Resident 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