Annihilation Review: Reflecting On Reflections

It’s almost hard to say a film is a masterpiece if you can see the many ways it shoots itself in the foot.

Annihilation is such a film.

A science fiction film with horror elements, Annihilation stands as a unique experience in modern cinema with every frame it has. There are many moments of brilliance, as well as a few moments of “…really?!” For every scene where you are in awe of the wonderfully thought provoking things you are seeing there is another instance of questioning why anyone would bring along an obvious psychopath-in-waiting. At times it attains the heights of a modern 2001: A Space Odyssey, while at others it just comes across as yet another film that has great ambition but ruins it by a few questionable choices (*cough* Interstellar *cough*). The end product is one that might have transcended modern science fiction cinema and attained a classic status, but through some rather odd narrative choices drags itself back down to the realm of being merely really good.

The man behind this project was Alex Garland, the director of the fantastic Ex Machina which delved deep into the ideas of the concept of what it would truly take for an artificial intelligence to prove itsself to be intelligent, and our relationships with what we create. Where Ex Machina was grounded in reality in a way we could understand and see the beginnings of in our everyday lives, Annihilation starts off that way and then goes off the deep end into the territory of thought provoking while only providing a shred of the answer. It’s like the first part of Arrival, followed by the middle part of Interstellar, and ending off with 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s final act.

It’s difficult to convey the plot of Annihilation without going into spoilers but I’ll do my best. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biology professor/ex-army soldier who is dealing with the loss of her husband Kane (played by Oscar Isaac) who has been missing-in-action for a year. Kane shows up one day with a foggy memory and immediately falls ill. On the way to the hospital they are intercepted by government agents in black cars (as they always are…) and are whisked away to a secret base at Area X. Lena is told of the mission her husband went missing on: a surveillance operation into a mysterious supernatural-like area encompassing what I guess would be somewhere in the southern gulf coast of America called The Shimmer. So Lena volunteers to go in with the first “scientist” group of all women, as apparently they only sent male military dudes in for years and only ladies can be scientists (seriously what the hell was with that line given the obvious gender thing here, it’s not clear if this is the first female group ever and a little clarity would have done wonders). What follows is an at times mind-boggling adventure into discovering the nature of The Shimmer, as well as the nature of the characters themselves. Oh, and the ending is batshit insane.

The surreal world Garland takes us to with Annihilation is almost beyond words. If you’ve seen Ex Machina imagine the interview scenes’ mood…but as the entire movie, and it’s set in a vaguely malevolent Pandora from Avatar. There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know and were never meant to know. The main thing here is that it’s mostly about figuring out your own interpretation of what happened. I’m not sure there’s a correct answer, nor if there even is one.

If there was a main theme that I got from this film it would be the direct confrontation with our own tendency for self-destruction. This manifests in many ways in Annihilation but all our main characters share this bond, and at times it’s the only thing we know about them. This is not a treatise about drug use or other obvious self-destructive tendencies, but rather a look at how everyone has some fault that leads to their downfall. It’s both a strength and a weakness. The theme overrides the characterization at so many times that we are left feeling disconnected from Garland’s world of reflections. We know these characters’ damage, but they never really attempt to get beyond what they wallow in. It’s an effective showcase about the nature of humanity; albeit a distant one. If you’re in the mood to witness a showcase of the dark depths of human nature then Annihilation is an extremely interesting sit.

The thing that holds this film back from near perfection is its second act which makes up the bulk of the film. For this part we follow Lena and her team of scientist explorers as they get deeper and deeper into The Shimmer. The exploration aspect is amazing – as we see what The Shimmer is actually doing and are ourselves trying to slowly figure it out alongside our heroes. It’s visually interesting and very well made. There is a powerful sense of dread that follows our team around as they slowly discover what is happening and why the other teams failed. The problem here is the characters themselves. They are pretty much useless beyond getting a line or two related to their scientific background or to set up needless conflict that distracts from the mystery. Not to go very spoiler-y into the film, but one of the team goes psychotic and becomes a threat – for ease I’ll call her Bob. This wouldn’t be a problem if the lead psychologist in charge of making the teams was operating under the assumption that the reason for years of failed missions into The Shimmer was team members going insane – oh and the psychologist is also slightly deranged. We know Bob was extremely self-destructive, hell we know that about everyone. Bob becomes unhinged almost immediately at the first sign of weirdness! It doesn’t help that Bob is performed in a way that is borderline chewing scenery at times so it’s hard to take her mental break seriously. Why would they keep repeating the same mistake for years when they know it was a mistake? It might be a meta-theme about how even when we know what failed we keep repeating it endlessly, or it might be because it’s a modern film and we need action scenes for the trailer.

The other problem with the second act specifically is at times it feels like it’s from a different film entirely. It also delves into action-thriller/horror territory when what was set up before was a psychedelic take on Arrival‘s tone. I’m not sure why this film needed action scenes at all but hey we get to see our not-soldiers fire guns and be afraid of monsters. Having one of the team turn into a violent paranoid maniac also felt as out of place as, well, that stupid subplot about the conspiracy nut army dude in Arrival. I’m not exactly sure why it had to go this way when in this part itself it has sane Shimmer-related ways to eliminate the team without resorting to monsters. There’s just so little effort given to make us feel for these characters but the film suffers from having to find action-y ways to kill them off (I guess guns = better box office, hello infamously gun-y poster for Inception). We as an audience know that only Lena makes it out alive (it’s the opening 2 minutes!) so our investment here is minimal at best.

That’s really the common aspect in all aspects of Annihilation: head before heart. Annihilation is a cold film if there ever was one. The only colder science fiction movie I’ve seen in recent years was Under The Skin. There is no real soul, only thought. Lena tells us of the beauty in The Shimmer, but that only ever manifests itself fleetingly. The characters and world are distant; the questions are at the forefront. This is not necessarily a bad thing as far more films but heart before head and end up far worse for it. The only reason this is frustrating is we’ve seen Garland achieve the balance in Ex Machina, but in Annihilation he sways so far in the direction of the thought-provoking that he seems to abandon any attempt to get us to invest in even anyone – even Lena.

This slight negative doesn’t outweigh the absolutely vexing experience that is sitting through Annihilation. It’s next to impossible to turn your eyes away from the screen. It’s the rare movie that commands your complete attention while watching it, and probably for the next few hours or even days later. If Annihilation gets its hooks in you even a little you’re probably going to end up watching it several times.

It’s painful to say that immortality was within reach for Annihilation, but small miscues hold it back. No matter the case, Annihilation is perhaps one of the finest pure science fiction movies of the modern era, and one that demands multiple viewings to even remotely grasp fully. While I’d argue that Alex Garland’s previous effort in Ex Machina is a better film overall, Annihilation is perhaps the one that will remain stuck in my head for a longer time. Through brilliant direction and solid performances Annihilation manages to make its surreal and perplexing vision one that will likely be reflected on for years to come.

4 out of 5

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A Quiet Place Review: Sublime Silence

There’s a lot that can be said about a film that famously says very little.

A Quiet Place is a tense monster horror movie directed by John Krasinski (mostly known from acting in the American version of The Office, though recently Jack Ryan too) who stars in it alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt (My Little Pony: The Movie, Gnomeo & Juliet….okay, seriously, Edge Of Tomorrow, Sicario, The Girl On The Train). Krasinski and Blunt star as father Lee and mother Evelyn who protect their children after some sort of invincible blind monster that hunts by sound has wiped out seemingly most of humanity. It’s pretty much just that for about 90 minutes of clenching your butt knowing that the slightest sound could spell their demise. It’s a premise that has been done somewhat before with films like The Descent, but never on with this production value and style.

It’s a simple story that works fantastically well for the short run time. No real attempt is given to expand on what we see outside a collage of newspaper headlines, as all we really are meant to care about is this family. It’s refreshing to have such a small focus in what on paper would be a global film.

Also, this is a legitimate horror movie that is PG-13 that never feels like it would have been made better by more gore.

Performances are across the board great – with lots of emotion conveyed through facial movements. Even though Blunt is the one that gets her face on the poster it’s really pretty evenly split among the few characters we follow, though Blunt is the standout of the four. Also, as an aside, is there a reason so many Emily Blunt performances have pregnancy/motherhood being a plot point (Looper, Into The Woods, The Girl On The Train, Huntsman: Winter’s War)? Millicent Simmonds and Noah Lupe as Regan and Marcus are good, though I felt more time should have been spent on their own arcs as they aren’t really that well developed. Part of this I assume is by design as we’re meant to connect to them in the situation rather than it being a plot movie.

A brilliant step in the casting of this film was having one of the children – their eldest daughter Regan – be deaf. Not only does it explain how the family knows sign language, but it also hints at how they were able to survive so long alone after it seems everyone else is killed off. Of course it also leads to some rather tense encounters with the creature as the audience knows that Regan cannot tell if she’s making a sound, or if something is standing just behind her. Heck, a large part of the family’s drama comes from the fact that Lee keeps trying and failing to repair Regan’s hearing aide, which seems odd considering they are in a world where sound is death. The only downside of this is anyone from a mile away can see how this will play out in the end of the film, but it’s still fun seeing her get there.

There’s an overall theme of silence in A Quiet Place in almost every aspect of the film. We know very little about the monsters that are hunting out family; with almost all the background information coming from a board of newspaper headlines in Lee’s workshop. The characters communicate using sign language, and even then it is something they seem to avoid doing most of the time. The soundtrack is barely there and only really pops in during the later half of the film when shit hits the fan – letting us truly get into the mindset that silence is safe, and sound is dangerous. It’s a film that’s honestly hard to describe the viewing experience of with words; it’s most about connecting to the world.

The creature design is also something I wish to praise because honestly it’s kind of brilliant. Basically imagine the creatures from The Descent, but armor plated killing machines that are kind of like a compact demonic Cloverfield monster. These things look terrifying and are pretty much developed to hit on any number of natural human fears, though at times the CGI does look a tad cartoonish. We know very little about them other than that they hunt by sound, are invulnerable and are so prolific that no where seems to be safe. There’s lots we are left to just guess at such as the origin of the monsters or what they are doing before hearing a sound. They are just that omnipresent danger our heroic parents have to guide their children safely around. A cunning metaphor if ever there was one.

While I love the film I do think it does have its few faults. The one that is so glaring that it almost ruins the film for me is that it’s a film that is far better the less you think about it. The basic logic makes sense here: a family trying to survive under the constant threat of unstoppable monsters seemingly one soft sound away from killing them all. Where the problem comes in is in the small details, such as how the creatures that hunt by sound seem to be very inconsistent on what triggers them: a few sounds early in the film don’t trigger them, but a similar sound deep in the house later equals the start of the last half of the film. Sadly it’s one of those films where once the mystery is gone it does lose some of its luster. This leads to a lot of questioning why most events happen in the film outside of plot convenience – albeit in the sake of being amazing. I’ll fully admit I’m the type of person to over think things, but overall it doesn’t ruin the amazing pacing, camera work, acting, etc. Basically, if you’re the type of person who got upset about some of the details in It Follows you might get upset here.

Even if it isn’t perfect, A Quiet Place is a tight, tense and wonderfully made horror experience that is easily among the best of the genre of the last decade. Whatever few faults it has it more than makes up for in style. Great performances and excellent production help elevate A Quiet Place above its peers in the monster horror genre to attain a level of quality that has rarely been seen in major studio releases for a long time. Simply put: if you like horror films you need to see A Quiet Place if only to experience its uniqueness.

4 out of 5

From Worst To Best: Resident Evil film series — abandon hope, all ye who enter here

The Resident Evil film series was such a shambling mess of terrible cinema that somehow continued on for 15 years before finally being put out of its misery with one last shot to the head. Well, that is until the eventual reboot a few years from now that is “more faithful” and might actually replicate the games that sold millions of copies.

The misery in question is that since about the third movie the writer/sometimes-director Paul W.S. Anderson [Director of one cult film (Event Horizon) and a lot of bad films (Death Race (2008), Pompeii, Mortal Kombat, The Three Musketeers, etc)] has clearly had zero idea where to take it. The first two films seemed to take inspiration from the games…the next four…um…no. Films 3, 4, and 5 all set up the start of the next film in the series, which then is either resolved or completely disregarded within minutes in favor of a formula so tired that by the last film they didn’t even bother naming most of the characters. So rather than following the games where our heroes keep trying to stop an outbreak and/or stop Umbrella, the films just jumped straight into 28 Days Later apocalypse in Extinction with Umbrella still around for some reason that doesn’t really get explained until a massive retcon in The Final Chapter. My only guess here is that the games in question kept switching out main characters with each sequel, whereas this film series relies on a singular star.

The one true constant in the series is our lead hero Alice, played by Mila Jovovich – an amnesiac security guard turned into a superhuman savior of all mankind. Doing something not completely unheard of in video game adaptations Anderson decided to create an original character in Alice and then surround her with game characters – which means he could do whatever the hell he wanted with his toy. She starts off as some sort of generic horror survivor character with a mysterious past who then gets super powers which are then taken away…kind of. See, because Anderson married Jovovich after meeting on the first film even the “normal” Alice is still superhuman and awesome, to the point where she can to Matrix-style wire fu moves and survive injuries that a second earlier easily killed one of her many, many dead “friends” she runs into. To be fair by the time the series gets into wire fu the zombies have changed from slow shambling undead to running, brawling monsters. It’s at this point the series just abandoned all notion of being a horror series and just went straight into martial arts action mixed in with explosions – usually with Alice kicking someone in slow motion. In the second film she states that the superpowers granted to her make her “barely feel human” which you can believe because somewhere after that she becomes a lady who is desperately trying to pull off a badass performance but just comes across like a dollar store version of the Sarah Connor from Terminator.

If you were looking for a recent Mary Sue styled action hero Alice might be the most egregious from film 2 on. She’s so unstoppable and perfect that the only times she ever needs help is when she requires someone to point her in the right direction where she can continue to be unstoppable. She constantly wins fights against superpowered enemies and comes out with minimal damage even when she is a “normal” human. All other characters bow to her awesomeness, and the only time in the series another character doesn’t bow (Jill in Apocalypse) Alice has to constantly one-up them at every turn. When Alice gets knocked out by a giant monster in Afterlife and Claire gets to have an action scene you’d think they finally fixed this but no – Alice wakes up and has to remind Claire how to duck under things, and then finishes off the monster for her. While she starts as a security guard with some combat skills by the time the later films role around she can not only pinpoint shoot people with short range weapons hundreds of feet away, she also somehow picks up the ability to fly planes, hack computers, and understand sign-language (a deleted scene in Retribution says this was part of “basic training” which appears to be a retcon because they decided to cast a deaf actress in the film as Alice’s not-child clone). In fact the only superpower that Alice doesn’t have is the ability to look like she knows how to properly hold a gun…seriously have a drink every time she dual wields guns and they are both pointed in different directions. This universe is totally focused on Alice being awesome – with the entire plot of films 2-6 being about Umbrella finding/using/stopping Alice – at the detriment of making any other characters remotely competent.

Outside of Alice there are exactly three usually returning characters of note who end up returning even if it makes no sense. The most used would be Ali Larter as in-name-only Claire Redfield who despite the zombie apocalypse has perfect makeup in every shot and Alice keeps running into for no good reason. Then we have Shawn Roberts as a scenery chewing Albert Wesker who is always a delight and the best part of this series in my opinion. Finally there’s the Red Queen who changes so many times throughout the series it’s hard to keep track of other than her “you’re all going to die down here” catchphrase which gets crowbared into the later films. A few characters from 1 and 2 show up in 5 as a “reunion” movie but that’s just clone shenanigans and a marketing stunt.

Other than a few setting changes the general outline of 2-6 is: Alice starts alone, Alice runs into some new “friends” who she ends up saving/getting killed, Alice goes to try to stop the evil Umbrella’s weekly post-doomsday plan, Alice succeeds and then sequel baits. The sequel picks up around where previous film ended, though characters Alice was literally standing beside could mysteriously vanish (sorry Chris, Claire, and K-Mart, and the entirety of Retribution’s climax). A couple of video game characters show up just to get the game fans excited but are otherwise just there for marketing – Leon, Chris, Barry, Ada Wong, etc. Oh also expect that the subtitles are pretty meaningless…other than The Final Chapter assuming it is the final chapter.

If you are going to go into the Resident Evil film series with the intention of sitting through all six of these travesties you need to be able to deal with the quirks of the series. The main thing you have to deal with is the awful storytelling at the level of borderline incompetence to piece together a compelling plot, but also the series willing disregard for its own established continuity. The “master plan” of Umbrella changes every film, though Alice being the key to it never does. For you see, Alice is the bestest and most important thing ever. Alice is only awesome because Anderson keeps envisioning scenes where she triumphs because Alice.

The other thing you need to love is quick cut editing combined with really badly done slow motion action scenes. I’m not talking bad action scenes – I’m talking fight scenes that seem like were performed at a slower speed as the actors weren’t capable of doing them faster, and then the film is sped up or slowed down to hide it. A hell of a lot of the action of the action of the later films just looks wrong, with the Wesker vs Chris/Claire scenes in Afterlife standing out as the worst. Anderson has this really disgusting love of mixing normal and slow motion in action scenes for no good reason outside of probably thinking it looks cool. Then the normal speed actions scenes are edited with such a frantic pace that each cut lasts about a second at most and it’s difficult to tell which one of Alice’s bestest friends gets killed 5 minutes after meeting her. If the camera holds for more than 3 seconds it’s a miracle. Each movie usually gets at least one decent action scene, but overall it’s your normal mix of guns and punching. The films after the first are radically different than the games’ emphasis on resource management and mostly shooting, so fans of the games’ style definitely won’t be super enthusiastic about this change to what would honestly come out of a bad superhero movie.

The Resident Evil films really cannot be viewed without knowing their badness if you wish to get through them. You have to meet them on their terms if you wish to get any enjoyment out of them. If you were a fan of the games and wanted to see your favorite characters on the big screen then you better prepare for sadness. If you wanted a bad zombie action film series that alternates between insulting and insane then you’re in for a treat.

I’ve seen all the Resident Evil films multiple times for some absurd reason. It’s a sick fascination. Part of me is just intrigued by how awful these films are in terms of integrating the video game lore, and part of me just loves how badly these films even follow their own continuity. It’s one thing to change stuff from the video game, it’s an entirely different thing to see a writer ignore his own previous work for no adequately explained reason. I’m not talking about a retcon or two, I’m talking making changes that directly contradict previous films. It’s amazing to think that the people who stuck around for so many years know this film series better than the people who made it.

It’s hard to rank this series because honestly none of them are good. This is a series that ranges from serviceable popcorn to frustrating. While I usually go out of order for a ranking, instead here I’ll go sequential and end with a ranking because I feel like I need to analyze this series as it was presented. Would I have done this if The Final Chapter wasn’t the clusterfuck that it was? Nope, but I need to establish continuity.

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Resident Evil

Our hero Alice wakes up in a mansion without her memory (and without clothes…an odd trait of the first 3 films) and is quickly captured by an Umbrella team of armed soldiers. She’s told she and her “husband” are security agents guarding the entrance to The Hive – Umbrella’s secret underground research lab. It turns out a few hours ago the T-Virus got out and now our crew of horror movie waiting-to-die-heroes have to go in and find out what happened as apparently Umbrella never thought to have remote surveillance. The team goes in and finds that The Hive’s artificial intelligence super computer thing called the Red Queen has went “homicidal” and killed everyone…the only problem is…they didn’t stay dead (…sorry). Yay slow moving zombie horde action! So our team must then fight their way out before the doors seal forever to prevent the infection spreading. We learn that Alice was secretly betraying Umbrella once she learned what they were up to, while her fake husband Spence released the T-Virus to cover his thieving shit to sell on the black market. Alice then slowly regains her memory, remembers she’s a fricken ninja or something, and all her buddies minus one dude end up dead. Alice and her friend get captured by Umbrella who then say they want to reopen The Hive to see what went on…many sequels followed.

Of the Resident Evil films this is by far the most horror-genre flick and the least martial arts filled of them. When watching the series as a whole it stands out as just not fitting in. In a way that hurts it but it is also the only one seems to mimic the source material in any serious way. The games at the point of this films’ release were mostly about solo survival with limited supplies, and the film tries to replicate the feeling of being trapped and racing against a ticking clock. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but it’s far superior to outright changing shit like in Doom (genetic mutation instead of demons), or just being outright terrible like…about 95% of all video game films. Everything that came afterwards is pretty much straight action but with zombies and “horrifying” creatures, but Resident Evil is firmly a horror movie.

The action is pretty standard stuff and literally the only two things anyone ever remembers about this movie are the laser hallway and Alice spin kicking a zombie dog. There’s a lot of people shooting zombies in the chest as they never learn. A lot of our heroes randomly coming into a large group of zombies that somehow sneak up on them even though they are never silent. It all builds up to a climax that never really gets exciting in any way with the big bad monster of the film being defeated by falling through a trap door. At least the sequels went over the top insane in some of their action sequences and final fights. As an action film Resident Evil fails badly.

Mila Jovovich as Alice is also at her best here. Unlike later films where she tries to badass her way through hordes of zombies it isn’t a guarantee that she was going to make it through this. Had the series not gone into weird superpower action this version of Alice might have made the series remotely compelling. It’s nice to feel like our hero is at risk, and Jovovich is pretty convincing at being just frail enough to not be able to solo her way out of it.

The rest of the cast however is pretty much all there to die. Seriously, like midway through the movie all the nameless characters die in the span of 10 minutes, with the rest just waiting it out until the end. Michelle Rodriguez as Rain does her stereotypical Michelle Rodriguez role – with an odd running joke being that she keeps getting bit by zombies. Overall it’s an extremely bland mix of characters that have zero personality aside from the Red Queen who at least is memorable in the “evil little girl” category of stock horror characters.

Resident Evil is an unremarkable film in a series of bad films…which oddly makes it one of the better ones.

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Resident Evil: Apocalypse

So Umbrella was a moron and reopened The Hive, the T-Virus undead got out into Raccoon City and all hell is breaking loose. Alice gets purposefully infected with the T-Virus via an injection of science which has “bonded with her cells” or something and basically gave her superhuman strength, speed, endurance, and also somehow psychic powers. Alice bands together with a group of survivors made up of “waiting to die” and named game characters like Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliveira as she ends up being hunted by Nemesis – the super mutated infected survivor dude from the first film who is basically a walking tank. They make a bargain with Dr. Charles Ashford – the man who made the T-Virus to stop a genetic condition from crippling his daughter – and rescue Angela Ashford (who looks like the Red Queen) in exchange for a ride out of the city. The group escapes, Raccoon City gets nuked, and oh no it turns out that Umbrella can somehow track/control Alice via vaguely explained satellite technology.

This film gets shit on a lot because it has a terrible plot and paper thin characters, but it is also the most B-Movie of the series. It’s also the most oddly funny for some reason (which does create tonal whiplash). A lot of the actors are hamming it up…or are just bad actors – it’s honestly hard to tell. This is the last time Alice is remotely human and at times looks like a teenager trying to do what she thinks badass people do (motorcycle leap into a church, lit cigarette flick to start an explosion, backwards kicking a zombie in the head). The film also moves at a breakneck speed for some reason with very little time to catch your breath. There’s just this odd feeling to the whole thing.

Also by virtue of its barebones plot there are not a lot of continuity or plot issues that almost make films 4-6 a drinking game. In fact there are only two ones that immediately pop into my mind. First we have long dead corpses from a cemetery popping out and attacking Alice and crew…which is not something the T-Virus can do but whatever. The second is the hilarious scene where Jill Valentine bursts into a police station that for some reason has a lot of zombies under arrest, opens fire, and somehow knows to shoot them in the head. Those two things are dumb as hell but this is just a big B-Movie so it feels okay.

Apocalypse is also the last of the films to even remotely attempt to cover the plot of the games. It does a decent job at covering the Raccoon City Incident, though the shift in focus to the character of Alice does leave pretty much all the supporting characters in a state of “wait for Alice to do stuff” rather be a part of the plot. Seriously you could write out all of Alice’s group and get to the exact same place at the end with nothing lost.

There’s not really much in this film that stands out above it’s peers in the zombie apocalypse genre aside from the emphasis on melee combat. Alice running down the side of the building is a cool scene albeit completely done for trailers. The church fight versus the lickers is tense until Alice comes in to over-the-top badass her way to victory. Nemesis looks impressive but I spent most of my time questioning exactly how much the dude in the suit was sweating as he struggled to move. You’ll probably remember that you saw it, but have very little idea how to describe what happens in it.

I’ll never say Apocalypse is a good film, but it is highly watchable. It’s a film you never really have to pay attention to in order to follow it because what little plot there is isn’t hard to understand. It’s pretty much nonstop action in some form or another for its rather short length. It won’t piss you off like the later films, but it also won’t really make you feel good either. It’s good at what it does, but that isn’t much.

Be warned though, from here on the series gets infuriating if you can follow continuity at all.

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Resident Evil: Extinction

It’s a few years after Raccoon City and the T-Virus has spread over the world and decimated all life…and somehow caused lakes and oceans to dry up (mostly ignored in later films). Alice wanders alone through a desolate landscape searching for a safe place and through investigation gets pointed to Alaska. Meanwhile some of Alice’s Raccoon City buddies have teamed up and formed a convoy of survivors headed by Claire Redfield (who has literally nothing to do with her game counterpart) who travel the desert looking for hope and wouldn’t you know it Alice runs into them. But wait, Dr. Alexander Isaacs of Umbrella is tracking Alice and hopes to use her to perfect/cure the T-Virus or something. Some action scenes happen with the now fast-moving zombies, Carlos dies, and Alice and a horribly mutated T-Virus infected Isaacs (looking like a Tyrant from the games) duke it out with bad CGI. Alice’s buddies Claire and K-Mart (a teenage girl survivor that for some reason we are supposed to care about) escape towards Alaska and Alice swears to hunt down Umbrella’s chairman Albert Wesker with the help of her “friends” AKA a clone army.

Aside from the first Resident Evil, this is the only one with a plot that makes remote sense. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is bad and Umbrella’s motivations (like always) are beyond insane for what seems to be a doomsday corporation, but in terms of being a structured movie that one can understand Extinction is perhaps the best of the series. Later films would then retcon pretty much everything in this film but it stands as the pinnacle of the sequels…if that means anything at all.

This is also the start of “action badass Alice” where all Mila Jovovich does is go emotionless and try to pull off the occasional one-liner. Jovovich just doesn’t exude the toughness that is required for this role but for some reason they stuck with that for 4 movies. The side characters don’t really get a time to shine compared to Alice, but they also get to be in action scenes and don’t always require Alice to save them. Iain Glenn as Isaacs is a decent mad scientist villain for Alice to fight, though his Tyrant phase is terrible.

What makes Extinction stand out is that there are very few films like it. Desert set films are rare as hell these days, and combining it with a survival zombie movie really works well. There’s way more memorable scenes in this film than pretty much any other in the series, and it’s the only Resident Evil film that even attempts to make us give a rat’s ass about the side characters. Sure it makes zero sense to be a Resident Evil film, but at least it has something going for it.

I’d be hard pressed to say that Extinction is a well made movie, but it is perhaps the most competent Resident Evil has been. There isn’t as much tonal whiplash as Apocalypse, and there is less to get annoyed at as the films that followed it. It’s honestly the only film in the franchise that is identifiable from just looking at a single frame of it as the setting does really help set this apart from everything else around it. The action scenes – while not over-the-top – are well done and feature a few memorable moments such as the bird scene. Extinction just seems to work as a sequel that takes an interesting direction – even if the writing fails it. The strength of Extinction lies in the fact that it feels like a complete story…which is a unique thing in this series.

In terms of plot annoyances and such this one isn’t too bad at being, um, bad. As I stated most of what happens in this film gets destroyed in later ones, so it gets worse in retrospect. So here I go:

  • How did the T-Virus destroy lakes and trees? How did it turn the Earth to dust in a few years?
  • Why did Isaacs let Alice escape in Apocalypse only to desperately want her back now?
  • Why clone Alice so she can run a death gauntlet? Does the T-Virus give Alice the ability to detect hidden traps?
  • Why does L.J. (comic relief from Apocalypse) decide to hide his zombie bite? He seemed like a good dude but decides to risk the lives of everyone, including his girlfriend. At that point he didn’t know that Umbrella had a nearby base
  • Domesticating zombies…because of course
  • So now you made super zombies that can run and seem to have the Rage virus? Oh right, 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake made running zombies cool
  • In a funny note, how does a shipping crate that was clearly empty contain what looks like at least 50 super zombies? Is it a clown car?
  • Why is only Alaska safe? Why not the Yukon or Sweden? Oh right, AMERICA!

– – – – – – – – –

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Alice uses her clone army to attack Wesker’s base but oh no Wesker has all the powers Alice does “only better” and injects her with de-powering science and kills all her clones in the first 15 minutes! Now Alice is just your normal, everyday, zero power super ninja that can survive a high speed fiery planecrash into a mountain. A few months later Alice goes to “Arcadia, Alaska” and finds nothing except a “brainwashed” Claire who now has plot-amnesia! They fly back down the coast to L.A. and team up with some new survivors in a prison who say Arcadia is actually this oil tanker conveniently just off the coast. Following up with Alice’s run of absurd luck it turns out Claire’s brother Chris Redfield is locked up in a cage in the prison! So as the now Majini undead break into the prison (…seriously, how did that show up?) with an Executioner undead (what?!?!), the named characters break out and get to Arcadia. But…oh no Arcadia is actually a trap set by Wesker to capture survivors and experiment on them…for some reason! Alice “kills” Wesker and then Umbrella shows up to sequel bait including an evil blonde Jill Valentine!

Welcome to the first of the “we have no idea what we’re doing” films. Extinction at least could be believed to be a sequel to Apocalypse, whereas Afterlife just feels unnecessary and doesn’t move the plot forward much. Afterlife is just a mid-season episode of a show like Supernatural where you know there’s a gigantic evil god out there waiting to be fought, but the episode is a “villain of the week” one that lightly touches on what we actually care about.

This film also firmly established the style of the last three Resident Evil films with the “Alice stumbles upon a group of people who die within 6 hours of knowing her” and boy is it funny. Seriously at one point a seemingly nice British aspiring actor lady gets killed and within a minute Alice is cracking a “Niiiiiice” at seeing an armory full of guns. Yay pointless characters to ramp up the body count. At least it’s not pointless Korean/Japanese movie/music stars like in The Final Chapter!

The only good quality of this film is Shawn Roberts as Wesker. This dude knows how to play this character so well that it puts the rest of the cast to shame. He plays Wesker with such a glorious level of B-Movie slimy villain that you can’t help but root for him…if only so he can say more lines. Chris and Claire both suck (can someone at some point mess up Ali Larter’s perfect post-apocalypse makeup that she had for months/years alone in Alaska?) and Mila Jovovich oddly seems to be sleepwalking this role now and in its sequel.

Those who actually wanted an action film will be sorely disappointment with Afterlife. Welcome to the land of slow-mo action scenes for no good reason. Yes it’s impressive to see someone do a backflip in slow-motion – but it’s less impressive to see entire action sequences in it. Sorry, I should amend that. It’s less impressive to see entire action scenes where the “action” is in slow-mo and the 2 seconds between “action” is in regular speed. I do kind of want to forgive this film in particular for it because it was the first 3D Resident Evil and coming hot off the heels of Avatar it did at least “try” to do some stuff in 3D to look cool. The only good action scene is the shower scene of Alice/Claire vs Executioner but it’s also stylized to death and if shot at regular speed would be a quarter the length. The final fight between Alice/Chris/Claire and Wesker is botched in the editing room and it’s difficult to feel like you aren’t watching a badly choreographed dress rehearsal rather than a real fight. Afterlife is just a bad action film, there’s no slow-mo wire-fu dancing around that fact.

Afterlife is just…bad. There’s next to zero redeeming qualities other than Shawn Roberts as Wesker. It fails on almost every level and only made a lot of money at the box office based on the fact it was in 3D when that craze was still a thing. The acting is terrible, the action scenes are boring, and it just fails to move the Resident Evil franchise forward.

And now…a bunch of incredibly wrong shit in Afterlife:

  • Umbrella made a billion Alice clones all infected with the T-Virus in Extinction? Why keep killing them? They all seem as powerful as Alice.
  • Hell, if cloned Alice has access to her T-Virus powers, and Umbrella just imprints memories on their clones (as clarified in Retribution), why not make an army of Alice clones that all have her powers that is loyal to Umbrella?
  • Wait, so Wesker has Alice’s abilities but is fighting the T-Virus for “control”…can they inject the T-Virus in anyone and they’d get Alice’s powers?
  • Alice is back to “human” yet constantly does superhuman stuff (ten foot high leaping spin kicks are soooooo normal)
  • How did an oil tanker get confused as Arcadia, Alaska?
  • Why was Claire just randomly at “Arcadia” with her brainwash bug? Why only her? How did she spend the last few months/years alone?
  • Where the fuck did the Executioner show up from? Next film has an “answer” but doesn’t really explain it here. Also, how does the Executioner sneak up on Alice in the prison showers?
  • Why the fuck are Majini now a thing? Does Paul W.S. Anderson not know they aren’t T-Virus undead in the games?
  • Why does Wesker/Umbrella want to lure people to Arcadia to “experiment” on them?
  • Did Anderson forget that running zombies were only from Isaac’s experimentation? All zombies seem to be able to run and fight now

– – – – – – – – –

Resident Evil: Retribution

Picking up right after Afterlife, Alice gets captured by Umbrella’s army (and Claire/Chris/K-Mart, who were RIGHT BESIDE Alice, mysteriously vanish). Jill interrogates/tortures Alice in order to find out why she “betrayed Umbrella” while Jill is being controlled by the Red Queen, who has somehow taken control of all of Umbrella. Ada Wong comes to break out Alice with the help of the now good-guy Wesker, as she has been taken to some underwater testing facility where Umbrella – years after the vast majority of mankind has been wiped out – is still “testing” to study the T-Virus using CLOOOOONES! See, it turns out that Alice is a clone, Carlos was a clone, Rain was a clone, … pretty much everyone who ever worked for Umbrella was a clone. Alice and Ada fight their way through several testing facilities (aka excuses for action scene sets) as the Red Queen throws a bunch of super undead at them and make their way to the surface with even more buddies who totally won’t die, and a clone deaf girl that Alice has fallen in love with. Jill and a Las Plagas infected Rain clone (WHY ARE LAS PLAGAS NOW HERE?!) fight Alice and as Alice is a god she somehow wins. Alice, Jill, and company are taken to Wesker who gives Alice her powers back to help in “humanity’s last stand” at the White House against an army of undead controlled by the Red Queen. Awesome sequel promise…that never happens.

In some ways this is worse than Afterlife, while in others it is way better. It’s a good debate as to which is more terrible. It’s a choice of whether you like a boring movie that at least has a plot, or a film with some okay action that has zero plot.

While Afterlife had a few moments that had plot in them, Retribution however does nothing at all until the final moments. It’s just an excuse for action scenes with a plot contrivance to get characters that were long dead back into the series. The plot is basically just Alice fighting through sets to get out of a prison and nothing else. If Afterlife was a “villain of the week” episode of Supernatural, Retribution is a tie-in comic prequel that explains how Alice made it from Arcadia to the final scene in this film. Nothing important happens here at all.

This was a film with a lot of marketing about getting Leon, Barry, Ada, and a lot of the previous films’ actors back and it amounts to next-to-nothing. Leon and Barry are just random dudes in the rescue party, Ada is just there to tag along with Alice for a couple of scenes, and all the actors from the first two movies are just part of the goon-squad chasing Alice. Rain for some reason becomes the big-bad-boss at the end…which makes no sense because Alice never really gave much of a rat’s ass about her and it should have been a clone of Spence as that would have had some emotional weight to it. Jill is the only one who gets any decent screen time as for some reason Anderson decided to write that Jill was some sort of good friend to Alice. Also this film could have used far more Wesker.

As much as the setting makes zero sense it at least is an excuse for some fun action scenes. If you just want a series of action scenes in a variety of sets then this will serve you well, though only a couple really stand out. The best by far is the opening assault on Arcadia that is presented in reverse slow motion. The kung-fu stuff does look overly choreographed at times but otherwise it’s a good mix of fisticuffs and guns, but the editing is horrid. The final fight though is such a mess of slow motion movement that what appears to have been a well choreographed fight ends up losing its weight.

I honestly have very little to say about Retribution as it’s barely a film. Retribution is an excuse for action scenes and has barely enough plot to get from point A to point B. It relies on the audience caring about Alice and the returning characters, and does nothing at all to introduce the new characters of Barry, Ada, and Leon. Seriously Ada is introduced in an exposition dump and both Barry and Leon are strictly only recognizable by their outfits. Had the film just been Alice and Ada fight their way through the base’s zombies and evil Jill it might have been better than having so many pointless moments. The film does nothing to advance the plot of the series other than setting up a sequel that would have been amazing if they actually followed through with it.

Retribution is just a generically bad movie. Other than the final moments of this film basically none of it needed to exist, and even then The Final Chapter ignores pretty much everything Retribution did. You can see they are just spinning their wheels until they decided to finally end the series.

And now finally, a long list of stuff wrong in Resident Evil: Retribution

  • No explanation for missing characters of Claire, Chris, and K-Mart. Only one of those explained in next movie
  • Why continue to run a giant facility designed to showcase how good the T-Virus was in a potential bidding war between nations when those nations haven’t existed for years?
  • So after Umbrella wanted Alice to cure the T-Virus, and then for Wesker to eat her, why do they care about “why she betrayed” Umbrella?
  • …is there a reason Alice’s cell comes equipped with Alice-sized latex bondage battle armor?
  • How did the Red Queen somehow take over Umbrella from Wesker? Why does she want to eliminate humanity?
  • Why did Wesker become a good guy?
  • So Umbrella created the Executioner from Afterlife? And then sent it out to attack the prison?
  • Las Plagas undead are a thing now? Alongside the Majini undead? What?
  • If Umbrella was trying to cure the T-Virus in Extinction, why does Umbrella/Red Queen want to destroy the remainder of humanity using an undead army she vaguely controls?
  • If Las Plagas can make Rain into a superpowered invincible beast, why doesn’t Umbrella inject all their clone army with them?
  • Why does Alice fall in love with and desperately want to save a clone child she has known for like 30 minutes? She’s never been maternal in any previous film

– – – – – – – – –

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

After Wesker betrays Alice and friends, a powerless Alice is left alone in Washington as the lone survivor of an action scene we never get to see or have explained to us. The Red Queen contacts her and is now actually a good guy who wants to save the remaining few pockets of humanity before they are killed by Umbrella under the control of Alexander Isaacs (who Alice killed a “clone” of in Extinction, and is the founder of Umbrella…what). The Red Queen actually wants to save mankind but cannot harm Umbrella employees (tell that to the first film, and Retribution where she tries to kill Alice and Ada) so only Alice can save the world. Alice has only a few hours to stop Umbrella from wiping out humanity and setting up the blank slate for Umbrella’s secret underground Arc from remaking the world as they see fit (……..what). Alice makes her way to Racoon City after being captured by a religious clone of Isaacs (…why) and finds Claire who escaped Umbrella’s capture after Afterlife (but…if they wanted to destroy all of humanity…why…nevermind). It turns out Wesker is actually under the command of Isaacs who started the outbreak as he feared humanity would destroy itself so he kickstarted the apocalypse with Umbrella to reshape the world after releasing an airborne antivirus (…………..whaaaaaaaaat). So Alice and Claire break into Umbrella’s Arc which is underneath The Hive from the first film (whaaaa … you get the picture) and have to fight the real Isaacs who is “enhanced” with some sort of computer cyborg stuff. But wait, Alice is actually a clone of Alicia Marcus, the daughter of the dude who made the T-Virus (okay seriously?) to stop Alicia’s premature aging (…but in Apocalypse it was…okay i’ll shut up), and the Red Queen is modeled after Alicia as a child (……uuuuuuuugh). Oh and Alicia Marcus is the co-owner of Umbrella with Isaacs after Isaacs killed Alicia’s dad! Badly done fight scenes followed but an anticlimax ending and Alice finally ends Umbrella. Her reward? Getting the memories of a childhood she never had….how confusing. The End.

Before I jump straight into everything wrong with The Final Chapter I want to warn people to NOT read the Wikia articles on the film series. The Final Chapter retcons so much that most of the articles read like a fan desperately trying to make these blatant retcons make sense (like apparently the Red Queen was torturing Alice in Retribution to find out if she was secretly working with Isaacs, who she already (through a different retcon) helped Alice kill a clone of in Extinction…suuuure). Okay, without further delay…:

  • So now the origin of the virus is changed to Dr. Marcus trying to fix Alicia Marcus’ condition…so let’s ignore Apocalypse
  • Actually he “discovered” the T-Virus, so did Ashford make it and then Marcus find another use for it? Seriously Anderson do you even remember your own movies?
  • So now the Red Queen is based on child Alicia Marcus…so let’s ignore Apocalypse again (yes I know it was never explicitly stated in Apocalypse, they just extremely heavily hinted at it in every way imaginable)
  • So now the Red Queen actually “values human life”…odd that she attempted to kill Alice, Ada, Leon’s crew, etc in Retribution. Or everyone from the first movie. Oh let’s not forget slaughtering the no-names on Arcadia!
  • Why make the Red Queen good after setting her up as the big bad of the last movie? Did you forget you already had the White Queen from Extinction that could fill this role? (apparently the novel says that the White Queen was just a different avatar of the Red Queen…so the author of THAT had to fix this problem)
  • So the Red Queen can’t harm Umbrella employees…I guess The Hive’s employees must have been subcontracted or something because she killed the shit out of them, and asked Alice (an Umbrella employee) to murder the shit out of Rain (an Umbrella employee)
  • So now Wesker is back to being evil…so let’s ignore Retribution
  • So now Isaacs is the boss of Umbrella…so let’s ignore Extinction, Afterlife, and Retribution
  • So now Wesker doesn’t have powers anymore…so let’s ignore Afterlife and Retribution (yes I know the theory that he didn’t “ingest” fresh DNA so he’s lost his powers, shut up)
  • So now Umbrella released the virus on purpose…so let’s ignore literally the entire plot of the first movie where Spence did it to cover his tracks when he stole it to sell to the highest bidder. Oh and also ignore Apocalypse where they literally nuked Raccoon City to cover up the T-Virus escape and tried to frame it as a hoax, or Extinction where they were trying to cure it
  • So now Alice is just a clone of Alicia…so why did clone Isaacs in Extinction not know this?
  • So the last scene of Retribution didn’t really matter, and I guess Wesker just “tricked” Alice into thinking she got her powers back…for some reason even though it was a surprise to her…
  • So Isaacs is some sort of cyborg with a hyper brain that can predict outcomes…and he forgets to utilize that when his own clone stabs and kills him
  • Speaking of that, how did clone Isaacs kill the real Isaacs with a few stabs? He just shrugged off a grenade
  • We get to see Isaacs doing a weird “I can predict the future” computer simulation where he kills Alice within seconds…yet he spends 10 minutes toying with her and Claire and never attempts to kill the only person that can stop him
  • If Umbrella’s doomsday plan involved a blank slate, and they had the antivirus all along…why literally the entire plot of Extinction
  • Why did Umbrella capture Claire and take her back to The Hive…and something something where’s Chris and/or K-Mart
  • What the flying fuck happened between Retribution and The Final Chapter? Seriously what the fuck happened. I know the novel explains this but the movie sure as hell didn’t
  • Why did the Red Queen not fully trust Alice who has done literally nothing but try to kill/stop Umbrella for the last decade in the film’s continuity. She tried to kill Alice multiple times, but now sees her as the only way to stop Umbrella
  • What is the Red Queen’s plan? Have Alice kill Isaacs/Wesker so she could assume control of Umbrella and recall the Umbrella forces sent to murder the last human settlements and release the airborne antivirus? She says there are 4472 people left which seems like she’s cutting it REALLY close for someone who had this plan since before the first movie if The Final Chapter is to be believed
  • Actually, what was Isaacs’ plan? Start the zombie apocalypse because it will “leave the infrastructure and resources intact” and a few thousand Umbrella folks can ride it out underground? I get that making a plague might be harder to control and the T-Virus was already there, but it seems most of the world’s infrastructure is in shambles.
  • Why did Wesker literally leave the only way into The Hive open? If he just closed those doors earlier Alice wouldn’t be able to get in
  • Why turn Wesker – the big bad guy from the games and the previous films – into a lieutenant who dies in the lamest way imaginable? None of the film or game audience gave a rats ass about Isaacs, and Alice already killed the shit out of the elderly man 3 films ago
  • Why bring Isaacs back at all, and as the head of Umbrella? It means retconning half the movies for someone that had a cameo in Apocalypse, and died a glorious death in Extinction
  • Why add a religious aspect to Umbrella’s doomsday plans? It never popped up before
  • Why have Ali Larter’s Claire be the only returning “good” main character from the series when she was conspicuously absent from Retribution – the “reunion” movie?
  • Finally, why does Umbrella keep letting Alice live? They have like 6 chances to murder her in this film and she’s the only thing standing in their way. Heck, they literally help her to their headquarters.

Okay, now that THAT’S out of the way I can basically say Resident Evil: The Final Chapter fucking sucks. It has badly edited action scenes, it has bad acting (hey pointless Ruby Rose cameo as we tried to make her a “thing” in early 2017), and it goes out of its way to destroy the entire continuity of the film series.

The Final Chapter honestly feels like it was written by someone who only saw the trailers for the series…on mute. I know that’s not the case as Paul W.S. Anderson wrote and directed it! Did he forget his own film series? Did Mila Jovovich not tell her husband that he’s an idiot? It honestly feels more like it was directed and written by someone who hated the previous films and wanted to put their own spin on it. Hell it was confirmed that actors of characters STANDING NEXT TO ALICE in Retribution were never invited back to this film. I know this is not a good film series at all, but seriously fuck Paul W.S. Anderson for screwing over the fans after promising something in Retribution that you clearly had no intent to fulfill.

The only thing I can say that is good about this movie is that it is filmed well. Continuing the theme of reviving elements of Extinction it seems to take a page from that film’s production and creates a rather stylish look to it. The action scenes aren’t too amazing but they at least are shot better than Afterlife or Retribution, but sadly edited to those films’ standards. Scenes that should be awesome are very hard to follow and you find yourself having to pause the film to do a headcount to see who died. If Anderson could learn to hold on a shot for more than 1 second the fights could have been great. There’s this odd over-the-top quality to a lot of the fights here which at least makes them a tad more memorable than most of what this series has produced, with very little generic gunfights. Almost everything else here is inferior to any decent action flick, but at least they did something remotely right.

For what is the final movie in the series Anderson does a piss poor job at getting his actors to perform. Sadly this film relegates Shawn Roberts’ Wesker to basically 4th billing, so his scenes are minimal and thus the one enjoyable thing is gone. Iain Glenn as Isaacs doesn’t really come across as chewing scenery, but more like pretending to, and went from mad scientist to religious egomaniac. Jovovich is passable as Alice this time (Afterlife and Retribution have numbed me) but is astoundingly bad as Alicia to the point where this dual role is more comedic than dramatic. Ali Larter is Ali Larter…that’s about all I can say. Beyond that we have Ruby Rose as “we were contractually obligated to put her in this movie” and a couple of famous Japanese and Korean actor/models who get about 3 minutes of screentime but, like other things in this series, “we were contractually obligated to put them here” because for some reason these films were big draws in Southeast Asia. Again, Anderson had access to a much larger (and better) list of potential actors/characters to bring back for this film and decided to instead go completely random.

If I was doing this film I’d have actually followed up on Retribution. I’d have had the big fight in the beginning with only Alice, Jill, and Wesker surviving (maybe even Ada and Leon too). The three then make their way to The Hive to shut down the Red Queen once and for all, and you could even have that whole Arc plot if you wanted to. Throw in some more random survivors or something – maybe Chris and Claire have an anti-zombie group. The three make it down there with Jill’s former police creds letting them get access to arms or something. They shut down the Red Queen and attempt to get the White Queen to replace her to stop Umbrella but Wesker betrays them so he can be King or whatever and we can have the awesome Wesker vs Alice superpower fight we have all wanted. There, I made a better movie. How did Anderson screw this up so badly?

While I admit that Afterlife and Retribution might be worse films on paper, The Final Chapter is the most infuriating by far. It takes what has been built up for over a decade at that point and throws it in the toilet in favor of some barely thought out conclusion that makes no sense. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to follow the logical progression from Retribution, though Anderson seems to have decided that he needed to rewrite the films he himself wrote in order to fit in this lackluster finale. This amount of retconning rarely takes place outside of the world of comic books. Maybe this has to do with the multiple delays due to Jovovich being pregnant and on-set accidents, but that still doesn’t explain why so many actors weren’t invited back and two characters who were written out of the series were. On its own The Final Chapter might be a generic bad film, but when taking into account all the stuff it screws up it transcends its meager status as a bad movie and ascends to the heights of “worst finales ever made”.

– – – – – – – – –

Since I just wrote a billion words on this terrible series, I’ll briefly give my list From Worst To Best: Resident Evil Film Series

6) Resident Evil: Retribution

As bad as Afterlife but more pointless, it has some decent action scenes and wastes less time…even though this film is a waste of time. Only reason Afterlife gets a better spot is because Wesker. 1 out of 5

5) Resident Evil: Afterlife

It’s just boring. For what enjoyment I got out of Shawn Roberts’ Wesker it’s not worth it to sit through the middle of this movie. If you could just watch the opening 15 minutes and the closing 20 do that. 1 out of 5

4) Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

It’s the worst sequel of the series, but is at least nicer to look at and is far more creative in creature design and action scene staging. Otherwise it just pisses off fans. 1.5 out of 5

3) Resident Evil: Apocalypse

It’s a B-Movie action that you don’t have to think hard about. I can watch it without getting too upset at it. 2 out of 5

2) Resident Evil

Generic horror movie with bad acting and action…but at least it tries to replicate the Resident Evil games in some way. 2 out of 5

1) Resident Evil: Extinction

The only film that feels unique in any way. Probably the best made of the bunch. If it was better written it could have been great but is easily the best Resident Evil film if only for the fact there are multiple good things about it. 2.5 out of 5

How I’d Have Done…: Ghostbusters (2016)

Oh yes, I’m going there.

Ghostbusters is a very beloved series – with a nostalgic fanbase who can probably quote the first movie line-for-line, backwards. It was almost a perfect mix of comedy, action, and horror. Very few films have ever achieved this delicate balance – as proved by the inferior sequel.

So three decades later Sony saw that they were sitting on a property that could make money and they handed it to Director/Writer Paul Feig who has made them money in the past. After the death of Harold Raimis and Bill Murray outright refusing to reprise his role Sony just said “fuck it” and opted for a reboot rather than attempt anything to appease fans of the original. The stars of the original films all said that the new one was great and funny…and forgot to mention that they had cameos and/or production credits which likely paid out higher if it was a hit. (As an aside do you folks remember how James Cameron insisted all the Terminator films after his two were good films until he got hold of the franchise again and decided to make his own film that completely ignores them?)The results…um…yeah…

I feel obligated to get into the controversy but I’ll not go deep.

The idea of an all-female Ghostbusters isn’t a bad one, but Paul Feig and the entire production handled it terribly. An all-female Ghostbusters is not some kind of triumph for women’s rights, gender equality, or feminism – it’s a stunt designed to capitalize on a market (movie studios don’t spend $150million solely for the sake of diversity, they spend it because they think it will $400million back). As well, Paul Feig seems to be way more interested in directing women (more specifically, Melissa McCarthy) so hiring him to helm this motion picture would lead to this. Being combative at the original films’ rabid fanbase at complaining that the reboot would ignore the original was a boneheaded move – just look at how Marvel somewhat mishandled launching their female Thor a few years prior. “Little girls deserve their own Ghostbusters” could be true, but it shouldn’t require attacking the fans that kept this franchise alive for its three decades off the big screen. The sexist morons who hate women and seemed to think having a vagina meant you couldn’t lift a proton pack deserved to be ridiculed, but the people who were “for” the film opted to lump anyone who didn’t give high grades in with the misogynists. Special points for trying to shame Richard Roeper – one of the most well known and respected voices in film criticism for decades – for his review when the film wasn’t even out yet! To be fair, a lot of this online outrage at the “outrage” was lead by websites that are made to generate clicks by publishing whatever will draw the most controversy.

There was a lot of noise around Ghostbusters (2016), and it seemed no one was interested in stopping the shouting on either side. Ghostbusters (2016) just happened to be a convenient long-lasting target for sexist morons who like to complain about anything women related, and then those who tried to defend the movie only ended up making those morons louder. Among some groups it for some absurd reason became a “feminist ally” badge if you went to see it and then gloated on Twitter about sticking it to the haters. It got so insane that South Park even made fun of it’s defenders in an extended multi-episode joke about Cartman becoming a feminist shouting that “women are smart and funny” to get a girlfriend!

My take on the whole thing after seeing the film: meh. It’s a lot of fuss over a bad movie trying to simultaneously draw inspiration and distance itself from a much much better movie. It’s another in a long line of films that never needed to exist, and I kind of side with the (sane) people who said that this reboot never needed to happen. There will always be people who get outraged at everything under the sun, and Ghostbusters (2016) managed to hit several rough spots during a very “us vs them” era in America. If the movie was good it might have changed minds and been what its overzealous defenders hoped it could be, but sadly it’s just another very flawed action-comedy.

Ghostbusters (2016) is a mess of a movie that tones down the horror aspects to embrace this weird-neon mess of PG-13 humor that would be easily forgotten had it not had the Ghostbusters name. The jokes tend to fall flat or are based on being “random” (McKinnon especially) and are catered towards teenagers, which is a sadly normal trait of American comedy these days. The action is forgettable and Paul Feig doesn’t seem to know how to direct an action scene to illicit any sort of reaction. The cast is bland-to-annoying, with special marks to the beyond scenery chewing acting of Kate McKinnon who I’ve never liked beyond a 5 minute SNL sketch. Atrocious CGI and a convoluted plot don’t help matters. The lone bright spots are Kristen Wiig who knows how to play this role and Chris Hemsworth embracing his “himbo” with a disarming smile. Ghostbusters (2016) is a bad movie, but on its own it isn’t bad enough to get angry at – it just sort of exists and can easily be forgotten alongside countless other reboots like Robocop, Total Recall, Point Break, etc. I watched the film with a beer in hand to get through the painful parts where they had to endlessly retell parts of the original, but I was mostly laughing at the lack of originality. Had this movie not had the Ghostbusters name it would probably have just came-and-went like a lot of action-comedies do these days (Spy, Central Intelligence, The Nice Guys, etc).

The frustrating thing is it shouldn’t be this difficult to make a new Ghostbusters movie. Even without the original actors involved there was a way to respect what they did while starting something new. Sony’s brazen attempt to ignore what started this franchise to begin with was both insulting and only helped fuel the fire that would eventually lead to Ghostbusters (2016) staying in the negative headlines for the entirety of production.

So, here’s how I would have made Ghostbusters (2016)

1) It’s a sequel, idiots

Simply put: don’t reboot something that doesn’t need a reboot. There is absolutely no reason to reboot this series as there are multiple ways to expand the universe that was already set up. All a reboot will do is piss people off. Stuff like Ghostbusters, Men In Black, and Star Wars don’t need to be retold for a “new” series to start off. It’s not like Ghostbusters was some long forgotten franchise…it’s probably in the Top 20 recognizable films of modern American cinema.

In my mind reboots are only needed under three circumstances: 1) original actors are way too old or dead to reprise the roles but you want to tell some untold story with those characters (Star Trek (2009)), 2) the original is so old/niche/forgotten that it doesn’t make sense in any way to continue it (Battlestar Galactica tv series, the perpetually in development Highlander reboot) or, 3) you ran the original into the ground and need a new start (every non-Hellraiser horror series though Hellraiser desperately needs a reboot, Highlander again as I forgot they made 6 sequels)

2) Bring back who you can

Beyond those who are dead you can try to being back whoever you can for minor/supporting roles, akin to what Star Wars did for their new trilogy, or what Star Trek (2009) did to jam home the message that they didn’t just erase decades of history. Make a bunch of new characters that can exist beside and learn from the original ones. I’m sure a few of the surviving cast would have accepted a good sized cheque for a 10 minute cameo – maybe even a much larger cheque to get Han Solo’d.

3) Plot respects the original while allowing expansion

Set the film around 30 years later with the original team having long retired and given their post to a new generation of Ghostbusters. Don’t ignore what came before, but find a way to honor it. Treat it like a Star Trek: Generations moment, where the old crew finally hands over the reigns to a new generation. Give our characters who we have loved for decades the sendoff they deserve.

4) Don’t fuck with the fans and fan the flames of hate

I can’t believe I have to say this but do not try to paint diehard fans that kept the series alive for three decades as the enemy. The people who spent the majority of their lives dressing up as Ghostbusters at conventions are those you should be trying to make happy – calling them misogynists for legitimate concerns isn’t the best move. A lot of the time it’s just better to ignore the hate rather than let it create months worth of news headlines. Hell, there were big people who refused to see Ghostbusters (2016) just to avoid having to deal with those on either side yelling about it – which caused people to yell at them for not seeing it…can you see the problem here?!

THE PLOT

Set 30 years after Ghostbusters 2, the Ghostbusters are now a branch of the local emergency departments on a state/county level, though the best-of-the-best are a part of a national ghostbusting team that get called in for major events. Ghost related incidents have been relatively mundane since the last film, with the occasional “big” incident but nothing world-ending. Most activity is centered on large cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, while smaller places get the odd supernatural disturbance.

The team is made up of a mixture of ages/races/sexes/whatever, base characters on who you can get. I know the previous films had 4 main characters, but I’d say 4-6 is the right mix here. For the sake of comedy you can have the overly proud (possibly alcoholic) squad captain, the near-retirement dude, the techie inventor, the overeager rookie, the “person who might secretly be a serial killer” way too serious guy, or whoever else works with the actors involved. Don’t force actors out of their comfort zone. If you cast Benedict Wong you don’t take him out of his awesome seriously but funny place. If you cast Emily Blunt you let her be comedic Emily Blunt. You hire Kristen Wiig to be Kristen Wiig (like you did here), not to be a ghostbusting Rambo…although for a single scene that might be hilarious.

We follow a team from a smaller/boring area (let’s say Montana) that spend most of their time on their butts or having to deal with mundane ghosts that are more of an annoyance than a threat like Big City ones. The state government can’t afford to keep their equipment up to date given their usage so they need to use generations-old tech (maybe throw in some props from the first movie) or whatever they can piece together. They are seen as a thing of jokes in the community as their most common tasks include catching ghost cows and having to take taxis as their car keeps breaking down.

The annual Ghostbusters technology convention where all the tech manufacturing companies unveil their latest gadgets (ghost catching drones, ghost eliminating pulse rifles, etc) is happening in New York City and our Montana team is sent as the state’s representatives (or they won a contest, doesn’t matter). One of these companies employs someone, who while doing research into a ghost-magnet, accidentally utilizes the same power as an ancient demon who can manipulate/control the energy of other ghosts to enhance her own power – let’s call her Bertha. He/She gets possessed/controlled by Bertha. Bertha figures out a way to utilize the magnet to direct all energy trapped within towards her. While at the convention showing off the new tech in a room filled with Ghostbusters the machine gets activated (supercharged by hacking into NYC’s power grid) and Bertha absorbs the power of all the ghosts in New York City as well as the energy of the state-of-the-art equipment in the room, which includes the suppliers of most of the tech in America. Bertha is immune to modern ghostbusting weapons as she absorbed a large amount of it’s energy and uses her powers to warp reality and turn Manhattan into some sort of nightmare playground that will envelop the world, while trapping all the convention guests.

But…wouldn’t you know…the Montana crew’s car broke down in New Jersey! They are the closest and only team of Ghostbusters who can stop Bertha before she becomes too powerful and covers the world in madness. The team work their way through NYC, perhaps with a pitstop at a Ghostbusters museum for supplies.

The Montana crew manage to weaken Bertha by overloading the magnet which causes Bertha to return to her normal (but still powerful) form – releasing most of the ghosts. Just as Bertha is about to kill the Montana crew with her (now much smaller) army of ghosts the trapped Ghostbusters burst in with all sorts of modern tech and distract Bertha’s forces long enough for Montana crew to finally stop/trap Bertha. The Montana crew is heralded as heroes for saving the world, and finally gets the respect they deserve despite their humble origins, and are invited to the National Ghostbusters Force.

– – – –

There, I just made a relatively safe movie that opens the door to either a direct sequel or setting up a themed Ghostbusters in another location such as Chicago or Dallas, while maintaining the original continuity and respecting those that came before. A lot would depend on who you cast in the roles. Ideally you have mostly comedic actors but also a couple that could get laughs due to their straight/intense performance. It also can’t just be a lot of jokes about farts/gross things or endless jokes that seem like they were improvised by an actor who was given free reign to be as weird as possible (seriously, I hate that Kate McKinnon performance with a passion). Save those over-the-top performances for supporting actors…not the main stars.

In the modern era of movie franchises Ghostbusters could easily be made into a multi-picture, multi-medium entertainment empire…it’s just sad that Sony screwed it up so badly at the start.

Baywatch (2017) Review: Get Out Of The Water!

In keeping with the tradition of modern cinema by turning a TV show from a few decades ago into a movie which no one asked for that no one will remember a year after it was released we have…Baywatch (2017). Yes I’m talking about it more than a year after it was released but don’t blame me for Netflix only recently getting it and me finally being bored enough to see it.

The lasting appeal of the original Baywatch TV series was always in its cheese. It was gratuitous and charming at the same time. The soundtrack, the overuse of slow motion, the Hoff…it was all there to enjoy. You’ve also got to remember that the series was on TV before the advent of internet porn being a thing so those desperate people looking for “material” were well served by Baywatch. The series existed at the perfect time and as it was constructed decades ago would not work now. It was a corny thing and is enjoyed in retrospect by those that grew up with it and not likely anyone young who is of the modern era.

The new film however…

Baywatch (2017) (directed by Seth Gordon of Horrible Bosses and Identity Crisis fame) is a borderline-detective-action-comedy film following the exploits of the “legendary” Baywatch lifeguard team, led by Dwayne Johnson as Mitch Buchannon (the Hoff’s role). They try to uncover the source of illegal drugs showing up on the beach, followed by what appears to be a high profile murder being covered up by a rich-as-hell businesswoman played by Priyanka Chopra. Along the way they have to deal with new recruits to the team including Zac Efron as a fallen-from-grace Olympic swimmer and Alexandra Daddario as NOT Johnson’s miscast daughter this time (screw San Andreas in this regard). What follows is a sequence of “this isn’t your jurisdiction” moments, a few water-based action scenes, some undercover detective work, and very little actual aquatic rescues. Two hours later and you’ll wish you opted to watch the TV show instead.

Baywatch (2017) is perhaps one of the most painfully unfunny “big” comedy movies of the last decade, and one that I honestly must question if this film was rewritten midway through filming to make it a comedy. During its two hour length there were perhaps a couple of times I gave a smirk but I’d wager about 95% of the jokes were met with a “…sure.” While having charming actors who can deliver solid jokes and perform well in action scenes, pretty much all aspects of the film fall flat. At times the film plays its crime procedural aspects straight, while at other times jumps into self-parody, and then at other times just resorts to jokes about dicks. It sometimes feels like they performed scenes multiple ways and decided which cut was used based on audience feedback which was most likely 17 year olds. Almost all of the comedy is that of what was probably them shooting the joke about a dozen times with some vague improv but it never lands. I’ve learned over the years that any film that has outtakes over the credits is usually not one that was written well to begin with. It’s just painful to get to.

One thing I’ll never understand is the change in making this an R-rated comedy versus the show’s over-the-top but “safe” nature which would have made a raunchy PG-13 and could have had fun with it. Sure you likely wouldn’t show the Baywatch TV show to your grandmother but it wasn’t this juvenile. Baywatch (2017)‘s main claim to its R-rating – besides the drugs – is an absurd amount of dick humor. Do you think a dude getting his erect penis stuck between the boards of a wooden deck chair after receiving the Heimleich maneuver from the girl he has a crush on (this version’s Pamela Anderson) for what seems like an eternity is funny? Well good for you because you are the target audience here! Too bad you’re under the age of who would be allowed to see this film without parental supervision, but at least you have your crappy comedy film to call your own. While there are a few “look at this bikini” styled shots in the film the vast majority of the R-rated stuff here is related to people either looking at or touching a penis. It borders on the absurd when you see Dwayne Johnson ask Zac Efron to lift a corpse’s scrotum to check for a needle puncture wound…and then fucking taking a photo. I’m not against male nudity in films by any means (hell Shame is one of my favorite films of all time), but here it’s just a punchline rather than anything remotely to do with the plot. Heck the vast majority of the objectification is done to Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, as the film forgets about most of the female actors other than Alexandra Daddario for the entirety of the second act. If you desperately wanted an R-rating then by all means do it but given it’s Baywatch make it a bunch of naked boobs and butts, maybe even through in a few dicks. Make a part of the movie that the Baywatch team has to go undercover at a nudist beach! There, I improved your movie. To put it bluntly: Baywatch (2017) was made for an audience that was not legally allowed to see this film as no adult outside the most absurd “dude-bro” stereotype would find its R-rated stuff funny.

While I usually don’t bother to talk about it I have to honestly say this is perhaps the worst CGI done in a film with this budget I have seen in at least 20 years. I’m talking CGI that would make Sharknado look like an Oscar contender for visual effects. TV shows from the 90s had far superior effects. The fire effects during the boat rescue honestly look like they took stock fire effects from any cheap animating software and dragged them into the shot in a minute. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just found fire GIFs online and put them into the movie. Was it impossible to set up some real fires to at least make your own footage of rather than rely on stuff that seems to have come out of a Nintendo 64? The green screen work is so obvious that it makes one question why it was impossible for this crew to film actors on a stationary boat. The backgrounds for the green screen shots don’t even appear to be scaled properly for the shots they are in. I know the budget wasn’t gigantic, but why was so much of this BEACH MOVIE filmed on a soundstage?! Piranha 3D looks like a more realistic production than this! There’s no good reason I can think of for these choices given the quality of the end product. No matter what supposed time/cost savings there is no excuse for what they produced given that films that were in this exact same budget range or much cheaper look vastly superior.

Not helping matters is this film is almost two hours long and might feel longer. There is a reason the majority of comedy films are usually 90 to 100 minutes in length, and Baywatch (2017) ignores it by leaving nothing on the cutting room floor. Edgar Wright can get away with longer runtimes as he packs his films with good jokes and they move quickly – in this film it’s the opposite. A staggering number of the jokes are ones that bank on the fact that they last forever and the drawn out nature will somehow lead to more laughs. I’m sorry, but seeing a dude stand around naked in a shower when other people wear their swimsuits for what feels like an eternity is not funnier than if it lasted 30 seconds. There are entire segments of this film that you could chop out easily and maybe not even alter a single line of dialogue.

The lone good thing I will say is the cast is really well put together. Sure I wouldn’t have had that stereotypical Jon Bass as “sort of out of shape dude who falls for super hot chick” but otherwise it’s mostly spot-on. It’s a shame they didn’t give the cast a better script to work with. In fact the only cast member I can say I honestly didn’t like was Priyanka Chopra as the villain. That was mostly because, as reported on, it was originally a male role and the late rewriting didn’t seem to work well for her scene chewing performance – especially as her vaguely feminist/screw-you-dad motivations misaligned with her all-male crew of minions. These actors clearly believe in the product they are making, it’s just somewhere along the way the production around them fails to match that same effort. This is overall a really funny group of individuals who look the part of a modern interpretation of Baywatch but are let down by the script and direction.

Baywatch (2017) is an overlong ride of unfunny dick jokes and missed opportunities. There could have been a good movie in here had they actually figured out what the hell they wanted to be, but this muddled vision fails to deliver in pretty much any way. A good cast cannot save what should have been a campy, scantily clad action-comedy romp from being just another crude and insulting modern reinterpretation of a nostalgic TV series. Maybe one day Hollywood will stop making these unwanted films, but I guess it’s easier to milk their older properties than come up with new ideas.

1.5 out of 5

mother! Review: Artistry In Madness

At the end of viewing mother! I was left with two thoughts:

1) this is either a masterpiece or madness

2) how many times can Jennifer Lawrence say “get out of my house”

I am honestly a tad lost for how to explain my feelings towards mother!

It’s a film that has a plot that itself is almost impossible to accurately describe or even fully comprehend.

The nearest I can tell the story follows Jennifer Lawrence – a young pretty lady married to an older poet played by Javier Bardem – as she’s dealing with fixing her house and living a nice life while trying to help Bardem with his writer’s block. Someone randomly shows up who is a fan of the poet’s work and Bardem becomes enamored with him. Then his wife shows up, then kids, then something close to the population of Denmark. All the while weirder and weirder things keep happening, and Lawrence tries to maintain order while Bardem becomes more and more worshipped by the masses. This is when the film just goes off the rails in the last act and it’s hard to describe what the plot even devolves into. To sum it up: what started as a psychological film ends up as some reinterpretation of…something.

I’ll fully admit that this is a filmmakers’ film and one that should never have been confused for a mass market horror movie. Darren Aronofsky must be praised for going so deep into his artistic vision that doesn’t appear to compromise itself in any way. While I don’t quite think it is as great as a lot of people do I can at least praise Aronofsky for going all the way and not leaving anything on the table. It’s next to impossible to see mother! and not be stuck thinking about it for days.

With such a heady and thought provoking story I want to give serious condemnation for the way Paramount advertised this film. If you watched the official trailers for mother! you saw it was presented as a psychological horror film with Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer as some sort of evil couple that comes into Lawrence and Bardem’s lives and somehow brainwashes Bardem into a cult-like thing. I know why Paramount did it as it was a $30million production, had very big names, and Aronofsky produced a film that there was no way in hell would recoup its cost if advertised accurately. It’s like if Disney marketed Avengers: Infinity War as a family comedy because it had some jokes in it. What we had here is a film that has nearly infinite interpretations and touches on a lot of hot-button topics. Nothing draws up a storm in the press like religious and environmental themes. The consequences were dire as the word-of-mouth from the deception was vicious, with even reviews that praised the film telling people to stay away if they wanted a horror movie…sort of like what I am doing. Arronofsky’s previous mindfuck of a film Black Swan at least had a shot at the box office with being honest in advertising, while mother! was screwed over by lying to an audience that was not expecting anything close to what they got.

mother! has a particularly otherworldly quality to it that few films have ever been able to pull off, and one that could easily piss off people not expecting this almost art-house piece. Through his direction and creative camera work, Aronofsky is able to transport us to a world we can understand in how it appears to be like our own, but something is just off about it. As we get deeper into the film there are so many questions being raised about the nature of this world as conveyed simply by the house we spend the entirety of the movie in. It’s one of the few films where you can literally be midway through the film and then realize what you thought you understood minutes ago was in fact something else. It’s like reading a new science fiction crime mystery book and realizing it’s a reinterpretation of Moby Dick midway through. The only other recent film I can think of off the top of my head to so deeply go into this sense of uneasiness around what looks normal would be The Lobster, but mother!’s delves far more into the psychological side of things. It’s hard to describe in words the way one experiences mother! but I can only say it’s more about how you absorb it rather than how you see it.

With this comes my first and most glaring annoyance with mother! and it’s one that I can’t work around: it’s plot is almost incomprehensible. What starts as a borderline psychological horror film about Lawrence being the sole voice of sanity in a house that is delving deeper and deeper into madness eventually turns into some sort of biblical allegory where the laws of space and time do not seem to apply. For a film that seemed to be grounded in a creepy reality to jump into making the house a literal war zone and having a sex slavery gang with caged women pop up out of nowhere just is too much. The last act of this film can be described as “Lawrence stumbles around the house and sees things that just instantly happen in the span of seconds.” I understand that they are jumping around to convey what is essentially a cliffnotes version of several competing allusions, but it’s akin to ending E.T. with an alien invasion in terms of taking you out of the narrative. Are these brilliant biblical themes? I don’t know. Are they even actually biblical themes or are they actually about environmental issues? Who knows?! At times it feels like Aronofsky leaps between allusions just for the sake of confusing the audience and making himself look more brilliant to the art house crowd. The second you think you got a grip on what is going on it leaps instead to what almost feels like a different movie. What I do know is that I felt like the film’s climax was far too rushed and borderline cartoonish at times and felt disconnected from the hour that came before it regardless of what your interpretation of the events are. While it’s certainly an interesting experience, it is often frustrating in its vagueness and lack of connection to itself.

Here is where I raise the ire of countless people: I loved the performances other than Jennifer Lawrence. Yes I know Jennifer Lawrence is basically God to some people (funny considering this film…) but I’ve always preferred several of her peers in most cases, and this is one of them. In my personal opinion Bardem and Pfeiffer are far better casting choices than Lawrence. Lawrence seems stuck between two people who tower above her with how much they command the screen. Maybe that was the point with Lawrence’s vaguely mother nature character being trod upon so easily by these giants, but this nurturing role is just not one I think she was strongly suited for. I find Lawrence can excel when performing a character who may or may not be mentally disturbed like Silver Lining Playbook (depression and maybe BPD, though I found her annoying at times) and in The Hunger Games (PTSD, BPD, maybe sociopath) rather than ones where she’s supposed to be squeaky-clean good. I’m not sure who I would have cast here to maintain the mid-20s look they were going for, but someone who is more like Emily Blunt who can be both fragile and brutally powerful might have been better. Bardem however shines as he goes from mildly frustrated poet suffering writers block to a man who’s slowly buying into his own worship, at times evoking terror just by being silent. Pfeiffer is almost at peak Pfeiffer-ness here and gets dangerously close to chewing the scenery but dials it back just enough to give a dynamic and menacing performance. While the performances are very strong, I just feel like Lawrence was perhaps not the right choice for this role, especially when sharing the screen with such overpowering forces as Pfeiffer and Bardem.

Even though the performances are overall great, the same cannot be said about the script, especially for the second half of the film. While it is suitable for the vagueness of what the film is truly about to repeat the same lines of dialogue over and over, it does not lend itself to being able to connect to the characters. If you took a shot every time Lawrence tells people it is her house and to get out you’d end up in the hospital. Again, a lot of this becomes readily apparent about an hour in when the movie starts to become unhinged. All of this leads to characters we don’t really have the ability to know or connect with. It leaves us with characters who have maybe a couple of character traits that are repeated ad-nauseam. The script leaves mother! a tad difficult to make it through without raising more questions, which was perhaps the point as this repetition and lack of exposition do make it a question as to what the film is even about.

On a related note if you are to enjoy mother! you have to be willing to accept some of its more pretentious qualities. The most glaring one is that none of the characters are named at all, and in the credits are just listed as characters such as mother, oldest son, maiden, and cupbearer. The other primary pretentious part is there are a lot of major things in this film that never are explained at all. Lawrence’s character suffers some sort of pain/health thing that is cured by a mystery yellow powder that is never explained (although for some reason being pregnant cures her of this for a time). Bardem covets this weird glowing glass thing that is never explained. Bardem’s “poetry” that is apparently so powerful to move people to worship him is never read. None of this is world-shattering, but I can see why it might have pissed off a casual moviegoer. There’s just this overpowering sense that Aronofsky is being obtuse for the sake of it and to make himself seem more brilliant a storyteller.

There is a lot to like about mother! but also a lot to get annoyed at. To some it will be a masterpiece of artistic film making, to others it will be nothing but a pretentious work of a director indulging in his own ego. The fact that it is so divisive sadly leaves it in that same category as recent divisive films such as Spring Breakers and Cloud Atlas: those that love it love it to death and those that hate it consider it one of the worst films ever made. The marketing didn’t help the cause as anyone that wanted a horror movie should steer clear, as while there are some horrifying imagery it is no where close to a true horror film. I’m of the opinion that mother! was about 30 minutes from greatness before Aronofsky’s unabated vision took over and derailed the film into a level of absurd madness that has rarely been seen (for good reasons). Madness isn’t bad by itself, but while the film slowly got more and more irrational for the first two acts, the final act goes so far and quickly off the deep end that it becomes outlandish. While I appreciate Aronofsky’s absurdity, it’s hard to tell if he’s presenting something sincere or just being obtuse for the sake of it.

There are many ways to read mother! as anything from a biblical or environmental allegory, to one of hero worship and the struggle to achieve artistic vision, and its depth is fascinating to experience. Equal parts art and ego, few films have done what is displayed here and been anywhere near as successful in fulfilling a vision, though whether that is a good or bad thing is up to debate. I have no idea what the “correct” interpretation of mother! is, but I am sure that Aronofsky told the story exactly as he intended.

3 out of 5

Alien: Covenant, And The Need To Not Sabotage Your Production

When will movie studios learn to stop trying to please everyone?

This is the sad story of Alien: Covenant. A sequel to the Alien prequel film Prometheus which explored the nature of the “space jockey” race briefly seen in director Ridley Scott’s classic film, now referred to as Engineers as they apparently created humans. Prometheus was relatively well received by critics, but had garnered a rather loud “this film sucks” contingent from fans of the original Alien films. Scott was done with his classic Xenomorphs, but the fans didn’t really like that at all.

Thus, the sequel to Prometheus which was long in development was changed to include the classic beasts from Alien, while still maintaining its status as Prometheus part 2.

All of this lead to a predictable result: the “true fans” again hated it for mostly the same reasons as Prometheus. Among the many criticisms levied at the film were complaints it being too philosophical, not scary enough, having dumb characters, and your standard “plot makes no sense” complaint that honestly most films deserve these days.

You’d think after almost three decades of “true fans” of the Alien series hating everything that came out after Alien and Aliens that Fox would have learned to not try to appease them.

Is Alien: Covenant great? No, but I think it’s still good.

The story is that of the colony ship Covenant – with a crew primarily made up of married couples – that picks out a signal in deep space that leads them to the planet that David and Shaw ended up in after the events of Prometheus. The crew investigate, run into trouble of the bursting variety, and are seemingly rescued by David who has been marooned here for a decade. As anyone who knows anything about horror films will likely figure out – all is not as it seems. A lot of people die, the title character shows up in its black and double-mouthed glory, and our not-Ripley gets to do some badass stuff.

The main selling point of the film to me is the dual-roles of Michael Fassbender who steals every scene he is in. I praise the idea of having Fassbender play two androids who are vastly different than each other and have Fassbender play off himself in scenes. Seeing the overly poetic and philosophical David interact with the far more subdued and helpful Walter is something to behold. For as many jokes that have been made about it, I can watch the “fingering” scene all day. While it wasn’t obvious in Prometheus, in Alien: Covenant it makes it clear that this prequel series is more about David, AI, and the power of creation than it is about the Engineers or Xenomorphs.

Seeing as this is an Alien film we of course need our Ripley replacement – here played by Katherine Waterston as Daniels, a female terraformer who’s husband (the captain of the Covenant) dies in an accident before arriving at the planet and has no idea what she’s going to do now that her reason for being on the ship is gone. Waterston gives Daniels a far more vulnerable characterization in the first half of the film – a woman who is grasping for purpose after a tragic loss – which is something new to the Alien series which often lacked emotional depth outside of Ripley’s “everyone I knew is dead” parts in Aliens. When shit starts to hit the fan and her crew starts dwindling she just suddenly flips the switch to Aliens-Ripley and goes full badass. Seriously this woman’s first reaction to seeing a Xenomorph is to grab a gun and fight it alone, and then when she loses her gun she asks for a fucking axe! While Fassbender is the star of this show, Waterston provides a good “human” face to root for, even with her rather sudden switch from weak to Rambo.

The rest of the cast is, um, there? The lone person who gets any development would be Billy Crudup as the religious Oram who struggles taking the mantle of Captain as he doubts his crew trusts him due to his faith. After Crudup and Danny McBride as a pilot named Tennessee the rest of the cast is mostly there to die, but at least some of them get enough screen time that we might remember their names. Bonus points for the film having a gay couple and not making a big deal out of it (I’m looking at you Power Rangers and Star Trek Beyond…). It’s a horror film, it’s an Alien film, so this formula is expected.

No matter what you can still enjoy the production quality here. The film is shot rather well, as is a trademark of Ridley Scott productions. The visual effects are generally great for a mid-budget film, and kudos for actually building elaborate sets when called for. The creature design is suitably frightening, especially the slightly modified Xenomporph which has longer limbs, is skinless, and acts more like a rabid dog.

As to the complaints about the characters/plot being dumb…it’s a horror film, what do you expect? If horror characters were smart the vast majority of the horror film genre wouldn’t exist. I think my favorite complaint would be that in reality the crew would have sent down probes and only went to the planet with full protective suits – which of course assumes that the space ship that is capable of scanning a planet a vast distance away somehow doesn’t have really kickass scanning technology built in for close range analysis. I’ll remind you that in Aliens that the marines didn’t leave a single person on the Sulaco in case shit went bad in what they knew could be a combat situation, and had to be reminded by a civilian that firing explosive guns under a nuclear reactor wasn’t a good idea. Basically, I find the stupidity levels in Alien: Covenant to be within acceptable standards of the Alien series – and at least we didn’t have a geologist cartographer forgetting how to read his own maps like in Prometheus. A thing that must also be remembered is at least for some of the characters they are seeing their loved ones die so a level of irrationality can be accepted. While I certainly would have liked the characters to be a tad smarter, I’m not going to vastly downgrade the film for being a horror film and using the tropes of the genre, as if all characters were always smart then most horror films would never exist.

The main struggle I have with Alien: Covenant is I don’t think it knows what it wants to be. For the first part of the movie it presents itself as more of an Alien movie, with the crew getting into trouble and facing an alien threat. Then in the second part it goes full philosophical with questions such as how a “superior” creation relates to its “inferior” creator to mirror some of the stuff in Prometheus, with an absolute emphasis on David’s views of humanity and his ability to create. Finally the last part just goes directly into Aliens with it being a straight action movie with a couple of moments of horror spliced in. When I see this I read it as the second part was what Prometheus 2 was going to be, and the other parts were what was bolted on to make it an Alien film. This muddled plot structure seems to be the main cause of the third act twists feeling forced, which overall weakens the film but doesn’t render it unwatchable.

I will say that if you were looking for an answer to the questions raised in Prometheus then I’m sorry you will be very disappointed. They never answer who the Engineers really are, why they created mankind, why they wanted to destroy mankind, what the black goo actually was meant for, whether the they created the Xenomorph (that mural on the wall hints at something), or even stuff like why they “invited” mankind to find them. I’ll assume the original version of Prometheus 2 would have at least tried to answer some of these, but in the switch to Alien: Covenant it seems like it was lost. So next time Fox/Scott, can you not listen to the people who get pissed off when every answer isn’t spoon-fed to the audience?

In terms of being a horror film I am a terrible judge at that. While I love horror films I just don’t get frightened watching them. Seriously the only thing I get shocked by is the odd jump scare but that’s more annoying than scary. Alien: Covenant is definitely more of a horror film than Prometheus, though it doesn’t feature any scene remotely as awesome as the med-pod scene. It’s probably on par with Aliens in the horror aspect: a few scary scenes but mostly an action film. There are far more gore moments featured here, so if you’re a fan of seeing people torn apart then this film might be for you.

In only the mildest of spoilers I’ll say the most refreshing thing about Alien: Covenant is the absolute lack of shits it gives about Weyland-Yutani. Sure the ship is made by Weyland-Yutani but unlike every other Alien film the plot always had something to do with the machinations of that evil mega-corporation (although Resurrection instead had a vague military trying to weaponize the Xenomoprhs). There’s no “we need to save Earth and/or stop this from falling into the wrong hands” plot or subplot, it’s just a straight “we need to survive” film, which is oddly a first for this series.

While it’s basically confirmed that there will be a third Alien prequel film I can only hope that this time Fox lets Ridley Scott make the film he wants to make, and hopefully without 5 years between films again. Should the story truly remain the tale of David I think it can work out well.

Alien: Covenant might not rise to the heights of the first two entries in the series, but it’s still a worthy addition to the franchise. Most of Alien: Covenant‘s faults can be attributed to a long and troubled production that seemed to try to cater to the backlash against Prometheus while ignoring the people who actually made that film a box office hit. There’s a good Aliens and Prometheus film here, but sadly mixing the two together has created a diluted product that never seems to settle on what it is. Fassbender’s stellar performances aside, there’s just not much to claim this is a must-see film if you aren’t a hardcore fan of the series. For those who don’t mind a bit of a muddled plot and just want some new Alien-styled horror, Alien: Covenant should fit the bill.

Rating: 3 out of 5