Author's note, January 2017: I used to have you might call a bug up my butt about this franchise. Let's say that although I stand by this review, I don't actually agree with it.

In 2002, two similar movies opened, both looking at the aftereffects of a virus that turns people into unstoppable cannibals, what we might call "biohazard zombie" movies. The later one, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, was a stylistically radical tone poem of a horror movie, essentially reigniting an entire subgenre. The earlier one, Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil, was...well, it was a Paul W.S. Anderson film, and a video game adaptation to boot, so it was clamorous and trashy.

This year, each of those films got a sequel: 28 Weeks Later was apocalyptic and shocking, while the trilogy-capping Resident Evil: Extinction is, if you can believe it, clamorous and trashy. In its favor, it is neither as clamorous nor as trashy as the original, nor 2004's Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Is everyone familiar with the saying, "damning with faint praise?" Then let's move on.

Now, there are probably people in this world who liked the first two movies, and in all fairness, Extinction does things that, to those people, would probably seem awfully clever. The opening scene starts off copying the second scene of the first film shot-for-shot, and given our expectations from the second film, it seems more than possible that it's a flashback; then when things start to get screwy, it starts to seem more like a dream; then it turns out that we're watching a clone of our heroine, Alice (Milla Jovovich), being forced to re-enact the events of the first film as a test of her clonish abilities. When she fails, her body is tossed in a pit full of glassy-eyed Alice corpses, in the one legitimately arresting image from the film. So basically, I mean to say that this film trades extensively on the audience's assumed knowledge of the first two films to set up expectations, which it then undercuts and otherwise plays around with, and as such it is a pretty nervy thing. The default mode of the sequel is to recap and repeat the original but Extinction (and to a lesser degree, Apocalypse) instead goes for deconstruction, and that's actually sort of impressive. Unlike the great majority of sequels, you could never accuse it of being the same thing all over again. Of course, since it follows a pair of crap films it pretty much must be crap itself, but at least it's different crap.

See, while the first two strip-mined the zombie genre for all it was worth (along with the Alien series, but what crappy horror doesn't?), Extinction turns to the post-apocalyptic movies along the Mad Max template, and perhaps it is just my own ignorance, but I really can't think of another Mad Max/zombie movie hybrid. It's about five years since the end of the second film, and the virus that first killed everybody in that video gamey underground lab before killing everybody in that video gamey city has gotten out (How, you ask? Because, as the narration tells us, the Umbrella Corporation couldn't keep it under control. Specific!) and turned the whole of the world into a desert wasteland (the virus, you see, evaporates water, or through some other mechanism dries up lakes and oceans. I am not making this up, and I would be embarrassed if I was). The few people that are alive, live in nomadic caravans, killing zombies and dying one at a time, except for the scientists and bureaucrats living in comfort in the Umbrella Corporation's international bunkers. We focus in on the Nevada/Utah desert, and can I just saw how bullshit it is that if you make the whole world a desert, you set your movie in one of the few places that's already a sandy wasteland? I mean, how much cooler is it to see a desert around, like, Portland? A whole lot of slightly-recognizable actors follow the lead of Claire (Ali Larter, in a role precisely tuned to her level of fame and talent) moving from outpost to outpost, always running from the undead, and eventually bumping into Alice in a leather duster and some sort leather garter belt. Eventually they're in Las Vegas, mere feet from the lair of Umbrella's chief of research, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) and the plot wraps up after continuing the series' noble tradition of crapping all over biological science.

So much for the screenplay, written like the first two by Anderson, with the precise minimum of story and character necessary to keep the set pieces sufficiently far apart. That's not what these films are about. These films are about fight sequences and pumping techno music and lots of gore that you can't really see through the aggressively rat-a-tat-tat editing. This film is directed by Russell Mulcahy, and if I pointed out that he is most famous for directing Highlander, would that get you a bit excited? And if I then point out that he is next most famous for directing Highlander II: The Quickening, would you start bawling like a child? Extinction isn't as bad as that second film - for what could be? - but it's along those lines. Very much like the first two films, the action is incomprehensibly shot from angles that don't mesh together at all, and the moments in between are just gotten through with no sort of art whatsoever. On the other hand, the action hasn't been shot like it's in a video game, even if it's been structured that way (in fact, the script is the most game-like of all three movies), and that makes it a little bit less annoying if still not "exciting."

On the other hand, I'd be sad if I didn't mention that Eugenio Caballero's production design is really good. I mean, really fucking good. I mean, "oh, this is the guy who won an Oscar last year for Pan's Labyrinth, and his work on this film is perhaps a step up from there" really fucking good. As I mentioned, I haven't seen every post-apocalypse film out there, but I've certainly never seen one whose post-apocalyptic world is as fully realised on every inch of every set.

Nor should I fail to mention that, just like the first two films, this provides a simply great role for Milla Jovovich. She has just one mode as an actress - look hot and kick ass - but I think it's fair to say that nobody has ever done that better than she does. I'm not sure if the world is a better place for having a great ass-kicking hottie in the movies, but I think socio-moral goodness is not the right avenue by which to appreciate Jovovich's shallow but very enjoyable skills.