For a film franchise owing its existence to a video game series, to only capture a momentary glimpse of the ambience that made the source medium famous—and little else—was not just underwhelming, but downright criminal. That solitary moment of mood proved the lone ember to survive the cross-medium journey in a universe numbering a half-dozen films in total. At worst, that indictment is of a cold betrayal and a lack of regard to the fans. Though it was the second entry, that charge is ironically pressed against the only film that endeavored to resemble an actual adaptation. You know, as opposed to the five other bastardized rip-offs with Paul WS Anderson’s fingerprints as the sole culprit. It figures then that the only film worth squat, our subject today, was not tainted and sullied first-hand by both parties in this diabolical matrimony of Mr. and Mrs. Paul WS Anderson. Yes, y’all, I am just now aware that this dastardly collection was Paul’s star vehicle for his wife, Milla Jovovich.

Released in 2004, the second film is in reality a narrative adaptation of the third video game, and a loose one at that, but with a composite cast plucked from all the games released up to that point. That includes Resident Evil: Code Veronica X, the odd creative crossroads moment in the games’ evolutionary road before deviating to an action-heavy direction in Resident Evil 4 through 6. Though directed by Alexander Witt, it retained traces of Anderson’s putrid contaminating touch; the DVD extras may well have included home-made pornos by the director-actor couple, with the liner notes dabbed with their bodily fluids, and tufts of their asshairs as a pre-order gift. Yet, I have a soft spot for Apocalypse if only for allowing us true fans to ponder the what-ifs.

The moment I speak of in my introductory paragraph occurs before the formidable Lickers are reintroduced. Following the incident in the Umbrella lab beneath Raccoon City, the infection takes over above ground. While the entire city is walled off by Umbrella forces, one civilian turns at a crowded quarantine checkpoint, and the mass evacuation is suspended with the virus deemed to have spread beyond control. Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and two fictional characters—fellow STARS operative Peyton Willis and weather anchor Terri Morales—are turned away and find themselves a band aimlessly wandering the city for temporary shelter—that sanctuary being a Catholic church.

Once inside the Gothic building, the trio encounter a survivor, then are interrupted by a ruckus emanating from somewhere beyond the church vaults and empty pews. Jill volunteers to investigate. The sequence could not have been conceived without the video games in mind; with her gun drawn and measured footsteps sounding hard on marble floors, Jill navigates the dark aisles encircling the nave. Continuing at the gallery above, she follows the faint sound of shifting movement to an open door. To her shock—and ours—she finds the priest has been feeding his sister human remains. There is no end for the immediate horror as, when she joins her party back in the foyer, they are ambushed by a trio of Lickers. Coincidentally Milla’s Alice arrives in proper fashion to save the day and upstage Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). Bravo Mr. Witt, you’ve etched your name in video game adaptation history, if only in fine print.

Sadly, the rest of the movie is an anticlimactic procession of cinematic sins—mostly of the venial constitution. Cheesy quips and lazy jokes, which barely conceal a racial (Mike Epps) or sexist undertone (Epps again), litter the gaps. Guillory can’t act but perhaps it was the American accent. Gone are the soothing melodic motifs and portentous string crescendos. An endless spectacle of combat and action plays to heavy riffs, though Witt is possibly mindful of the video games’ ethos to draw one final inspiration from them in a school kitchen with the Cerberus attack except, again, Jill’s device fails with Alice saving the day and showing her up for the audience.

In previous opportunities, the video games had mostly shown the dire aftermath of the zombie invasion; Apocalypse earns due plaudits for presenting the deterioration into chaos on top. It is not like Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later have not provided the historic precedence to draw from, but where credit is due, one must oblige, except Apocalypse’s issue was never how it stacked against predecessors—rather its very own self in the vidya game.

Still, Apocalypse pays homage to several iconic images and trivia spanning every game predating its making. A zombie is reflected off a helmet visor abandoned in the mayhem is an obvious nod to the intro for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Alice, taking the place of Claire (RE: Code Veronica X), runs behind a glass wall as a helicopter mount rains bullets at her. Another moment is the culmination of the previous sequence when she drops her gun to surrender and snatches it before it hits the ground to dispatch the Umbrella guards that cornered her. The name Ashford, borrowed from RE 0 and Code Veronica X, is originally a founding Umbrella doctor from the sixties and not the modern day suburban counterpart. Casting Razaaq Adoti as Peyton is reminiscent of how Barry Burton was written as an African-American in George Romero’s rejected script. Carlos and Nikolai from Umbrella Corps are here as is Nemesis (all from RE3: Nemesis). The latter is unleashed on the city with the same purpose designed for it in the titular game—seek and destroy STARS—until Anderson decides to shit on the entire premise of the bioweapons field-tested on STARS, not his Alice. Though the monster is humanized by revealing it as the result of an experiment on a character from the first film, neutering the grisliness. And that is the mortal sin Paul cannot redeem himself from.


  1. I’ve watched the first three RE films and portions of the rest, and from what I can tell, these films have two predictable problems characteristic of lazy Hollywood adaptations of other media: (1) Studio executives just want to milk a recognizable brand name for as much mass audience appeal as possible, and (2) Paul W. S. Anderson is a weak filmmaker who continues to find work because he produces movies as generic as possible on a budget, which feeds into issue #1.

    The RE films’ endurance long puzzled me until I figured that out because these films are *so* bad and also not particularly mass audience-friendly (i.e. their violence, language, gore, etc. are ostensibly geared toward adults), at least at face-value. Given their mindless action, Matrix-esque stunts, and most importantly of all, their low budget (the franchise ranges from $33-65 million per feature, less than a third of the average superhero blockbuster), however, they can appeal to a wide *enough* audience to have reliable box office traction without having to make the $750 million -1 billion splashes that Marvel, DC, Fast and Furious, etc. must make *per movie* to turn a profit.

    RE Apocalypse remains the lone film in this franchise I thought had some success recreating a generic zombie outbreak in a generic city setting — my hopes are that Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead (2021) fulfills that void in a couple weeks. It focuses the least on Alice/Jovovich’s generic, boring “badass” character and the most on the lowbrow horror of undead monsters consuming an urban metropolis. Still, every time Jovovich is on-screen, the film’s personality lays down and dies. She has to be one of the least charismatic actresses who ever lived, and her character doesn’t do her any favors.

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      Army of the Dead is coming soon on Netflix here. I had to do a double take whether the slew of “Dead” titles were Romero offshoots. I will check out Army nonetheless. I find that genre movies can have a lot to say about the world they’re in (Vegas? Zombies? Why not!), the subject matter they’re about, our condition, etc.. Apocalypse had no commentary to glean from it whatsoever. I own the first two Deads on DVD and those were terrific (I should have mentioned them in my Journey in Cinephilia article). Funny confession, at the time (2004) I was scared of getting the original version fearing I won’t enjoy a film in B&W, so I opted for the gimmicky and accessible In Deadly Color version!
      I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more enduring franchise both commercially viable and artistically devoid with a similar ROI than RE. No wonder they kept doing more. I conceded the first two were justified and that’s as much praise as you’ll find me extending to something this bankrupt creatively speaking. It was a hard pass from me when I saw a desert was the setting for the third film upon release. I knew I appreciated Apocalypse almost by accident and in spite of Paul WS (come to find out he simply produced it; go figure).
      Thanks for sharing those videos. Those laughs are a fitting appraisal! I subscribed to the channel. Their content is addictive. Not sure why they remind me of Clerks’s fanhood of Star Wars.

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