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They hunger for flesh, but do not require it.

Resident Evil: Extinction

(SPOILERS) My previous exposure to the Resident Evil movies was limited to the first outing and then this one. And the reason I was intrigued to see this one was to a small degree the Mad Max trappings it chose to appropriate, but mostly it was the presence of one Russell Mulcahy as director, at that point very much in the straight-to-video realm (an arena he’d quickly return to with a Scorpion King sequel). My interest in the Highlander – and Ricochet! – director tackling zombies was not misplaced. Resident Evil: Extinction is vastly superior to anything the series offered hitherto. Why, it even makes the material seem half respectable.

Paul WS Anderson, as ever on script duties, also manages to offer a few decent ideas, magpie-ing in particular Alien Resurrection’s cloning onto Alice. The opener finds her awaking in a mansion, much as we’ve come to expect, only for her to be killed and dumped in a pit… joining a load of other clones. It’s a striking and effective image (one that would in turn be magpied by Christopher Smith in Triangle a few years later). The duplicates idea will be returned to at the climax, when a clone Alice saves the original. We also revisit the control theme of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, with the transhumanism element rearing its programmed head as Alice is shutdown via satellite (you know satellites, right?) and fights the conditioning, short-circuiting the “orbiting” relay.

However, the problem with delivering more Alice, along with the general upping of the quality ante, is that it serves to emphasise Milla’s something of an empty centre; when the movies are strictly functional, kickass affairs, this matters not a jot, but try to infuse a sliver of texture and the holes start showing (she’s as blank as her face is when, for cosmetic purposes, some photoshop is called upon to smooth out Alice’s wrinkles). It’s fortunate then, that Iain Glen, who gets some stick in some quarters as wooden, yet I’ve always considered a decent actor, is there to share some of the thesping duties. In a smart move, he’s not only nefariously inclined but also up against it from unsympathetic superiors, which means his character Dr Isaacs is going out on a limb.

There are even some genuinely strong scenes occasionally, amid the convoy-in-peril swill you’d expect. Such as the one where Isaacs tries out a means of modifying/domesticating the undead. It’s a sequence with shades of Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985), and it adds an impassive, unflinching echo to Isaacs as he unblinkingly shuts his assistant in with the formerly pacified subject. Perhaps inevitably, Isaacs is infected and duly transformed into a hulking loon (the Tyrant, it says here), complete with manga tentacles, after overdosing on anti-virus software. And Mulcahy trots out the dicing effect again, because, well, it’s cool and grisly and audiences can never get enough of that kind of thing (Anderson also reminds you just who is writing this when Tyrant’s announcement “I am the future” elicits “No. You’re just another asshole”).

Getting out into the arid expanses helps Extinction considerably in establishing its own movie identity, as opposed to merely the latest add-on to its predecessors. Sure, we get the de rigueur MKUtra eye closeups, but the vistas are evocative, and the more surprisingly so, since this is David Johnson returning as cinematographer from the unexceptional original. The zombie prosthetics are solid and often used artfully to frame shots. The besieged desert base is a striking visual, and while these are evidently CGI zombies (in long shot), flies and crows, they’re used in a complementary way, rather than excessively. In general, Mulcahy’s pop-promo sensibility aids and abets the tone and atmosphere; this is a way better sequel than anyone could have hoped for, and way better than Anderson, who attested to admiring the director’s work, would have furnished himself.

We see the return of the AI presence, this time in the form of a sister entity White Queen, and there’s significant hearkening back to earlier outings (replicas of the base and visual cues) as well as revisiting previous characters (Carlos Oliveira and LJ return) and those from the games (Heroes’ Ali Larter is Claire Redfield and Jason O’Mara is Umbrella CEO Albert Wesker).

The Vegas setting represents another cue lifted by Zack Snyder for Army of the Dead (see also Resident Evil: Apocalypse). And obviously, on the predictive side, the depopulation signifiers abound. This is a world where humanity has been devastated, albeit nursing very ’80s wasteland visual cues (the T-virus has infected everything, not just people). The future for the remainder appears to be one of augmentation or else. It’s quite possible Resident Evil: Extinction isn’t as popular with game enthusiasts for taking a significant detour in content and setting, but that’s probably one of the reasons it’s halfway satisfying.

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