Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 17, 2002)
After the reasonable success of 2001ís Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, we finally found a movie adapted from a video game that didnít bomb. Would this mean that the floodgates would open for more flicks of that sort? Probably not, since Hollywood still seemed modestly infatuated with the concept even before Raider hit. That film may have knocked some video game adaptations up a few pegs on studiosí priority lists, but I donít know if it affected fortunes too strongly.
One of the first video game adaptations to hit the screen after Raider, 2002ís Resident Evil didnít do quite as well. Compared to the $131 million gross of Raider, the $39 million made by Evil doesnít look too hot. Thatís too bad, for while Evil isnít a classic, the movie offers a surprisingly lively and entertaining experience.
At the start of Evil, we enter a very secret research lab run by the ultra-powerful Umbrella Corporation. After a vial breaks, the buildingís security computer shuts down the place and actively kills all the inhabitants. We then meet a woman named Alice (Milla Jovovich). She wakes up in a shower in a mansion but possesses no memory of who she is or why sheís there.
Life quickly gets more complicated when a commando team run by ďOneĒ (Colin Salmon) storms into the house. It turns out that the mansion acts as the gateway to the Umbrella Corp. lab, and Alice Ė along with her fake husband Spence (James Purefoy), who we meet later Ė act as a defense system. The team descends into the lab to find out what happened.
Initially they think that the problem relates to the labís security system called the Red Queen. They try to get through its vicious defenses to deactivate it, and when this occurs they start to learn the truth about why the Red Queen apparently went berserk. At that point, they find out they have a bigger problem: the chemical leak has turned the dead inhabitants of the building into zombies. From there, the movie follows the teamís attempts to fight both the Red Queenís efforts to prevent their departure and also the zombiesí scramble to eat them.
Although the filmmakers wanted to create a perverse take on Alice In Wonderland, Evil felt more closely related to Aliens. Like Ripley, Alice become more empowered as the film progressed, and the commandos definitely resemble the Colonial Marines. Kaplan (Martin Crewes) shows the same panicky qualities as Hudson, and Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) is little more than a sexier version of Vasquez. The parallels donít seem overwhelming, and Evil doesnít come across like an Aliens rip-off, but I did think the James Cameron flick acted as a moderately heavy inspiration here.
Evil mixes lots of sources. Of course, the video games themselves provided much of the tone and the various elements. Since I never played any of them, I canít comment upon how many similarities they shared, but the film clearly included a lot of bits taken from the games.
Somewhat surprisingly, zombie flicks like Night of the Living Dead didnít seem like that big an influence on Evil. On the surface, the latter appears to be a zombie movie, but those characters really can be somewhat incidental. Theyíre an important part of the story, but unlike most movies of that genre, they donít make up the whole crux of the problem.
Despite the derivative nature of Evil, it still manages to provide a nicely exciting and tense piece. The film maintains a fairly relentless pace that works for it. Some movies seem to depend on non-stop action because they lack anything else to say, but that doesnít seem to be the case with Evil. The pacing feels appropriate and unfolds neatly.
Though not an original technique, the slow unfolding of some plot points via Aliceís gradually recovered memory works well. Yes, it does feel like a plot device, but it allows the story to seep out bit by bit and makes the enterprise more nerve-wracking.
If I had to pick the single crummiest element of Evil, itíd relate to the extremely poor computer-generated creature called the Licker. In other reviews, Iíve not hidden my disdain for most CGI, and the Licker does nothing to change my mind. The fake-looking monster actively took me out of the story whenever it appeared.
I also donít much care for the filmís score. Although I like the music of co-composer Marilyn Manson, the work heard here seems very mediocre, and itíll heavily date the film. Lots of flicks use the same kind of aggro techno metal music, and itís gotten tiresome.
Nonetheless, I think thereís more here to like than to dislike. Overall, Resident Evil doesnít feel like anything new or especially creative, but it does what it sets out to do. The film offers an edgy and exciting piece that seems much better than the average video game adaptation.