Resident Evil: Apocalypse
September 12th, 2003
I wasn’t expecting much from “Resident Evil” when I originally saw the 2002 film in theaters. I was pleasantly surprised, though, as I exited the theater: “Evil” was a good popcorn flick. Nothing more, nothing less; It didn't aspire to be anything greater. It didn’t have a message about the evil of consumerism or politics. While many true fans of the videogame series bemoaned the initial installment’s translation to celluloid, particularly in how Paul W.S. Anderson had disregarded the videogames’ plot and instead inserted a protagonist named Alice (Milla Jovovich) to fight the zombie horror, the follow-up “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” integrates a great number of aspects found in the videogame medium that bore it. So why I am so lukewarm on the sequel?
The first page of the screenplay makes it abundantly clear that this film is a more faithful adaptation of the game series, stating that it is “set in the time frame as the third and most popular of the “Resident Evil” videogames. The locations and much of the imagery [are] taken directly [from the game].” Andersen then goes on to name the scenes he borrowed from that game and how each new lead character is tied to the series in some fashion. It seems Andersen is still feeling a bit stung from the many critical barbs he has received from the games’ fanboys in the wake of the first film and wants to appease them that he is at least trying to move closer to the source material.
But does the screenplay work? It does, in total, but I say this with a great deal of reservations, as a great deal of this feels tired in the wake of “28 Days Later.” The near-deserted city streets of Raccoon City feel a great deal like the deserted avenues of Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s London-set film. When the main characters meet, it is in a church, also similar to “Later.” It’s like he took crib notes from that film, which was released in the UK before this draft was submitted. And from a couple of other films as well, just for good measure. Sure, the fast-moving plot zips along and should make for a good film in the end, but there were many points throughout the script that I was rolling my eyes in anticipation of what would happen next.
I was hoping to be dazzled, for Andersen to redeem himself here in the eyes of the fanboys. I don’t think that will happen, as it feels too close to what has come before it in the first film and what was has been seen since— there isn’t anything within the script that is unique. It doesn’t improve upon the first film or is even something all that suspenseful, but just felt like something quickly cobbled together, stuffed in an envelope and then sent to the studio offices for approval. It could have been far better. Nevertheless, I think the script holds up well enough as a sequel to the first film, which isn’t really saying much.
This script review includes major plot points to “Resident Evil: Apocalypse.” Read at your own risk.
The film begins with Alice’s vivid blue eyes snapping open in the Umbrella Corporation research lab. As the opening credits roll, a montage of images is shown from the first film that helps recount what happened there. “I glimpsed hell…saw things I cannot describe…But I survived,” Alice says in a voice-over. And with those words, we find out how Raccoon City itself became infected, as Major Cain, who originally incarcerated the pair and the leader of the Umbrella Corporation’s army, demands that they re-open “The Hive” (where the action of the first film took place) to see what had happened. As one brave sap opens the door, an undead hurtles towards him. Just before the title card is shown, we see the victim’s flashlight fall to the ground, smeared in blood. We are then given a glimpse of Cain running for the exit.
“We thought it was over,” intones Alice solemnly. “We thought we had survived the horror. But we were wrong…The nightmare had only begun.”
Quickly revealed then is what happened between the time when Alice and Matt are separated to the final images of the first film, where Alice walks out of the research lab to find a city in chaos: A convoy of black SUVs enter the city and start to pick up key Umbrella Corporation employees. Each are only told that there has been “an incident.” The two scientists we focus in on, who are wide-eyed at being told this, get into their assigned cars immediately, wearing only their bathrobes. One leaves her house’s doors wide open and the TV playing. A kettle whistle blows unnoticed in the other’s apartment, along with some toast charring nicely on the grill. As Andersen writes, the state of the scientists’ abodes leaves the audience with the feeling that they’re “never coming back there.” It’s like the final panel of Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County” comic strip.
The audience is then introduced to a number of new characters, each mired in their own drama:
At this point, the city is overrun by the undead; those still alive are trying to leave in droves. Valentine and Wells, along with a number of other citydwellers, go to the logical point to leave the city, the Raven’s Gate Bridge. With access now restricted due to a hastily-erected brick wall, Umbrella Corporation doctors are checking each refugee for contamination. When the inevitable commotion begins – started as a father suddenly dies and is reborn as a member of the undead – the Umbrella Corporation seals off the gate and tell the refugees to turn back. When the majority does not, soldiers fire into the crowd.
Retreating back to Raccoon City, Valentine leads a ragtag band of survivors into a church. They will soon find that lurking inside, though, are the gargoyle-like creatures from the games called the lickers, who have strong muscular bodies and claws “capable of digging into stone or tearing into flesh.” It is only when Alice makes her appearance, crashing a bike though a stained-glass window to take out one of the lickers, that they are saved. Alice is a changed character from the first film, imbued with amazing abilities after having undergone the Nemesis program herself while she was knocked out. One new attribute given to her is super strength— she has become a sort of Supergirl, but without the fancy costume. She’s a bit colder now as well, despite admitting at one point that “It’s all about survival. Nothing more…I’ve seen enough people die. I’ve learned to value life, even that of a stranger.” But she has no qualms about pulling a gun on a friend if a member of the undead has bitten them.
The script then reverts back to the formula of the original: A group fighting their way through a maze of the undead, in a setting seemingly unable to be navigated. Dr. Ashford contacts the group of Alice, Valentine and Wells (along with a pesky television reporter intent upon getting an Emmy by filming everything she can in sight) to find his daughter. In doing so, he promises to get them out of Raccoon City if they can accomplish this task. The deal looks especially favorable: In four hours time, the Umbrella Corporation will unleash a nuclear bomb to destroy what remains of the city, all in order to cover up what has been done there and to destroy those infected.
Knowing the hardships that the team of four will face, the good doctor wants to double his chances of getting his daughter back. Ashford contacts Olivera as well, who is still on his own with another survivor of the Umbrella countermeasure force, to perform the same task. As characters drop by the wayside, the two groups combine and then realize that an even greater danger lurks in the form of the Nemesis, a large humanoid beast intent on killing Valentine. After rescuing Ashford’s daughter Angie, who bears a striking resemblance to someone already seen in the first installment and has her own secret, they head toward the final setpiece: the railroad crossing where the exchange of the daughter for a ticket out of hell is to be made. Also, a battle is to take place between the changed central characters from the first film, Alice and Matt, the latter now known only as the Nemesis.
In the end, Alice sets her sights on a new target: The Umbrella Corporation, which she intends to destroy for what they have done to her and those who have been infected.
The strength of this script is the first act, which manages to convey the terror facing the city through a multitude of characters that have yet to band together. But as soon as the first act ends, gone is the good Jeykll persona, leaving only Hyde. And here bad is not good. The second act has a number of weaknesses, which cause the script to fall extremely flat here. As soon as Alice appears (and it’s not the fault of the character, just an easy coincidence) the plot meanders from scene to scene towards the end game, with one supporting character meeting their maker in each like a quota. Moreover, the thrill is gone, as the audience is surely able to distinguish between the leads and those earmarked as cannon fodder for the undead— minus one of the central characters leaving the survivors in the middle of the film a little abruptly. So Andersen’s script a little bit too predictable in a number of ways, and could use a tweak or two to enhance the film’s suspensefulness.
Of the lead characters, it is the Nemesis that shines the most. I probably gave him short shrift above, as he is a central part of the storyline (hence his name in the title). The “impossibly-muscled” creature is described as “having metallic pipes and tubes snake beneath his flesh, almost as if they have grown there. If this was ever a man, that was a long time ago... [yet] these are not the eyes we would expect of a monster.” From the moment the experiment is awakened at the end of the first act, the havoc the beast wrecks on the remaining police force and on Umbrella itself is a delight, especially when he comes armed with a rocket launcher or a rail gun. It might sound “jump-the-shark”-ish as described here, but I am looking forward to seeing the Nemesis realized on screen. This goes double for seeing Alice, Valentine and Carlos perform some of the stunts described here in the script and I hope their characters evolve more fully than what is described in these pages.
Among the areas I see as sore points in the screenplay:
But it is the final page of the screenplay that disburses the greatest pay-off, making it clear that this is only a stepping stone to the third film in the series, entitled “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” (As the screen fades to black, there’s even a title card to be inserted there that shows the second sequel’s title.) A significantly-changed Alice will go onto fight more zombies and the Umbrella Corporation, but the question here is whether the characters Jill Valentine and Carlos Olivera, last seen walking off into the sunset, will be back? And if they aren’t, what will the fans’ reaction be by these videogame players who see them given just one shot with the film franchise while anchoring the videogames?
In the end, though, what is here can be greatly improved—which it hopefully was between the January date listed on the screenplay and the August date when the film started shooting. Director Alexander Witt, in his feature debut, has a lot to work with here, as well as a bunch he can enhance further. It will be interesting to see how fans of the game embrace this film particularly, now that Jill Valentine and Carlos Olivera are in the mix. Unfortunately, I have a feeling they’ll just be as disappointed as I was. “Alien vs. Predator” fans, which Andersen writes and directs next, should take note of this.
My rating: D+
This draft of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” is dated January 2003 and listed as “revised,” indicating this is at least the second draft. Written by Paul W.S. Andersen, filming on the project began last month.