In 1996, Capcom released their first Resident Evil video game, which went on to popularize the survival horror genre of games. Twenty years later, sequels, prequels and spinoff games have gone on to encompass more genres including action and third person shooting and de-emphasizing some of the early games’ puzzle solving. But no matter what, the stories and gameplay remain compelling and popular. A big part of that is you’re controlling a character in a world with zombies and other monsters.
In 2002, Paul W.S. Anderson wrote and directed the first Resident Evil movie. He went on to write four sequels and returned to directing for the last two. In January, the sixth and final movie in the series (written and directed by Anderson) will land. It’s the only movie series to be based off a video game that has increased the box office for each sequel. Along the way, the star married the director. The movies aren’t based on the games’ stories but does feature most of their characters. The series is critic-proof. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all good. But I’ve seen all of them in the theater and below is a brief summary and ranking of the films from worst to “best”.
Resident Evil (2002)
Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up with amnesia in a mansion that’s quickly invaded by armed soldiers that work for the Umbrella Corporation. They take Alice and another man, Matt, who is a cop that came to the mansion looking for his sister. Their leader, One (Colin Salmon) explains that Alice is also an Umbrella Corporation employee who worked as a guard in the mansion. Another prominent team member is Rain (Michelle Rodriguez). We learn that beneath the mansion is a massive underground laboratory where hundreds of employees work. It’s called The Hive. They were developing the T-virus. When a thief steals a sample and uses a second one to begin an airborne infection, the Hive’s AI (the Red Queen) kills all the employees to halt or at least postpone the infection getting out into the outside world. The group encounters Spence in the Hive, who also has amnesia but was posing with Alice as a married couple and he was also a guard.
The T-virus ends up reanimating the dead as zombies and the team begins to be picked off one by one. Alice finds that she has amazing fighting skills despite only recalling snippets of her past. Eventually, Spence remembers that he was the thief and he was going to sell the T-virus and an anti-virus to a higher bidder. He betrays the team but is ultimately killed by a monster. Matt and Alice are the only survivors, but they defeat all the zombies only for Matt to get clawed by the monster that killed Spence. Alice prepares to administer the anti-virus when a team of scientists bursts in and takes Matt away and captures Alice. She wakes up in an empty hospital room, escapes and sees that somehow the virus must have gotten out: Raccoon City is an abandoned apocalypse.
The movie didn’t feature any of the characters from the games, instead making Alice the protagonist. But the Umbrella Corporation and its soldier unit and the T-virus are all from the games. It’s faithful in tone and setting.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
In this one, Alice realizes Umbrella experimented on her and she now has enhanced strength, agility and speed. The corporation has worked quickly to enclose the city within giant walls to prevent the contamination getting out. Dr. Ashford, the scientist who created the virus, is evacuated by Umbrella soldiers and they work to extract his young daughter who ends up hiding in a school.
The movie adds Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) who is a cop (in the games she was an Umbrella soldier) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) who is a member of STARS, the Umbrella military soldier unit thing. Do most big corporations have their own military force? Anyway, they and other survivors ultimately cross paths, along with citizen L.J. (Mike Epps) and learn through Carlos that Umbrella wants him to extract Ashford’s daughter and there will be a helicopter coming for her before Umbrella nukes the city. NUKES THE CITY! This corporation is so ridiculously well supplied.
Slowing them down is a massive monster code named Nemesis that Umbrella has unleashed. He kills anyone with a weapon. Ultimately our heroes save the girl and get to the top of a building awaiting the helicopter only to face Nemesis and a bunch of Umbrella goons who want Alice. Alice fights Nemesis only to realize it’s Matt. She refuses to fight him which makes him remember who he is and he teams up with her to kill all the evil soldiers, dying along the way.
The group escapes in the helicopter, the city is nuked and the blast causes the helicopter to crash, seriously injuring Alice. She wakes up in another Umbrella facility, this time in Detroit. Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) is the scientist in charge and Alice flashes back to realize he was the one who experimented on her previously, giving her her enhanced abilities. She fights her way outside only to be surrouned by Umbrella soldiers. Three soldiers take her into a car, then take off their masks to reveal that it’s Jill, Carlos and L.J. But it seems that Dr. Isaacs was expecting this and he says that Project Alice is activated and we see an Umbrella logo flash across Alice’s retina.
This movie starts to include key characters from the games but gives them a spin. They’re not quite the same as the ones in the game aside from name and appearance. It’s best to accept right now that none of these films is going to adapt a story from any of the games. They’ll use characters and monsters but that’s it. That said, the first movie dealt with a team of soldiers trapped inside a building like the first game and the second takes place on the streets of Raccoon City with zombies everywhere so there are some thematic elements that are used.
The cast is likable enough but it also feels like they’re making some stuff up as they go along. Like, the ending with Alice doesn’t really make much sense and is almost a cliffhanger for cliffhanger’s sense. Nemesis looks like a man in a suit having trouble with all the prosthetic weight. The action isn’t quite as engaging as the first movie which was pretty intense and graphic. This one is a bit more over-the-top and Alice is basically a superhero (she already was an amazing martial artist). It’s bouyed by actors like Jared Harris (Dr. Ashford) and Iain Glen.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
The movie begins with Alice escaping a facility only to be blown up by a mine. Umbrella soldiers pick up her corpse and toss it in a pit with hundreds of other Alices. They are clones that Umbrella has created. Specifically, Dr. Isaacs has made them as he tells the Umbrella board of directors and chairman Albert Wesker (Jason O’Mara) that Alice has the ability to bond with the T-virus instead of being transformed by it. He wants to recapture her and use her blood to control the zombies.
Oh, and the entire world has now been overrun by zombies. Umbrella officers are working in underground bunkers like the Hive. But… why? Literally the entire world has been overrun so I don’t know how Umbrella’s business model accounts for this. They still seem to have scientists and soldiers and the executives are wearing suits and ties but the world is a desolate wasteland.
The real Alice wanders the Nevada area looking for survivors. A caravan of survivors includes Carlos, L.J. and is led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). Claire was a character from the games who first showed up in the second one, looking for her brother who was a Raccoon City cop. Here, she takes care of the caravan and has a little sidekick named K-Mart (Spencer Locke) who she rescued and acts as a surrogate sister for.
Several new developments in this world. Isaacs has tried to “tame” the zombies but has thus far only created ones that are slightly smarter and can use tools. The infection has spread to animals so dogs and crows are among the dangers of the world. And in fact, a flock of crows attacks the convoy but Alice returns and takes them out with new telekinetic powers! Her use of them allows Umbrella to find her via satellite and a mission is launched to capture her.
The group convinces Claire that they believe in a safe zone in Alaska so the convoy goes to a desert version of Las Vegas to gather gas and supplies. Along the way, L.J. is bitten and eventually he zombifies and bites Carlos who sacrifices himself to take out a massive wave of Umbrella’s smart zombies with his truck. Isaacs tries to control Alice but she breaks free of the mental conditioning and Isaacs is bitten by a smart zombie. He retreats to his bunker. Wesker orders one of his men to terminate Isaacs but Isaacs injects himself with a massive dose of the anti-virus and transforms into a Tyrant monster, killing all the Umbrella employees.
Claire, K-Mart and the few other survivors get in a helicopter to head for Alaska but Alice stays behind to finish off Isaacs. She enters the bunker and they both have super strength and telekinesis and are thus, equally matched. But it’s a replica of the Hive from the first movie so Alice tricks Isaacs into entering a chamber with a laser grid trap. It slices up Isaacs but just as it’s about to kill Alice, one of her clones deactivates it.
Cut to Tokyo, where Wesker tells Umbrella that they’ve lost their North American facility. They are called by Alice who promises she’s coming for them and she’s bringing friends. We see that Alice has found pods of hundreds of her clones in the facility.
This movie is kind of depressing because the few survivors from the last movie die along with the majority of the convoy. And Alice is not someone we’ve ever gotten to know THAT well but now she literally has superpowers. It’s aided by Iain Glen as Isaacs. And the ending is pretty fun and cool. Claire, a prominent game character, has an important role as a leader but we don’t get to know her very well. She’s just… nice?
The movie does have visual style. It’s directed by Russell Mulcahy this time around (Highlander). He’s got a good eye for this stuff. The zombie dogs and crows are good. The filmmakers had to work hard to cover Milla Jovovich’s real life pregnancy in this movie so she wears a duster instead of skin-tight dresses. The smart zombies are based on the red zombies from the games. And Wesker, a prominent antagonist across the games is introduced. Although in the games he’s a traitorous STARS soldier and here he’s the head of Umbrella. Mostly, you’ll be wondering why Umbrella is still bothering to operate as if they have any income.
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
The movie begins with hundreds of Alice ninjas attacking Umbrella in Tokyo. Wesker (now played by Shawn Roberts) escapes in a plane and detonates a bomb killing all of the Alices. Except the real one who had already snuck on the plane. They fight and Wesker injects her with anti-virus removing her abilities. The plane crashes and only Alice survives. She flies to Alaska to find the caravan but no one is there except an old transponder that says the group is in Arcadia. Alice is attacked by a savage Claire but she has a spider-like device on her chest and once Alice destroys it, Claire is back to her normal self but with amnesia.
The pair flies to Los Angeles, looking for survivors. The city is overrun with zombies except for a massive prison. They land there and meet some survivors including Luther West (Boris Kodjoe). The survivors there explain that Arcadia isn’t a fixed place, it’s a cargo tanker off the coast. It’s been broadcasting for survivors but they can’t get through the zombies to the ocean and the tanker will leave soon.
They also learn that the group is keeping Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) imprisoned for some reason. Chris reveals he was imprisoned by Umbrella and he knows a way out of the prison. They free him when Chris and Claire see one another and it’s revealed they’re brother and sister. One survivor, Bennet, steals the two-seater plane and escapes to the Arcadia. Chris’ plan is to use an armored car he knows about in the basement. But the engine is ruined. The zombies break through the gates and Chris goes to Plan B: using the sewer drains to head for the coast. The Redfields and Alice make it but Luther is dragged back by zombies.
The trio board the Arcadia but find it abandoned. Claire remembers that the Arcadia wasn’t the convoy’s, it was a trap by Umbrella and they realize the convoy is frozen in pods. They release K-Mart but before they can release more, they find Wesker. He injected himself with the T-virus as the plane crashed and it is now fighting his body for control. He can pacify it by eating people and he ate all the Umbrella employees. He has Alice’s former strength and speed and the team battles him and Bennet who is working for him.
The good guys beat the bad guys and throw them in a prison where Wesker promptly eats Bennett and escapes in the plane, triggering a bomb to blow up the Arcadia. But Alice has already found it and put it on the plane. Alice says she will make Arcadia an actual haven for survivors. Luther emerges from the sewers, alive. Just then, a massive wave of military aircraft descend towards the Arcadia. We see that it’s led by Jill Valentine, missing since the second movie and controlled by one of Umbrella’s spider-devices.
This movie was the return to the director’s chair for Anderson. It also gives us a more normal, relatable Alice. Additions like Luther and Chris are great and Bennett is a fantastically scummy foil for the group. It has some really good monsters like the massive Axeman and zombies that actually seem dangerous. The Tokyo subplot at the beginning feels rushed but the twist at the end with Jill is pretty fun. And the movie finally seems to offer some hope for the survivors in the form of the Arcadia. I liked the 3D in this one.
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
This is the last movie in the series to review until the final one comes out in January. The movie begins with the Umbrella aircraft attacking Arcadia. We only see what happens to Alice who is knocked out. She wakes up in yet another Umbrella facility, although it initially appears to be Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Alice meets Ada Wong, a former agent for Wesker. Ada explains they are in a massive underground facility in Kamchatka, Russia where Umbrella tested clones in simulations. She explains there is a rescue crew coming for them but they have to make it through several simulations.
The rescue crew includes Leon Kennedy, Barry Burton and Luther West. The first two are characters from the games. In the various simulated worlds, Ada and Alice encounter clones of Rain and Carlos and fight in New York, the suburbs and more. The rescue crew will blow up the facility in two hours. Ada and Alice get separated and Alice rescues a deaf girl that was being raised by an Alice clone in suburbia. The rescue crew fight their way in and are attacked by Las Plagas madmen. That was a virus from the fourth and fifth game that drove living people into insane, aggressive zombie-like people.
Alice eventually makes her way to the surface only for Jill Valentine to break up through the ice in a submarine with Umbrella soldiers and an evil clone of Rain. The bad guys have Ada hostage. All the people fist fight and Luther and Barry and a good clone of Rain all die. Ultimately, Alice is able to rip off the spider-device controlling Jill. Jill, Ada, Leon, Becky and Alice are the only survivors and they get on a plane to D.C. where they find Wesker, who apparently jumped out of his plane before it blew up. He explains that the Red Queen AI has taken over Umbrella and is trying to exterminate humanity. Any existing survivors are now holed up in the White House and it’s humanity’s last stand. Outside, armies of zombies and monsters try to get past the barriers erected.
This one has a ton of ideas so it doesn’t take too much time to explore any of them. The simulation idea is a fun way to go to various locations including those from past movies and clones of previously killed characters are a good way to bring them back to the series but none of them get that much time onscreen except for Michelle Rodriguez. The deaf girl comes out of nowhere and Leon Kennedy, a prominent character in the games, is barely in this movie. The 3D is pretty good.
The final ranking from best to worst:
- Resident Evil
- Resident Evil: Afterlife
- Resident Evil: Extinction
- Resident Evil: Retribution
- Resident Evil: Apocalypse