Resident Evil: Extinction is the third film in this zombie franchise, so let’s take a minute to figure out where we’re at. The first Resident Evil was a blast due in part to blind stupid luck, and in greater part an ensemble cast containing, in addition to Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez in her last good performance before becoming that alcoholic from TV’s Lost. The second one fell flat on its ass; Paul W.S. Anderson’s script was a mess and Alexander Witt, the guy they hired to direct it, managed to make it even worse. For Extinction, they’ve brought in helmer Russell Mulcahy who takes another terrible Paul W.S. Anderson screenplay and redeems the franchise by hitting it out of the park.
Like the others in this series, Resident Evil: Extinction is an action movie first, and a zombie movie second. Milla Jovovich’s Alice character could be fighting anything, it doesn’t have to be zombies, that just happens to be what they’ve settled on for this particular set of stories. And that’s fine, since zombies have been done to death and I for one am getting sick of watching them. Resident Evil: Extinction doesn’t need to be a good zombie movie, or even a good horror movie in order to work. It does however need to be fast-paced and fun; thankfully Mulcahy pulls that off admirably.
It’s five years since the last Resident Evil movie, and things have gone badly. The zombie-making virus unleashed in the first movie has since spread across the entire planet, turning the world into a wasteland desert inhabited by mindless, flesh-eating baddies. On the surface, only a few ragtag bands of humans survive. To live they must keep on the move, if they stop the undead flock to them and chow down. Underground, the evil Umbrella corporation still exists. You remember them, the all powerful capitalist monolith which created the zombie virus in the first place and in the past worried more about its profit margins than saving the human race. Now they’ve all retreated to underground bunkers where they create and kill clones of Alice in an attempt to find a cure for that which ails the world, or at least a way to make things better for themselves. After watching her beat the hell out of everything in the first and second movies, they believe Alice is the key, and so they’d love to get their hands on the original.
The original Alice we know and love is one of the few people left living on the surface, and like everyone else she’s on the move. She joins up with a convoy of survivors traveling Road Warrior style, and attempts to help their leader Claire take them to Alaska where rumor has it, the infection hasn’t spread. The movie works surprisingly well early on as a post-apocalyptic survival tale. I’m not kidding with that Road Warrior comparison, there are definitely moments when the film nearly has a sweet Mad Max vibe going for it, or at least a little bit of Thunderdome. Sadly, it doesn’t last and soon those Umbrellla Corporation bastards get in the way, ruining the survivor’s zombie smashing run to the Great White North.
What’s most surprising about Extinction is how tame the franchise has become. The film is rated-R, but only barely. I had to go home and look it up, because it plays like it’s PG-13. Gone is the now trademark Milla Jovovich full-frontal nudity which usually graces these movies. The film is also pretty light on zombie decapitations. Evidently you now only need to slash their throats in order to kill them, presumably because that’s less gruesome than chopping off heads. This would make sense if they were bucking for a PG-13, but the movie is R so you’ve got to wonder why they didn’t take it all the way.
Speaking of taking it all the way, it wouldn’t have hurt to make it longer either. It’s one thing to be fast paced, but it’s another to jump from scene to scene so fast that you’re left with silly coincidences and unbelievable logical gaps. The script is incredibly thin, and there really should be more to it. Pacing isn’t necessarily dictated by running time, and a few more minutes tacked on could have worked wonders for the film’s plot without sacrificing the quick beat Mulcahy sets for it. Extinction is good enough even as it is that I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with it.
Thin or not, Extinction is a fast, well staged action movie with giddy, creative sequences involving things like zombie birds and a genius moment in which Oded Fehr blows everything to hell while toking on a joint. More importantly, Milla still looks great doing her karate moves. Gone is some of the wildly over-the-top, annoying action prevalent in the second film. This time when Milla strikes her superhero pose, you’re cheering for her instead of wondering how the hell she managed to suddenly become Spider-Man. The script is undeniably shoddy, full of wild coincidences and it often seems more concerned with setting things up for yet another sequel than finishing the film at hand. The end in particular suffers from that, the movie’s finale seems like rush to get to the franchise’s next movie rather than a big finish to this one. Still Mulcahy and his cast overcome all of that to delivery an enjoyable experience, back in the twisting, zombie-infested levels of the Resident Evil world.