Review: Resident Evil Apocalypse

Resident EvilResident Evil: Apocalypse
by Keith R.A. DeCandido

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Resident Evil: Apocalypse / 9780743499378

I love the Resident Evil movie franchise and I enjoy film novelizations so it seems like these would be right up my alley, but I can only recommend this novel with very heavy caveats.

I'll get the good stuff out of the way first. As far as being the book-of-the-movie, this book succeeds well. There's a lot of backstory that had to be left out of the movie, and it's all filled in very nicely here. The book explains why Umbrella was foolish enough to reopen the Hive, why Jill Valentine was suspended prior to the movie, why Angela Ashford is alive to be rescued in the first place, and how it is that Alice got from point A (the hospital) to point B (the church) in the first place. Considering that those were pretty gaping points in the excellent movie, it's nice to have those filled in.

However, I really have to register a complaint with a lot of the characterization in this novel. I don't know how much of this was left up to author DeCandido and how much of it was handed to him in the form of a script from the franchise owners, but several characters have been changed radically here, and not for the better. It seems like everyone who is fated to die has been amped up into the worst people possible, which sucks the pathos out of the novel. Worse, the characterizations rely heavily on offensive stereotyping. So now the Scottish guy in the church where Terri, Jill, and Peyton hides is a "papist" whose internal monologue browbeats into the reader that our doomed red shirt is a sexist, a murderer, a religious extremist, a racist, and probably also a jaywalker. VERY SUBTLE.

Carrying on this trend: the S.T.A.R.S. team that Nemesis encounters has been changed from an organized squad trying valiantly to defend their town to "glorified beat cops". The sniper on the roof -- one of my favorite no-name characters in the movie franchise -- is a loose cannon from Texas (because he has a cowboy hat in the movie, SO OF COURSE) who has been reprimanded four times for excessive force and the S.T.A.R.S. team didn't even realize he was up on the roof covering their position; he was just up there for fun and to "practice shooting". This is basically the exact opposite of how this scene plays out in the movie, and the change is not a good one, in my opinion.

The worst change of all, however, and the reason this book was bumped down to 2 stars in my review, is that of the character of L.J. Wayne. Now, I have just come away from re-watching "Apocalypse" because this bothered me so much and I want to be accurate. I love L.J. Wayne in this movie. He has gallows humor and can smile in a crisis (as can every other main character in this movie), yes, but there's a deep seriousness underneath as he struggles to survive the outbreak. He adapts quickly and easily to new situations, and despite his easy slang way of speaking, he has a certain erudition when he jokes that a new acquaintance can use his nickname "on account of the informal situation" and later when he pulls out a relatively obscure comic book reference in dialog.

That's movie L.J. Wayne. The L.J. Wayne in this book, however, is completely unrecognizable to me. He's happy-go-lucky to the point of being almost unable to process new information or assess the severity of a situation. He talks incessantly, which implicitly endangers the team since the zombies are drawn to noise. When he meets Terri Morales -- the weather reporter for the local news channel -- he becomes obsessively star-struck at meeting a "celebrity", and mourns her death only because "There goes my chance at stardom". He flings around racially charged terms, both at himself and at others: he refers to Carlos as a four-letter racial slur for Hispanic people (S*), he refers to white characters as a seven-letter racial slur for white people (C*), and he refers to black characters as a six-letter racial slur for black people (N*). Of the six instances of the N* word that occur in this novel (none of which, I hasten to add, occur in the movie), five of them are uttered by Wayne.

Later, Jill Valentine continues this lovely trend of racist dialog by repeatedly characterizing Wayne as a "roach" and additionally addressing Wayne as "boy"; whether the term is meant here in the classic racist sense or in the new extra-crispy version that involves a comparison to a dog, I didn't and don't care because at that point I was *done*. There's no excuse for all this gratuitous racism, in my opinion, and I will take a moment to point out that book author DeCandido and movie writer  Anderson are both white men. I feel like that's a touch relevant here.

Some readers may read Wayne's dialogue as modern and edgy, but I personally feel there's a difference between a black artist reclaiming racial terms and a white artist putting those terms in the dialogue of a fictional black character -- especially when that sort of dialog is completely omitted in the original, on-screen characterization for that character. I finished this novel and I was pleased with the actual plot and the filling of the movie gaps, but the blatant and unnecessary characterization changes to make half the characters offensive stereotypes about black people, Scottish people, and Southern people, I personally did not appreciate in the least.

~ Ana Mardoll


chris the cynic said...

I have recently rewatched the film in question, and have committed it to DVD. I credit it as the reason that zombies became a major plot point in the previously time travel related dream I had when I couldn't sleep but was apparently still fully capable of forming a dream. (The liminal state between awake and asleep is very interesting, in any other place I'd be forced to call it hallucination, but in any other place I wouldn't have had it.) I also credit it, and the entire movie series, with each 'episode' of the dream ending in a sudden dramatic turnaround in the heroes apparent fortunes.


Most of which is to say that I have the character of L.J. Wayne fresh in my mind and it's terrible that the novel treated him that way.

Also, on rewatching, I assumed that Alice came to the church because Ashford had located her and located the people in the church and thus sent her there to team up with them so he'd have an entire team to pick up his daughter instead of one woman. It all made sense... until I found out she hadn't been contacted by Ashford yet.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who liked movie!Wayne. I just adored him.

[[Spoiler Alert: The reason (according to the novel) that Alice went to the church was because she can now sense the Lickers and wanted to destroy them. (Up until Nemesis, they were the only thing out there that was worse than the regular zombies and, um, I guess she wanted to start with wiping out the hard stuff first.)]]

Words really do not do justice to how much I love this movie; it's up there with "Aliens" for things I watch when I'm sad and need cheering up.

Mime_Paradox said...

Back when the movie was in theaters, I went and watched it because I really like the character of Jill Valentine. I actually found it rather fun (although not much more than that), and was dismayed to find out that it was not a particularly popular opinion. While I initially got the complaints arguing that it didn't really capture the spirit of the games in anything but the most superficial ways, given what the actual videogame franchise has become, the movies in retrospect seem rather prescient.

chris the cynic said...

Dear Chrome, I have no idea why you suddenly decided to jump two pages back when I pressed backspace, and no other button, in the text box in order to get rid of the highlighted text, but your doing so has caused my very nice post to disappear forever.


On topic, movie Wayne came off to me as a character that was set up to give the initial impression of being a stereotype character but then played the role with enough nuance and coolness to make it so you couldn't think of him that way once you got to know him. And I think that shows up in the writing as much as the acting.

For much of the film he did feel like he was just tagging along, but so did various others. Then, in the end, when if you're paying attention you have a, "Where did he get off to, anyway?" moment the eventual reveal is that he was saving the day by securing their means of escape.


The movie-game characterization choice that surprised me the most was Nicholai. Spoilers, I suppose, if I haven't gone there already.

In the game, as I recall, he's initially presented as a callous jerk, and eventually revealed to be totally evil. (The initial callous jerkness is presumably him trying, to the best of his rather limited abilities, to not seem evil.) In the movie he's a fun likable character who feels underutilized because he doesn't get much opportunity to shine but is instead relegated to the background while he lasts.

Plus in the game he runs the team, in the movie Carlos seems to.

Ana Mardoll said...

Boo hiss @ Chrome. Sorry to hear that.

I haven't played the games, but I didn't like that Nicholai had to die in the movie. He was an absolutely awesome character, and I thought it was sad/sweet how he kept expecting Umbrella to do *something* to help them. Kind of says a lot about his character that betrayal was so deeply against his grain.

Carlos is also presented as the leader in the book. There's also a little Easter Egg in there about how he really liked that Egyptian guy from those recent popular mummy movies -- Ardeth Bay being played in "The Mummy" by the same actor who plays Carlos in RE: Apocalypse. I couldn't decide if that Easter Egg was cute or annoying; I generally don't like things that propel me from the reading, but here it wasn't too jarring on top of, you know, everything ELSE.

I really liked, as you say, how Wayne seemed like he'd initially be a stereotype and then wasn't. For me the turning point was more with the S.T.A.R.S. team where he's observing the action with a sharp eye and (though understandably unsettled by Nemesis) he doesn't lose his head and start uselessly shooting at the thing who hasn't yet menaced him directly. But, yeah, him snagging the chopper at the end was also very sweet.

chris the cynic said...

For me the turning point was more with the S.T.A.R.S. team where he's observing the action with a sharp eye and (though understandably unsettled by Nemesis) he doesn't lose his head and start uselessly shooting at the thing who hasn't yet menaced him directly.

That definitely stood out to me too. That he was able to react in a completely reasonable and rational way surrounded by all that -completely unexpected- death is kind of a defining moment for him*.

I also think he might have been the only one to take the precaution of making sure to say on meeting new people who might otherwise kill him, "I'm not one of those things," which is pretty smart considering a lot of people die for failing to make the distinction until too late, and thus one could imagine people not waiting to find out.


* Especially given that I watch so many movies where people don't. "Wow, that monster just killed off an entire squad of highly trained people who unloaded bullets into for ages. Bullets from high powered rifles no less. It hasn't taken an interest in me yet," pause, "I know! I'll shoot at it with my handgun," seems to be a disturbingly common mode of thinking in movies.

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