After taking a break from directing videogame tie-ins, Paul Anderson decided to hop back in the chair to adapt one of Capcom's great modern franchises (well, great in terms of popularity, anyway). Reception at the time was mixed-ish, even between critics and fans alike, but overall it's a decent enough throwback.
The movie is, for all intents and purposes, set just before the events of both 2 and 3, but concerns the same general situation: zombies are loose and wreaking havoc upon the Midwestern burg of Raccoon City, and a small pocket of survivors is trying to get out. This was a concept that Capcom itself ran with quite a few times (Outbreak, several of their novels).
Mind you, most of this film takes place inside one of Umbrella's labs underneath the city, with a ragtag bunch of amnesiacs trying to escape before the computer system, the Red Queen, quarantines and kills them. Chief among them is Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, who starts off with humble beginnings and stays that way throughout the confines of this film. Why is this important? You'll find out in later days.
Most of the film is kind of like a sci-fi horror, similar to Event Horizon or Aliens in structure, with the heroes moseying to their ultimate location, with "freak of the week" threats blocking their way every so often with a death rate of one hero per scene. As far as films go, Resident Evil has been pulled off before and better. Thankfully, the game-ness raises its quality by a large degree.
The zombies are here and in full force, acting as well as you'd want them to, with various other creatures, such as the licker and Cerberus complimenting them. There's enough gore here to keep most ardent fans happy with the visual display, and the characters, while shallow and paper-thin, are mostly believable. Mostly...?
The whole series is known for majorly jumping the shark at every oppurtunity, and it's the fact that Resident Evil 1 doesn't do it much that makes it the best in the series by far, but it still has this one awkward moment where Alice does this flying Bruce Lee dragon kick into a zombie dog, which looks nothing short of utterly flipping ridiculous.
Most of the rest of the film is relatively po-faced, with the exception of Michelle Rodriguez who simply cannot stop her tough girl schtick, and the ending. Lord, the ending. Apart from being obvious sequel bait, it also introduces one plot aspect which comes close to betraying some of the games' actual plot. I shan't spoil it until my review of Apocalypse, and some may welcome it better than I did, but it might also blow your mind, especially within Apocalypse itself.
The film, while not terrible by any means, seems a bit too regular and sparse in magic to be anywhere near as memorable as Mortal Kombat was. Resident Evil isn't a bad timewaster, and again, it's easily the pinnacle of the live-action films, but it's by no means essential. Had it a bit more energy and focus, it could have avoided its mixed reception at launch easily. As it stands, it sits in my mind at a rating of... 3/5
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