The setup to the film works really well. Umbrella is a huge corporation that owns so many products that 90% of homes contain something made by them; additionally they have huge lobbying clout. So, Unilever or Nestle then. Of course the real work of Umbrella is military hardware, illegal and morally questionable genetic research. So, Dow, Monsanto or any Western government then. Sorry, I’ll stop being so political. Essentially, the idea of an ethically suspect multinational is just as relevant today as it was in 2002.
I’m coming at this having never played the computer games, so I have no idea if any of this movie rings true to its origins or conforms to accepted canon. So I felt that the first half an hour had plenty of tension and intrigue as I genuinely didn’t know how it was going to play out or what caused the disaster. About half an hour in and most of the exposition and explanation has happened, the plot then becomes a bit more of us against them zombie shooting, but still has enough in reserve to keep it interesting.
The plot device of having Alice (main protagonist played by Milla Jovovich) lose her memory at the start only to have her remember in burst of flashback means that the viewer is drip-fed background info as the movie progresses. Perhaps an obvious thing to do, but it does mean the second half of the movie isn’t just all about killing zombies, we do engage with the characters a bit.
I know that Paul WS Anderson isn’t the greatest director (and he did himself no favours with The Three Musketeers (2011)), but generally I like his style. He uses the computer generated plan of the research complex to track the characters to give us an idea of where they are. He uses the same idea - but slicker - in AVP (2004). I also liked the opening shot as the camera slowly zooms into to an isolated workbench where a researcher is manipulating a pathogen. There are other occasions when the camera does interesting, or at least less than boring, movements, sometimes blending current events with historical so we get a feel for the situation. He's generally quite inventive.
For the most part, the cast is fair enough. Strange seeing Daniel (Eric Mabius) from Ugly Betty in a different role. Milla Jovovich is fine, as are all the military grunts involved. I suppose one of the other main characters is the computer Red Queen. A bit HAL, a bit Mother or even Skynet and is certainly very important for the story.
Sure, there are plenty of moments when my spidey science-sense was tingling. Not least in the design of the vials of virus. They look like they’ve been designed by someone who has heard of the DNA double helix, thought it sounded cool, without actually knowing what DNA was, or indeed the words “double” and “helix”. Completely ridiculous and impractical. Sure there are those moments where a character behaves stupidly just so the plot can progress. But overall I enjoyed Resident Evil far more than I expected to. Cool sets, and OK cast, interesting story (for one who knew nothing about the games) and a thumping soundtrack. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.