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Morbid Mediocrity: Why Resident Evil movies suck

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We have good zombie movies. We have good zombie video games. So why can’t we have a good zombie movie that happens to be based on a video game? It seems such a simple task—so why can’t anyone do it properly?

Recently, I paid a visit to my local movie theatre and took in the latest addition to the Resident Evil film series. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an expert on Resident Evil, but from what I’ve heard, they usually fall into the good zombie game category. (As always, feel free to correct me with your comments)

For those who’ve been involved in either the game franchise or the movie series, you likely don’t need a plot summary. If there are any beneath-a-rock dwellers out there like me who have zero familiarity with Resident Evil, here’s the basic plot for the movie series.

Alice fights Umbrella Corp. Umbrella creates T-virus. T-virus causes zombie apocalypse. Alice kills zombies.

There’s more to it than that, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll cut to the chase.

Umbrella Corporation doesn't actually manufacture umbrellas.

 

Like those that came before it, Resident Evil: Retribution has been met with a generally poor critical reaction, and a mixed reception from audiences. Despite being the fifth kick at the can for writer Paul W.S. Anderson (who returns to the director’s chair for the third time in the series), the Resident Evil film saga simply hasn’t lived up to the legacy of the game series.

Like most game-to-film adaptations, the success of Resident Evil has been mediocre at best. But why is this the case?

Before we get too critical, it should be noted that there are some really good elements about it. As an audio-visual experience, it’s hard to think of a film that ties together its visual direction and soundtrack. The fight scenes are so well choreographed and in sync with the background music that it really does make for a gripping experience.

Which is essentially like saying “whenever the movie stops trying to say anything, and just sticks with killing zombies, that’s when it’s a good movie.”

From a movie critic’s perspective, there’s a lot not to like about this movie. The script is awful, and the overuse of slow motion and 3D effects make even the action sequences, the best moments of the film, somewhat tiresome by the end.

Thematically, Retribution never strays far from the shallow end, and fails to make a deeper splash even when it attempts to tackle some deeper moral themes.

All in all, Retribution never seems to carry enough mental muster to make itself anything more than a chest-thumping thrill ride. And don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for brainless shoot-em-up films. But what it tries to do is executed poorly, due to some brutal timing and delivery from its actors.

Perhaps part of the problem is the seeming confusion as to how video games function in the messages they attempt to convey.

Fun to play. Less so to watch.

 

There seems to exist this odd tension for all game-to-film adaptations in how to express what the games express. The thing that makes video games successful as a medium is their interactive nature—gamers love to interact with the stories, and feel as though they are helping the story unfold themselves.

In essence, it’s a process of “story-making.” The players shape the reality in which they find themselves. They are not bystanders, but rather actively involved in what shapes the events onscreen.

Films, on the other hand, largely function as “story-telling” mediums. Viewers show up, take in the action, and can even become emotionally involved, but what happens onscreen is entirely out of their control. There is a frustrating feeling of helplessness in watching the main protagonist do something contrary to what someone in the audience might think the best course of action.

Think about it—how frustrating must it be to constantly be comparing the movie-watching experience with having full control in playing a video game? Every misstep and unforced error from a protagonist like Alice (though not a character in the Resident Evil game franchise) is likely to infuriate the legions of seasoned gamers who would have approached with caution, used a different weapon, or not used such awful dialogue in conquering their foes.

Still the most terrifying moment in video games

Perhaps a big part of the problem is that video games are still largely seen as a strictly audio-visual experience, and the aspect of storytelling or storymaking have yet to be effectively implemented. Video game adaptations can capture the action, but by and large fail to go deeper into plot development or characterization.

The Resident Evil film series seems to alienate zombie-movie and zombie-game fans because they don’t tell stories well enough to capture movie fans, and not interactive enough to make killing zombies fun for game fans.

Until game-to-film adaptations find a way to actively engage audiences with good story-telling, to the level of appeasing fans who have invested in the stories of the game franchise, it seems as the Resident Evil, like most other video game movies, is doomed to a fate of morbid mediocrity.

(Originally written by Rob Horsley for Halloween week at Push Select Magazine. Reposted with permission)