A Bloody Good Time: ABGT Face-Off – Underworld vs. Resident Evil
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Before we begin, you should know that the Bloody Good Podcast for this week is taking longer to edit because we spoke for two hours and that’s a lot of material to sift through and edit out all the mistakes from. I’m looking to get it done tomorrow night, but I’m playing it by ear. It’s our 2016 wrap-up, so it’ll be longer than usual.
The month of January sees the return of two horror franchises that have lost a bit of their luster over the years. One of them, Underworld: Blood Wars, is out already and has about the same critical acclaim the rest of the series has. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, meanwhile, opens on January 27. Both franchises started around the same time (Evil in 2002, Underworld in 2003) and have about the same number of entries (six for RE, five for Underworld). They feature strong, sometimes ridiculously so, female characters that have headlined the entire series. So they’re very similar in a lot of respects.
Why not compare them?
So in this week’s ABGT, we’re bringing back the Face-Off to look at 2002’s Resident Evil and compare it to 2003’s Underworld. May the better action-horror film win!
By the way, the last edition of this, They Live vs Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978, ended in a landslide victory for the former, 97-19. For some reason I never got around to sharing that result.
As usual with the Face-Off, I run down five categories and pick my choices for each one. At the end I give my final verdict but leave the ultimate decision to you through a poll. So let’s break it down and see which kicks the most ass.
These were part of that weird late 90s/early 00s trend where everything was ripping off The Matrix in one way or another and had to be extreme. Like you can definitely see the influence of the Wachowskis film on both of these in a fashion. Both had a lot of gratuitious gun play, one of them even had the leather outfits. The Matrix was very big then.
Resident Evil, of course, was based on the video game series and yet had little to do with them in its initial run. The main character was Alice, not Jill or Leon or anyone like that. In fact, the film didn’t really have any of the characters you remember from the games. It’s something the later films tried to rectify and even then there were fan complaints that everyone took a backseat to Alice. It’s definitely one of the reasons (but not the only reason) I tuned out after the third movie. I just stopped caring and the movies weren’t even fun. The first one however, I maintain was still enjoyable.
Underworld didn’t have the inherited problems of Resident Evil because it wasn’t based on popular existing material. Instead it was a new story about vampires vs. werewolves (or Lycans) and their ages-old rivarly. Naturally the teenage horror fan in me was thrilled at this prospect, as monster mashes are always fun. As the franchise wore on, each installment was almost exactly like the one before it. It’s enjoyable while it’s on but hard to remember and separate them as it’s over.
But this isn’t about the franchises, this is about the first films. So we’re going to look at five categories and figure out which action horror movie did it the best.
Round 1: The Heroine
Both heroines would eventually become similar, but a lot of people forget that Alice started as a normal person. Meanwhile, Selene has been working as a Death Dealer presumably for some time. For now they have interesting characters at least in the case of their first features, actual arcs. It could be argued that Alice became something of a Mary Sue (overpowered female character that can do no wrong) in her series, with Selene at least having some weaknesses as her series continued. Although from what I’ve heard of Blood Wars, that changes too.
Alice starts her movie naked, with no memory of how she got inside of a deserted mansion. The mansion is connected to an Umbrella Corporation research facility called The Hive. She eventually discovers she can fight and does her best to battle zombies, ‘Lickers’, zombie dogs and more. As she does all this, she eventually regains her memories. She is played by Milla Jovovich, who continued to play her in all of the sequels.
Selene, as I said, is a Death Dealer. That means she’s a vampire who is specifically trained to hunt Lycans. She’s skilled with fighting, guns and other weapons. She starts out very loyal to the cause but after she finds a man who’s been bitten by a werewolf (and is part of an ancient bloodline), she eventually falls for him and decides to fight anyone that would threaten him. Kate Beckinsale played the role in all of the films except for one, Rise of the Lycans, which was a prequel.
If we’re going over franchises in general, I would choose Selene in a walk. However, Alice is very good in the first Resident Evil as a character and at least in that movie, I think she only got hated because she wasn’t a video game character. I think she has more of an arc than Selene too, in that she grows as a character while Selene remains kind of badass from start to finish. In terms of first movies, I’m going to give it to Alice here.
Winner: Resident Evil
Round Two: The Supporting Cast
Both films really benefitted in their first entry from a more developed supporting cast, as their heroines would eventually outshine everything as the sequels wore on. There’s a lot I remember about Resident Evil, for example, that has nothing to do with Alice. While Selene is more central to Underworld, the plot actually is more concerned with Michael Corvin and his safety.
Underworld is also helped a great deal by the number of great actors in its supporting cast. Bill Nighy is a vampire elder, Michael Sheen is the leader of the Lycans. Already great actors who you may actually consider too good for the movie. It depends on your viewpoint, I guess. Underworld was always like that, drawing in really good talent. The only downside really is Scott Speedman, who’s just kind of there in a pivotal role. It also doesn’t help that his refusal to come back for sequels has really hurt him by removing what was an important character.
Resident Evil doesn’t have quite the pedigree in its supporting cast, but Michelle Rodriguez is always fun in these types of movies and having James Purefoy in your film is never a bad thing. The problem, largely, is that a lot of the characters outside of Alice and Rain (Rodriguez) are interchangable. They don’t add a lot to the film and Eric Mabius, like Scott Speedman, doesn’t do a lot with what he has in my opinion. RE probably could have used a season actor like a Bill Nighy.
I think Underworld‘s supporting cast wins here. I like Michelle Rodriguez a lot, but she can’t top fun performances from great actors like Sheen and Nighy. Neither movie is really about the acting, which is why having a good performance in the middle of the violence and bloodshed makes for a nice bonus.
Round Three: The Story
I can’t speak for the most recent movies in each series, but at least the first films had attempts at story. Once again, it’s the action that really sells this stuff but some attempt was made at a decent script and it’s appreciated.
Resident Evil‘s biggest flaw is that it’s not the games, but it still manages to be true to them. There’s a secret lab, a mansion, lots of zombie carnage and more. It feels like it could be in that universe (at least more than the increasingly worse sequels). The story is a standard zombie action movie with all the usual tropes, but it works for what they’re trying to do. At the time, the ending, with Matt being taken to the Nemesis project and Alice trapped in an abandoned Raccoon City was a great sequel hook.
Underworld also has a story, with an ancient bloodline and talk of a hybrid meant to be more powerful than werewolves or vampires. There’s also a lot of backstory, particularly in regards to Selene’s past and who killed them, and a betrayal story of vampires trying to take over a coven. That’s a lot of plot for two hours, especially with all the action we have to fit in there. It’s almost as if Underworld wanted to be something different than what it was. It had the skilled cast and the detailed plot, but it seemed to forget at times it was a B-movie.
Even with that, Underworld should still take it. Resident Evil didn’t really go outside the box with its zombie stuff and it didn’t try to adapt the games, making it somewhat generic just from a story perspective. Underworld is overstuffed, but it has a lot of interesting ideas and world-building.
Round Four: Creature & Visual Effects
In movies like this you almost expect the special effects to be top notch. One of them is a zombie movie, which means you’re guaranteed gore. The other has vampires and werewolves, as well as a new ‘hybrid’ of the two. Both franchises have been very effects-heavy because that’s the kind of movies they are. It just depends on which franchise actually delivers the most.
Resident Evil had a lot of cool stuff in it. I think The Red Queen was the best addition the films ever had for the mythos and the Hive facility in general was great. I love the sequence with the lasers. The zombies look generic but the zombie dogs look great. Only the lickers really look bad, even then. They looked the most like they came out of a video game, but in the bad way. Everything else was stellar and the overall look of the film is one of the best parts about it.
Underworld is a little disappointing in this regard. The Lycans spend most of their time in humanoid form, same as the vampires. The hybrid Michael Corvin, seen above, doesn’t really look that interesting. The visual effects used to bring the fights to life are great but the creature effects are lacking in my opinion. Looking at Michael Corvin’s final form definitely gives a feeling of, “That’s it?” and that’s not what your want for your movie’s climactic moment.
This is another easy win for Resident Evil. The production value on that movie was great and while Underworld also looked great in most respects, the Hybrid was a particular disappointment that it’s hard to move away from.
Winner: Resident Evil
Round Five: Quality
So this category is about the film’s overall quality. Which film is the best and has the most rewatch value? There’s certainly factors affecting them both. As much as you don’t want to take the sequels into account, the sequels happened and in some cases it may be hard to separate them from the original films. There’s also the concept of age, in that not every movie ages as well as you’d expect. Both were definitely products of their time.
Resident Evil is still a movie I point to as one of the better video game adaptations. I consider Silent Hill the best, but this and Mortal Kombat are the movies that are still enjoyable enough to warrant a recommendation. I loved the new things it brought to the table while trying to embrace part of the feel of the games, if not the story, characters or majority of horror elements. It also had a great sequel hook and if the sequels had become better, not worse, we might have considered it the greatest video game movie series ever.
Underworld has a different problem. If you’ve seen the other films then it’s really hard to figure out how this one stands out. I had to read the Wiki page to make sure something in this film didn’t happen in Evolution or Awakening. There’s not a lot of memorable moments, and the action sequences, while good, are obviously imitations of better movies and would be topped by better films after this. It’s still an enjoyable movie and it’s still one I wouldn’t mind watching, but it does feel like it could easily be forgotten.
Resident Evil wins this one too. The movie is just fun. Underworld is a movie that should be fun, and occasionally can be, but it’s bogged down by story and its dreary tone.
Winner: Resident Evil
The final tally is 3-2 in favor of Resident Evil. I hate to come down so hard on Underworld because I really do like it, but it doesn’t stand the test of time as well as I’d like it to. But that’s me. The final result is ultimately up to you! Do you prefer Alice’s adventures in Umbrella land or Selene’s gun play with vampires and Lycans? Vote now and I’ll reveal the winner next week. For real, this time.
Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)
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