So where were we? Oh, yeah: Alice escapes from prison (naked, of course — it must be written in Milla Jovovich’s contract), and comes back out into a world now increasingly populated by zombies. (Or, more properly, “the infected.”) The virus, it seems, has now spread across the planet. So has accelerated desertification, apparently, which makes little sense, but I suppose it’s appropriately apocalyptic. (It’s obviously a narrative ploy to justify filming in the desert — in particular, the film’s disappointing set piece of Las Vegas half-buried in sand — but hey, we’ve all been asked to swallow greater improbabilities.)
The desert setting works, though, and not just because it allows Jovovich to pair brown leather garters with shorts and a tan duster. Resident Evil: Extinction does away with the dark claustrophobia of the previous two films, where it seemed that the contagion was mostly isolated. This installment feels airier, almost, and it’s a tacit acknowledgment that the Resident Evil series was never really about horror in the first place — one genre that thrives in darkness — but about action. The brightness of the desert light simply works better for kicking ass.
“Program Alice has been activated,” the evil Dr. Isaac said at the end of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which means (we now discover) that Alice has been upgraded with powers that D&D players used to call “psionic.” (She inadvertently levitates and breaks her BMW motorcycle in half while she’s sleeping.) Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that Jovovich has upgraded her own skills by adding “fury” to her incrementally-expanding repertoire of facial expressions; note the said look of “fury” whenever she kills two zombies in one angry slash.
What makes the third Resident Evil film a little more special is that it marks the meeting of two like-minded individuals: screenwriter Paul W. S. Anderson (also the man responsible for directing Event Horizon, Death Race, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, and coincidentally, producer of D.O.A.: Dead Or Alive — the man clearly likes those acronym-colon-subtitle combos) and director Russell Mulcahy, neither of them strangers to expensive B-movies.
Mulcahy is something of a hack — he was the man responsible for the touchstone of terrible, Highlander II: The Quickening, after all (but do read the entry for my brief overview of his illustrious career in music videos) — but at least he filches from the best: most crucially, the grubby, tattered aesthetics from fellow Australian director George Miller’s Mad Max series, and the gore of 300. Zombie deaths are lovingly slowed down so you can hear bone crunch. CGI is liberally abused, but in fun ways: blood spurts are digitally enhanced, a murder of zombified crows — hey, I just made a pun that really isn’t — blots out the sky, and hordes of zombies are mowed down by truck as they crowd around one of the last remaining Umbrella Corporation outposts.
But special effects can’t improve bad writing or acting; what they do, however, is make the latter grievances more palatable. (One misstep: Jovovich’s face is unnecessarily airbrushed for a good two-thirds of the film.) Still, there’s slightly more shape to this film as it moves away from its videogame origins; now there are civilians, i.e., zombie fodder, to be protected, and a destination supposedly free from infection — Alaska, though it may not be free from Sarah Palin.
Resident Evil: Extinction isn’t nearly as campily over-the-top as other films Mulcahy has directed, but it’s a fine action movie, with genuinely thrilling and well-edited sequences, and the best of the Resident Evil series so far. Which, as you can tell, isn’t saying much at all, but hell, I’ll be watching Resident Evil: Afterlife anyway, accompanied by those summer movie staples: expensive Diet Coke, Junior Mints, 3D glasses and low expectations.