Retrospective: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Welcome back to the Planet of the Apes retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fifth film in the franchise (and final film in the original series), Battle for the Planet of the Apes! Before we get into that though I want to just preface with a follow-up on my assessment of Metal Gear‘s Quiet last week. In the last week, Cracked wrote an article on video game sexism, although the emphasis wasn’t on objectification (which is the crux of the backlash against Quiet). Rather, it focuses on the more deep-seated issues of casual sexism in narratives which feminists have been more focused on in the last couple decades. It’s a good article, and certainly an enlightening one if you aren’t someone who studies feminism on a regular basis, but it’s not without its own issues. For one thing, the point about daddy issues is deceptively selective and doesn’t really pick the best examples – Ellie is hardly a blithering mess without her male protector (for that matter, Joel refuses to let her defend herself until later in the game… I’m pretty sure that the point is that Joel’s the one with “issues”). I’m also currently playing through Bioshock Infinite, so I can’t give a comprehensive response to this, but it seems to me that Elizabeth was being held against her will with an entire city dedicated to keeping her in her tower. There’s also the problem that article slips into its own casual sexism by stating that “BioShock Infinite‘s Elizabeth was born with the ability to tear portals in time and space, then learned to pick locks anyway, then sat patiently in prison until a penis arrived to save her”. Yeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhh… The point about Tomb Raider is interesting though – is there any male-based origin story where the guy has to get over crying and being horrified about killing people throughout the whole adventure? Sure it’s probably more realistic, but maybe that’s just more of an indictment of the macho male hero trope which is prevalent in gaming. Anyway, food for thought… now let’s move on to the Apes.

For the record, my review is based on the Unrated cut of the film. Unlike Conquest, this cut doesn’t have any substantial changes – it’s just 10 more minutes of dialogue, longer shots and some minor subplots restored.

While each Apes movie had been financially successful, with each budget cut came diminishing financial returns. As a result, the producers decided that it was time to end the series on their own terms (although two separate television series were soon produced as well). The final film would follow Caesar trying to stop the apes from repeating the mistakes that led to the destruction of Earth and show how the mutants in Beneath came about. Conquest director J. Lee Thompson returned to direct, making him the only director to work on two Apes movies in the franchise’s entire history. Unfortunately, long-time series screenwriter Paul Dehn had to drop out of script-writing duties due to health complications. Instead, the film was passed off to husband-wife screenwriting duo John and Joyce Corrington. The Corringtons had recently written the Charlton Heston zombie-vampire film, The Omega Man, and so it was felt that they could do the Apes‘ send-off justice. However, prior to getting the job, they had never even seen an Apes film so they didn’t really know the tone, themes or plot of the series. Dehn was brought in to do final re-writes (he claimed to have rewritten 90% of the dialogue and changed the ending), but the WGA ruled that the film was largely based on the Corringtons’ screenplay. In spite of that, Dehn’s ending was the one which was filmed and Joyce Corrington is reported to have hated Dehn’s ending.

Roddy McDowall and Natalie Trundy returned once again, as did Severn Darden, all reprising their roles from Conquest. Of the new cast, the most important was Claude Akins (who was mostly known for starring in Westerns) who was cast as the villainous gorilla general, Aldo. Austin Stoker was also brought in as a replacement to Hari Rhodes’ MacDonald, playing that characters’ brother (it is assumed that the MacDonald in Conquest was killed sometime between the two films). Songwriter Paul Williams was also brought in to play Virgil, Caesar’s genius orangutan advisor. Lew Ayres, most famous for his role 40 years prior in All Quiet on the Western Front, has a small role as the philosophical orangutan who looks just like Pai Mei, Mandemus. John Huston (a screen legend in case you didn’t know) also makes a cameo as The Lawgiver, providing a framing device for the film’s action. Oh and a fun fact – John Landis, director of such awesome movies as An American Werewolf in London, Blues Brothers, Animal House and the Thriller video, appears in this as a minor role (he’s “Jake’s friend”… I couldn’t tell you who the hell that is, but who cares – it’s John freaking Landis)!

Much like Conquest, Battle suffers from a severely deficit production budget, which was maybe slightly higher than the budget for the previous film. The film is supposed to portray an epic battle between humans and apes for the control of the planet, but it ends up looking like more of a short skirmish than anything (I’ll talk more about the battle later though). The first 4 minutes are also just reused footage from the previous films, providing a rather unnecessary recap to pad out time. The budget also means that the same ape costumes get reused, the matte paintings are cheaper than ever and the two armies can never appear in the same shots together (clearly they did the same thing my brothers and I did in our home movies – the same extras are playing both armies). The costumes also suffer, as the apes are using the same masks that have been lying around the studio for the last few years. The mutant humans get it the worst though, as they are devoid of their impressive make-up entirely. I think the best way to describe their new “mutations” is to say that it looks like someone jizzed hot glue on their faces.

It was Earth all along!

As for the story, Battle carries on from the more positive theatrical ending of Conquest with humans now serving the apes, but living in relative peace. However, the gorillas’ leader, General Aldo, believes that humans should be exterminated and constantly clashes with Caesar over this point. Looking for guidance, Caesar decides to go into the ruins of Los Angeles to find video footage of his parents to try to discern the future of ape society. In doing so, they stir up a hidden society of mutant humans living in the fallout, led by Kolp. Kolp ends up pursuing Caesar back to Ape City and a battle is waged between the two sides. It’s a pretty simple story, but you might notice one thing about it which differentiates it from previous Apes films – it’s almost entirely devoid of social commentary and/or satire. All of the previous films in the franchise had shown that man brings about his own downfall, but in this one there really isn’t much of a message about humanity – it’s more concerned about the society of the apes. You might argue that the apes are supposed to be an analogue for humans, but it occurs to me that the message is more that the apes’ society is going to be the same as humanity’s, which again is more of a self-contained critique about the apes in the film.

In general, the script isn’t anywhere as near as tight or clever as it was in previous Apes films either. Lines like “I think Aldo may be riding for a fall” come across like they were supposed to be clever, but don’t succeed in that regard. Then there’s lines like “one day you will be as tall as a king” which is supposed to be a touching moment, but the line is so stupid that it makes you go “umm… what?” instead. The only really good line is “ape shall never kill ape”, which has actually become one of the most iconic lines in the whole series. Plot-wise, the film has other sections which don’t make a lot of sense or which are too rushed, such as Caesar leaving Ape City without any sort of preparation as soon as he learns about the existence of the tapes of his parents… although to be fair this is probably more of an editing problem, but either way it hurts the flow of the film. When they get into Los Angeles, there’s also an arbitrary 2 hour countdown before the apes cannot leave again (even though this is never brought up again). The whole idea of the video tapes of Cornelius and Zira is flawed as well because it turns out that some of these tapes they watch were obviously audio recordings in Escape – however, the film inexplicably treats them as video recordings regardless (clearly they think that we just forgot this fact). Oh and then there’s the goofiness which is Mandemus’ armory – all of the apes’ weapons are kept behind a flimsy wooden door. Gee, I sure hope that an army of gorillas doesn’t try to take over and steal them all… I’d like to think that these problems are all on the Corringtons, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the bad lines in particular were all Paul Dehn’s idea. Some story elements just don’t work though either, such as the fact that this movie takes place at least 12-27 years after the last movie, and yet no one looks any older than they were in Conquest.

That said, there are some pretty good plot points and ideas that liven things up a bit. Probably the biggest of these plot points is when (SPOILER) Aldo learns that Caesar’s son, Cornelius, has heard his plan to steal the guns. Aldo becomes quite sinister here, chasing Cornelius up a tree and then throwing the child from it, killing him. It’s a pretty shocking moment and adds a lot of gravitas to the final showdown between Caesar and Aldo (which is another rather cool sequence). It’s also nice to see the orangutans get more screentime after being sidelined for the last 2 films, getting only small cameos in Conquest. In particular, Virgil is a good introduction as Caesar’s closest advisor and sort of acts like a heroic version of Otto Hasslein (he even regurgitates Hasslein’s theory that time is like a highway with multiple exit points). The introduction of Aldo also manages to make Escape more of an interesting film – in that movie, it established that it was Aldo who first said “No!” and started the ape revolution. However, by having Caesar interrupt this timeline and bring about the ape revolution in a more peaceful manner, it creates new questions for viewers to mull over. Is it possible for Caesar to create a more peaceful future for apes and man since the revolution was not founded on bloodshed? The film itself leaves it uncertain.

As for the characters, McDowall’s Caesar is the core as ever. Unfortunately, McDowall isn’t given quite as much to work with as he has in previous Apes films, but he is still unquestionably the best actor of the lot. Aldo is a very one-dimensional villain, graduated with honours from the school of douchebaggery, who hates humans and therefore Caesar as well for not killing them. The second he opens his mouth, you know that he’s going to be a bad guy. That said, Akins fulfills the meathead role well enough, even if the role is unfortunately one-note. Unfortunately, the rest of the acting is ranges from inconsistent to bad. Natalie Trundy is still pretty bad, but at least she has a very small role this time as Caesar’s wife, Lisa (that said, for sticking it out for 4 Apes films, I appreciate her contribution to the longevity of the series). Kolp is probably the worst of the bunch though, and easily the worst antagonist in all of the Apes films – he just sounds bored the entire time, which doesn’t exactly make him a particularly menacing villain by any means. I think he’s meant to be the main villain, but he gets totally upstaged by Aldo (how often does the thug-villain overshadow the brain-villain?). MacDonald and Virgil both have their moments, but half of the time their lines are delivered with absolutely no emotion. In fact, this is really the first Apes movie with bad acting as the rule rather than the exception.

Of course then there’s the main attraction, the titular battle. It’s fairly entertaining, but as I’ve hinted at earlier, the miniscule budget really doesn’t do it justice. Rather than an epic clash to determine who will rule the planet, instead we get a small skirmish between maybe 30-40 people per side which goes on for about 10 minutes. On top of that, the supposedly “mechanized” mutant army consists of a few mortars, a couple jeeps, a couple motorcycles and their major superweapon… a school bus. Yes, a school bus is the peak of their technological superiority. The penny pinching extends to the filming itself, as the mutants supposedly blow up a number of the apes’ buildings… however, it’s exceedingly obvious that they just blew up 1 or 2 buildings and filmed them from different angles to try to pass off a bunch of houses getting destroyed. That said, there’s a surprisingly high number of explosions in the film to represent grenades, mortar strikes, etc.

As for the battle itself, it’s kind of pathetic. The humans decide to advance through the middle of an open field with only a little smoke and mortar cover to stop them from getting mowed down by the apes. The apes set up a hasty barricade, but are quickly pushed back into the city… where Caesar springs a trap and then routs the surviving mutants. However, Aldo and his gorillas attack the fleeing mutants and kill them all. That’s it. I know it’s probably not a good idea to expect Black Hawk Down on a ~$1.7 million budget, but for the focal point of the film it’s a bit of a letdown.

“If this monkey business about ownership of the planet can’t be solved in one 10 minute battle, then what’s the point!?!”

Then there’s problems with the editing. While I like the final showdown between Caesar and Aldo, it was clearly edited really badly. It seems like Aldo was supposed to get killed by the other apes, but instead they decided to have Caesar chase him up a tree… however, when they speak to each other they’re still clearly in the crowd together. Furthermore, as soon as Aldo drops from the tree, Caesar is back on the ground instantly. It seems that this sequence was changed and then they just tried to edit it and hope no one noticed (perhaps they thought that the crowd killing Aldo wasn’t “personal” enough, so they made him die in a manner mirroring how he killed Cornelius… or maybe it was just really badly shot in the first place). It’s not quite as obvious as Radioactive Man: The Movie, but it’s still pretty damn noticeable and further evidence of how meager the budget was that they couldn’t even properly shoot the finale. Other parts are edited in such a way that they lose their impact, especially the part near the opening when Aldo chases the teacher, Abe – it’s supposed to be a suspenseful scene, but it is entirely devoid of suspense in the way it’s filmed and edited (and it doesn’t help that Abe doesn’t look too distressed throughout the chase).

All-in-all, Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a pretty poor way to end the original series. The reduced budget once again crippled an Apes movie, but this time there wasn’t a solid script or actors to save it. Simply put, Battle is easily the worst entry in the franchise up until this point and even a big fan of the series like me has a hard time defending, or even recommending, it.

4/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 6 of this retrospective series as we look at our first remake, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes!

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Retrospective: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Welcome back to the Planet of the Apes retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fourth film in the franchise, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes! However, before we get into that I want to talk a briefly about Metal Gear Solid V. As a huge fan of the series, I’m obviously very excited for the new game(s?) and have been gobbling up new details like candy. That said, I’m less-than-enthused about one particular character who Konami has been highlighting lately, and that’s the new female sniper, Quiet. Details on her actual history and role are scarce, but all that we’ve gotten so far is a couple renders and a shot in the trailer. If you’ve been following the progress of the game and/or this story then you probably know where I’m going with this…

Yeah, she’s basically stripperella. “Dressing” Quiet up like this just furthers the notion of sexism in video games and the nerdy virgin stereotype of those who play these sorts of games (EVA in MGS3 was bad enough). Even if there is a good reason for Quiet to be dressed this way, the damage has been done as Kojima has been getting a fair bit of backlash (which he has taken in stride). That said, I really do hope that there is a good reason for the outfit so that it’s not just fanservice. For example, if she can photosynthesize and change her skin colour like The End then it would make perfect sense that she would wear that kind of outfit and then pretty much everything would be forgiven by me. Whatever the case, Kojima seems to have some sort of big reveal surrounding it, but I guess we’ll have to wait… Metal Gear games tend to play their cards close to the chest… Anyway, let’s get into Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Unlike all of the other Apes films to this point, Escape was written with the intention of producing a follow-up. Conquest was greenlit by Fox, but it was under an even more constrained budget than previous Apes films, estimated to be around $1.7 million. Escape had been designed around its small budget, reducing the number of on-screen apes and need for expensive sets – Conquest, on the other hand, could not do this. Conquest would require extensive use of extras for riot and battles scenes and was set 20 years in the future, which would require convincing futuristic technology and architecture. Simply put, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes might have been ones of the most constrained major studio sci-fi films ever released. As a result, major cost-cutting was needed if they were even going to stand a chance at releasing the film. Costumes and props were reused from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, City Beneath the SeaThe Time Tunnel and previous Apes films, and the bulk of the movie was filmed in and around the Irvine campus of the University of California – in particular, the social science complex. This complex had been designed with a futuristic aesthetic, and so it could double as a futuristic city block. Unfortunately this area was relatively small, so the crew ended up filming it from different angles to try to convince the audience that this one complex was many parts of a sprawling metropolis (it doesn’t really work).

Conquest was directed by J. Lee Thompson, a longtime fan of the series who was known for such films as the original Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone. Thompson was a fairly accomplished director who was very hands-on with the production – he made the human characters wear muted clothing and the apes wear bright, vibrant colours to make them stand out more (a technique familiar to fans of Star Wars). The film was written by long-time Apes screenwriter, Paul Dehn. As with previous films in the series, he drew upon previous experience and current events to create a story that would resonate with the audience. This time he decided to incorporate references to racial conflict, civil rights movements and the history of slavery. These would become more relevant by filming some scenes in a documentary style, since civil rights and racial clashes were very much in the news at the time. The script and film were also quite notable for being considerably more violent than previous Apes films. All of the other movies in the series had G ratings, but Conquest was pushing a hard PG (think of some of the violent content in Raiders of the Lost Ark and you’ll have a good idea of how bloody it gets at times). Unfortunately, further studio meddling meant that some of the more violent bits were excised to avoid a potential R rating. This was bad enough, but it also meant that the film’s ending was changed (which I’ll get to later) and that the opening of the film was removed entirely. This is a real shame because the opening sounds like it was quite affecting (police shoot an escaped ape, only to discover that the ape was covered in bruises and welts, indicating that he had been severely abused by his masters). While the other footage has been released in the Unrated Blu-ray version of Conquest, the original opening has not been restored and I fear that it may have been lost entirely.

As for the cast, Roddy McDowall returns once more, this time playing Cornelius’ son, Caesar. Natalie Trundy also returns as a serving chimpanzee, Lisa. Ricardo Montalbán is the only returning cast member to be playing a recurring character, returning once again as zookeeper Armando. Other noteworthy cast are Don Murray as the villainous Governor Breck and Hari Rhodes as his moral second-in-command MacDonald. While he has a fairly minor role in this film, Severn Darden’s character, Kolp, is also worth mentioning as he would carry on Breck’s legacy in the next Apes film.

The story of Conquest is fairly straightforward – 20 years after the previous film, the chimpanzee Milo is brought to civilization by Armando and is horrified to discover that humans have enslaved apes as predicted by Cornelius and Zira. Milo is enraged by this and ends up going on the run, hiding amongst the apes and observing the humans. Eventually he takes on the name Caesar and becomes a leader for the apes, starting an armed revolution against the humans. While the story is relatively simple, it has some fantastic ideas at its core. The film has a lot to say about power relations and slavery (in fact I wrote a short paper about the film in my second year of university, analyzing it through Hegel’s master-slave dialectic). The master-slave dialectic is made most obvious through the humans and the apes, but it also crops up in regards to race relations. Governor Breck’s second-in-command, MacDonald, often makes references to the history of slavery, suggesting that he doesn’t approve of the way that Breck is repeating the past. However, it is quite clear that there is a power dynamic between the pair and that MacDonald is seen as another slave by Breck himself, despite being a supposedly “free” man. Inevitably, both the apes and MacDonald rise up against their “masters”, with the (re-edited) ending representing a possible synthesis. The film also emphasizes the power of speech – the humans are terrified by the idea that there may be an ape capable of speech, which relates to the importance of power relations, identity and the ability to have a voice (key in theories regarding race, feminism, aboriginal rights, etc). Similar to Caliban in The Tempest, the ability to speak will give the apes self-awareness and cause them to revolt. Simply put, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes has some fantastic ideas at its core which may not be entirely obvious at first glance.

Unfortunately, in spite of the good ideas that Conquest has, the budget does not allow the film to actually do justice to them. In spite of (or perhaps because of) all the cost-cutting measures used, Conquest feels a bit tacky – if Fox had given the production even $2-3 million more then the film could have been far more convincing and spectacular. The sets are noticeably cheap and unambitious-looking and there’s often minimal lighting used (if any). Furthermore, sometimes the footage is just really bad looking and the setting doesn’t feel like a sprawling city. Instead, it feels more like a block or two in a city district, which really cheapens the impact of the supposed “ape revolution”. Then there’s moments where the film just feel incomplete, like they didn’t have the budget to edit things together properly (which they probably didn’t). For example, suddenly the apes start revolting just because Caesar looks at them – we’re not given any indication that he has actually become their leader figure yet, so it just comes out of the blue. Another instance of this is when the revolution itself happens – Caesar escapes captivity, but as soon as he does so the apes have all gathered and suddenly they’re ready to kick some ass. Then there’s really bad cost-cutting measures, such as the “wireless phones”. Check out the picture below (click on it if you need to):

Notice anything odd about that phone? How about the mismatched red tape along the bottom where they obviously cut off the wire to make it look like a future-phone? Yeah, the film’s that tacky… Then there’s just plain embarrassing moments, particularly when Caesar gets tortured by the humans. They hook him up to an electrocution machine, but MacDonald shuts off the power… only for Caesar to FREAKING PRETEND TO BE DEAD. This leaves Breck and Kolp 100% satisfied and no one even thinks to check and see if he’s maybe not really dead, throw out the body, notice that the machine wasn’t even working or something. It’s a major facepalm moment for sure.

However, not everything’s all that bad. The costumes might be a bit cheap, but the apes themselves look quite good, especially considering how many of them there are (and the masks are integrated far better than they were in Beneath). The ape revolution itself is pretty exciting, featuring dozens of ape and humans battling it out with each other (although the music is a major letdown). The scene where Caesar names himself is also pretty damn awesome, and Breck’s line “Caesar? A king?” is just the best way to end it.

Geez, we got all this way without even talking about the characters. Roddy McDowall sells it yet again as Caesar. You could be forgiven for expecting him to be a carbon-copy of Cornelius, but you’d be wrong – Caesar is a whole different character than Cornelius. Cornelius was timid and cautious, whereas Caesar is brash, commanding and confident. He’s basically ape-Jesus or ape-Che Guevara. MacDonald is decent enough, although sometimes Hari Rhodes over-emphasizes his lines. Ricardo Montalbán is also awesome once again as Armando, although he isn’t given nearly enough screen time. Unfortunately, despite no longer having a speaking role, Natalie Trundy is embarrassingly bad yet again. Since she can’t speak she exaggerates like mad, playing her chimpanzee as a cartoonishly doe-eyed southern belle. Then when Caesar gets taken to her for breeding, she lies there like a sultry pin-up girl… again, it’s embarrassing (and vomit-inducing… well, unless you’re a furry anyway).

As for Governor Breck, he’s more of a straight-laced villain than previous Apes nemeses. Most of the other villains had been somewhat sympathetic, but Breck basically just hates apes and think they all deserve to be enslaved and beaten whenever necessary. I guess it’s noble that he doesn’t want apes to control the world, but it’s not really played up as the sort of thing that would make him sympathetic. Don Murray plays the part with a great deal of passion (and some good old-fashioned ham), so he’s quite fun to watch in the role. However, his assertion that humanity enslaves apes because they represent the evil inside of mankind just comes out of nowhere – had it been set up in the narrative somewhere I might have bought it, but just throwing it in in the last five minutes of the film was ill-judged.

And finally we get to the controversy surrounding the film’s ending. Watching Conquest, it’s pretty obvious that the ending has been re-cut – suddenly the camera zooms in on Caesar’s face (with really grainy footage to boot) and he says a speech about forgiving humans for their perpetrated evils, while the same footage of MacDonald looking surprised and Lisa blinking and looking up is repeated a few times between shots of onlooking apes. It’s terribly edited and very clearly a patch job because Fox refused to give the production any more money. In fact, it’s so badly done that it further diminishes the quality of the film. What was so wrong with the original that they had to cobble together a new ending so badly? Well check it out thanks to the magic of Youtube:

In case the video isn’t available anymore, here’s the original ending: Caesar tells the apes to show Breck no mercy, and then they proceed to beat him to death with their rifles, signifying that the apes will be no better rulers than the humans were. It’s a pretty damn bleak ending, but it fits well. That said… I’m kind of torn on it. I think I actually prefer the message of the theatrical ending, but I hate how it was integrated. If it was filmed properly then I think I’d actually like the theatrical ending more, but considering how it was done I much prefer the unrated ending (even if it isn’t canon anymore).

So clearly Conquest is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand it has a fantastic story, Caesar is awesome and there are some very exciting moments. On the other hand, it is ridiculously cheap, has been torn apart by studio meddling and has some embarrassing moments. Conquest might just be the most divisive entry in the original Apes series because of this – if you can’t get past the tackiness and shoddy bits then you might not be able to appreciate the film. To be honest, Conquest might actually be my favourite Apes sequel in the original series although I’ll acknowledge that it isn’t nearly as good as Escape. If only the studio had given it a proper budget and hadn’t meddled with the production so badly we might have gotten an awesome film out of the deal… 😉

6/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 5 of this retrospective series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes!

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Retrospective: Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Welcome back to the Planet of the Apes retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the third film in the franchise, Escape from the Planet of the Apes! Yes, that’s right, after doing everything in their power to kill the franchise for good in Beneath, the producers decreed that the series was destined to live on regardless. However with the future eliminated, the only avenue left was for them to explore was the past…

Kind of a lame poster, and don’t even get me started on the tagline… but still, it’s much better than the Polish version.

Despite the machinations of Charlton Heston and even the bloody studio head, work on a sequel to Beneath the Planet of the Apes started before that film was even completed. However, due to the obvious problem of having the entire planet destroyed at the end of the previous film, the producers had to pull a J.J. Abrams and work on a preboot/sequel. Once again, the budget for this sequel was cut back down to $2 million, meaning that the producers had to figure out how to cut costs. The solution to these issues was that film would plant the seeds of the ape revolution by propelling Cornelius, Zira and a third ape, Dr. Milo, back in time. Additionally, by setting it in the present day the crew were able to minimize the need for ape costumes.

The film was written by Paul Dehn once more with Pierre Boulle providing some advisement to incorporate satirical elements. Finally, Don Taylor, famous for such notable films as Father of the Bride and The Naked City, was brought on to direct. In terms of cast, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter were brought back to play Cornelius and Zira, respectively. Sal Mineo was also cast as a third ape, Dr. Milo, but he was so uncomfortable in his make-up that he gets killed off less than 5 minutes after his introduction. Also making a return was Natalie Trundy, who played a lead mutant in the previous film, this time playing one of the human doctors sympathetic to the apes’ cause. The other main leads were Bradford Dillman as Dr. Dixon and the villain, Eric Braeden as Dr. Hasslein (a character who had actually been mentioned in the previous two Apes films). Rounding out the cast is Ricardo Montalbán who plays Armando, a secondary character who owns a circus.

Looking at its production, it would be reasonable to expect Escape from the Planet of the Apes to be a bit of a mess – it’s clearly a very forced sequel (which is practically a remake of the first film), it has a lower budget than the previous two films, it doesn’t have a major star like Charlton Heston to lead it and it had a very rushed production (it was filmed in 6 weeks and released less than a year after Beneath)… however, it does have a good cast of old and new characters and has a great director at its helm. Were the cast and director able to overcome the very obvious and major hurdles presented to them and make Escape a worthy sequel to the Planet of the Apes? Well read on and find out…

Escape opens with the American military discovering that Taylor’s space craft has been found off the coast of Los Angeles. However, when they open it up they discover that the astronauts inside are actually three chimpanzees – Zira, Cornelius and Dr. Milo. It turns out that when the gorillas marched off to war in the previous film, Dr. Milo (supposedly the most intelligent chimpanzee in the ape colony) had discovered Taylor’s shuttle and salvaged it, allowing he, Zira and Cornelius to escape the planet just as it was destroyed by the Alpha Omega bomb. The shockwave of the explosion causes a wormhole to open which propels the apes back to the 70s. It’s a pretty tenuous set-up, but considering the circumstances that had to happen for the film to even work, it’s serviceable… but thankfully they don’t dwell on the point too much, because it’s frankly ridiculous. This point is also probably the biggest stumbling block that a viewer could face – if you can’t suspend their disbelief enough to allow this plot point to pass then it might completely ruin the film for you.

Anyway, Dr. Milo gets killed by a gorilla while awaiting examination, so Zira and Cornelius have to speak before a committee by themselves. They end up telling the world that apes are going to rule over humans in the future, but most people don’t seem all that bothered by this, turning the pair into celebrities. The only human who seems truly troubled by this revelation is Dr. Hasslein, the President’s science advisor, who believes that the presence of Cornelius and Zira is enough to expedite the ape revolution. His fears are further reinforced when it is discovered that Zira is pregnant.

As that short plot synopsis should convey, Escape from the Planet of the Apes actually has a pretty compelling narrative (if you can get over the wormhole contrivance anyway). Unlike Beneath, it’s very character-focused rather than action-driven and has some very clever twists and turns along the way. It even has a very dark twist ending which, while not as surprising as the original film’s shocking reveal, certainly lives up to the series’ legacy. The film also works in the series’ satirical hallmarks which were very inconsistent in the previous film. There’s obvious fish-out-of-water stuff (Zira getting drunk for the first time), but there’s also clever stuff like Cornelius watching boxing and getting turned off by the brutality, the notion that humans love their pet more than other humans (and can’t live without them), jabs at celebrity culture and a priest freaking out about the notion that two apes could be married. In addition to the satirical elements, philosophical questions about time travel have also been added in, courtesy of Dr. Hasslein. Questions of choice and predestination are brought up, because Hasslein believes that the future is a multitude of potential futures, but the ending of the film calls this into question. Hasslein also struggles with the philosophical conundrum of murdering a future threat – is it justified to prevent future atrocities by killing an unborn child? It’s questions like this that make Hasslein a great villain in this film: he’s extremely intelligent, but conflicted, sympathetic and morally ambiguous. He’s truly the film’s villain, but he’s trying to ensure the survival of humanity in the face of future destruction, much like Dr. Zaius in the first film.

He also definitely rocks that suit.

As for the rest of the cast, Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter continue to shine as Cornelius and Zira, respectively. In fact, with the increased screen-time afforded by becoming the leads, Escape is probably the finest showcase of Zira and Cornelius’ characters in the whole franchise. The pair are extremely sympathetic, but the darker side of the apes is really highlighted – Zira in particular, who we have been very drawn to for the past three films, is a great character but one who is voluntarily involved in experimental surgery on live human beings. This is something which had been acknowledged in the original Planet of the Apes, but the implications of her actions never really dawn on viewers until this particular entry. Ricardo Montalbán’s Armando also has a relatively small part, but it is very memorable due to the passion in which he plays the role. Unfortunately the two other leads aren’t so great. Bradford Dillman’s Dr. Dixon is alright, but he isn’t given a lot to work with considering that he’s supposed to be the human hero of the film. Likewise, Natalie Trundy’s Dr. Branton isn’t given much to work with either, but Trundy butchers her lines all the same. Her acting is particularly wooden… I’m almost tempted to compare her to Romy Windsor who, if you read my Howling IV retrospective, you may remember as being one of the worst actresses I’ve ever seen. Trundy’s that bad in this, but thankfully her lines are extremely cut-down.

That said, Escape has its fair share of problems. For one thing, the soundtrack is noticeably worse than in the previous two films. It sounds very generic, almost like a 70s cop movie. I think the intention was to create a different sound-scape since it is set 2000 years before the previous films, but comes across as clearly inferior and much less evocative (barring perhaps the finale aboard the derelict ship). There’s also plot holes introduced in the script, such as Cornelius and Zira’s story about the rise of the apes – they claim to know that the apes rose against the humans and took over, but this contradicts the stories of the sacred scrolls in the original Apes film, which claimed that apes had always been dominant over man. With a bit of work this could have been integrated better, but as it is it’s a massive plot hole (or, at the very least, a major retcon). Then there’s smaller issues, such as the embarrassingly horrible-looking gorilla, which is clearly a man in a bad suit… made all the worse because he’s the one who strangles Dr. Milo to death, so it’s not exactly a background detail. For a series which prides itself on fantastic make-up effects and costumes, this is one embarrassing blemish which is hard to let slide and I can only imagine is to blame on the reduced budget. Another problem is the fact that Zira and Cornelius escape the military base because there is absolutely no one guarding the two apes, which is a pretty ridiculous plot contrivance (one which still crops up today). Finally, a pregnant Zira drinks even though she knows she’s pregnant. I guess that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome had not been discovered yet, but for a modern audience this is a pretty terrible detail which derails the film for a moment or two.

However, all-in-all, Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a pretty damn solid film overall. In fact, it has a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest score of any Apes sequel in the original series. It has its problems, but most of the are relatively minor. However, like I said earlier, if you can’t get over the circumstances of the apes’ time travel then your chances of enjoying it are going to drop dramatically. Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a sequel which should have failed miserably but ends up being a great watch and a very worthy film to carry on the legacy of the Apes franchise.

7/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 4 of this retrospective series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

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Retrospective: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Welcome back to the Planet of the Apes retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the second entry in the franchise, Beneath the Planet of the Apes! After the success of the original film, the producers quickly began work on a sequel. Considering that the original film left plenty of room for the writers to maneuver, making a franchise of the apes seemed like a fantastic idea. How did Beneath the Planet of the Apes fare? Read on to find out…

I’m really digging the old-school charm of this poster, it’s refreshing compared to the standard techniques you can expect out of a modern Hollywood marketing team.

The ending of Planet of the Apes was rife with sequel opportunities. When I first heard that there were five films in the original series, I naturally assumed that they chronicled how man breaks free from ape oppression and retake the planet for themselves. As it turns out, this was the direction which the producers originally were planning to take. Pierre Boulle, who wrote the novel which the first film was based on, created a script which centered around Taylor leading the humans into war against the apes, led by General Ursus. While this script was rejected, the overtones of war and character of Ursus both made their way into the final film. Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams then took a crack at script writing, with Dehn inserting the elements of atomic paranoia into the film. Thankfully one idea of Dehn and Abrahams’ which was dropped was that of a half-human, half-ape child… I just can’t see that having worked out in the slightest (watch Howling III: The Marsupials and try to convince me otherwise).

All of the major actors from the previous film returned to reprise their roles, although not as one would have hoped. The biggest blow to Beneath‘s success was that Charlton Heston wanted nothing to do with it. This was incredibly unfortunate and I’m not sure why Heston was so opposed to it – perhaps he didn’t consider the Apes franchise “serious” enough work for a Best Actor winner. As a result of his apprehension to appear, the film was drastically rewritten to allow Heston to stay out of it as much as he could. This put a serious damper on the natural progression of the series, although it probably ended up giving the franchise a greater longevity in the long run. Roddy McDowall also couldn’t appear in the film due to scheduling conflicts, but did show up in the form of archive footage. This makes Beneath the only original Apes film in which McDowall was not directly involved (and one of two Apes media in which he wasn’t involved – there were two TV shows created after the original series ended, one of which featured McDowall in a starring role). Aside from that, the rest of the original cast appeared although their screen time was generally reduced.

As for the new cast, the film stars James Franciscus as an American astronaut, Brent. He does an okay job in the role, but one can’t help but feel that he was only cast because he looks like Charlton Heston in wide shots which can be used in the trailers to convince people the movie stars Heston instead. There’s also the fact that once Heston does appear in the film he absolutely overpowers Franciscus, although that’s more of a credit to Heston’s screen presence. I guess in summary, Franciscus does an okay job but he’s hindered by being forced to play a lesser version of someone else. The other major new character is the gorilla general, Ursus. He’s basically a chest-thumping, overt villainous character, but he’s a lot of fun to watch on screen. Also, he has a great design and is probably one of the more iconic characters in the franchise, despite only appearing in this film. It should also be noted that McDowall’s Cornelius was recast, with the character being played by David Watson. Watson does an okay job, but like Franciscus his performance is completely overshadowed by the actor he’s replacing, not to mention that he looks noticeably different.

Before we get into the meat of the film itself, it should be noted that the film had a significantly lower budget than the original film did. The original had a budget around $6 million, whereas Beneath was originally budgeted around $4.5 million. However, this was apparently slashed down to $2.5 million due to a string of underperforming films from Fox studios. As a result, the film suffers in quite a few areas. The most obvious is the make-up effects compared to the original. The movie does feature some good make-up (which I’ll get to later), but there is also very obvious cost-cutting going on which isn’t present in the original film. For example, check out the following picture:

Quiz time: which apes are convincing prosthetics and which are obvious Halloween masks? If you said the ones with the gaping mouths are the masks, then congratulations. In pretty much every scene with orangutans and chimpanzees, these poor effects are very noticeable and distracting (the gorillas seem to get off the hook since they have a greater focus this time around). On top of that, Beneath relies far more on special effects than the original film did, but they look pretty terrible all-round. The film uses poor cartoon overlays, bad looking “cut-out” characters and obviously fake matte paintings throughout, when such things were unheard of in the original after the first 5 minutes. As a result, Beneath looks very dated. Oh and on top of all that, the first 3 minutes of the movie are just reused footage from the original. Remember how I said that reusing footage is basically the worst excuse to cut costs?

Anyway, onto the film itself. The movie revolves around Brent, an astronaut who crash lands on future-Earth while on a mission to rescue Taylor’s crew. While this doesn’t make a lot of sense (since Taylor’s crew were intentionally on a one-way journey), it’s more egregiously contrived as a means to get another talking human into the picture. Really, it just smacks of laziness on the part of the writers. Anyway, Brent ends up stumbling across Nova and discovers that she knows Taylor because she has his dog tags… wait a second. Taylor’s possessions were stolen from him by the humans and then apes when he was captured… where the hell was he hiding his dog tags this whole time!?! If he was played by Christopher Walken then we’d probably know, but as it is I’d rather not venture a guess (aside from stating that this is yet another another lazy, poorly-thought-out plot contrivance). Over the course of the first 40 minute, Brent and Nova run into the apes, get captured, escape 5 minutes later and then make their way into the forbidden zone. This is another issue with Beneath and Heston’s lack of involvement, as the first 40 minutes are a complete rehash of the plot points of the first film. If Heston had returned, or a different narrative been considered, the audience could have been saved from having to watch a much weaker rendition of the first film.

However, when Brent and Nova make their way into the forbidden zone and into the ruins of New York, things become far more fresh and interesting. Brent ends up discovering a cult of psychic, mutant, bomb-worshipping humans who have been in hiding from the apes for God knows how long. Dr. Zaius implied in Planet of the Apes that there were intelligent humans living in the forbidden zone too, so the addition of the mutants wasn’t even that much of a stretch. The best part of all of this though is that it really expands the Apes mythology – instead of apes as the uncontested overlords over primitive humans, there’s now a secret faction of hyper-religious fanatics who pose a threat to the apes themselves. These mutants offer a great counter-point to the threat of the apes and remind us that humans are the real enemies all along, because they are truly sinister bastards. They insist on numerous occasions that they are peaceful people because, as one puts it, “we don’t kill our enemies, we get our enemies to kill each other” by telepathically controlling them. The latter-portion of the film is quite interesting and even thrilling due to the inspired addition of the mutants. Oh and if that wasn’t satisfying enough, the make-up department outdid themselves with some truly disgusting effects on the unmasked mutants:

Blehhh… understandably, when the hoods come off this is quite a shock to the viewers. In fact, the whole sequence that this appears in is probably the strongest in the entire film. Unfortunately I can’t find a Youtube clip of it, but the sequence involves the mutants worshipping an atomic bomb in a religious service which apes Sunday morning worship services. Lines such as “Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen” really crack me up as someone who attended (and still does attend) church. While I won’t exactly agree with the sentiment that religious people are dangerous fanatics, I can’t deny that this scene is spot-on and is the only really good use of satire in the whole film. The film barely even tries to be humorous or satirical. There’s a group of hippy chimpanzees which seem to try to tie the film into the Vietnam War, but otherwise it generally plays the premise straight.

With all the promise of the mutants being added to the plot, it’s just too bad that the ending is such a downer. Heston and the studio head wanted to kill the series for good, and did a damn good job of trying… that is to say that they gun down Nova, then all of the mutants, Brent, Ursus and Taylor, who detonates a bomb that wipes out all life on Earth in the process. That’s right, they kill off the characters so thoroughly that they kill the Earth itself. Damn, that’s… that’s a bit harsh. Geez. Is it possible to have a bleaker ending than this? It’s just so pointlessly nihilistic, and the ending narration doesn’t help this perception any: “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.” That’s cold man… cold. Heston must have really wanted to get out of the series.

Still, Beneath might still have been half-decent entirely due to the second and third act with the mutants if it had been filmed a bit more proficiently. New director Ted Post doesn’t do half as good a job as Franklin J. Schaffner did, and the film feel like a bit of a jumbled mess at times. The pacing is totally off in the first 40 minutes, and the editing doesn’t help it to flow much better. On top of that, many of the attempts at action scenes are very poor, such as the scene where Brent fights an ape atop a wagon – the scene is just plain terrible, with bad editing, no music, no dialogue and no real suspense. The film also obviously suffers from a weak, butchered script where many of the characters are practically useless (Nova being the most egregious offender, she’s basically just a useless tag-along for 99% of the film… also, is it just me or is she wearing even less clothing this time around?). That said, Beneath is buoyed mostly by some good ideas (the apes going to war, the mutants, the bomb), expanding the mythology (learning about the gorilla caste) and a few good sequences (the bomb worship scene, the bleeding Lawgiver and crucified gorillas illusion), but it’s very weak overall.

5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part 3 of this retrospective series, Escape from the Planet of the Apes!

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Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)

It’s that time again! That’s right, it’s retrospectives time! The film franchise which we will be exploring this time is the venerable sci-fi series, Planet of the Apes (45 years old this year!). Unlike pretty much every other franchise I’ve explored in these retrospectives, the Planet of the Apes series has some fantastic films in its repertoire so these retrospectives should have much more positivity than, for example, The Howling did. Considering that pretty much every movie in the last 2 retrospective series sucked, it would be easy to think that I’m either a negative person and/or a stingy critic. Hopefully this series will inject some positivity into the retrospectives and change that perception. In any case, let’s explore the Planet of the Apes then…

The 35th Anniversary Edition DVD cover – probably the only Planet of the Apes marketing which  makes an obvious effort not to spoil the twist.

Planet of the Apes was based on a French novel by Pierre Boulle (authour of The Bridge Over the River Kwai), La Planète des singes. The rights to the novel were picked up by producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who spent quite some time pitching the film and trying to get a script written for it. Rod Sterling, creator of The Twilight Zone, wrote one of the scripts for the film which would have featured futuristic apes (much like in the novel). However, the most important addition that Sterling brought to the film was its famous twist ending (which was not present in the original novel). Later rewrites replaced all the dialogue, changed many character names and moved the setting to a more Victorian ape society, but the basic structure and the ending were all retained.

The film featured some fairly well-known actors in its principal parts. The most obvious superstar amongst the cast was Charlton Heston. Already famous for The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, he had the star power and rugged looks to portray the “hero” of the film, George Taylor. Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans was cast as Dr. Zaius. Kim Hunter, who had won an Oscar for best supporting actress as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, was cast as Zira. The other fairly big name in the cast was Roddy McDowall, who played Cornelius. Of the original cast, McDowall was actually probably the most important, as he would go on to appear in the first 5 films in some capacity (but we’ll get to that later of course). All of the main actors in the film do a good job – Evans really sells it as the villainous Dr. Zaius, making us really hate him for his hypocrisy. Cornelius and Zira are both quite good in their own right, although not always in the most obvious fashion. For example, you might notice that Cornelius and Zira twitch their noses when they’re surprised or thinking – it’s a small detail, but quite impressive that they’d throw in a subtle mannerism like that for their ape characters which go a long way to making them feel like legitimate characters. Heston sometimes gets some flak for hamming up his role in this film, but I think it really works to show the desperation and insanity of Taylor when he’s in captivity… after all, he’s stuck on a planet which is totally upside-down as far as he’s concerned. On top of that, his character is mute for about half of the film, and he does a great job helping us sympathize with him in spite of that limitation. The last notable character is Nova, played by Linda Harrison. She’s basically mute the whole time and so doesn’t have much to work with, but she does her job well enough as the “savage beauty” and generic love interest.


The film features a great plot which is dripping with biting satire that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jonathan Swift novel. Even better, the satire is still quite relevant to modern audiences, with apes hunting and experimenting on humans (animal testing), an ape social order (there’s an obvious caste system in place), conservatism in science, the apes putting Taylor on trial and faith vs science in regards to the origin of man (and ape). The film also features some more on-the-nose satirical lines which, er, ape common sayings, such as “you know what they say, human see, human do” or the gorilla’s funeral (“the deceased once said to me ‘I never met an ape I didn’t like'”). There’s also priceless sight gags, such as the stuffed humans in the museum and the “3 wise monkeys” in Taylor’s trial (which was actually improvised on set).

There are also some just plain great moments in the film. The trial sequence is notable for its satire, but it also manages to balance some truly affecting moments. I think my favourite is actually when the head orangutan says that Taylor’s clothing smells repugnant and forces him to strip naked, dehumanizing him in the process. The look on Heston’s face during this is just tragic and is one of those moments which really shows his acting chops as far as I’m concerned. The film also features some absolutely iconic sequences, such as the first appearance of the apes as they hunt the humans through the corn fields, or when Taylor regains his speech.

Actually, one of the things which interests me the most about Planet of the Apes is that the hero isn’t really a hero at all. He’s a cynical, self-serving asshole through-and-through. It’s plain as day at the start of the film, but it’s easy to forget this fact during the middle section when the apes become the greater evil. However, Taylor shows his true colours again in the third act when he orders around Zira and Cornelius (who are only trying to help him), threatens to execute Dr. Zaius and just generally acts like a dick. The purpose of this of course is to remind us that humanity is inherently selfish and violent, which sets up the ending and actually makes the villain sympathetic. Dr. Zaius comes across in the film as a despicable character who is only interested in perpetuating the status quo and who exerts complete authority over the heroes… but in the end, we’re shown that he’s actually pretty morally ambiguous. Not only is he trying to save his people from destruction, but he also “wins” by covering up any evidence of the origin of the apes.

Of course, this leads right into the twist. Planet of the Apes has an all-time classic ending, a total gut-punch and easily one of the best twists in all of cinema. It’s fantastic and easily elevates Planet of the Apes from a “great” film to an “amazing” one. I got lucky and saw the movie when I was 11, so it actually hadn’t been spoiled for me yet. I had seen Spaceballs, but I didn’t really understand the reference or get the significance of it until I actually watched Planet of the Apes. It was an enthralling experience, I can only imagine how crushing it would have been for unprepared audiences in 1968.

Holy crap, how did I get this far without mentioning the make-up effects? Simply put, the make-up in this film is exquisite. The effects may not look like a modern day chimpanzee or orangutan, but they are very convincing as highly evolved apes. In fact, I have a very hard time distinguishing where the prosthetics begin and end – they’re that good. The only real exception to this is on Maurice Evans’ prosthetics sometimes – on the very rare occasion, you can see the end of the inside of his mouthpiece, but this is only a couple times in the whole movie perhaps. On the whole, the make-up effects are superb and still fairly convincing today… unfortunately the special effects are very dated though. In particular, the opening scene with the Icarus travelling at light speed is almost embarrassingly bad looking. Thankfully the film does not rely on these sorts of visual effects at all, discarding any need for such effects within the first 5 minutes (aside from some matte paintings, but these are all perfect). I hate to imagine how a film which relies solely on visual effects is going to look in 50 years… Transformers, I’m looking at you.

Other positives: Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack is very notable. His score is very avant-garde, with a very primal sound which is almost reminiscent of a horror movie. The landscapes are also very breathtaking – the Forbidden Zone scenes are shot in the Grand Canyon around Lake Powell and the ending is shot on a beach in California, both of which make for stunning visuals. On the more negative side, Nova’s basically a useless female love interest and eye candy which dominates films of this sort… although her one obvious positive is that she helps Taylor to care for some of humanity again. However, if you’re a feminist then you’ll probably get offended by the handling of Nova, although at least Zira’s a very strong female character.

Bottom-line: Planet of the Apes is awesome. It’s easily in my top 5 favourite films of all time… and maybe even my top 3. It’s an all-time classic. If you haven’t seen it, then do so!

9.5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part two of this retrospective series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes!

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News Dump

Sorry if this blog post feels a little scatter-shot, but my update day happened to fall on the same day as my two final exams, and so I’m writing this in the time between them… then it’s off to see Kick-Ass 2!* However, in the meantime let’s take a look at some of the wild news I’ve had bookmarked for you wonderful people…

We’re gonna start off with a bit of older news, but it was so funny that I couldn’t not post it. You may remember a month ago that Toronto was hit with severe flooding, with total costs of the damage reaching nearly $1 billion. The scale of the flooding made for many stunning images which were a reminder to all of the unpredictability of nature… nah, just kidding, it made people put on their tinfoil hats and go online:

These were literally the first comments on the article (you can check it out yourself, they’re still the top comments on the linked story). Of course we have an apocalyptic harbinger, because suddenly a flood actually affects you and it must mean that the Bible was speaking directly to you when it said there’d be increasing floods (what are the chances that people said the same in centuries past during floods?). Bruce Lees’ comment is the real gold though, the detail of his post really makes me think that this isn’t just trollbait. If you’re looking to start a flam ewar, why would they go into detail about the “Woodpecker” and “HAARP”? Furthermore, these are actually involved in conspiracy theorizing, so they don’t just pull words out of a hat and laugh – there’s a very good chance that they actually believe that the government is controlling the weather. Even better, they tell us to “read the science people, now”, which obviously will just further refute their special blend of insanity. Then, rounding out the stupid comments is “SCIENCE” who seems to be trying to mediate to no one in particular (and everyone at the same time). Actually that describes them pretty well because they don’t seem to be settling on a point at all: they are saying, more or less, that sometimes people are wrong, but not always. Not the same level of stupid as the other comments, but it’s one of those typical Internet commentators who thinks they can wield a level of control and pacify millions of anonymous people’s opinions. Good luck with that.

Oh and speaking of crazy people, there’s the woman who claims to own the sun and is going to charge us for using it. I think I can leave it at that because that’s another special brand of crazy (…or perhaps she’s shrewd like a fox).

Anyway, moving away from insanity to something more political, I was entertained by an article recently about why the media is not liberal. I know that the term “liberal media” gets passed around a lot by self-acknowledged conservatively-biased news networks (such as CNN and Sun News Media… and, uh, by my parents as well). I don’t really agreed with that assessment, but this article actually points out why it’s a flawed idea quite well. If anything, the media is (in general) probably closer to a centrist position, taking bits of conservatism and liberalism. There’s also the possibility that more conservatives are becoming increasingly alienated by gay rights, marijuana legalization, libertarianism (which is actually a conservative trait generally), etc so so assume that the media is automatically biased against them. That’s just my thoughts at the moment, but I’m planning on reading into it more and coming up with a more concrete opinion.

And rounding out this blog post is a diatribe on the biggest cancer in TV today, TLC, and their 1 hour special The Man with the 132-lb Scrotum. Apparently back in the day TLC used to be an educational channel, but then they realized “hey we can make a lot of money off of derivative reality TV and sensationalist garbage”. Hence a line-up of mindless TV shows about antique hunters, pawn shops, guys making cakes, retarded rednecks and now a guy with a scrotum that weighs almost as much as I do. It’s total tabloid attention-grabbing, exploiting the guy (who is in serious need of medical attention) like he’s a freak show attraction. TLC is a terrible TV network and this latest special just further reinforces that idea.

Finally, just a note on the next retrospective series: since I’ll be done school today, I’ll finally have time to work on it. As a result, the new series will begin next week. Be sure to tune in for it, it’s going to be funner than a barrel of monkeys!

*POST-SCRIPT: I actually quite liked the movie, I know it’s getting savaged by critics (28% TomatoMeter as of 20/08/13), but if you’re a fan of the original it retains much of the elements which made the first movie so good. That said, it’s not as good as the first one was, but it is far, FAR better than the comic it’s based on.

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“Best of the Public”

If you’ve been on the Internet for a while, chances are you’ve heard of the batshit insanity which is Conservapedia, a wiki with an extremely abrasive, right-wing, Christian fundamentalist bias. Featuring such enlightening articles such as how all liberals are totally stupid, corrupt degenerates and a list of college majors that’ll turn you into a dirty liberal, the site is clearly totally unreliable to anyone with half a mind to think for themselves – and yes, I’m including plenty of conservatives in that estimation since the site alienates all but the most hard-line fundamentalists. However, Conservapedia does include one interesting little tidbit to be stumbled upon that I’ve been mulling over lately. The site’s founder, Andrew Schlafly, famously declared in an interview that “the best of the public is better than a group of experts”. Unlike most things espoused on Conservapedia, I think that the best of the public is a philosophical idea which actually deserves some examining to determine whether or not it actually holds any water, and to see why Conservapedia might want to promote such a doctrine.

The primary philosophical idea which Conservapedia tries to combat with the best of the public is that of “gatekeeping”. Gatekeepers refer to those who control the flow of knowledge, and can affect the social perceptions of individuals. This is also how experts are created because they are educated within the social system – as a result, their beliefs are often tempered towards the status quo. This also ties into credentials, since having good credentials signals that someone is an “expert” and therefore more powerful on the social hierarchy than someone who has no credentials. As a result, people will continue to support the status quo in order to avoid losing their authority. This is the basic idea that the editors of Conservapedia put forth to support their best of the public philosophy: since “experts” are compromised by the status quo, they cannot support the truth. The public is free from such conflicts of interest and therefore a non-expert can look on a subject without bias. However, since they are not credentialed experts, the best of the public are often shot down by experts for not having experience. In its most basic form, the best of the public actually seems to offer a decent argument for why the public can be better than the morally compromised experts. Continuing this Philosophy 101 line of thought, Conservapedia experts seem to feel that the best of the public are like those who were released from Plato’s cave, individuals who aren’t trapped in a monolithic structure and are able to see the truth that the experts are ignorant of.

However, the whole philosophy has some pretty enormous logical holes. First of all, how does one determine who the best of the public are? Does any random Joe Shmoe off the street qualify? The only way I can give the idea any sort of credence is if the “best of the public” has extensive knowledge of a subject in question, otherwise they’re just “the public”… of course, this dramatically lowers the number of people who can qualify, and overlaps significantly with “experts”. The examples on the best of the public page don’t really help clarify matters any – how the hell is the Virgin Mary an example of the “best of the public”??? Is anyone who did anything without getting credentialed for it first suddenly considered “the best”? Geez, I must be the best Tim Horton’s employee ever because I didn’t do my training videos to get credentialed!

Pfft, look at those “experts”. I’d take ’em all on in a Timbit war, blindfolded.

There’s also the problem that the best of the public just makes less sense than credentialing. Put simply, the expert opinion social structure has more sound reasoning behind it. Experts are considered as such for a reason – they (generally) know what the hell they’re talking about. They’ve studied the topic for years and so should have a good idea of the arguments and counter-arguments within the community. Comparing an expert to a guy who read all about a topic on Wikipedia Conservapedia and then claiming that the uncredentialed guy has more authority on a subject than someone who dedicated their life to studying and experiencing it is just lunacy. Oh and of course, if the uncredentialed person in question is a liberal then they’re disqualified from being the best of the public by default regardless of their stance.

This really leads into the obvious problem with the best of the public – it’s espoused by Conservapedia and therefore has an extreme fundamentalist-conservative bias. Conservapedia’s editors will claim that the experts are biased and the best of the public aren’t, but their entire conception of who qualifies is based on their political leaning – disagree with Conservapedia, and you’re suddenly exempt from qualification. Conservapedia also seems to be at odds with itself in determining the best of the public and experts, because they still cite “reputable” sources on their pages and Andrew Schlafly’s own page is just a rundown of all the credentials he has. It’s pretty clear that the best of the public is just used by Conservapedia as an excuse to discredit ideologies that they disagree with (eg, evolution) and replace them with pro-fundamentalist ideologies (eg, creationism and/or intelligent design).

While the best of the public is probably not a very great way to go about reforming the social construction of knowledge, it does have some good insights. Experts might be given too much credit sometimes, as it’s very easy for them to throw out their credentials or experience and rub it in someone’s face, rather than addressing counter-arguments directly. Ideally, the best of the public can stand beside expert opinion and shape knowledge together… but they’ll have to put politics aside first if they want the idea to have any sort of chance of working.

For the love of God, please put the politics away before someone gets hurt.

For further reading on the issues with the best of the public, check out the RationalWiki’s article on the subject. Just a note of discretion, RationalWiki is basically just the anti-Conservapedia-wiki so it’s not like its unbiased, but the points they make are certainly quite valid and helped shape my own ideas on the subject.

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Video Game Review: Tomb Raider (2013)

I’ve never really had much interest in the Tomb Raider franchise. There was always a stigma of sexism which surrounded the series due to Lara Croft’s sex icon status. If you were a guy and you played Tomb Raider games then you only wanted to stare at her boobs and ass. However, with the release of the Uncharted series, Indiana Jones-style adventuring was back in vogue and an intriguing reboot of the Tomb Raider series was announced that finally piqued my interest. It was going to star a vulnerable, unskilled Lara Croft. It was going to be more about survival than action. It was going to have a very mature story. Lara was actually going to be realistically proportioned. Stigma be damned, as soon as it was announced the Tomb Raider reboot was on my must-play list. Did the game manage to live up to the hype? Read on to find out… (Note that this is only a single-player review, I didn’t bother with the unnecessary multiplayer mode.)

Tomb Raider opens in a bit of a mess. I’m not referring to the whole sinking of Lara’s ship and dead bodies kind of mess: I mean that it fumbles the narrative and gameplay right out of the gate. It starts in media res which might be fine for an action-focused game, but this really hurts the narrative off the bat. If they had given the game a real opening, maybe I would have known who the secondary characters where and maybe I actually would have given two shits about them. However, story seems to have been set aside in favour of an Uncharted 2-style explosive opening – a terrible compromise in my opinion, since it hamstrings at least the first act of the game. In fact, the opening also features a jumble of quick-time events and scripted set-pieces which feel like its hewing too closely to the Uncharted formula… don’t get me wrong, I love the Uncharted games, but their formula doesn’t work in every game. It’s kind of like how after Die Hard every action movie was set in a single location, or how after The Bourne Ultimatum every action movie had quick cuts and shaky cam: it just reeks of studio-enforced money-grubbing pandering to the lowest common denominator.

While the game’s opening was a bit of a mess, there are some great mechanics underlying the gameplay. The game features an XP system which is very fun, encouraging you to maximize the yield of your actions to level up. It might be a little tonally-off for the young, vulnerable Lara to be headshotting everyone with her new bow, but it’s forgivable. The game also features a weapon-upgrading system based on finding salvage, which changes the weapons as one would expect it to. However, there are also some very cool upgrades, such as explosive or incendiary ammo or the ability to get burst-fire on your pistol. In addition, the game features plenty of traversal options when you unlock the pick axe and rope arrows – the game ends up playing like a funner version of Assassin’s Creed as Lara finds herself traversing the environment (although these can be somewhat imprecise… I died from failed jumps more than anything else). Finally, while the narrative might be half-baked and the secondary characters aren’t given their due, Lara Croft herself is given a proper development and is actually fairly well fleshed out. Her development is quite natural and actually works into the game with the player unlocking new abilities and weapons.

However, as I’ve alluded to, weak point of the game is definitely its story. Between the gameplay, the half-baked characters and the script, it just doesn’t convince. Why should we give a damn about any of the characters when we don’t even know anything about them (barring Conrad Roth I suppose)? Most of them are just there to be plot devices… especially Whitman, who you know is going to be a traitor as soon as he appears on screen. Lara’s supposed to be vulnerable and just barely surviving, but how are we supposed to believe this when she survives a dozen falls from extreme heights by pure luck? Or how about when racks up a bodycount in the hundreds all by herself? This particular problem definitely feels like an Uncharted ripoff – Lara just so happens to land on an island inhabited by cultists of the “murder everyone for no reason” kind. Narratively, Tomb Raider just doesn’t lend itself to the requisite third-person shooter bodycount and the game actually gets quite tedious at the points where it turns into a linear shootout (especially because enemies LOVE throwing molotov cocktails which force you to move from cover and back over and over again). The game’s also just gratuitously violent at times, seemingly just to hammer home that it’s “gritty” and “mature”. There’s one section which is a total rip off of The Descent where Lara falls into a random pool of blood. There’s also dead bodies and guts just lying all over the island for little discernible reason… I guess because the bad guys are cultists and all religious people are mindlessly violent and irrational… *ahem* That said, the game didn’t really have any real reason to not get itself a Teen rating, because the gore that they threw into the game is just unnecessary.

Even worse, the game is supposed to be about survival and makes a huge deal about having a hunting system, but it’s 100% optional – you get a bit of XP for killing animals and some salvage if you have an upgrade, but that’s it. Tomb Raider would have really benefited from a Metal Gear Solid 3-style survival system where you have to keep Lara from starving to death, and would have certainly helped make the game feel less linear than it is. A related issue is that you don’t even have to worry about non-human enemies, because the only ones that appear are a small group of wolves at the start of the game… and then that’s it. I never saw another wolf after the cultists showed up. That’s just a damn shame. Killing human enemies makes the game feel like another boring third-person shooter…

I guess the bottom-line is that Tomb Raider isn’t what I was hoping it would be. I was hoping for more of an emphasis on the survival aspect, but what I got instead was a game with great mechanics buried beneath an Uncharted-wannabe (oh the irony). That said, as the game progresses it becomes quite fun in spite of its shortcomings – I definitely was enjoying it by the end. However, I think the game would have benefited if it had cut the cultists entirely (or at least reduced their ranks significantly), emphasized player vs environment and survival gameplay and increased the number of puzzles. In fact, the puzzle-based sections were the highlights of the game. The Uncharted series has always struggled with its “puzzles”, which typically are insultingly easy, but Tomb Raider‘s puzzles are very fun to attempt. They’re not particularly difficult, but they are very satisfying to complete when you figure them out. Anyway, with those elements the game would have been much better – of course once you beat the game you can travel back to the hubs and do just that. Hmm… I might have to go back and go do some open-world tomb raiding unshackled from a mediocre third-person shooter narrative…

7.5/10

By the way, the next Retrospective series should be starting in about 2 or 3 weeks. I’ll be finished school on the 20th of August, and so will have more free time once again at that point – it was hell finishing the Resident Evil retrospectives and just finding time to write blog posts since the start of July when school started up again. That said, I’m really looking forward to writing about the next series – it’s a personal favourite, which should alleviate the negative feelings which tend to permeate the Retrospectives. Until next time then!

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Quick Fix: God is Dead?

If you listen to rock music on the radio, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Black Sabbath’s lead single off their new album, 13, “God is Dead?”. On my local rock station, you can be pretty much guaranteed to hear it a few times per day as the DJ gleefully declares “I’m loving this new song, it’s ‘GOD IS DEAD’!” When I first heard the song, I thought that it was just another song decrying the complete evils of religion and how God can’t exist. This actually surprised me because I was under the impression that Ozzy Osbourne is actually Christian (or at the very, very least agnostic), so if he was suddenly preaching that God is dead then he must have undergone a drastic, life-changing event of some sort. Basically, I took the song at face value, something which I imagine many more casual listeners would do – both religious (“Bah, the Prince of Darkness praises Satan once again…”) and atheist (“Woo you tell those religious sheeple Ozzy!”). However, there’s a major component of the song which doesn’t carry over to the radio listener and that’s the question mark at the end of the title. That punctuation mark makes all the difference to the meaning of the song. After hearing the song a couple times and actually listening to the lyrics, I began to detect the ambiguity contained within the interplay between declaration (“God is dead”) and questioning (“Is God really dead?”). Ultimately, I think that the song is leaving the decision up to the interpreter to decide.

Despite the doom-and-gloom tone of the song, it’s actually pretty inoffensive… well, unless you consider any attack on religious fanatics indefensible I suppose. In fact, “God is Dead?” is arguably commendable for a theist since it’s a major mainstream song which tackles one of the greatest philosophical religious questions – if God exists, then why do bad things happen? And why do God’s own followers commit atrocities in His name? In any case, I’m glad to see that “God is Dead?” isn’t the aggressively atheistic song that it appears to be at first glance… and as for Ozzy’s stance on this interpretation, it sounds pretty clear to me.

Thinking about “God is Dead?” also makes me think about religious music in general. I’m sure that there are still many religious people who would write off “God is Dead?” even with this interpretation, despite the sense of hope at its core. What defines “Christian” music? If “God is Dead?” was released by, say, Demon Hunter instead of Black Sabbath, would it be accepted? I’m inclined to think that it would. Why do Christian review sites, like the Childcare Action Project, condemn a very pro-faith movie like Signs for “blasphemy” when said blasphemy was part of the hero’s journey to redemption?* Similarly, there’s the issue of Christian musicians in general, which I think is best demonstrated by, of all bands, Korn. Yes, the Korn that’s famous for such songs as “A.D.I.D.A.S.” (aka, “All Day I Dream About Sex”). In 2005, Korn’s lead guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch left the band because he had converted to Christianity and broke his addition to methamphetamines. He then turned to a Christian music career. Meanwhile Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, Korn’s bassist, also converted to Christianity but decided that he could reach out to more people if he stayed with the band. This is a very interesting conundrum for Christians in the music industry: Christian music is largely a niche with a very limited reach, mostly concentrated on an already-Christian audience. However, if the artist stays in the mainstream then they risk having their message diluted. It’s a very difficult balancing act and I don’t think there’s a correct approach… but it’s interesting to note that Head’s back with Korn once again (predictably, this has pissed off some uptight Christians who Head soundly trounces on his Facebook page). I’ve never given a shit about a Korn album, but I’m excited to see how The Paradigm Shift turns out and hear if more positive aspects find their way in…

*From their website, they state that “The CAP Analysis Model makes no scoring allowances for trumped-up “messages” to excuse or for manufacturing of justification for aberrant behavior or imagery, or for camouflaging such ignominy with “redeeming” programming. Disguising sinful behavior in a theme plot does not excuse the sinful behavior of either the one who is drawing pleasure or example from the sinful display or the practitioners demonstrating the sinful behavior.” This is just unthinkably stupid. As I showed in my interpretation of “God is Dead?”, context is absolutely everything. This is the sort of inflexibility that makes evangelicals look like total tools…
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Quick Fix: Multi-media News

Hello fine readers, thanks for coming back for the weekly update! I was going to write on something more… controversial to say the least, but it’s just not coming to me. Maybe I’ll find the words for it next week, but for now it’s on the back-burner. Anyway, that means that we get to talk about the generally less-heavy news in pop culture instead! As most nerds will tell you, San Diego Comic-con just ended and brought with it some major entertainment news. Probably foremost amongst these is the announcement of a Superman vs. Batman movie. Clearly this is DC’s attempt to kickstart a shared universe much like Marvel studios is enjoying now. Of course, this brings with it its own problems… like how Batman could possibly win against Superman… *SPOILER* especially now that he is willing to kill for the greater good. Again, I’m not entirely sure how this is going to get worked out, but it could be potentially monumental if it can all come together.

Next on the agenda are a couple of potential movies that I’ve been following for some time which are looking for support. The first of these is Dredd 2, the proposed sequel to a movie I’ve been gushing about since it came out. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it yet, do so. It’s amazing, and deserves a sequel. The official news is that DVD and Blu-ray sales of the film have been through the roof and fan support is overwhelmingly high. This means that the likelihood of a sequel being made have skyrocketed. Back around December when I saw the box office figures for Dredd I was aghast – I was certain a sequel would never get made, with a status as a cult classic in a decade or two being the film’s best bet for success. However, it’s now looking quite likely that we’ll see a sequel, maybe 50/50. I just hope the same minds are behind it so we won’t get let down!

The other potential film I’ve been following is a Warhammer 40,000 fan film, The Lord Inquisitor. It was announced shortly after the official 40k movie, Ultramarines was released (to tepid reception) and looks like it will blow it out of the water. The movie’s being made by Erasmus Brosdau, one of the designers at Crytek (a video game studio famous for Crysis and originators of the Far Cry series). The only sad thing about The Lord Inquisitor was that it looked like we were going to be waiting a couple years for a 15 minute short… until now anyway. Brosdau is looking for financial backing to get The Lord Inquisitor turned into a full-length CGI animated movie. I first got into 40k 10 years ago and back then I thought the setting would make for an awesome movie. In fact, I can’t believe it took until 2010 before we saw an official 40k movie… unfortunately that movie, Ultramarines, was a pretty bland representation of the universe. If The Lord Inquisitor receives its backing, it should be a faithful version of what makes the 40k universe so awesome. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes in the future.

Finally, the biggest piece of pop culture news all week for me is this picture:

YES. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is well underway and I have little doubt that it is going to be amazing. Matt Reeves directing? YES. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver are back writing? AWESOME. Andy Serkis is back as Caesar? HELL YES. Hell, even the supporting cast looks good with such big names as Gary Oldman and Kerri Russell. I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes – hopefully this one will be even better!

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Quick Fix: Zimmerman Verdict

I’m sure by now everyone’s heard the virdict in the Zimmerman trial – not guilty. To a lot of people, Zimmerman just got away scot-free with murder. Of course, “a lot of people” have only the most cursory knowledge of what transpired and how the trial actually went, so this is mostly based on their political leaning, race, emotional state, etc. To be fair to everyone, I’m in that category myself as I have only really read when the case first hit the news and then forgot about it til a few days ago when the verdict was handed down (and then a few responses to it as well). I myself think that Zimmerman deserves to be tried for murder… but that said, I don’t know the whole story. My opinion (and the opinions of others) on the matter has been influenced by what we have been told, and that’s where the biggest issues in this case lie in my opinion.

First off, I am infuriated by how this trial was politicized as soon as it hit the airwaves. Obviously I’m furious that some people might use it as a defense of moronic “stand your ground” laws, but I’m actually more angry that it was turned into a racial war by liberals. This is irresponsible on the part of the media and served to make the actual details of the case itself irrelevant – all that matters now is that Zimmerman represents white oppression and Martin represents the black margin. Of course, the other effect which probably left the media salivating with anticipation was that the verdict would be inflammatory either way, driving up viewership. People are in an absolute frenzy right now, but if Zimmerman had been charged then there still would have been protests from people whining about how whites are now marginalized by minorities, that minorities can play the “race card” to do whatever they want and people would be attempting to keep “stand your ground” laws in place. I quite liked Disturbed frontman David Draiman’s take on this case’s treatment by the media.

The second major issue with this case was that people are infuriated that Zimmerman was not found guilty by the jury. Of course, this is another side-effect of the politicizing of the trial, but what’s important is the legal procedure itself. Verdicts aren’t passed out by people’s own sense of morality – considering how much moral variance there can be between people, the legal process would be impossible. Instead, they have to pass down a verdict based on the laws of the State and the rules of the court. Based on that criteria alone, Zimmerman was clearly in the right – in the legal sense, he was acting in self-defense and there was “reasonable doubt” that he committed murder. If you’re going to be infuriated at the verdict, place the blame on the legal system, because I’m pretty sure that it’s now obvious that the law isn’t concerned with what you think is right. While it might be odd to cite The Onion in a post about a serious issue, I think that their article about how screwed up the laws are is quite a good take on the injustice of the justice system (in fact, I think satire is a fantastic way to “rage against the machine” so to speak). In fact, as far as the trial went, Zimmerman’s lawyers actually acted more professionally and had a better case.

Bottom-line: while I don’t have all the facts in the case, I think that Zimmerman should probably have been sentenced for 2nd or 3rd degree murder. That said, the first part of that sentence is the important part: I don’t have all the facts. I have no real justifiable reason to be completely outraged by the outcome of this trial. I think what we can learn from it is that the law needs to be changed in order to not obstruct justice in the future though, because if Zimmerman was actually guilty then we can’t have this sort of thing happening again.

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Retrospective: Resident Evil – Retribution (2012)

Welcome back to part five of the Resident Evil retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fifth (and thus far final) movie in the franchise, Resident Evil: Retribution! However, just before we get to that, I want to highlight a somewhat relevant article I read recently about how fanboys are ruining Hollywood. Considering that I’ve been criticizing Paul W.S. Anderson for deviating from the games, this might make me seem like a biased fanboy… but the truth is that I don’t really give a crap about the Resident Evil games. I’ve played a little bit of most of them, but they’re not really my cup of tea – gimme a Metal Gear, Battlefield or Splinter Cell game any day of the week. That said, I don’t think the authour of the article defenders their position very well – they call on fanboys to piss off because they can’t write off a movie for making deviations from the source material. In some ways I can actually agree with this, but the way they presented it is questionable. He seems to be writing this as a response to Man of Steel and World War Z, stating that (SPOILER) why should it matter if Superman kills Zod? In this respect, it is a betrayal of what the character stands for and also creates major scriptwriting issues in the future (if Superman is willing to kill, then why won’t he kill his enemies when the going gets tough from here on out?). The changes in Man of Steel change fundamental aspects of the character themselves, not the way that they’re presented. On a related note, World War Z has nothing to do with the novel beyond having some type of zombie in it – if you’re going to change the source material that much then you might as well just give it an original name. The only reason I can see them not doing so is because it will allow them to market to an existing audience. However, I did agree with some elements of the article, such as when the authour defends Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. I may not care for Resident Evil, but I’m definitely a Tolkien fanboy… and I actually quite liked The Hobbit in spite of its excessive length. It is extremely faithful to Tolkien’s book and appendices (with the only major exception being the stuff surrounding Azog), moreso than The Lord of the Rings was. On its own merits, The Hobbit was quite a good movie, and people who write it off due to it not sticking to the book solely or for being too long (I honestly found that it didn’t feel like 2 1/2 hours) are really missing out. All-in-all, the authour makes some decent points, but I can’t find myself in agreement with them for the most part.

Anyway, after Afterlife, the Resident Evil series was even more popular (and reviled) than ever. Inevitably, Retribution was greenlit and prepared to assault the intelligence of audiences worldwide for a fifth time. Thankfully, the series had somewhat gained its footing, as Extinction and Afterlife were both at least watchable… could Retribution carry on this streak and turn the franchise into a true guilty-pleasure? Read on to find out…

There were quite a few posters for this movie, but this one’s my favourite. The skewed perspective and use of colour make it look very cool.

Afterlife raked in almost $300 million worldwide, making it by far the most successful entry in the franchise. While the series was basically a joke by now, it was still drawing in new audiences (especially internationally). This time around, Anderson seemed to want to draw back fans of the games, and so offered to introduce characters which had not been brought into the series yet. Based on a popularity poll, Leon Kennedy, Ada Wong and Barry Burton were written into Retribution. The marketing for the film also promised that the action was going to take place on a “global scale”, whereas previous entries were confined to the United States (barring the opening sequence in Afterlife). Also, since it performed so successfully in the previous film, Retribution was again shot and released in 3D… only this time they (thankfully) toned down the gimmicky usage of the medium. Crap almost never gets thrown at us to artificially hammer home the effect, instead it is integrated organically throughout.

Retribution features one of the largest main casts in the series. As usual, Alice is back in the lead. This time around she’s supposedly a regular human again, but you’d never know it – she displays impossible feats of athleticism and (sigh) dual wields so much that super-powered Alice would have said “Whoa, slow down girl!” Of course, at the end Alice does get all her super-powers back in the most convenient manner possible… bloody hell Anderson, make up your damn mind about how you want the character to “develop”! Actually, he and Milla did try to develop Alice in this entry somewhat by stealing a page from James Cameron. Alice finds a little girl who she becomes surrogate mother for, and then has to rescue her from the monsters near the end of the movie. It’s not even close to a stretch to suggest that this whole plot strand completely ripped off Aliens – hell, the rescue scene even uses identical framing and lighting to that film (not to mention that the kid is inexplicably cocooned as well). This whole subplot was ill-conceived in my opinion. Ripley is certainly one of the great heroines in all of cinema, and Aliens really drove that home… but ripping that off doesn’t suddenly make Alice a deep character. There’s no real established precedent at this point for Alice to be a surrogate mother to anybody, nor is it set up well at all. By throwing it in it just seems like Anderson and Jovovich just wanted to indulge their own family. To make matters worse, the relationship just makes no sense. The little girl, Becky, only follows Alice around because she thinks she’s her mother, but when she finds out that she isn’t she screams “You’re not my mommy are you?!?!” To that Alice simply quips “I am now!” As much as you’d like to be her mommy Alice, you really aren’t. Becky’s got a whole life that she can’t just forget because you decided that you should take care of her. Of course, the movie doesn’t address this because Alice has become a Mary Sue at this point, full-stop. She’s supposed to be vulnerable now, but she’s totally invincible in practice, and we’re never convinced that she’s in any sort of danger whatsoever.

If you’re a Ukrainian supermodel, you can kidnap anybody.

Enough about Alice though, onto the other characters. Retribution actually got a fair bit of buzz by bringing back characters who had been killed off, namely Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and James “One” Shade (Colin Salmon). To that I say one thing: AWESOME. Carlos and James were easily the best parts of their respective movies, and a chance to bring them back to kick more ass is very welcome indeed… unfortunately they are given little more than overglorified cameos. Like, literally all that they do is show up every once in a while and look intimidating before they get killed off unceremoniously (and another clone of Carlos gets munched by a zombie at the start of the movie). Well how about Rain then? Since Resident Evil she had become one of the most recognizable action heroines in modern cinema, surely she got a good role this time around? Umm well no. There’s two versions of Rain in the movie, a good one and a bad one. The good one runs around and is kind of funny for being fairly useless (and dies of course). Bad Rain on the other hand is such a poor tertiary villain that it’s cringe-worthy. I thought Rodriguez’s acting was bad in the first movie, but she’s just awful in Retribution. This actually really saddens me because she’s proven that she can be badass in movies such as Avatar, so wasting her like this is just frustrating. So there you have it, 3 favourites from the film franchise are brought back to much fanfare… and then squandered so badly that you’d swear that the filmmakers were intentionally screwing with us.

How about the other characters then? Boris Kodjoe returns as Luther West, and while he was pretty cool in both movies, he doesn’t really get to do much before his own unceremonious death. Albert Wesker also inexplicably makes a return after getting blown to smithereens at the end of the last movie… like, literally no one questions how he could have possibly survived the explosion. They don’t even offer a half-assed hand wave. On top of that, Shawn Roberts’ acting is pretty bad this time around. For whatever reason, he emphasizes every damn word that Wesker says, making him seem a bit odd to say the least. Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) also returns in a full-fledged role once again, but her acting is still very bad. She certainly livens things up “physically”, but doesn’t do a great job convincing us whenever she has to open her mouth. Also, I’m kind of annoyed that they decided to emulate Resident Evil 5 for her appearance. Like in Apocalypse, her outfit is distractingly impractical:

Sure, it provides eye candy, but I can’t really take that outfit seriously. As a defense to Paul W.S. Anderson though, the game series is mostly to blame for that outfit, but that said he also bears the responsibility for adapting it. I actually am kind of disappointed that Capcom reinforced the “single male loser in the basement” stereotype when they worked Jill into Resident Evil 5, especially since she’s not generally a particularly sexualized character in the series. Sexism is a big issue in the gaming industry, and forcing one of the major strong, female characters to prance around with massive cleavage damages our ability to see them beyond that (on the flip side of the coin, Chris Redfield’s muscles are RIDICULOUS as well – you see angry Internet commenters, sexism works both ways!).

Bloody hell I’ve almost written a thousand words on the characters and still haven’t gotten through them all. Okay, picking up the pace slightly, the first new addition is Li Bingbing as Ada Wong. As she puts it, she’s Wesker’s top agent… and that’s basically all we learn about her. She’s given absolutely no development, and Li’s acting is atrocious on top of that. Similarly, Johann Urb’s Leon Kennedy isn’t given any development either… but that doesn’t really matter because he comes across as a massive, stupid douche. As I’ve said before, I haven’t really played much of the games, but is Leon always this much of a dork? I know he’s a fan favourite, but between this and Resident Evil: Damnation, my opinion of him is that he has the personality of a piece of plywood. The only bright spot among the characters is Kevin Durand as Barry Burton. Again, he isn’t given much to work with, but he goes out with style. Sadly, Chris and Claire Redfield are both conspicuously absent this time around… although considering how many damn characters are in this movie, that’s probably for the best.

As for the plot… well, you might want to sit down before you read about it. I did not think it was possible for the Resident Evil movie franchise to make a stupider, more plotless movie than Afterlife, but Retribution makes that movie look like a freaking masters thesis. The plot holes and contrivances are so bad that they retroactively make the plots of the previous movies worse. Yes, you read that right. Here’s a list of the problems I jotted down while watching the movie: How does it make any sense for Umbrella to produce clones and put them in a perfectly simulated world to simulate zombie apocalypses? The movie claims that they do it to try to gain control of the T-virus, but I don’t buy this (since they don’t offer any “solutions”, they just unleash the zombies and call it a day). Why does Umbrella bother to go to the detail of creating a whole world when they do this simulation? For example, Alice finds photographs of one of her clones’ marriage to Carlos, family vacations, etc… did Umbrella stage these photographs to make things more “real”…? Why does the Red Queen need humans to do her work? Why not just release chemicals to purge any intruders (y’know, like she did in the first movie)? Why can’t she lock the damn doors? Why are the Red Queen’s mind control scarabs so stupidly easy to neutralize? For that matter, if the Red Queen is in control of the scarabs, then why did they have them on the Arcadia (since this was controlled by Wesker, not the Red Queen)? If the zombies and clones aren’t all killed in a simulation, what happens to them (since Alice finds Becky hiding in suburbia)? How does Alice know sign language all of a sudden? How can Leon and Luther get the elevator moving if the Red Queen shut down the power? Why did Luthor come to infiltrate Umbrella HQ? He’s a basket ball player, not a special forces operative! And finally, a retroactive issue – if Alice bonded with the T-virus at a cellular level, wouldn’t getting bit by a zombie allow her to get her super powers back? I could go on and on, but I found the following image macros covered some of the problems pretty well:

If it sounds like they made the film too damn complicated, that’s not the issue at all here. In fact, Retribution‘s plot is so straightforward that you’d swear a kindergartner wrote it (hmm, I wonder if Paul and Milla’s kid has a writing credit on this movie…). The plot is as follows – Alice is captured by Umbrella, wakes up in their HQ, escapes and then has to fight her way out in under 2 hours or they’ll all get blown up. I think Scott at FEARnet describes it best:

Alice is “being held captive in a massive facility beneath Russian ice, and she needs to get from the ‘lab hologram’ to the ‘Japan hologram’ and end up at the ‘suburbia hologram’ to meet a team of rescuers. Not only is this a painfully lazy and perfunctory way to cobble a plot together, but it removes any of the ‘stakes’ that may have survived from the previous Resident Evil movies. What was once a story about a zombie plague that was accidentally unleashed by a nefarious corporation has congealed into a series of progressively dumber action sequences featuring a hot, skinny redhead who simply cannot be killed.”

That’s really the jist of it. The movie has nothing at stake and we’re never really left in suspense. We just watch action sequence after action sequence, but it doesn’t have the level of enjoyment which punctuated previous entries in the series, particularly Extinction and Afterlife. This movie features a fight against two Axemen – if you remember my previous review, you’ll remember that the Axeman fight was one of my favourite moments in Afterlife. While you’d think two Axemen equals two times the fun, you’d be sorely mistaken. The fight is actually boring, an adjective I could apply to most of the action sequences in the movie. The last 10 minutes are basically an extended fight sequence between Alice and Jill, and then Alice and Bad Rain… and it just feels like it goes on too long. Why do we care about Alice fighting Bad Rain? She hasn’t really bothered Alice all that much until now, and Alice just kicked the crap out of Jill. Shouldn’t that be enough for us? That’s not to say that the fights aren’t cool or are badly choreographed, they all just aren’t interesting. How do you get that interest back? Most movies needed a coherent plot and good characters to make the action engaging, if you don’t have that then the chances of failure skyrocket. In all honesty, I can’t believe how highly it was received.

Of course, Retribution is not all bad. The opening credits are epic, delivering on the promise that the ending of Afterlife held. The movie also does some interesting things, like FINALLY HAVING CHAINSAW ZOMBIES! Why did they not do that before!? Finally, as much as I disliked the film, the ending is totally epic. If the next movie actually delivers on the promise of mankind’s last stand that we were given at the end of this film then we’re in for a treat (even though I’m 100% certain we’ll get another shit-fest).

3/10

And that does it for the Resident Evil franchise at the moment. Of course, there’s a sixth and (supposedly) final film on its way, but what about after that? Well apparently plans are to then reboot the series from the start again. Ugh, well at least we can hope that they stick closer to the games this time… and please, PLEASE go back to horror and put someone other than Paul W.S. Anderson in charge for the love of God! Also, for those interested, this is how I would rank the franchise from best to worst:

1. Extinction

2. Afterlife

3. Resident Evil

4. Apocalypse

5. Retribution

Also, as I promised at the start of the series, I’ll cover the two animated Resident Evil movies briefly – Degeneration and Damnation. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen them so this is from memory, but it should suffice. Degeneration is a pretty standard fare – in the first half, Leon and Claire are at an airport when there’s a T-virus outbreak and the pair have to survive this. In the second half, they have to take down mad scientists responsible for all this. It’s pretty straight-forward, but surprisingly well-done all things considered. Damnation was just plain crap though. It was nice to see Umbrella bio-weapons actually being used in a warzone for once, but the story and acting were terrible. It also is more of an action movie than horror, basically just existing as a tie-in for Resident Evil 6.

And there you have it. That wraps up my third retrospective series! If you liked it, be sure to comment or share it so we can build up a bigger audience here! I’ve already got my fourth retrospective series lined up, and it’ll provide a bit of a change over the thus-far standard “bad action/horror” template I’ve been utilizing on the last three series. Continue to tune in and see you soon!

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Retrospective: Resident Evil – Afterlife (2010)

Welcome back to part four of the Resident Evil retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the fourth movie in the franchise, Resident Evil: Afterlife! Once again, the latest Resident Evil movie (Extinction) made even more money than the previous one (Apocalypse) – obviously this meant that the series had to shamble on another day. Despite Extinction being billed as the last entry in the series, Resident Evil: Afterlife was soon announced… in 3D (y’know, back when people still got excited when a movie was released in 3D)! Afterlife and the game it draws inspiration from, Resident Evil 5, mark a clear tonal shift to intense action for the franchise… would it work out in the end? Read on to find out…

What is with Resident Evil and dual wielding!?!

After the surprisingly decent Extinction, the Resident Evil franchise finally seemed to be settling into a groove. After releasing his Death Race remake, Paul W.S. Anderson returned to the franchise once again, but this time he was taking the director’s chair once again (in addition to screenwriting of course). Entering production shortly before Avatar was released, Anderson and company believed that 3D was going to be the next big thing in Hollywood blockbusters – as a result, they decided to shoot Afterlife in 3D. I’m actually kind of happy with the way his was handled – rather than going for the cheap 2D-to-3D conversion cash-in, Anderson decided to shoot the film with actual 3D cameras. In my opinion, 2D-to-3D conversions are one of the major reasons why 3D has become a hated gimmick in the last couple years, because it just looks awful (as I can attest having watched Voyage of the Dawn Treader, ThorCaptain America and Clash of the Titans). On the other hand, all of the most visually stunning 3D movies I have seen have been filmed in 3D (Dredd, Life of Pi, etc). Sure it costs more to do, but the result is worth it if handled skillfully. So yeah, kudos to Paul W.S. Anderson for doing the right thing.

While I’m glad they filmed the movie in real 3D, I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen it in 3D. However, I can imagine how it would look because there are some sequences which are visually stunning even in 2D – Paul W.S. Anderson can really frame a good shot. On the negative side though, the 3D is often used as a gimmick. Crap is thrown at the audience throughout the whole movie: axes, coins, knives, bullets, hell even a pair of glasses at one point (as seen above). As I said in the restrospective for The Final Destination, this is just a cheap, gimmicky way to use 3D and just kills any sense of immersion. So… umm… kudos for filming in real 3D, but way to squander it in the end, Paul.

Moving onto the cast, the film stars most of the usual suspects – Milla Jovovich is back, obviously, and so is Ali Later as Claire Redfield (who thankfully gets to do more this time around). Sienna Guillory also makes a cameo appearance at the end, reprising her role as Jill Valentine. Spencer Locke also returns as K-Mart… but honestly, who cares? She didn’t do anything in either movie whatsoever so she’s hardly worth the mention. Anyway, the major new additions in Afterlife are Wentworth Miller as Chris Redfield and Shawn Roberts, taking over as Albert Wesker. I actually quite like Wentworth Miller in this movie, he definitely has a suitably badass air about him. Shawn Roberts is decent as Albert Wesker, pulling off the smug and imposing look although it comes across like he attended the Dick Dastardly school of villainy at times. Aside from the main cast, the movie also features a group of survivors in a prison, all of whom are just transparent as plot devices – there’s the useful black guy (thank God he doesn’t do street slang), the douche bag, the T&A and then the obligatory redshirts.

As for the movie itself, it opens on an exceptionally high note: the opening credits are absolutely awesome. The music, the cinematography and the slow motion all combine to make for a very memorable opening to the movie… and then the movie launches into even higher gear. Remember how Alice got ahold of an army of clones at the end of Extinction? I thought they would cheap out on this or handwave it away, but they actually go ahead and have an army of Alices attack an Umbrella Hive. This attack sequence is quite good and really opens the film on a high note… even if it’s only real excuse for existing is to conveniently get rid of Alice’s army and her super-powers to make the rest of the movie work. Yup, plot conveniences strike again, but at least we got an awesome first 10 minutes out of it.

As for the plot… well it probably makes the least sense of all the Resident Evil movies up until this point, which is saying a lot. It’s clearly just a thin pretense to support the action sequences. Put simply, Alice finds Claire (who has convenient amnesia) in Alaska – turns out Arcadia isn’t a safe haven after all. They then fly 3000 miles in a Yak-52 to Los Angeles, where they decide to land on a maximum security prison and help out the survivors there. Cue an hour of zombie action, culminating with them landing on the Arcadia (turns out it’s an Umbrella tanker) and battling Albert Wesker. In terms of plot, it’s absolutely brain-dead and the list of plot holes/conveniences I noticed while watching is just staggering. Why does Wesker carry a syringe on himself which can take away Alice’s powers (and his for that matter)… and how would that even work anyway? How the hell does a non-super powered Alice survive a plane crash unrestrained when it smashes head-first into a mountain? Why does Umbrella still want to experiment on people when they’ve already wiped out most of the world’s population? Who is Alice leaving her video blog for (it seems like just a lazy way to shoehorn in exposition)? Why is there a maximum security prison in the middle of down-town Los Angeles? How can zombies dig through solid concrete? How the hell does the Axeman make any sense? Why are the zombies suddenly Plagas? What are the chances that Chris Redfield happens to be at the same prison that Claire ends up in (not to mention that he’s apparently been locked up for about 5 years)?

While the plot is pretty much dead on arrival, that’s practically expected with Resident Evil by this point. What’s really important is that the action sequences are stunning. The latter half of the movie is littered with action and it is at these moments that the movie really kicks into high gear. The zombie attacks and gun battles are all pretty good, but the movie features three standout sequences. The first is the opening which I mentioned previously. The second is the cliffhanger ending, which is just epic and really heightens expectations for the sequel (even if you already know it’s going to suck). The third is the shower fight against the Axeman. This scene is jaw dropping… and pretty damn sexy too. Ali Larter really kills it here, and the slow motion and drops of water make the scene a visual feast. Paul W.S. Anderson should direct music videos. Seriously, just watch it:

Sure, the slow motion is gratuitous, but it’s done well (although the movie would probably be 15-20 minutes shorter if you cut out all the slow-mo in it). Resident Evil: Afterlife is a mindless guilty pleasure movie – the plot is pretty much non-existent, but the action scenes compensate for it for the most part.

5/10

Be sure to come back soon for the final entry in this retrospective, Resident Evil: Retribution!

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Retrospective: Resident Evil – Extinction (2007)

Welcome back to part three of the Resident Evil retrospective! In this entry we’re going to cover the third movie in the franchise, Resident Evil: Extinction! However, before we get to that I want to speak briefly on critic-audience disparity, which has come to mind with the recent release of Man of Steel (and which can be applied to the Resident Evil film franchise by its fans). Superman Returns had a high critical reception (75% Tomatometer), but had a mixed reception with audiences (67% liked it). Conversely, Man of Steel has had a very mixed reception (56% Tomatometer), but is scoring well with audiences (82% liked it). One audience rebuttal to this I have read is that critics are not fans of the property in question, and therefore do not know what makes a proper franchise film. However, this makes critics look like robots, not to mention implies that they don’t have any personal interests of their own. For that matter, why should it matter if they’re a fan of the property? If they think the movie’s bad then that’s their opinion, and the one they give to a general audience who may not be fanboys either. For example, I love werewolves. I thought that The Wolfman remake was a great werewolf film, despite the movie’s very tepid reception (35% Tomatometer and 38% audience approval). Reviews are ultimately just opinions. However, I’m more inclined to trust a critic since they have seen a wider variety of movies and therefore have more to judge a film against than the average movie-goer. As a result, I’m expecting Man of Steel to be very middle-of-the-pack when I finally see it.

Anyway despite making even more money than its predecessor, Resident Evil: Apocalypse shit all over the best period of the Resident Evil games’ storyline. With the Resident Evil film franchise basically the butt of bad video game movie jokes, how could the film franchise hope to carry on? The answer was quite… surprising to say the least. How so? Read on to find out…

Simple, but striking. The poster conveys the style and theme of the movie quite well. This poster was pretty badass as well.

At the time that Resident Evil: Apocalypse was released, the Resident Evil video games had been stagnating: new games in the series either regurgitated the Racoon City time period (Outbreak), were prequels to the original games (Zero) or remakes of the original games (REmake, Code Veronica X). However, the games were given new life mere months after Apocalypse when Resident Evil 4 broke new ground. With the Resident Evil game series attaining relevance once again, it would be fitting if the film franchise could finally achieve some form of success.

Although Paul W.S. Anderson was once again given scripting duties, the actual directing of the film was passed off to Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy was an inconsistent but well-established director, having directed a ton of music videos. As for his filmography, he was best known for directing the cult classic, Highlander. Unfortunately, his CV also contains epic turds, such as The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior and Highlander II: The Quickening (although budget and producer interference played a major role in these flops). Still, he was certainly a step up from Alexander Witt.

In terms of its cast, most of the (surviving) main characters from Resident Evil: Apocalypse return. The only major character who is missing is Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), because she was appearing in Eragon instead (ouch, bad move…). Taking her place as the secondary heroine was Retrospectives veteran Ali Larter, who was previously featured in my Final Destination series. She takes on the role of Claire Redfield. Considering that Guillory did a fairly poor job as Jill Valentine in the previous film, this was definitely a step up. Taking the reins as the main antagonist is a minor character who appeared in Apocalypse, Dr. Isaacs, played by Iain Glen (holy shit, Jorah Mormont!). The main villain of the video game series, Albert Wesker, also makes an appearance, played by Jason O’Mara… unfortunately, he isn’t given anything to do, and just comes across as very bland rather than cunning and sinister.

The cast actually does a decent job, especially compared to the other movies in the series. By this time, Milla Jovovich has really settled into a rhythm, totally convincing us she’s a cool and killer badass. I quite liked Oded Fehr as Carlos Olivera as well – his role is expanded a bit from the previous film and we actually become fairly attached to him (although the romance between he and Alice just comes out of nowhere). Ali Larter does a decent job as Claire Redfield, although she isn’t given a lot of material to work with (a common complaint, which also extends to the secondary characters). Hell, even LJ’s role gets expanded this time around and I actually found myself sympathizing with him… that said, I was still overjoyed when he died, just because of how annoying he was in Apocalypse. I also liked Iain Glen’s Dr. Isaacs, who really brings some much-needed campiness to the proceedings. He plays the usual mad scientist role, but he’s unpredictable – I mean, how unhinged to you have to be to be too crazy for even the Umbrella corporation!?!

As for the plot of the movie, Extinction is, in a lot of ways, a massive middle finger to the fans of the games. Why’s that, you might ask? Put simply, the movie goes post-apocalyptic, killing off 5/6ths of the world’s population, whereas the video games revolve around preventing another outbreak like Racoon City and stymieing bio-terrorism. Basically, at this point the franchise has even less to do with the video games than the previous two movies did. However, I think this is actually somewhat of a blessing in disguise – this allows the movies to go places the video games never did (sort of like what a video game tie-in for a movie would die). Furthermore, it gives the movies the freedom to do whatever the heck they want within the setting. Finally, it allows angry video gamers to finally divorce themselves from the franchise all-together. As a result, Extinction marks the first entry in the franchise where the opening of the film discards elements from its predecessors to make the movie work conveniently.

Resident Evil: Extinction owes its existence to two very obvious sources – the first being Day of the Dead. Let’s list some of the familiar elements, shall we? Extinction features scientists in an underground laboratory surrounded by zombies behind a chain-link fence. In this underground laboratory, they’re trying to domesticate the zombies, showing them objects from their previous life and using them as well. Hell, even the Umbrella soldiers complain about losing men because they keep having to go to the surface. The links to Day of the Dead are just too similar to be a coincidence. The second major influence is Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (in fact, when this movie came out I called it “Mad Max with a Vagina”). While the similarities are more cosmetic than plot-related, the movie revolves around a civilian convoy scavenging for resources in a post-apocalyptic desert, who are saved by a lone badass who is left behind as they head off to a safe haven. Again, the similarities are clearly there and hardly subtle.

Of course, as with any Resident Evil movie, the plot is just riddled with holes. Why does Umbrella run amnesiac Alice clones through an assault course filled with booby traps that she has no chance of avoiding? Why is she then a “failure” for not having completed their impossible course? For that matter, are they planning on releasing clones with amnesia into warzones? Hell, why bother with this testing when they’ve already killed off 5/6ths of the world’s population? How can the T-virus kill all of the world’s vegetation and dry up most of the water? Why would Umbrella want to domesticate zombies? And how many freaking super zombies were in that small container in Las Vegas? It looked like maybe a half dozen, but they must have killed about 50 of them in the ensuing shoot out… And while this isn’t really a plot hole, why the hell would Sony want to have product placement in the movie… for Umbrella!??!!

The usual Resident Evil-related gripes aside, I actually don’t hate Extinction by any means. Sure it’s a rip-off of The Road Warrior and Day of the Dead, but at least it picked two great movies to emulate. The story also features plot holes, but they’re far more minor than in any other entry in the series. In fact, Extinction largely succeeds in that it does a good job not screwing up. There’s no stupid attempts at humour, no major editing mistakes and far less issues with the plot than in previous entries. The movie looks extremely stylish due to Mulcahy’s direction, similar to The Book of Eli. Extinction also goes to some effort to actually set up the story, giving us over 30 minutes to get situated and meet the characters (most are left undeveloped, but at least they’re introduced… unlike in Apocalypse…). Unlike every other Resident Evil movie, Extinction also manages to be suspenseful at times, despite occurring entirely in daylight (feeling silly now, Apocalypse?). On top of that, it’s less of a cartoon than the previous movies – characters actually miss their shots and people die and it feels like it means something. Hell, even freaking Carlos, a character from the video games, dies – who expected that!? It was a pretty ballsy move in my opinion, especially after they gave him a far better role in the movies than he ever got in the game he appeared in (Resident Evil 3: Nemesis). Finally, the zombie make-up is absolutely spot-on – despite having identical production budgets, Extinction blows Apocalypse out of the water visually.

Most importantly though, the action scenes in Extinction are fantastic and really mark the point where the franchise became a full-on action movie series with minor horror elements. The early battle between Alice and the zombie dogs is pretty great, and the Las Vegas zombie shootout is a thrilling climax, but the real standout is the zombie crow attack. Seriously, the crow sequence is amazing and is probably my favourite sequence in the whole franchise. It’s also utterly unique – no other zombie movie is going to give you a sequence like this. It’s a truly suspenseful, exhilarating and frightening sequence and serves as a good introduction to Alice’s new powers.

Actually, speaking of which, Alice has gone full-on God Mode in this entry. In addition to her unbelievable accuracy, martial arts abilities and general super-powers, she now has telekinesis and an army of super-powered clones at her disposal… so yeah, she’s basically an over-glorified Mary Sue at this point in the series. Appropriately, she was pregnant with Paul W.S. Anderson’s child at the time so that goes so way to explaining why he’d be fawning over her so much (and maybe also explain why she’s naked for the third movie in a row).

The only major issue I have with Extinction is its third act, which is extremely weak. Alice infiltrates an Umbrella hive and then has to fight Dr. Isaacs, who has become a Tyrant. The fight just comes across as exceptionally hokey and isn’t anywhere near as engaging as the rest of the movie was. On top of that, Alice is just too powerful at this point – she beat the shit out of Nemesis before she gained telekinesis, what chance does a more minor Tyrant like Isaacs stand? Still though, Resident Evil: Extinction manages to be a fun (but mindless) action movie on the whole, which is more than I can say for the previous two films. It’s far from great, but I can think of far worse ways to spend an afternoon.

5.5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part four of this retrospective, Resident Evil: Afterlife!

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