The Old Guard

2020 | dir: Gina Prince-Bythewood | 125 m

The Old Guard is emblematic of all of the worst tendencies of Netflix original content. It's not that it's complete and utter garbage. At least if it were terrible, it would evoke some kind of emotional response. I would rather a movie made me either love it or hate it. But when a movie forces me into the emotional purgatory of apathy, that's something I refuse to forgive. Like the vast majority of Netflix original movies and TV shows I've seen, The Old Guard is neither great nor terrible, but instead aggressively mediocre and eminently forgettable. Sorry, what was I talking about again? 

Netflix's biggest enemy seems to have been its overnight success as the giant of media streaming industry that they essentially created. At first, their challenge was how to secure all the licencing and rights to hundreds of thousands of movies. To their credit, they never rested entirely on their laurels, and adapted their business model proactively in anticipation of market trends. Knowing that they couldn't keep the entire pie to themselves forever, especially considering how lucrative that pie was, Netflix began the shift from content distributor to content creator. They suspected, quite rightly, that when other studios and companies saw how successful their business model was, that they would, of course, try to carve up that market like a Christmas turkey. (Full disclosure: I'm not sure if this content just lends itself well to food metaphors or if I happen to be working on this article right before supper.) That would, in turn, mean that a whole lot of content that Netflix previously had access to would, by necessity, be diverted to other streaming services, as a huge part of the value proposition for companies in that space is the exclusivity of their content. Especially for those who saw an increasingly overcrowded market and said to themselves "I want in!", there would be no incentive for customers to either leave Netflix or supplement Netflix's service with their own if all of their content was shared.

Resident Evil: Retribution

 

2012 | dir: Paul W. S. Anderson | 95 m

One thing that the Resident Evil series of films manages to do is end on a cliffhanger, then proceed to just zoom past those events in the next installment, like Paul WS Anderson had an idea of where the Project Alice storyline was going, but ultimately decided to change gears and speed off in another direction. Retribution does pick up where Afterlife left off, with a pretty nice sequence of special effects and action before it decides to do away with story and characters from the previous film, so we have at least a bit more coherence to start out with.

Retribution has Alice (Milla Jovovich) captured and in another underground Umbrella installment where she must battle not only the supercomputer Red Queen, but her old shoot-em-up pal Jill Valentine (clearly not in control and turned evil by the devices from the previous film). The film is bursting with characters from previous films and from the video game (of which I only really recognize Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong); I have to assume their characters are butchered much to the distaste of fans of the games as the ‘named’ characters don’t serve up much purpose other than to fulfill the action requirements of each set piece. We’re a long way off from the survival horror roots here.

While the enjoyable action sequences are the film’s best parts, I can’t fully swallow the complete lack of character development and the dry, basic story. At just ninety-five minutes though, things move along at a nice pace and seeing many returning faces was a pleasant surprise.  

Inception: 10th Anniversary

2010 | dir: Christopher Nolan | 148m

As I slowly approached the theatre, I squinted my eyes to avoid both the relentless brightness of the sun and the light dirt blowing across the parking lot from a harsh midday summer breeze. Looking around me, I saw maybe five, six cars in the vast ocean of pavement and curbs that formed the parking lot for this particular movie house. In front of me, was the vast, inoffensive colour scheme of my local multiplex, adorned by tiny empty poster boards and a sense of doom. I looked about me, expecting a local vagrant to warn me of the dangers within, but while there was nobody to be seen I already knew the dangers that lurked before me. While COVID-19 ravished the entire world, the large multiplex stood as stark monolithic houses of contagion and virulent disaster. You would have to be a fool to sally forth, and while the pandemic was at a lull in my local area, and the virus all but absent, I found myself opening the doors of this familiar-yet-unfamiliar establishment to go see an IMAX screening of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

As I lathered hand sanitizer between my fingers, I took stock of the entrance of the theatre and questioned my own reality: was this a dream? Choosing Inception as the starting point for a journey back into movie theatres seemed disconcertingly appropriate, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I feel fortunate that my city has seen (relatively) very few cases of COVID-19, and have our local health teams and vigilant citizens to thank for that. Quarantining has been easier for me, as I have the benefit of continuing to work from home and enjoy many of my hobbies without interruption – that is, I can continue to watch a lot of movies at home. I haven’t missed the theatre experience, but I suspect that’s because there haven’t been any movies coming out to miss – and the ones that do are released digitally with instant at-home access.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

 

2010 | dir: Paul W. S. Anderson | 97 m

It seems like the previous entry, Extinction, left the series in a bit of a dubious situation: the planet was a barren wasteland, with Umbrella operating from various underground facilities, and Alice found a trove of her clones with a promise of that sweet revenge. I had some reservations as I couldn’t imagine them being able to maintain the “desert” setting throughout three more films, and the idea of replacing groups of survivors with an armada of Milla Jovovich's was borderline silly. Just as I suspected, they scaled back on the level of planetary destruction but doubled down on the clone army in the opening action sequence, which was amusing and ended with Alice potentially losing her abilities. This plot point felt more important at the time than it played out for the duration of the film, as we’re left wondering if she retains her superhuman status, but the film doesn’t really revisit it here; maybe they plan to in a future instalment.

The remainder of Afterlife follows familiar zombie-film territory, where Alice meets up with a group of survivors in a prison tower within wrecked Los Angeles. Surrounded by a sea of zombies, the group still aspires to reach Arcadia which stands as a promise of infection-free safety and paradise. All the usual zombie tropes are present here, but with the added storyline of Umbrella and Alice’s journey, although those feel more bolted on, acting as action bookends to a well-tread genre film. Those “lore” bits feel less impactful this time around than the previous entries, and I’m reminded of a serialized television show that advances the season-long story arc by inches every episode and distracts us with filler for the rest of the runtime.

That’s not to say the action and set pieces are boring: with Paul WS Anderson back in the director’s chair, we’re treated to a gratuitous amount of slow-motion and it’s evident that the scenes were filmed with 3D in mind. Although Milla and the rest of the cast look like they are having a blast with these action sequences, they are entertaining at the expense of a lackluster story. Afterlife is so far the weakest of the sequels for me.

Daredevil

2003 | dir: Mark Steven Johnson | 103 m

February 14, 2003: what better day to release a superhero film about a blind, masked vigilante upon the masses, and indeed, what better day for myself and two friends to line up an hour before the box office opens to secure our tickets? I swear, I didn’t have to blackmail them or anything, they just played along! While I’m sure there was some coercion involved, the fact of that matter is that there would be no pity party involved on this Valentine’s Day, and all that would remain is unabashed excitement for the latest Marvel superhero film. Well, from myself at least, probably not so much the other guys. Following hot on the heels of Spider-Man in 2002 and X-Men the year before, it’s easy to see how anyone with a familiarity with these characters would be excited for any of the Marvel films at this time: around the corner we were getting X2 and Hulk, all in one year! 

Unfortunately, that excitement was quickly dashed, as the three of us walked out of the theatre quietly, at which point a wall of denial had built itself within my head and yes, I had decided that I had enjoyed the film. Even revisiting the film now, I’m willing to brush aside many of the issues and come up for reasons why things didn’t work, but mostly, I would just focus on what did work. As I tried to take notes on this viewing, I gave up quickly and threw myself into despair as I came to terms that Daredevil just wasn’t very good. Are there worst Marvel films? Most definitely. 

Resident Evil: Extinction

 

2007 | dir: Russell Mulcahy | 94 m

The third entry in the Resident Evil series surprised me with its quality and coherent, consistent story. I guess that’s not saying entirely too much as the bar was set a bit lower than I had thought in Apocalypse, which seemed to suffer from a seemingly necessary requirement to instill Alice’s continuing story into an adaptation of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Extinction moves entirely out on its own; although I recognize Claire Redfield’s name, I must assume that the planet becoming one vast desert strays far off the path of the video game series (it would seem to make Resident Evil 4, which I did play, impossible).

I did laugh at some of the silliness on screen here, but the film seems to embrace itself and is pushed forward with a determined Milla Jovovich and an over-the-top mad scientist played by Iain Glen in a lively performance. In a dip into Mad Max territory, Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield is leading a convoy of survivors in search of a safe refuge; the group is at the peril of the elements, including zombie birds and the Umbrella Corporation, who continue their melodramatic evil plans. The film clips along at a decent pace and I’m invested enough with Alice now that I overlook the silly idea that within five years, the entire planet is a wasteland: I would be surprised if this is reversed for the rest of the film series and that Paul WS Anderson just needed an excuse to put a decayed Las Vegas on screen. That being said, the setting actually works for me and the story of this film and I'm impressed that we've actually gotten a variety of settings in each entry. Starting with the first film's claustrophobic halls and rooms, to the dark and grimy city blocks of Apocalypse, to now a bright, sunny wasteland. The finale lacks a bit of punch and is ultimately the most disappointing aspect for me, although I still find enjoyment on the series revisiting a major set-piece of the first film and more of Iain Glen's Dr. Isaacs is never a bad thing. Hopefully the series continues to embrace itself but introduces some originality to the action and set pieces.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

 

2004 | dir: Alexander Witt | 94 m

With just a brief two years between the first and this sequel, Apocalypse picks up where the cliffhanger ending of Resident Evil left off – for the most part: we’re treated to a recap of the first films events before the action gets started. The story follows a couple of groups of STARS soldiers (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) as they find themselves trapped in virus and zombie infected Raccoon city. Umbrella Corporation has also sealed the cities borders and unleashed another genetic experiment in the form of Nemesis upon any survivors, for no other reason than to see how it performs before wiping the city off the map with an atom bomb. It seemed a bit crazy to me that the city could suffer as much as it did within the thirteen hour time jump we got at the beginning of the film, but I’ll look past that as I suspect this evil corporation to be taking advantage of the situation and artificially spreading the virus just for the sake of being evil. It seems a bit ludicrous that one company could get away with running an entire town like this without government intervention but alas, here we are. It doesn’t help that I recognize the skyline of Toronto as a stand in for the doomed city and my knowledge of the area had me questioning how effective a physical quarantine could be, but it was easy to move on and get lost in the films other failings.  

The biggest failing seemed to be the structure of the film: it felt like we had a decent adaptation of the 1999 video game Resident Evil 3: Nemesis but had to find a way to fit Milla Jovovich’s Alice into the story. Well, they didn’t try very hard, and the action sequences that focused on Jill Valentine and her survivors were interrupted and resolved by inexplicable appearances by Alice. The film is less of a survival horror than it is a mystery on what Alice has become, and there’s just a road of unfortunate side characters that get in the way. When the film went beyond the natural ending to focus entirely on Alice, I found myself looking at the runtime to see if I was in for another climax and act in the film, and I assumed as such considering we were only ninety minutes in. As it turns out, the lengthy sequence was just continued setup of the series’ mythology and next installment. 

Everest

2015 | dir: Baltasar Kormákur | 121 m

Everest wound up being an incredibly refreshing breath of cinematic fresh air I didn't know I needed. After recently watching some pretty heavy films like Hereditary and Midsommar, Everest was exactly what I needed to clear my palate. It didn't necessarily rise to the top of my all-time favourite movies, but there was something refreshingly earnest about its approach to the disaster movie genre. There were no explosions, natural disasters, evil corporations, or any human antagonists of any variety. Everest simply tells (or tells simply) the story of a disastrous expedition to the summit of the most famous mountain in the world, the highest point on earth at the top of Mount Everest. Up until things go completely sideways - which because this is based on a true story, the audience is expecting the other shoe to drop at some point - proceedings seem to be going quite swimmingly. Which tends to be the way things seem until they don't, I suppose, and the movie does an excellent job at conveying this sense of normalcy. I hesitate to say Everest fosters a sense of complacency, because a huge part of conflict of the film comes from the well-intentioned though ultimately disastrous misprioritizing of other concerns over safety and not a disregard of safety entirely.

The movie does give a sense of how mundane the scaling of Mount Everest seems to have become, in the sense that climbing the famous mountain has been corporatized to a large extent, with a cottage industry of climbing/adventuring companies apparently regularly trekking to the peak with groups of climbers of varying degrees of experience. The impression I got from the movie was that Mount Everest had effectively been franchised and divvied up among these different companies to the point that I couldn't help but immediately think of corporations like McDonalds or Starbucks. I was actually kind of surprised - and a little disappointed - that they didn't at least flash a Starbucks coffee cup or a Big Mac wrapper just to really drive the point home. There was a clear thematic underpinning of the classic clash between the civilized and natural realms, shown through a clearly modern lens where the corporate, ultra-capitalistic gaze sees the world only in terms of what can be bought, sold, commoditized, and/or consumed. It's not even necessarily that the small companies leading groups of tourists to the top of Mount Everest where directly part of that corporate culture, but that the programming from the corporate machine has worked its way into the social source code.

Resident Evil

2002 | dir: Paul WS Anderson | 100 m

I was roughly fifteen years old when the first Resident Evil game appeared on the Playstation and feeding off the hype of a heavy diet of gaming magazines, I was quick to run out and rent the title to see what the fuss was all about. This wasn’t my introduction to survival horror – that had come in Alone in the Dark on the PC – but it was a giant leap forward and ultimately, not a game that I could really get into. I ignored the first three games but absolutely fell in love with the fourth title, which served as a retooling of the series with the advent of an entirely new gameplay structure and embracing more of the shooter aspect of survival horror. With that being said, I can’t pretend to know anything about the series, including any of the characters or the lore of the world that’s been built up for so long. I approach these films as a bit of an outsider, but my gamer roots and knowledge are not entirely forgotten.

Resident Evil has seen live action films over the course of fourteen years, which I find astounding and I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember which ones I’ve seen. Are they that forgettable? On the other hand, Paul WS Anderson and Mila Jovovich have been involved with each film, which must say something (even if it’s just that the films remain profitable).

With a tiny bit of trepidation in revisiting the first Resident Evil movie, I never thought that my main gripe with the film – eighteen years later – would be the film’s soundtrack of heavy rock and metal. While the music and score fit the film just fine, I’ve found my musical tastes have strayed quite far from the genre and served as a firm reminder of the year this film came out. I never minded this entry in the series and have typically regarded it as the best of the bunch: I like the tight corridors and claustrophobic rooms as a setting for being terrorized by not only a group of zombies, but a genetic monstrosity that acts with unflinching motivation. Knowing our group is stuck hundreds of feet underground only adds to the tension: there’s no easy escape.

There’s more silliness in the film than I had remembered, including the flashbacks and much of the dialog, but the story is simple and the action scenes good enough that I walked away feeling satisfied. Without being close to the original games, I won’t pretend to pass judgement on the quality of the adaptation, but I must see this as a victory for “video game movies” in general. What other video game series of films have seen so many sequels?

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