I was quite taken with 2002's "Resident Evil," embracing the picture's curious sense of the absurd while plowing ahead with terrific B-level zombie havoc. The third film of this franchise, "Extinction," recalls the unsophisticated joys of the original, while managing to find a breezy junk food tone of its own. For a genre cash-in, this latest round of zombie-thrashing madness is surprisingly agile, annoyed, and joyously straight-to-the-point violent.
Now a nomad roaming a dead planet, Alice (Milla Jovovich) is still coming to terms with her past, looking to piece together clues that explain her history with the villainous Umbrella Corporation. Meeting up with a caravan of viral survivors (including Ali Larter, Mike Epps, and Oded Fehr) outside of Las Vegas, Alice finds some of the humanity she's lost, helping the team fend off new hordes of vicious zombies. Alice soon finds her time running from Umbrella has come to an end, gearing up for a final battle with the company and the evil Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen).
My excitement for whatever breadcrumbs of satisfaction "Extinction" offers can be directly traced to the last "Evil" installment, 2004's "Apocalypse." A ghastly sequel, "Apocalypse" seemed determined to be unpleasant, filled with nonsensical action, terrible performances, and earsplitting mediocrity.
Now, "Extinction" is far from high art, but it follows a recent rule of the franchise business where the third installment keeps the plot accessible, the action spry, and the pace snappy. Director Russell Mulcahy, a vet of slick cinema ("Highlander," "The Shadow"), accomplishes his goals effectively, rushing the picture through action beats and revenge scenarios competently, keeping the film very lean and mean. After all, this is a videogame-based enterprise, and "Extinction" stays true to its origins with a minimalist attitude and a far more accomplished sense of style than anything "Apocalypse" had to offer.
"Extinction" also surprised me with its locations, taking the adventure out of dark corridors and shoving it into the harsh sunlight of the desert. This is the best looking film of the series, using unforgiving brightness to its advantage, revitalizing the stale plot by shaking up the climate. While factoring into the film for only a brief moment, the Las Vegas setting is an amusing locale, embracing casino iconography to springboard brutal zombie attack scenarios.
"Extinction" obviously digests more easily as a visual exercise than a robust selection of dramatic filmmaking. Stealing bits from "Mad Max," "Alien: Resurrection," "Day of the Dead" (with the birth of intelligent zombies), and, if you can believe it, Hitchcock's "The Birds" (while we see the return of the zombie dogs, look out for a zombie crow attack), Mulcahy and screenwriter Paul W.S. Anderson (the director of the first installment) are desperate to forge something of an identity for the picture, but it's thin stuff, which is useful at times, but not when trying to find a payoff for the film.
Mimicking the "boss fight" climax of "Apocalypse," "Extinction" offers another go-around with a monster, only with less effort in the crucial escalation department. The slimy bad guy is just kinda there, without much introduction and even less of a farewell. The sunny side of the street here is the killer set-up for a fourth installment, hinting at the sort of gleeful mayhem Anderson is probably incapable of exploring to satisfying ends. However, it's an imaginative climax to an agreeable horror/action film; one that holds together nicely as long as the viewer doesn't dig too deeply for quality.
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