Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Watching Resident Evil: Apocalypse I found myself wondering why I had watched these movies previously. I had some vague recollection of the series getting better after the first movie, but in vague memories are all I really have of most of them. In this case the original was much better than I remembered.
The second movie, while having some good set pieces and an awesome monster at the end, was barely a movie, occupied by just the thinnest excuses of characters. Things happened, but nothing really that couldn't have been dealt with by adding an extra half hour at the end of the original Resident Evil. Other than the movies being something for me to watch when they came on cable and I was bored, I couldn't really see much reason why I stuck with it if the second was so shallow.
Resident Evil: Extinction is what redeems the series at this point, reminding me why I stuck with it. Even the star of the film almost refused to come back to do a third after her disappointment with the second. I'm pretty much glad she did.
When we last left Alice (Milla Jovovich) she had escaped another Umbrella research facility, but this time they had implanted programming that allowed them to control her and (presumably) use her against her companions. Five years later she is wandering a desolate world populated mostly by the undead. The t-virus not only depopulated the planet, but also dried up most of its resources in the process. She figured out what had been done to her and took steps to stay off Umbrella's radar and far away from anyone she cared for.
It's a good thing since Umbrella Corporation is one of the last vestiges of the old world, with underground facilities spread throughout the world. The one in North America is being used by Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) to experiment with a number of Alice clones in order to both see how she may be controlled and to use their blood to help reverse the effects of the virus, with a modicum of limited success. Meanwhile, Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Mike Epps), two of the survivors of Raccoon City, have joined a caravan of survivors led by Clare Redfield (Ali Larter) that cruises the western United States looking for survivors.
A number of circumstances makes Alice aware of a community in Alaska that may, or may not, have survived the events and still be thriving. Meanwhile, her return is quickly noticed by Isaacs, who sends his enhanced dead to capture her once the convoy reaches the ruins of Las Vegas. His hubris gets him altered as well, boiling down to a final fight between Alice and Isaacs as the remaining members of the caravan head off for the promised land.
Much of the reason that this movie gets the story back on track is that it is directed by Russell Mulcahy. He is largely known as the one responsible for Highlander (and, yes, for the sequel, but we'll let that slide right now). Mulcahy has a visual eye that is needed to counteract the weaknesses in Paul Thomas Anderson's plothole-ridden script. I have quite a hard time believing that, even with it completely abandoned, it would only take five years for sand dunes to completely engulf Las Vegas, but the amazing set makes me not care so much. He makes great use of the desolate surroundings of the Mexican desert scenery to make this one of the better homages to Mad Max 2.
Iain Glen helps make Dr. Isaacs a much better villain than we have had in the previous two films, and it really helps the viewer to care more about what is going on throughout the film. Previously, the shadowy Umbrella Corporation was more of a villain than either the Red Queen or Major Cain. Umbrella is still there, but focusing on one big bad guy, even if he is not used to ultimate potential, is a step in the right direction.
Oded Fehr gets to do more with the role of Carlos this time around. He gets to be more heroic, and not just simply someone following along as Alice pulls out her bag of tricks. Mike Epps, though, is wasted. L.J. was too much of a stereotype in Apocalypse, but here he gets so little to do that there was really no reason to bring him back. Sadly, the same can largely be said about Ali Larter. Despite being the leader of the convoy there really isn't too much of a hint on how she reached that point.
As for Milla Jovovich, this time around Alice becomes a bit more nuanced. She still has a number of powers, but they're largely reserved for a challenge at the beginning, a way for her to join the caravan and the big fights toward the end. As much as I hate the term "Mary Sue" since it is completely misused by anyone who has uncontrollable rage every time a movie has a strong female character, in Resident Evil: Apocalypse the criticism was genuine. For Extinction this is pulled back severely. She manages to save the day and get the plot going, but she isn't an indestructible well of untold abilities. She has limitations this time around that are quite an important part of the plot.
While this movie is never going to earn major points for originality, at least it is an exciting and, most importantly, coherent entry in the series. It is too bad that Mulcahy didn't get a chance to direct the other three, as Paul Thomas Anderson returned to directing duties for the last three films. This is one of those films that drives home the point that the right director can often temper some of the worst aspects of someone with a vision that is held back by their own ineptness.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Time: 94 minutes
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Oded Feher
Director: Russell Mulcahy