To the relief of some and the disappointment of others, the Resident Evil film franchise is (supposedly) over. To mark the occasion, we revisited every entry in the series to assess the best and worst films it has spawned in its fifteen-year lifetime. Here’s our verdict…
6. Resident Evil (2002)
Even the most ardent of Resident Evil fans will admit that the first film in the series hasn’t aged tremendously well. The first attempt at adapting these popular horror videogames lacked the confidence of later entries, both in terms of storytelling and the main performances. Subsequent films have wholeheartedly embraced more ridiculous plots and action sequences, sacrificing any genuine scares in the process – a technique that, while not good screenwriting practice, has succeeded in making the movies more entertaining.
This installment seemed more like a genuine attempt at creating a suspenseful horror film, and as a result doesn’t work quite as well. Paul W.S. Anderson’s reliance on jump-scares prevents any real sense of fear from building. That being said, as a result of the film’s aforementioned sincerity, this is probably the entry with the most coherent plot. While a great distance away from perfect (or even good), most of the film’s plot threads are tied up by the time the credits start rolling, and there are a few satisfying payoffs here and there.
The performances however, leave something to be desired. Colin Salmon’s character is paper-thin and seems to exist only to deliver exposition before being diced into dozens of pieces. A handful of characters quite clearly exist for the sole purpose of being killed off; this is standard practice for the series, but becomes a problem when the film tries to turn one particular death into an emotional scene. The sad classical music does little to provoke a response from the audience, on account of the fact we knew little about the character besides his name: it was J.D., by the way.
Even Milla Jovovich, whose success in the role of Alice can be considered the sole reason for the survival of this series, is wobbly here to start off with. By the end of the film Jovovich begins to seem more comfortable in the role, but for a stretch at the beginning her performance is somewhat bland. Michelle Rodriguez is without a doubt the stand-out here as Rain, actually delivering her lines with some punch and establishing herself as the film’s strongest character.
But perhaps the most damning element of the first Resident Evil movie is the action; while the sequences in later installments are often ludicrous, they are at least entertaining. Here though, many of the “action” scenes feel rather lifeless by comparison, and the introduction of the series’ iconic ‘Licker’ monster is severely weakened by CGI which has not aged well at all. That being said, some scenes remain effective even after all these years. An opening scene set in a broken down elevator continues to evoke discomfort, while the Red Queen’s Chamber (aka the laser wall of death) continues to be just as wince-inducing as it always has been.
At this point, the first entry in this series feels very much like proto-Resident Evil; not quite a fully formed identity yet, but at the very least an efficient set-up of bigger things to come.
5. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Generally speaking, the Resident Evil series has gotten better as its progressed; that is, with the exception of this fifth installment which was something of a misstep. While these movies have never been praised for their plotting, the way that Retribution is paced is frankly somewhat bizarre. Firstly, with the exception of an opening credits scene which carries on directly from 2010’s Afterlife, this film has very little to do with its forerunner. Instead, the action is swept away to a previously unheard of underground facility in Russia, where the rest of the plot plays out in a way very reminiscent of a bad videogame.
The detailed replicas of several major cities essentially feel like different levels of such a game, only the often uninteresting action suggests that it wouldn’t be very fun to play. Indeed, this film is perhaps the most action-oriented of the entire series, with many of its sequences in the form of gunfights (either with Umbrella’s security forces, or a horde of gun-toting zombies). This wouldn’t necessarily be a huge problem for a series that has made ridiculous action set-pieces its trademark, but the fact of the matter is that many of the sequences featured in this movie aren’t particularly fun to watch.
The gunfights are almost entirely ineffective at engaging the audience, ultimately boiling down to a mix of loud noises and blood splatter but nothing noteworthy. This could be blamed on some sub-par directing from Paul W.S. Anderson, but equally is a natural consequence of the film having essentially no characters. Indeed, after a stretch of time in the suburbia of Raccoon City (a segment of the film which doesn’t become relevant until far later, and even then only barely), the film finally begins introducing its supporting cast a good twenty-five minutes into the runtime; particularly problematic for a feature which clocks in at only a lean ninety minutes.
The film has too many new characters to establish in what time it has left, meaning many of the additions never felt much more than strangers. Li Bingbing does her best with the material she is given, but her character is written to be nothing more than an outlet for bland exposition. Johann Urb on the other hand gives an outright poor performance, in which almost every line is delivered awkwardly.
Of the returning cast members, all are either brainwashed or clones and consequently bare little resemblance to their former selves. The return of Sienna Guillory, who made a decent debut in the second film before a prolonged absence, is particularly disappointing. Boris Kodjoe’s Luther is the only familiar face who still has all his marbles, but despite his best efforts also struggles with a bad script.
The film isn’t entirely without merit however, with some nice visual effects and a few good moments keeping it from placing last on this list. Retribution is the most expensive entry in the series, coming in with a $65 million price tag and it shows. This is perhaps the only Resident Evil film to not have any noticeable restrictions on its visual effects budget, and that allows for some fun moments.
The few action sequences in this movie which are pulled off effectively, include a car chase through Moscow and the return of Afterlife‘s monstrous executioners. The latter admittedly is a victim of diminishing returns somewhat, but still proves to be one of the film’s brighter moments. The bone-crunching final confrontation at the film’s climax is perhaps the best one-on-one fight of the entire series, with good choreography and some truly brutal moments. The only drawback is the distracting thought that even characters as capable as Alice and Jill, probably should be dead after the bruising they suffer through.
The problem with Resident Evil: Retribution is that it feels very much like the series on autopilot. Minimal effort is put into establishing the characters and crafting the action sequences; the result is a film which is among the least entertaining of the series, something which even a more generous budget can’t change.
4. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
The second movie in the series is a definite improvement on the first entry in most areas. We suggested that in the first film, the series hadn’t quite decided what it wanted to be yet, but here that identity is clearly starting to be realized. A slightly larger budget and a new director in the form of Alexander Witt, result in some vastly more entertaining action sequences. Standout moments include Milla Jovovich’s Alice crashing a motorbike through the windows of a church, while later she runs down the side of skyscraper as part of a rather elaborate ambush.
Indeed, Jovovich herself takes better form here than in the first film, showing a great deal more confidence in the role and successfully delivering a number of fun lines. Additionally, there does seem to be more effort here into developing the film’s supporting cast, certainly far more than we saw in the first installment. Sienna Guillory’s interpretation of Jill Valentine is a solid addition to the series, while Thomas Kretschmann’s Major Cain is a more memorable villain than James Purefoy was in the first entry. Jared Harris and Oded Fehr do their best with the material provided.
Also improved for the second entry was the Licker, perhaps the Umbrella Corporation’s most disgusting creation. The creature’s appearance in this movie is far more effective than in the first, with slightly less time on-screen making up for some admittedly still dodgy CGI. The zombies themselves are much the same as in the first installment, only greater in number; a strange decision to use an obscured slow-motion effect on the zombies on numerous occasions, actually works to make them significantly less scary.
Indeed, Apocalypse does fall down in some places. While in general the character work here is relatively good (at least by the low standard that the series sets for itself), the character of L.J. is written to be overly obnoxious and ultimately comes off quite annoying. Mike Epps makes a valiant attempt at being the film’s comic relief, but it seems unlikely that an actor of any caliber could deliver these lines well.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the film is its climactic final battle against the abomination of science, Nemesis. Building up to a confrontation between Alice and the monster for much of the film’s runtime, when the one-on-one battle finally takes place it is by far the least entertaining fight scene the movie has to offer. A borderline-comical overuse of shaky-cam, and a general feeling that the Nemesis prosthetic suit was not equipped to handle such a fight scene, prevent this from being a satisfying finale.
Still, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a solid entry in this series. One which learns from the shortcomings of the first entry, although still has flaws of its own to contend with.
3. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)
You can read our full review of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter here, but we’ll also give you the abridged explanation for its third place ranking on this list. For an entry which actually has a smaller budget than all the others except the first, The Final Chapter has some ambitious action sequences. Some of the best include a fight against one of Umbrella’s flying monsters, an explosive motorbike chase sequence and a wince-inducing scene involving a giant fan. Other action sequences aren’t quite so effective, with a combination of shaky-cam, dim lighting, and quick cuts proving fatal in some instances.
Still though, the film is one of the more competent installments in the long-running franchise, especially in terms of plot where Paul W.S. Anderson had the unenviable task of winding down a series with no logical conclusion. He does an admirable job, and the reveals surrounding Alice’s mysterious past are satisfying for fans who have followed the character for the last fifteen years or so.
However, the film does falter with its supporting characters which are among the blandest of the entire series. The character development isn’t quite as egregious as that which we saw in Retribution, but still it proves to be quite underwhelming. Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield is the only protagonist who proves to be memorable, although the film recovers some ground with its villains. The return of both Iain Glen and Shawn Roberts as the despicable Dr. Isaacs and Albert Wesker is a treat; the two have always been guilty of unashamedly chewing the scenery, but in such a way which proves fitting for a series which has embraced its more ridiculous elements.
Perhaps the biggest (or certainly the most frustrating) problem with The Final Chapter, is its unforgivable overuse of jump-scares. The series has always used jump-scares, but in this entry their presence is unnecessarily excessive. The fact that the volume at which they boom out is uncomfortably loud only adds to how grating they become.
Still though, The Final Chapter manages to be a satisfying end to a long-running series. While it definitely has flaws, and cheekily leaves the door open for further sequels, it offers enough closure to leave fans satisfied and that alone is something of an achievement. Some memorable action sequences make up for unwelcome shortcomings, but stronger characters are the element which would have boosted The Final Chapter to a higher position on this list.
2. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
The fourth film in the Resident Evil series is the franchise’s first foray into complete insanity, but surprisingly that’s one of the most entertaining things about it. By this point in the series, Paul W.S. Anderson had developed a blatant disregard for plausibility which allowed him to kick the action up by several notches from the previous installments.
While the opening assault on the Umbrella Corporation’s Tokyo headquarters is a solid sequence, even with the abundance of Alice clones it still registers as one of the weakest in the film. A recurring problem with these movies is that budgetary restraints often feel like a hurdle the films can’t quite clear, which is very much the case in this instance. With a bolstered budget, the clone fight scenes could likely have had more complex choreography, but instead things look somewhat awkward.
Indeed, it is quite probable that these budget concerns were a factor in the abrupt removal of both the clones and Alice’s telekinetic powers from the series. Many fans took issue with just how heavy-handed the scrapping of these concepts were, but the film offers some entertaining sequences to make up for their omission.
Highlights include Alice jumping off the roof of a tall building (she has a habit of doing that), in an extreme method of zombie disposal. Additionally, the fight with the executioner is unapologetic in its silliness, but a memorable sequence nonetheless. Afterlife being the first in the series to be shot in 3D, there is a slightly tiresome number of things being thrown towards the screen throughout the movie. This can be occasionally distracting during a home viewing, but doesn’t prove too detrimental.
Ali Larter reprises her role as Claire Redfield, although here she loses the grounded semi-realism of her first appearance. Still, she proves herself to be a worthy co-star opposite series staple Milla Jovovich. Boris Kodjoe is also a welcome addition, a charismatic member of the cast who plays off Jovovich rather well.
Shawn Roberts takes the role of Albert Wesker, a character initially portrayed by Jason O’Mara in Extinction. Roberts ups the scenery-chewing from O’Mara’s comparatively subtle performance, but in an entry which is often extremely overblown, he actually seems a more successful casting choice.
Although lacking the polish of the series third entry, Resident Evil: Afterlife comes close to topping it regardless thanks to its focus on over-the-top thrills. This is a film which isn’t trying to be intellectual, and is barely trying to be a scary, but succeeds as a guilty pleasure by bringing the kinds of ridiculous action sequences to life which you rarely see in a major-budget movie. Anchored by two likeable leads, Afterlife is definitely one of the series stronger chapters.
1. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
The Resident Evil movies have, for the most part, gotten better with each installment; however, this third film brings possibly the greatest leap in quality. Where the character work in the second film was superior to that of the first, Extinction brings further improvement and, dare I say it, characters we come dangerously close to a sincere connection with.
Ali Larter channels a Sarah Connor-esque performance in her portrayal of convoy leader, Claire Redfield. While Apocalypse‘s Jill Valentine was an entertaining addition, Redfield feels like the series first competent female character who doesn’t completely veer away from believable. Returning players include Oded Fehr who reprises his role and delivers a very serviceable performance, while Mike Epps also returns and to his credit is significantly less obnoxious in this entry. Iain Glen returns after a small role in the second film, and continues the upward trajectory of the series’ antagonists.
Where Resident Evil: Extinction really thrives however is in its visual style, borrowing liberally from the likes of Mad Max. The desert landscape is an engaging change of setting for the series, whose previous surroundings (a generic urban area, and a dingy underground lab) feel somewhat drab by comparison. There are some genuinely nice shots in this movie, and a few scares here and there which are quite effective.
The action too receives yet another boost, at this point almost unrecognisable when compared to the simplistic sequences of the first installment. The highlight is without a doubt the set-piece taking place in post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, where the gang is ambushed by a group of enhanced T-Virus zombies and have to fight with all their being to get out alive.
The use of Alice’s telekinetic powers is also an interesting addition to the series, and could be considered perhaps their first full transition from action-horror to outright science fiction. Indeed, the majority of this film is so well put together it’s difficult to believe it comes from Russell Mulcahy, the same man who brought us Highlander II: The Quickening (a film which, to be fair, was subject to heavy studio interference).
For all that it gets right, one cannot help but think that this movie could have been improved had it been granted a slightly larger budget. The idea of undead ravens attacking our ragtag group of survivors is an intriguing one, and the sequence of events is executed rather well in every way but the visual effects. In numerous scenes, the birds are so obviously computer generated that it becomes distracting, which is really quite unfortunate.
Also suffering in the CGI department are the tentacles bursting out of Iain Glen’s Tyrant at the end of the movie; while the prosthetic suit built around Glen looks suitably grotesque (and seems to be better suited for a fight scene than the Nemesis suit was), the tentacles look so bad that they border on laughable. These CGI mishaps are particularly noticeable in a movie which otherwise looks very well made, with the more complex zombie make-up another element deserving of praise.
With budgetary problems aside, Resident Evil: Extinction is a very competent film and the best that this franchise has produced.
Do you agree with our rankings? Get in touch and let us know!