[21 September 2007]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Lingerie. Oh, remember lingerie?
—The Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence), The Road Warrior
It’s not like you need to see another Resident Evil movie. But then, it’s not like you ever need to see a franchise sequel, and still they keep coming. The particulars of this one are hardly shocking, though you may be surprised to learn that after Apocalypse comes Extinction. Once again Alice (Milla Jovovich) steps into Raccoon City’s underground computer grids and above-ground devastation, battling for human survival on general principle. And once again, she begins her movie naked, in a shower, water running.
She dutifully dons the red dress and boots and heads off to do battle with zombies (humans afflicted by the T-virus, which leaves them looking ghastly à la George Romero and craving flesh) as well machines. Always machines. Like most movies based on video games, the Resident Evil trilogy features levels and traps and obstacles, the favorite being a killer-diller room outfitted with lasers that slice bodies into precise sections. As that room tends to show up late in the films, this early moment, Alice’s re-introduction, features a more mundane form of sadistic violence, an automatic weapon that blasts through her belly and leaves her bleeding to death.
Or not. Turns out this is yet another nasty research project by the ruthless Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen), and the many Alices promised in the previous film are now in play. (This will grant Jovovich a chance to reenact the scene for which Sigourney Weaver agreed to do Alien: Resurrection—Ripley facing her clone in a lab—though it probably goes without saying that this new version doesn’t manage the same delicate tragedy as Weaver’s did.) The Alice you care about most, the one who kills zombies with splits and panache (and machetes) is actually not on Isaacs’ monitor and is not dead yet. Indeed, she knows from the previous film that the doctor wants her for nefarious purposes and so she stays away—from him and from other survivors. While he keeps trying to make an Alice that will please him (and produce an antidote to zombie-ism in her recycled, recombinant blood), she’s off riding her motorcycle across deserts that serve literal and metaphorical functions.
This is where you pick her up in Extinction. Though she spends a precious few minutes undergoing yet another encounter with the no-skinned zombie dogs (this time set up by a crew of inbred-looking desert dwellers whose bad teeth alone warrant their obliteration), Alice is on her way toward reintegration. As you will no doubt recall from the end of Apocalypse, she cast herself out of her latest human community—in order to save them, of course—and has since then played austere, angry loner, that most self-righteous and adored of action-movie figures.
And if this duster-wearing Alice is reminiscent of The Road Warrior‘s Mad Max, then so be it (she does have leather garters too, something Max did not). In case you miss that reference, the movie cuts to the community with whom she will soon connect, a convoy headed by (and named for) Claire Redford (Ali Larter). Very tough and angry, Claire keeps her 30 or so members on a tight leash, as they rove the desolate landscape in search of gasoline. The film runs the usual introduction of motley crew members: here’s the tech Mikey (Christopher Egan) (“Set up a perimeter!”), and there’s hopeful teen K-Mart (Spencer Locke), so named because that’s where Claire rescued her. And don’t forget midriff-baring Betty (Ashanti), ostensibly an expert at emergency medical care, but most often the object of L.J.‘s (Mike Epps) lusty looks.
Wait a minute: L.J.‘s back. You’ll remember him from the second film, and he’s not the only returnee. Carlos is back too, and yet another reminder that Oded Fehr needs a role to call his own. Once again stealing every moment he’s on screen (I’m not saying it’s hard in this movie, but still…), Fehr makes Carlos’ silly stoic business Carlos slightly less tedious. He matches Alice’s not-so-interesting self-importance with a wry, almost-alternate perspective, self-aware and even sometimes unexpected. This is more than welcome in a film that borrows from so many others.
Carlos is generous enough to be glad when Alice reappears. It helps that she arrives when the group quite needs her, being attacked by a digitized horde of infected-flesh-eating crows (see: The Birds), and that Alice comes equipped with new tricks, formidable force-fields and control over the weather (see: The X-Men). Still, she and Claire both know that even if Alice brings the travelers embodied weaponry, she also makes them targets. She’s also been reading a journal left behind by a dead man, promising new life and non-infection in Alaska (see: Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, even Into the Wild), and so encourages the group to head off in that direction. Because if a dead guy has written it in his journal, it must be true.
Logic has never been the strong suit of the Resident Evil films. But this film’s most egregious fault is its promise of a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas—where Claire insists they all go to “gas up.” It’s a grand concept, but reduced to a series of shots you’ve already seen in the trailer. The fakey monuments to human achievement and self-love—the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument—make a statement, to be sure, as they are broken and buried in sand. The travelers are crushed and Alice observes, gravely (as she says everything gravely), “The desert must have taken it back.” How this is a surprise to any of them is unclear (their planet’s population is destroyed, right?). Still, the display of excess and artifice annihilated seems about right.