Director: Paul W.S. Anderson (UK, Germany, USA). Year of Release: 2002
An underground lab. Men (and the occasional woman) in suits are waiting for the lift. A man rushes past, knocking coffee over the shirt of one of the interchangeable men (for reasons that are currently unclear, but if we patiently wait, we’ll learn why this is relevant). Everyone tuts and they all get into the lift. We see statistics posted at the bottom of the screen telling us that the Umbrella corporation owns 90% of everything really, and are tied up in dodgy arms and genetics deals.
Deep down in the lab, someone drops a phial. Alarm bells start ringing. The guard dogs which for forever reason Umbrella Inc. keep in stacked cages start slavering. All doors slam shut. The sprinklers start spraying, although there is no fire. The lift (remember that one) suddenly stops working. Then it plummets several floors, and a woman tries to squeeze out. Just as suddenly, the lift surges upwards. The results are not for the squeamish.
Meanwhile. A woman wakes up in a mansion under a shower. She has lost her memory, but is subject to the occasional flashback. A man bursts in who claims to be a cop, although he doesn’t have any credentials. Then the house is invaded by tooled up stormtroopers who start to take over. There’s no negotiation here. Anyone who wants to question what they’re doing is at severe risk of being shot.
We’re clear where we are here, right? This is a dystopian film set some time in the future. There is a degree of latent anti-capitalism aimed at the corporations which own anything. There’s a totalitarian army which is so ridiculously heavily armed that any resistance is futile. There are dubious things being done with science that we don’t quite understand but doesn’t look good. We know where we’re going with this film,
Well, maybe. For a while, it’s clear where we are. A crack team of military operatives are sent into a difficult situation, taking with them hostages for reasons that make no sense whatsoever. There is a series of scenes of people forgetting the vital password, then remembering it at the last possible minute. There’s also a fairly cool scene which features prominently in the trailer, of said military operatives having to cope with a random and lethal laser attack.
So, dystopian future film, right? Well, only to a certain extent. After a while, Resident Evil takes a strange left turn and suddenly we’re in a zombie film. Or maybe it’s a vampire film. If they bite you, you suddenly (or in some cases, not for ages) become one of them. And they follow you relentlessly but without much brain power, trying to capture you and make you one of them.
Or maybe it’s not a zombie film, it’s a remake of the Matrix. Resident Evil was made in 2002, 3 years after The Matrix made Keanu suddenly marketable (fun fact, I went with friends to see the Matrix in its opening week. Before the opening credits, one of my friends asked if we should now go now. I still think we were wrong to stay). Maybe all films of the time were like this, but we get the bullet travelling very slowly and over-acrobatic kung-fu-ish scenes.
For all this, and for all that I really, viscerally, hated the Matrix, I’m fine to laugh along with (and not at) Resident Evil. And this is because – very much unlike the Matrix – it has a very clear sense of its own ridiculousness, and is not pretending to be profounder than it really is. This is a story about a random group of people dealing with some monsters which -for whatever reason – have just turned up. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s fair enough.
Anyway, maybe this Is not a dystopian film, or a zombie/vampire mash-up, or a Matrix ripoff. Maybe it’s a new 2001 – A Space Odyssey. There is a pre-programmed computer, who speaks in the infantile voice of it’s programmer’s daughter, and, as far as artistic development goes, makes no sense at all. Even if we can accept that AI has been developed enough to allow this level of interaction, why does the avatar seem to get emotionally involved? Best just forget this part.
A couple of extra points maybe need to be made. Resident Evil is (obviously) directed by a man, and is still not clear where it stands on all this women’s liberation stuff. The girls are allowed to use kick-ass weapons just as much as the men are, and they don’t all die in the opening scene. Look, you have liberation now. Of course this is done at the expense of either wearing a sexy red dress or army fatigues, but it’s a bit much to expect a writer to also write 3-dimensional parts for women.
But all these cavils just fail to address the point. Why should a silly little film have to conform to any idea of what makes sense? Resident Evil accepts the clichés of its genre and, for better or worse, runs with them. It doesn’t change the world, but at the same time, it makes no sense to attack it for a lack of profundity when it never made any claims towards being profound.
It is what it is. Live with it.