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REtrospective: Those Resident Evil live-action movies…

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Celebrating 20 years of horror – in both the ‘survival’ and ‘action’ flavours – there’s no denying Resident Evil has made a great impact upon the gaming landscape. In a special series of articles, Stevivor will honour the iconic series by recounting its dark roots all the way through to its dramatic revitalisation at this year’s E3.

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The Resident Evil movies. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’ve certainly influenced Capcom’s long-running survival horror franchise – and vice versa.

Zombie film aficionados had their first taste of Resident Evil on the silver screen when famed director George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) filmed a television spot for Resident Evil 2 in 1998. The filmmaker was also tasked to write a screenplay for what would have been the first Resident Evil film, though he was later dismissed. Those interested can check out Romero’s failed screenplay – and discover how close in theme it was to Capcom’s original Resident Evil game – here.

Instead, Paul W.S. Anderson was given the go-ahead to continue production of the first Resident Evil film. The director of Mortal Kombat (1995), Event Horizon (1997) and Soldier (1998) crafted an adventure that featured nothing but the basics of the franchise. As writer and director, Anderson created the character of Alice, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and ditched the notion of S.T.A.R.S. altogether.

Released in 2002, Resident Evil starred Milla Jovovich and Alice, and also featured the likes of Michelle Rodriguez, James Purefoy, Eric Mabius and Colin Salmon. While some of those characters would return in later films, Mabius’ character is the most interesting, eventually becoming an important player in a sequel. Resident Evil used the T-Virus, the Umbrella Corporation, the Licker, zombie dogs and starts off in a mansion, but other similarities between it and Capcom’s first game are few and far between.

One of the film’s most memorable sequences, an in escapable room equipped with lethal laser beams, was actually repurposed for Capcom’s Resident Evil 4. It was no match for protagonist Leon S. Kennedy, however.

As the movies continued, so too did the elements borrowed from the games. Mabius’ character, kidnapped by Umbrella at the end of the film, becomes Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ titular character in Anderson’s first sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004). This sequel is perhaps the closest in tone to the game franchise itself, taking place in a zombie-infected Raccoon City and featuring long-time protagonist Jill Valentine (Sienna Guilllory and her short, short skirt) and one-time ally, Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) alongside S.T.A.R.S. itself (RIP, guys). This film was written by Anderson, but directed by Alexander Witt, and features Toronto City Hall quite extensively in its thrilling climax.

The third film in the cinematic franchise, Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), went completely off the rails, suggesting the T-virus would basically eat at all organic life. Taking place in a Mad Max-like, apocalyptic desert world, this sequel introduces Resident Evil 2, Code: Veronica and Revelations 2 protagonist Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), uses the hulking Tyrant as a boss enemy and teases Albert Wesker (Jason O’Mara) as the big bad. Again written by Anderson – as all of the films are – this iteration in the movie franchise was directed by Russell Mulachy.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) soon followed, brushing the ‘world is a desert’ idea under the rug to instead focus on the battle between Alice and Umbrella itself. In this film, Wesker (Shawn Roberts) is front-and-centre as Umbrella’s head, causing problems for Alice, Claire and her brother Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller). This film is the first in the franchise to be presented at release in 3D. Jill Valentine also makes a cheeky appearance near the end of the film, identical to her initial appearances in Resident Evil 5 – and just as controlled by Wesker as her game counterpart.

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) introduces three new game characters into its cinematic counterpart: Leon S. Kennedy (Johann Urb), Barry Burton (Kevin Durand) and Ada Wong (Li Bingbing), essentially meaning all of Resident Evil’s protagonists but Gun Survivor games, Code: Veronica’s Steve Burnside and Revelations 2’s Moira Burton appear both in the game and film worlds.

Early next year, Anderson – and wife Jovovich – will return for the last film in the franchise, the aptly-titled Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. The film promises a return to Raccoon City, taking things “full circle”, in Anderson’s words, and will feature reappearances by Alice, Claire Redfield and Ada Wong.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter heads to theatres in January 2017 – and doesn’t interact with Capcom’s own CGI Resident Evil films. The Final Chapter is timed to coincide with the release of Capcom’s Resident Evil 7, yet another reinvention of the game franchise — but those are stories for another time.