OK, let's just put it out there. Resident Evil: Extinction is a zombie movie. I know, I know, fans of the genre will argue vehemently that zombie movies need to adhere to The Rules. You know The Rules. Zombies move slowly. Zombies are incoherent; they lack understanding. Zombies can only be killed by destroying the brain or burning the body altogether. Never mind that 28 Days Later and its immensely popular sequel, 28 Weeks Later, had zombies who could run. Heck, they weren't even dead. It was still a zombie movie, people! Get over it! Regaining composure now. Sorry, it's just a sore point with me.
Resident Evil is unequivocally a zombie movie. The catch, however, is that it's also a science fiction movie, a typical post-apocalyptic last-man-on-earth scenario. Then again, it's also a monster movie, a regular smorgasbord of hellish Jekyll and Hyde transformations. While you're at it, throw in just a touch of Hitchcock too-many-birds-in-one-place-to-be-a-coincidence creepiness.
Well, here's a new zombie movie rule: Hook your audience in the first ten minutes. Both 28 Time Periods Later movies got this right. Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake also did, in spades. Extinction succeeds in this respect. Like its predecessors, Extinction opens with an uneasy, "What's going on here?" feeling that sets the mood (and the pace) for the rest of the movie. I don't want to give it away, but the opening sequence leaves you wondering where you took a wrong turn. It's a gratifying piece of movie making that I'll remember for a while.
Milla Jovovich is back as the Resident Evil franchise's Alice. At the beginning, Alice roams the countryside alone, on the run from that pesky Umbrella Corporation. On her journey, she first encounters a clan of post-apocalyptic, inbred rednecks who prey on the good intentions of others.
Which means it's time for Zombie Movie Rule Number Two: The strength of a good zombie movie relies heavily on how well the movie portrays how real people would react in real situations. Read Robert Kirkman's brilliant Image comics series, The Walking Dead, for a lesson in post-apocalyptic behavior. 28 Days Later's military stoops to unspeakable lows in a world without hope.
In the case of Extinction's inbred rednecks, the end of the world is all about robbery and rape, mixed in with a little gladiator-style entertainment.
In this case, the "real people" are a caravan of survivors led by Claire Redfield, played admirably by Heroes's Ali Larter. Alice joins up with the group, as both their potential savior and their potential curse. Alice is reunited with old friends, who recognize her potential to help them. The inevitable zombie movie road trip ensues, with the caravan encountering various inventive trials, tribulations and gore.
The group's goal: Alaska, which has reportedly remained uninfected. Cue Zombie Movie Rule Number Three (a relatively new one): When road tripping in search of safe haven, tricked-out, zombie fighting vehicles are cool!
Who can ever forget Dawn of the Dead's armored bus, completely with gaps in the armor for more effective chainsaw wielding? Extinction follows suit, with at least one icky zombie ramming scene, nicely vignetted and CGIed.
Much of the action takes place in Las Vegas. The desert has reclaimed the city. All that remains are the tops of its ersatz monuments. Here's the Eiffel Tower. There's the Statue of Liberty. All swallowed up by the sand. Which mean's it's time for Zombie Movie Rule Number Three: "Make sure your movie is symbolic, but keep it simple."
The destruction of the world is played out in miniature in the ruins of Las Vegas. And like the original Dawn of the Dead, this film warns us, and not very subtly, about the dehumanization of the masses by profit mongers. Ironically, the real profit mongers of the film seem to be its producers, who scored the number one slot for the week's releases.
If it's beginning to sound like the movie is a bloated amalgamation of old movie cliches, maybe that's because it is. Whether it's the crow eating a zombie's eye, from 28 Days Later, or the crow attack from The Birds, Extinction steals from more movies than I can count.
Besides the two mentioned above, I caught "homages" to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Alien, Alien Resurrection, Dawn of the Dead and even X-Men United. And while this might be a drawback for any other type of movie, recognizing these stolen scenes didn't really interfere with my enjoying this movie quite a bit.
Evolution doesn't take itself too seriously. It's just fun. When I wasn't cringing at the gore, I was feeling my adrenaline count rise from the action or white knuckling the theater seat waiting for the next zombie to pop up out of nowhere. I didn't need the pretense of watching significant cinema. I was just sitting in a dark theater, waiting for the resurrected dead to scare the bejeezus out of me. And sometimes that's all I need from a movie.