me of X-men Last Stand, and we all know how that turned out.

Love this series of retrospectives, but I have a slight correction: Paul WS Anderson didn't direct the previous Resident Evil, either. The first three Resident Evils all had different directors, giving them all distinct looks.

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