“Based on a video game.” Are there five words more reviled in the realm of cinema? Only two such films have topped 60% among Rotten Tomatoes critics while 11 of them have hit the 10% mark or lower. Not one has cracked the half-billion hallmark at the global box office. So few unlocked achievements, so many respawns. Oftentimes, the only thing less fun than watching someone else play video games is watching someone else make a video game movie. This month, we’ll find out if the latest Mortal Kombat film is boss level or a misfire along the lines of Leeroy Jenkins. In the meantime, Game On looks at some of the more interesting, inspiring or, yes, insufferable video-game movies. Good, bad, average. It’s all about the experience points.
Afterlife will always be my favorite Resident Evil movie. Its box office performance implies perhaps the same for a number of Resident Evil fans, but it doesn’t hold a space in my favorites for any reason within the movie.
Afterlife comes with a fresh set of downs, as only Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter respectively reprise their roles as Alice and Claire. The clean slate seems to help where Extinction felt bogged down, as Alice and Claire find a group of survivors in an L.A. prison and the haunting spectre of the colony ship Arcadia within view, giving the entire cast a singular aim: How do you get out from the middle of an undead horde to a place that was broadcasting hopes of salvation mere days ago?
The Chris and Claire Redfield subplot doesn’t detract from this primary focal point while giving fans of the video game some nice nostalgia, and Kim Coates is easy to hate as Bennett, an entitled movie producer with a penchant for self-preservation who actually affects the rest of the cast because of his actions. Boris Kodjoe as Luther West is a more than suitable replacement for Oded Fehr’s Carlos Olivera and capably plays the role of Alice’s handsome right-hand. The only misstep is the introduction of the Axeman, based off the Executioner Majini from the Resident Evil 5 video game, and whose introduction demands the audience suspend disbelief in a video-game sort of way instead of a movie-watching sort of way.
I’ve always enjoyed the trope of the Promised Land in dystopias. From 1984 to Zombieland to Bird Box, there’s some goal, location or idea that the characters have heard about and are driven to pursue. Whatever form it takes, it is a panacea for the ailments of the time. It is free from worry and from danger. It is a return to normalcy. It promises stability.
Whether or not this goal is real is almost immaterial. When it is actualized, we get the typical happy ending, and it is true that false promises, when executed well, deliver devastating gut punches in the most rewarding way. I enjoy the trope so much, though, because it is most used when characters are faced with utter hopelessness. The Promised Land is a symbol of humanity’s capacity for hope.
It’s a recurring theme in the Resident Evil franchise. The “good guys” are never going to be victorious against the self-sufficient, well-funded, ultra-equipped Umbrella Corporation. But they can score their victories. The contemptuous saying may be that they have won the battle but lost the war, but there’s this paradoxical nature to humanity where showing up to even Pyrrhic victories has meaning and importance.
Maybe that’s what building relationships is — seeking friendships and romances in a culture that’s riddled with confusion and Umbrella Corporations. To keep showing up. To keep building.
Afterlife is my favorite Resident Evil movie because it was the first date I had with my long-term partner. I made Oreo pie afterwards and some sort of chicken-and-rice dish of which only a college student could be proud. We bonded over a mutual love of Milla, and Mandi shared with me Jovovich’s music. Later, we’d share our admiration for Darren Aronofsky and see Black Swan over my birthday weekend.
When I was younger, it was easy to associate new and fresh relationships with broadcasts from the Arcadia, promising a spot where there was nothing but good things. It would have been easy for my twentysomething self to extract Alice’s line from the first minutes of the film, when Wesker injects her with the anti-virus, and apply it to a burgeoning love: “Thank you for making me human again.”
Eleven years later, I can say that once you arrive on that metaphorical ship, you actually find two more Resident Evil movies and a whole lot of growth in unexpected places. The temptation, as we seek these Arcadias, is to think they exist already. All we need to do is discover them and plug ourselves in. Afterlife, surprisingly enough for some movie based on a zombie video game, provides an unexpected object lesson. When Alice and the crew arrive on the Arcadia, they decide to turn it into what they thought it would be. They make it into that place of safety that had been offered to them.
Looking for Arcadia is a task filled with hope. Hope in the face of disaster is a wonderful thing to have. It doesn’t ask us for anything but to keep going. Creating Arcadia, on the other hand, is an empowering accomplishment. In the case of Alice and our other heroes, it is one immediately fraught with conflict as a swarm of Umbrella helicopters descends.
Luckily, for the rest of us, we’re only asked to be the sort of people with whom others want to build Arcadia.