[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
The basic idea of the original game is pretty simple. Raccoon City has been facing some strange issues lately, particularly with murder and cannibalism. So the police force sends their Special Tactics And Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) team to investigate. But when the first "bravo" team disappears, the Alpha team is sent in to investigate. After a vicious dog attack, the team is forced to take refuge within a nearby abandoned mansion. The remaining Alpha team consists of Barry, Chris, Jill, and Wesker (three of which are major and popular characters for the remainder of the series). You quickly discover that all sorts of creatures and monsters (including zombies) are all over the place, thanks to some biochemical testing funded by the Umbrella Corporation--with a chemical known as the T-Virus. You also discover medical labs underground, a monster called the Tyrant, and that Wesker is a double agent for Umbrella (and he becomes one of the primary villains of the series, no matter how many times he's killed).
Eventually some sequels came out, introducing the world to other popular characters and storylines--but I'll get to some of those later. As for now, all you need to know is that the games were popular enough to warrant a film adaptation. And who had his name attached to it? None other than the director of Mortal Kombat, the only real moderately successful video game adaptation thus far. Yeah, it's Paul W.S. Anderson.
But what happens when you remove every character from the games and only keep in the idea of a mansion, zombies, a few key monsters, and, of course, the Umbrella Corporation? A movie that doesn't resemble the games whatsoever--yet managed to spawn one of the most successful video game movie franchises of all time (the only one, thus far, where each film has made more money than its predecessor). But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let's take a look and see how well (if at all) this first film works.
This is a film that splits people, especially fans of the game. I never really got into the games, but I can appreciate its story and characters. And really, when adaptations take nothing but a title and a few namesakes from the source material, I can agree that it's bothersome. But is Resident Evil an exception to that rule? After a computer system called the Red Queen (Michaela Dicker) kills everyone inside the Umbrella Corporation's underground "Hive," a special military unit owned by Umbrella is sent in to see what went wrong. This team includes One (Colin Salmon), Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Kaplan (Martin Krewes), and a few others. They also happen to run into Alice (Milla Jovovich), a young woman with amnesia who woke up in the mansion that resides over the Hive. They also find a couple men--Matt (Eric Mabius), who claims he's a cop, and Spence (James Purefoy), who seems to have a connection to Alice. And, of course, they eventually discover that the T-Virus had been released within the compound and now there are a bunch of zombies and a monster roaming about.
Despite having practically zero connection to the games, I'd say this is still a fairly decent flick. The majority of the movie, particularly the first 30-40 or so minutes, has a lot of great atmosphere. It sets up a creepy, mysterious vibe that raises the tension slowly, building to the big moment where the zombies finally show up. There are also a number of memorable moments in this portion of the film, including the laser room. Everything is set up nicely with a good mystery, decent characters, and a nice overall vibe.
The next portion of the movie isn't all that bad, either. This would be the non-stop action part of the film. You have zombies (of both human and dog variety), guns blazing, blood dripping, music blaring, and hearts pounding. It has some good suspense and decent thrills, even if moments such as the mid-air dog kick set up Alice to evolve into a character who would nearly ruin the film series. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Where I feel the film stumbles is in its third act. You discover the twist to the story... what really happened behind the scenes and how a number of the characters are connected. Some motives are a bit shaky, and some of it feels a bit contrived. Then you have the "big bad" of this film--the Licker. The CGI for this creature leaves you a bit wanting, and it feels maybe only a sole generation better than the CGI Reptile in Mortal Kombat. Fortunately, you don't have to see it for very long. The acting gets a little wonky here, as well. And up until this point, the film could have easily played as a prequel to the original game. But then the scientists come in and you have the double ending that sets up two things in the inevitable sequel. You have Matt (spoilers!) becoming Nemesis, and then you have Alice waking up in the abandoned Raccoon City cocking her gun (very Super Mario Bros.-esque). Despite the cool factor, it's at this point you realize that any sequels are not going to be straight adaptation of the games.
On the whole, it's really not that bad of a flick. In the world of video game adaptations, I'd actually say it's kind of underrated, bogged down by what its sequels became (similar to, say, the Saw series--though at least that series managed to have a functional continuity and didn't have to retcon itself all the time). But again, I'm getting off topic. Its soundtrack, produced in part by Marilyn Manson, is very fitting and well done. If you want to see your favorite characters in these films, watch the sequels (...if you must), but this one works as an original story based in the same world as the games. Could it have been better? Definitely. But for what it is, it's fine.