CONTAINS SPOILERS / CONTAINS SPOILERS / CONTAINS SPOILERS
I like my zombie movies. Obviously the greatest zombie movie of all time, and possibly the greatest movie of all time, is George A Romero's Dawn Of The Dead, the Blu of which I have stipulated will be cremated with me while Goblin's L'Albi Dei Morte Viventi plays on a loop. Other notables include Romero's Day Of The Dead, Lucio Fulci's notable trio of City Of The Living Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Beyond, Jon and Howard Ford's Africa-set The Dead, Re-Animator, The Evil Dead, even Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn, and many others. Granted there are some duds: the "remake" of Day Of The Dead, Romero's two most recent entries (Diary and Survival) and Zombie Strippers immediately leap to mind, but there are always going to be duds, and generally I'm a fan of the subgenre at its best.
Paul WS Anderson's ongoing saga, derived from the Capcom videogame series, actually isn't too bad: there's plenty of gore and violence (though sadly a lot of it is CGI) and they tend to look fabulous. Mind you, Anderson didn't exactly endear himself to the FrightFest audience on 27 August 2001 when, bigging up the promo clip from the first film, he announced that it was reimagining the whole zombie idea because the George Romero zombie movies were old and dated and passé (not verbatim, but words to that effect). At the time, that felt a bit like the producer of Midsomer Murders claiming he was reinventing the whodunnit because Tenebrae and Bay Of Blood were a load of old poo.
In the event, 2002's Resident Evil turned out to be a perfectly decent addition to the cinema of the undead: it isn't reimagining the genre but merely giving it a good kick up the backside. Sometime in the future, the Umbrella Corporation is the dominant force on the planet both financially and physically: a position giving them free rein to hire any number of mad scientists to develop viral weapons for them. One of them, the T-virus, is released to contaminate the entirety of The Hive, the corporation's ultra-secret underground laboratory complex; a squad of Umbrella badass commandos (including Michelle Rodriguez and Colin Salmon) and Alice (Milla Jovovich), the amnesiac Head Of Security, are assigned to go down there and find out what happened. But the T-virus is a regeneration serum that has turned The Hive's workforce into flesh-eating zombies....
It is absolute twaddle, but it's entertaining and enjoyable twaddle and has a fabulous final shot showing the fictitious Raccoon City devastated by the victims of the escaped T-Virus. It has the "you may now proceed to Level Three" structure you'd expect of a videogame (though I wouldn't know how close the film plays to the Resident Evil games themselves) and while the film opts for the slow, shuffling and remorseless zombies, the film charges along wasting very little time in character or emotion. The film's basic focus is getting the living people out before the computer system seals The Hive forever, though I must have missed the crucial dialogue where they explain why the computer hasn't already done that. In the end, though, the film and indeed the whole saga is less about logic and plausibility and more about watching Milla Jovovich kicking zombie arse while wearing a red party frock and black leather boots. Because....well, phwoooar.
In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which picks up immediately after the first movie, Milla has sensibly ditched the party dress as unsuitable but has opted for a kind of chain mail vest because, again, phwoooar. The Umbrella Corporation has sealed off the whole of Raccoon City with a vast concrete barrier and has sent in more edible soldiers to try and fail to eliminate the zombie hordes. But Alice and a few other survivors should be able to get out, if  they rescue a schoolgirl,  they take an ill-advised detour through a cemetery in the middle of a zombie epidemic and  they face off against the Umbrella Corporation's latest mutant supersoldier minutes before the city is purged with a nuclear explosion....This one has even less logic but more monsters, including zombie dobermans and a huge increase in Milla's zombie-ass-kicking abilities, yet despite all this it feels less fun than it should.
Mysteriously, despite triggering an apocalypse that has reduced all but a handful of the Earth's entire population into mindlessly shambling zombies, the Umbrella Corporation is still merrily thriving and mad scientist Iain Glen is cheerfully producing clones of Milla Jovovich in order to find out how her blood has managed to bond with the T-virus, despite the fact that it's obviously far too late for that sort of research. Russell Mulcahy's Resident Evil: Extinction is a lunatic combination of Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior), The Birds and any number of spaghetti westerns: Alice has now at least put some proper clothes on and become a biker in the Arizona and Nevada deserts, staying off the grid so Umbrella can't massacre any more living people in their quest to capture her - but she hooks up with a convoy of survivors and convinces them to head for the allegedly uninfected Alaska. Even madder, she's now blessed with telekinetic powers, which come in jolly useful when the convoy is attacked by thousands of zombie crows....
It's probably the best of the series; it's certainly the looniest and climaxes with Iain Glen fully mutated into a giant tentacle monster for absolutely no good reason. The saga turned down again with Resident Evil: Afterlife which brought Paul WS Anderson back as director (he'd still written all the scripts) and added 3D to the mix to no great effect; watching it again in 2D on the Blu last night, it didn't lose anything by not being stereoscopic. The fifth one, Resident Evil: Retribution, has just opened in UK cinemas, and there'll almost certainly be a sixth because, well, why not? But really, where can it go from here? What more can they possibly do with the franchise and the concept? How long before Milla Jovovich calls it a day and hangs up her kneeboots? How long before we audiences get fed up with them? So far they've got away with it: five trips to the well is good going, and at least the first four of them are okay at worst, but they surely can't keep making them forever.
Yours for money: