4 out of 5
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
I saw Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat multiple times in the theater. I recognized it wasn’t a “good movie,” but – not as a fan of the game, just an appreciator of an attempt to wrangle games into the world of cinema – I thought it was such an entertaining take on what shouldn’t have been a plot-able film, and that it managed to blend the fantastic with the practical in a very satisfying way for the era, that I was dang hooked.
Similarly, not a Resident Evil fan, but I certainly perked up at Anderson’s name being attached to the film, and I was interested that it seemed to be getting backing as a legit filck with a decent cast (Mills Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez had made positive impressions in their prior films) and promising production design, and – bravely – an R rating. Still, I was expecting MK-levels of silly fun; instead, I got that plus a competent sci-fi zombie flick.
The movie rather humorously brings in and discards some characters and some subplots, very much in an attempt to legitimize the mysterious Umbrella Corporation and their underground lab, The Hive, which our leads end up exploring, and the Corp’s research into “the T virus,” which has been unleashed and making da zombies. but despite this scripty warbliness, Anderson manages to keep us invested, even withholding the zombie shoe-drop until we’re past the midpoint, making something akin to a corridor creeper with just enough flashes of action and blood in the meantime (and crazy scenes with zombo dogs, my goodness) to keep the gaming vibe burbling ‘neath the surface, even if he alienated some fans by not really sticking to the source material’s script. Oh well, says non-RE fan, Me: Anderson recognized the strengths of his medium and built appropriately, and we’ve had a freakin’ franchise as a result. I had a hard time forgiving the CGI creature reveal – a cringe-worthy moment the budget couldn’t support but that was kept fully in the frame – but subsequent appearances of the beastie are an acceptable shake up of computer plus practical effects, and are pretty exciting, even if they hints at the shaky-cam woes that would disrupt Paul’s later Alien vs Predator. And maybe it’s just nostalgia glasses, but the computer work looks a lot smoother and color-corrected on the bluray release, making the viewing experience that much more cohesive.
But there’s something I’m overlooking here: Mills Jovovich.
I never had a thing for model types; never had a thing for celebrities. But Milla, in Resident Evil, kicked off an obsession that lasted quite a while for me, and that included creepy fan letters and the like. Re-watching the movie now, quite a distance from that obsession, I actually really, really get why my brain latched onto her, because Milla is about 90% of why this movie is so effective. She’s really damned convincing, both in her role as a memory-wiped Umbrella agent wrapped up in the outbreak that causes The Hive to go dark and require investigation – little glimmers of emotion at key points selling this setup – and as the premiere action heiress, organically (within RE context…) bridging the gap between the two “roles.” Everyone else is written pretty cookie cutter in the flick, which is fine – it’s really all the movie needed – and everyone equally commits to those roles. Michelle Rodriguez is badass; Eric Mabius is questioning and valiant; but Milla sincerely adds in layers of depth to her role that many actors and actresses are unable to do, even when it’s in the script, and it’s undoubtedly what catapults the film way beyond average. Smoothed out by Anderson’s action/horror film sensibilities, it made for – and still makes – one damned accomplished video game movie.
The bluray (DVD?) extras are, if’n you like commentary, aces: Anderson, Jovovich, Rodriguez, and producer Jeremy Bolt take one track, and Anderson and the effects guy another track. While there’s repeat info between the two, the effects track – though sparser – allows the commenting duo to expand on concepts only touched on in the main track, and the main track is a freaking blast because it’s clear that this whole crew gets on amazingly well. …And you get to hear that they maybe didn’t get along amazingly well with James Purefoy, but gossip aside, not only are there great tidbits about the shoot and production, you also get the benefit of feeling like you’re hanging out with the cool kids. The remaining extras are kinda your standard behind the scenes stuff – and there’s not a “play all” for the featurettes, which is annoying – but they put images to some of the stories told in the commentary, which is neat. And there are definitely some truly worthwhile moments / additions, such as Anderson’s offering context on his storyboarding (instead of just offering us the storyboard comparisons; having the director speak to them first made them much more interesting) and an alternate “feel good” ending.