A few weeks ago, our own Jonathan Barkan wrote an article ranking the Resident Evil films, and he selected Resident Evil: Apocalypse as his favorite film, stating that “this is the epitome of what a Resident Evil movie should be. It’s got multiple iconic locations, tons of nods to the games, a cheesiness that was absolutely present in the original games, and it was just plain fun! ” That is all well and good, but I couldn’t disagree more. Apocalypse is actually the worst film in the Resident Evil franchise (Extinction is the best). It may be the best adaptation of the games, but that is different from being the best movie (and the subject of an entirely different article). That is something that fans have a hard time distinguishing between when watching a Resident Evil movie. This is not a popular sentiment, and I fully realize that I’m in the minority with this opinion. This article may feel like a rant, and that is because it is a rant. I really dislike this Resident Evil: Apocalypse. If you love Apocalypse, stop reading now. You will hate me by the end of this article.
I should start this article by saying that I am actually a fan of the Resident Evil movies (and the games). They are not high art by any means, but there is something inherently entertaining about them. The first one probably takes itself the most seriously, and the sequels really dumbed things down (except Extinction, but I’ll write a separate article on my love for that one). My stance on the series (from best to worst) is this: 3, 1, 5, 4, 2 (I legitimately love 1 and 3, sort of enjoy 4 and 5 and dislike 2). Retribution is probably the worst movie in the series, but at least that film makes no qualms about how stupid it is. You may ask why I don’t apply the same level of scrutiny to Afterlife or Retribution, and the answer is simple: Apocalypse is the film responsible for turning Resident Evil into a joke. Afterlife and Retribution may be silly, but they most likely wouldn’t have turned out that way if Apocalypse had stayed on the same path (and tone) as the first film. That is why I hold a grudge against it.
As many of you who read my posts know, I’m not one to hate on a movie. I always try to find the positive in almost all of the things that I watch. When I first watched Resident Evil: Apocalypse in theaters back in 2004, I convinced myself that it was a good movie. I was actually excited about it for months, ever since I saw the teaser trailer on my DVD for Underworld. I mean, just look at this teaser:
That is a mighty impressive teaser trailer (directed by Marcus Nispel, no less), but unfortunately it was the smartest thing about the movie. Resident Evil: Apocalypse is dumb. It’s not like any of the other entries aren’t dumb too (the aforementioned Retribution is probably the dumbest, and hinges on the thinnest plot out of all of the films), but Apocalypse is insultingly dumb. It thinks it’s more intelligent than it is and relies solely on fan service and video game references to impress. Clearly this worked, as many viewers prefer this film out of all the others in the franchise.
It’s not that people who think Apocalypse is the best Resident Evil film are unintelligent, it’s that they mistake an accurate adaptation for high quality. Lest you think this article is an attack on those fans, let me assure you that that is not my intention. I am merely making an observation. The entirety of Apocalypse feels like the filmmakers had a checklist of things they had to include from the games after the severe backlash the first film received from fans. What must that conversation have been like between Paul W.S. Anderson, Capcom, the other three production companies and the big wigs at Screen Gems? “Hey Paul, no one liked how the first movie had nothing to do with the games other than the inclusion of the Umbrella Corporation and a Licker, so here’s a checklist of things from the games we want you to put in the sequel. Write a script around this checklist.” That is basically what Apocalypse feels like, and it makes it a hollow viewing experience. Nothing in Apocalypse feels personal. At least the first film, as flawed as it is, feels like Anderson actually cared about what he was doing. Apocalypse is just a cash grab to get fans of the games to buy a ticket. The whole thing feels rushed, and it may or may not have had something to do with the fact that Anderson was preoccupied with Alien Vs. Predator at the time (ha). Had Anderson spent more time caring for this script as opposed to finishing it so he could start on Alien Vs. Predator, we may have had a very different Resident Evil film franchise. Apocalypse also feels rushed because it was rushed. The film was set to be released on October 31, 2003, a mere 19 months after the first film’s release. It was pushed back to September 10, 2004 due to a 2003 SARS outbreak.
The problems with Apocalypse no doubt started with the first film. By choosing to make the first film a prequel to the games (and not include any characters from them), Anderson left it entirely up to Apocalypse to build the film series’ version of the video game world. At 94 minutes, the film feels overstuffed, leaving little breathing room to fully take in any aspect of the film. Yes, Sienna Guillory is a perfect mirror image of Jill Valentine. Yes, Nemesis looks awesome and is a total badass until the final act (more on that in a bit). It is cool to see Carlos Olivera (mysteriously changed from the game version’s spelling of Oliveira) on the big screen, though why they chose to include him over Chris Redfield is a mind-boggling decision. Had the film been 30 minutes longer and allowed some breathing room for all of the characters, the maybe it wouldn’t feel so shallow.
No one would accuse any Resident Evil film of being smart, but Apocalypse goes out of its way to show off its lack of sense. If you’ve ever wanted to see a movie where things happen simply because the script requires them to, look no further than Apocalypse. Why do the characters walk through a cemetery when the dead are rising all around them (and why do the corpses decide right at that moment to rise from the dead)? Because the script requires them to. How does Alice know that a group of people are in trouble in the church? I’m sure I don’t know. Why does Jill Valentine post newspaper clippings of her disgrace at RCPD on her bulletin board? To provide character backstory without having Jill actually speak words (her fall from grace also has no impact on the story whatsoever). How did the Umbrella Corporation build a wall around the entire city in 13 hours? No clue. Arguing logic in a Resident Evil movie is pointless, but Apocalypse is the most illogical of the bunch.
All supporting characters are given little to no thought whatsoever. Sandrine Holt’s reporter Terri Morales? Wasted (and what a cliché death, with that whole “turn the child around only to discover it’s a zombie child and then suddenly there are tons of zombie children right behind her” bit). Zack Ward’s Nicholai Ginovaeff? Not only is he a completely different character than his video game counterpart, but he is also underused and killed off after a handful of scenes. Razaaq Adoti as Jill’s partner Peyton? Who is this character and why is he in this movie? The only supporting character to really make much of an impression is Mike Epps’ L.J., and it’s only because he plays to a bunch of racial stereotypes (Extinction would fix this aspect of the character, which is another reason why I prefer that film over Apocalypse).
Do you care about any of these characters besides Alice? Try to forget that you ever played the video game. Imagine you had never heard of Jill Valentine and spent hours getting her out of the Spencer Mansion and a destroyed Raccoon City in Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. If that were the case, would you care anything about Guillory’s Jill Valentine? The answer is no. Every character, save for Alice and maybe Jared Harris’ Dr. Ashford and his daughter, are two-dimensional cardboard cutouts being played by actors.
Let’s get to Nemesis. This is an aspect that I’m quite surprised game fans aren’t still seething over. Anderson took the main villain of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, a hulking beast whose only mission was to kill all of the S.T.A.R.S. members (an organization introduced in this film, that legitimately holds no meaning to anyone not familiar with the games). The one thing Anderson gets right in his script is have Matt (Eric Mabius) from the first film be revealed as Nemesis. This was not exactly a surprise since the Resident Evil ended with the scientists exclaiming “Let’s use him for the Nemesis project,” but it’s still a cool idea. Anderson completely botches Nemesis in the third act by giving Nemesis a change of heart and flip over to the good side in order to help Alice, whom he just recognizes from his previous life. What?! Why would you take the biggest and baddest Resident Evil villain and neuter him? I get that Anderson was trying to inject some heart into this story, but for a film that is so incredibly devoid of emotion, why try to inject heart into it at the 11th hour?
On the positive side, the film is competently made. by then-newcomer Alexander Witt, though his choice of a distracting blur effect during all of the zombie scenes is a questionable one. Why do that? Did they think it looked cool (it doesn’t)? The fight sequences are well choreographed, but they are edited so poorly that it makes it impossible to tell what is going on. Alice’s final battle with Nemesis is a prime example of truly atrocious editing.
Do the Resident Evil movies deserve this much analysis? Probably not, but here we are 1,800+ words later and the deed is done. Is Resident Evil: Apocalypse a fun movie? Absolutely. Is it a good movie? No. It’s terrible, and it’s certainly the worst and laziest film in the franchise. The film is an insult to Resident Evil fans even more so than the first movie was. At least that movie tried. Apocalypse just stumbles along from one scene to the next.
What are your thoughts on Resident Evil: Apocalypse? Do you disagree with me? Or do you think that I make a good point? Whatever your thoughts are, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my rant. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below (or feel free to attack me on Twitter). Here is a 20-minute video pointing out all of the narrative flaws in the film. Admittedly, it gets some of them wrong, but it’s 95% accurate. Enjoy!