(2020) Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Diego Boneta, Meagan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki, Jannik Schümann, Nanda Costa, Nic Rasenti, Clyde Berning, Paul Hampshire, Schelaine Bennett, Bart Fouche, Pope Jerrod, Aaron Beelner, Onur Besen, Adrian Muñoz. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Video games are video games and movies are movies, and these are two worlds that have a very hard time co-existing. Video games based on movies tend to be awful, and movies based on video games tend to be the same. That’s because movies demand attention, patience and passivity, whereas video games demand participation, interaction and hand-eye co-ordination. The are meant for completely different audiences and require completely different disciplines to appreciate. Successful crossovers are rare indeed.
Which makes Anderson something of a national treasure because he has shown with the Resident Evil franchise that he can make entertaining movies out of a beloved game franchise. Capcom, the makers of the Resident Evil game, can be excused for turning to him to bring their second-most popular franchise to the big screen.
Lt. Natalie Artemis (Jovovich) leads the elite Alpha Team of U.S. Army Rangers into the desert to search for the slightly-less elite Bravo Team which has mysteriously disappeared. Quicker than you can say “plot device,” a mysterious portal (accompanied by an impressive CGI lightning storm) somehow transports the team into a parallel world, one inhabited by strange, vicious – and hungry – monsters. As they are attacked by the horned and deadly Black Diablos, they quickly realize that their arsenal isn’t nearly enough to take down the giant creatures and as they run for the comparative safety of the rocks, they discover to their horror that the safety is an illusion as the rocks are inhabited by giant spider-like things. The team is decimated, leaving only Artemis alive and that only because she is rescued by the Hunter (Jaa), whom we first met in the pre-credits sequence that is perhaps the most impressive moment in the film.
The two form an uneasy alliance, trying to survive in a world for which the word “hostile” doesn’t even begin to describe. They are eventually picked up by a sand galleon, a kind of floating pirate ship captained by the Admiral (Perlman) who delivers a fair amount of exposition, and explains that both their worlds are in danger and they must head to the Dark Tower in Mordor…no, that’s not quite right. But it’s a dark tower nevertheless.
This is the kind of role that is right in the wheelhouse for Jovovich and she dutifully knocks it out of the park. Her chemistry with Jaa is surprisingly strong, considering that the two characters speak different languages. I would have wished that Jaa got more opportunities to show off his martial arts skills, which are considerable, but he makes the most of the opportunities he does get.
Perlman is always a welcome sight in any film, even if he is wearing a giggle-inducing wig that they probably had to pay him a bundle to wear with a straight face. Fortunately, it is the monsters that are the stars here. Fans of the game will recognize them and we get a good idea of their scale here throughout. We get a few more in the third act of the film, including the Meowscular Chef (who is, as advertised, absolutely ripped) but the filmmakers have the luxury of several hundred to choose from through the seven (and counting) main games and the plethora of spin-offs.
Do you need to know something about the franchise to enjoy the movie? That is always the question in video game adaptations. Like most adaptations, fans will find it easier to understand than non-fans, and in this case, I think it’s almost imperative you have at least a general knowledge of the game to follow the plot. Fans, though, might find it a bit too simplistic for their tastes; it is, after all, like starting at the beginning of the first game for the first time. That may not be of interest to gamers in general.
Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy the ride here. The monsters are as I said incredible, Jovovich and Jaa make a great team and if you can get past the mid-movie exposition dump that helps catch you up (if you know nothing about the game) but unfortunately causes the movie to come to a screeching halt, you should be pretty much okay. This isn’t horror that is essential, nor is it one of the better cinematic adaptations of a video game out there, but it is nonetheless a decent enough one and worth a look if you’re looking for a bit of fun, visceral and essentially mindless entertainment.
REASONS TO SEE: The monsters are mega-impressive.
REASONS TO AVOID: A muddled plot that isn’t easy to follow without some knowledge of the game.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, creature-induced terror and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the seventh movie based on a video game that Jovovich has appeared in, six of them with her husband Paul W.S. Anderson involved as writer and/or director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews; Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pitch Black
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness Concludes with a Classic!