Resident Evil (2002) *
What? You want more? Oh, alright... I should probably point out that I’ve never in my life played the Capcom video game from which Resident Evil is derived; video games in general haven’t been high on my list of entertainment priorities since the late 1980’s (although every time I see a beat-up Galaga machine gathering dust in the back corner of a ghetto pizza joint, I still end up feeding it a few quarters before I leave). As a consequence, I have no idea whatsoever what the “story” of the game may have been, and therefore my disgust with this movie has nothing at all to do with the complaint I’ve often heard that it ignores its supposed source almost completely. No, my hatred of Resident Evil springs entirely from its being an empty, stupid, noisy, ridiculous waste of time.
I’m pretty sure this is the first time a movie has ever completely exhausted my good will toward it during the opening crawl. “At the beginning of the 21st century,” it says, “the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States. 9 out of every 10 homes contain its products; its political and financial influence is felt everywhere. In public, it is the world’s largest supplier of computer technology, medical products, and health care. Unknown even to its own employees, its massive profits are generated by military technology, genetic experimentation, and viral weaponry.” Look— there’s no way in hell a company that has managed to sell shit to “9 out of 10 homes” in the United States is going to be dependent upon military contracts to survive. Military hardware honestly isn’t a terribly profitable business, as the staggering attrition among companies that deal in armaments during the past fifteen years amply demonstrates. As for genetic experimentation, pure research is pretty much never profitable. That’s why research scientists are willing to jump through so many hoops to get government grants— hell, that’s why government grants exist in the first place! And since “viral weaponry” would seem to be a fairly straightforward combination of the above, I don’t feel the need to address it separately. But even if the Umbrella Corporation were somehow in a position to make more money selling germ bombs to Uncle Sam than by selling drugs and webcams to everybody else, the notion that “the largest commercial entity in the United States” could keep its main source of revenue secret from anybody, let alone its own employees, is just absurd. And lastly, let us not forget that it was already the beginning of the 21st century when Resident Evil was made, and as yet, there was no sign of anything remotely like the Umbrella Corporation! There are few ways for a filmmaker to get on my bad side more efficient than to take me for a fool before even showing me the title.
Anyway, the headquarters of the Umbrella Corporation’s secret division is a giant underground complex called the Hive, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the underground laboratory of Project Wildfire in The Andromeda Strain. The main difference is that Wildfire’s directors had the sense to hide it out in the desert, whereas the Umbrella Corporation has located its top-secret nastiness factory right underneath Raccoon City. (I can only assume that this preposterous toponym is a holdover from the video game; at the very least, it sounds like the kind of place name the Japanese would come up with.) On this particular occasion, one of the Hive’s employees is putting a bunch of cutesy double-helix-shaped vials of something terribly dangerous into a chrome carrying case. On his way out, the man drops one of the vials, which shatters on the laboratory floor. Particles of whatever was in the vial go airborne, and the ventilation system sucks them up and distributes them all throughout the Hive. This is the point at which writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson demonstrates that he’s seen 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as The Andromeda Strain. The computer that controls the Hive goes apeshit with the biohazard containment measures, locking all 500 employees of the Hive inside and systematically slaughtering them.
Shortly thereafter, at a mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, a woman (The Fifth Element’s Milla Jovovich) regains consciousness on the floor of her shower, unable to remember a single thing about who or where she is, what she had been doing, or why. (And yes— her amnesia does appear to be nothing but an artificial means of generating mystery and suspense in a movie which would naturally be devoid of either.) There are a few clues to her identity scattered about the house, however. Most of these are the usual sort of things— a man’s clothes in the dresser, wedding pictures, notes in somebody else’s handwriting, and the like— but the submachine gun in the locked plexiglass safe concealed beneath her apparent husband’s underwear drawer is another matter. The woman makes no real headway in figuring out who she is, though, before her uneasy solitude is intruded upon. A man whose name we will later learn to be Matt Addison (Eric Masius, of Black Circle Boys) seizes her from behind, and then the whole house is stormed by some kind of futuristic S.W.A.T. team. The soldiers arrest Addison, despite his claims to be a policeman himself, and their captain (Colin Salmon) unexpectedly begins demanding a report from the woman. When it becomes obvious that she has none to give, the captain mutters something about the “after-effects of the defense system,” and takes her, his team, and the handcuffed Addison down into the mansion’s basement, where there is, of all things, a train painted with the logo of the Umbrella Corporation waiting for them. Onboard the train is another soldier (James Purefoy), whom the woman recognizes as the man from her wedding pictures. But whatever it was that caused her amnesia has worked its mojo on him too.
So it’s a good thing we’ve got the captain to explain everything for us. He and his S.W.A.T. team are the private police force of the Umbrella Corporation, and the woman and her husband (their names are Alice and Spence, by the way) are Corporation agents too. In fact, Alice and Spence were arguably the most important agents of all, for their job was to guard the secret entrance to the Hive— that train station in their basement. The soldiers have come to clean up the mess we saw the Hive computer— the Red Queen, as it’s called— making in the preceding scene, a mess which also involved the computer flooding the mansion where Alice and Spence lived and worked with amnesia-inducing nerve gas. They’ve brought along a device that can disable the Red Queen long enough for them to dismantle its CPU, which can then be transported to the Umbrella facility in Raccoon City for analysis. Of course, to do that, the soldiers will have to get by the Red Queen’s defense systems, which seem a bit on the baroque side when you consider that the Hive was never meant to be left unattended by its employees and forced to fend for itself. Case in point: wouldn’t a staff of security guards be a much simpler, cheaper, and more reliable defense mechanism than a booby-trapped corridor in which laser beams dice intruders into little chunks of cauterized meat? Nevertheless, that’s exactly what the Red Queen has in store for the soldiers, and only a very few of them are left by the time Private Kaplan (Martin Crews) succeeds in getting past the computer’s more conventional protections to shut the lasers down. The mission proceeds apace from there.
The problem with all this is that every system and device in the Hive resets itself when the Red Queen crashes, quarantine doors included. And because the biohazard to which the Red Queen reacted so drastically happens to have the power to revive its victims as Romero-style zombies— and zombie dogs, in the case of the experimental animals— all those opening doors mean that there’s now nothing between those zombies and the unprepared remnant of the company S.W.A.T. team. There’s also a special genetically engineered monster on the loose now, just in case zombies and undead dogs weren’t trouble enough.
Ah, Resident Evil... how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways: 1. The musical score. Scarcely an action scene goes by except to the accompaniment of pounding, cacophonous techno music, which would be an unfortunate choice even if I didn’t hate techno so much. Resident Evil, after all, is based on a video game, and modern video games have a notorious tendency to use techno soundtracks. And because (2.) the computer-generated special effects in this movie look exactly like what you'd see on your GameCube or Play Station 2, the music completes the association, creating the sensation that you’re watching somebody else play a video game instead of watching a movie. The extensive use of CGI also means a minimum of traditional makeup effects and stunts, which in turn means that (3.) Resident Evil is inexcusably bloodless for a post-Romero zombie flick, and that (4.) all of the action sequences rip off The Matrix something fierce. I also scoff at the notion of Milla Jovovich (5.) as a sharp-shooting, kung fu-fighting special forces bad-ass. My shoes weigh more than Milla Jovovich, and there’s no way those twig-like arms of hers could fight the recoil of a 9mm autopistol. The scene in which Alice spin-kicks a zombie dog to the ground in mid-air is the height of absurdity. (Incidentally [6.], can you think of any reason on earth why it ought to be possible to knock the living dead unconscious with a good right hook?) The other characters (7.), while marginally more believable than Alice, are infinitely more irritating, and the most slap-worthy of all survives nearly until the end of the film. But in the end, it’s the contemptible parade of nonsense that passes for Resident Evil’s story (8.) that puts this movie beyond the pale for me. Pharmaceutical companies that build zombies for the government on the side; hundreds of people who apparently don’t realize that they’re building zombies for the government every day of the work week; vicious Doberman Pinscher attack dogs being used as laboratory animals; sentient computers designed to manifest themselves as holograms of the Umbrella CEO’s British-accented, eight-year-old daughter— make it fucking stop!