While finally bringing myself to watch Resident Evil: The Final Chapter on Netflix recently, I noticed something which had strangely gone over my head entirely throughout my time following this series of films. They are actually pretty faithful to the core idea of what video games are all about.
Okay, before I begin, I know these movies aren't masterpieces of cinema. I have a soft spot for these films because they're fun and they shouldn't have to apologise for that. I understand that taking on the name 'Resident Evil' carries certain high expectations to live up to the (mostly) terrific video game series, but what can you do?
It's a tired conversation topic now - is there such a thing as a good video game adaptation in cinema? Generally people say no. The new Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is being hailed as one (though I'm not sure if it counts as a strictly video game adaptation). The recent Tomb Raider film didn't fare too badly either (though much could be improved). But before any of these films, Paul W. Anderson was quietly hammering out the RE films. There's now 6 of them in total. That's some achievement in its own right.
I won't defend the clumsy storytelling of these films and the frenetic action sequences which feel more at home in a big budget music video. However, I will defend the film's faithful adherence to the dramatic structure which gave birth to these stories to begin with - the video game designer/player relationship model.
Remember that video games are built around the idea that the player is at the mercy of the game designer. The designer lays out puzzles and obstacles for the player to overcome. It's the relationship dynamic between these two elements that determine the success of a game. Make the game too hard or too easy and the dynamic is ruined. Find that balance and you'll have a recipe for success every time.
That's what these movies are in a nutshell.
The first Resident Evil film features the protagonist Alice waking up in a mansion and being brought by a group of soldiers to 'the hive' - a large zombie filled facility littered with traps. The hive is controlled by The Red Queen, an artificial intelligence and the soldiers get picked off one by one as they try to navigate this giant death trap. Alice is able to outsmart the AI and escape. It's a perfect example of an escape room model where a games master oversees the scenario and the player tries to outsmart them.
The second movie is of the same design, it just happens on a larger playing field. In fact, by the time we get to Resident Evil: Retribution, the 5th in the series, the action literally takes place in a simulation setting - fake neighbourhoods, fake cities, - a giant training simulation facility. It's not the most inventive place to set a movie but again, its completely in keeping with the nature of the source material - a game designed to stress test the player's state of mind as they go through the adventure.
It's not a mind blowing observation, granted, but it is something of note in defence of a series that has almost as many movies in its catalogue as the Alien franchise. There is something of interest here if you dig beneath the surface.
(Image copyright: Sony Pictures)