APRIL 30, 2017
Not counting things like Final Fantasy, I can't skip entries in video game series any easier than I can skip movie sequels. I remember when Halo 3 came out and my friend wanted to play the campaign with me, but I refused because I hadn't finished Halo 2 yet and didn't want to spoil anything for myself (the irony being that I couldn't tell you a damn thing about any of the Halo games' narratives beyond "kill those things"), and when I got an Xbox One it came with two Assassin's Creed games that I still haven't played because I haven't finished all of the Xbox 360 era entries. So it's kind of funny that I watched Dead Rising: Endgame without seeing the first film (Watchtower), which not only had reveals that meant nothing to me since I hadn't watched the first film, but also included game characters I haven't met yet as I've only played the first game.
(If you're wondering why I broke my "rule" - I had to watch the movie for work and didn't feel like tracking down the original as it wouldn't have any bearing on what I needed to do as I watched the sequel.)
Long story short, I am probably in the minority of people watching Endgame who were neither fans of the original film or die hard fans of the game series. Don't get me wrong, I loved the first Dead Rising (it was the first game I got for the 360, in fact) and played the "Case Zero" mini prequel to the 2nd game, but just never got around to playing the others. I am cursed in that the kinds of games I love are very long, and I'm also a sucker for side missions and collectibles, but I also have about three hours a week max to play games more often than not. So I only get through maybe four or five games a year, and for every ten games that come out I want to play, I maybe get through one of them. Long story short, the DR sequels are (as of now) part of that unfortunate group that just falls by the wayside. It bums me out, and I'm constantly having "Maybe if I beat traffic I can play..." kind of daydreams that never come to fruition; I just have to make sure my systems all still work in 2045 when I can retire and spend the rest of my days in blissful game-land.
That said, I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to. The "movie based on a video game" sub-genre is a fairly sorry lot, as you all know, and the film's low budget roots seemed ill-fitted to the game series (more on that soon). But despite the fact that it swiped a good chunk of its narrative from another game movie sequel (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), I found it rather engaging in a timekiller way, never boring me or making me angry or anything like that - my main gripe was that I was reminded that there are now four games in the series I haven't played (if you count the remake of Dead Rising 2 that told the story from Frank West's point of view). Jesse Metcalfe made for a decent everyman hero and proved to be capable of handling the action stuff, and he was backed by a good supporting cast including two Bates Motel vets: Keegan Connor Tracy (the hot teacher Norman offed in season 1) and Ian Tracey, who was Dylan's gunrunner boss. Oddly enough, his character, who hadn't been seen for a while, reappeared on the show's finale, reminding me of where I knew him from and saving me a trip to the IMDb while I was watching this. P.S. - Bates got real good during its last two seasons, so it's worth catching up on Netflix or whatever if you dropped it during its wheel-spinning third season.
Like I said Endgame borrows more than a bit from Apocalypse, as it focuses on a motley group of heroes making their way across the zombified city as a doomsday device counts down toward their certain doom. Hell they're even being aided by someone from the evil company who is exchanging his assistance in order to save his daughter (with Tracey in the Jared Harris role), which I found kind of amusing. See, the two game series are both from Capcom, but they're not much alike beyond "zombies", so it's strange that instead of following suit the movie would crib so heavily from the other series' sequel (especially one that tends to be the least liked among its fans, though I kind of enjoy Apocalypse for the most part). Luckily it's not just a standard "They're going to blow the city up!" countdown - it's something a bit more interesting, as the corporate assholes plan to activate an overload of the chip that people have implanted to keep them from turning into zombies.
This would be Zombrex, a "cure" from the games that the player must take after being bitten, used here sparingly outside of the chip subplot (the chip administers a small timed dose on the regular - an overload will have the opposite effect, I guess?). Since its existence would kill most of the film's suspense, the idea here is that the evil company has come up with a new strain of zombies that are faster and harder to kill, and standard Zombrex won't work (because they're also developing a cure for this new strain and will make billions selling it). It's one of the few things from the game that's used really; Fortune City is mentioned and one of the series' heroes shows up near the end (I'm not sure if he was in the first movie), but it also shows a character playing Dead Rising 3, so I'm not sure what plane of reality we're dealing with here. As with the RE series, it seems they didn't think copying the story from the game would be a wise option, but knew they needed these little shoutouts to make the hardcore fans happy.
But it's still an odd use of the license, in my opinion. For starters, the zombie numbers are very low, and I don't think you ever see more than ten or twelve on-screen at any given time. One of the game's big draws is how many hundreds of zombies it was able to render on-screen at once for your player to kill, and there's never any real break from them (at least, in the two I played, beyond a small safe zone where you save and such) as they swarm everywhere at all times. There are no human psychos to deal with either, just a few obligatory looter types, and the evil corporate guy played by Dennis Haysbert (who never interacts with the core cast), and it's also largely devoid of humor which is another thing that helped the game stick out from Resident Evil and the like. Apart from the Zombrex and a quick appearance from the hero of the second game, the only thing time it really feels like its namesake is when they find themselves without guns and have to fashion weapons out of the stuff they find laying around the room. For whatever faults most game movies have, they at least feel "at home" with the visual aesthetic and tone of their source material (save for a few Boll flicks and the abysmal Super Mario Bros), but here it's like they shoehorned in a few things at the last minute to justify a license they didn't initially have. I'm curious if the original film had the same problem?
Luckily, the zombie action is decent when it occurs. There's a lot of digital, but for some reason it didn't really bother me (maybe because it was offering a bit of the cartoonish feel a Dead Rising movie should offer in droves?), and Metcalfe gets to enjoy a pair of fun sequences. In one he's tumbling up and down an escalator as the zombies come at him from both floors, and then later we get a John Wick inspired "long shot" (it's got some obvious cuts "hidden" by Metcalfe backing right up on the lens) where he takes down a swarm of walkers in an operating room. He uses the medical equipment to fight them off as they keep coming, scrambling around like Jackie Chan or someone as he tries to stay alive but also find a way to get the hell out of there - it's not what I would have expected to see given what we saw in the first hour or so, and it put a big smile on my face. Again, there aren't a lot of zombies in the movie, no "hordes" or anything like that, so I'm glad that they balanced it out by making the action scenes stick out instead of offering generic run n' gun kinda stuff that would get real old by the end of the flick. There's one evil human too many in the film's climax, but otherwise the characters are largely likable and even fairly well developed for this kind of thing.
Apparently the last game didn't sell so well, so I don't know if that means the film series will come to an end as people are apparently moving on from the franchise. Someday I'll give the first film a look, and the cast/crew should be commended for taking what could have been sub-Syfy movie crap and turning it into something fairly enjoyable. I wish it felt more like the game, true, but if it was a direct adaptation of one of them (or indulged in some of the games' wonkier elements, like the cult in the first one) it'd make the changes even harder to ignore. No, ultimately they had the right idea to more or less tell an "original" story and let us get immersed in something new, and if they do get a third film (this one lays the groundwork for one) I hope they continue that path. It worked OK for Resident Evil (and, to a lesser extent, Assassin's Creed, which bombed but was at least its own thing set in that world, rather than a boring retelling of one of the games), and should be the approach for pretty much all game films. Any game with a story worth telling on the big screen will likely be too long for one, after all - trying to cram it into 90 or even 120 minutes would just piss off the gamers while leaving the non-players bewildered at a "Cliff's Notes" version of a narrative. Then no one wins.
What say you?