Paul W.S. Anderson: Good, Bad or Just Schlocky?

One of the more controversial filmmakers working in mainstream genre cinema today, Anderson seems to split his time between video game adaptation and scene fiction, delivering films that have proven surprisingly divisive. Is he a bad filmmaker or is he a talented schlock maestro? With his latest film, the disaster epic Pompeii, hitting theaters soon, it's time to look back on a career that's had fanboys and critics alike debating its merits. Anderson's films are defined by two questions. First, are they good? Second, are they fun? The answers don't always match.

 

Mortal Kombat

The Premise: Various fighters from various realms are brought together to participate in the titular martial arts tournament. People punch and kick each other. It's all very loud.

Is It Good? Oh, no. What may have looked impressive in 1995 looks cheap and amateurish today. The lousy acting and nonexistent story certainly don't help.

But Is It Fun? Yeah. It helps if you have nostalgia for the Mortal Kombat video games, but there's no denying this film's charming, oblivious goofiness. It's a bad movie, but it is one entertaining bad movie.

 

Event Horizon

The Premise: A spaceship crew investigates a missing ship, only to find that it took a trip into a black hole and brought something unpleasant back with it. It's one heck of an elevator pitch: The Exorcist in space.

Is It Good? Yeah. Event Horizon is arguably Anderson's best movie. It may not be as polished or intense as something like Alien, but pure sci-fi/horror like this is rare. Movies that attempt to blend pure religious terror with futuristic science fiction are even rarer.

But Is It Fun? Event Horizon is certainly fun (and pretty dang gory), but it's easy to look at it and see that it could be better. There's a genre-melding masterpiece hidden somewhere in this wild and messy B movie.

 

Soldier

The Premise: A remorseless supersoldier finds himself and his comrades replaced by a younger, tougher generation. Literally thrown away with the trash, he ends up making a home for himself on a junk planet, where he rediscovers his humanity.

Is It Good? That's a tough question to answer. There's an ambition on display that's uncommon for an Anderson film and Kurt Russell, despite having hardly any lines, gives one of his more memorable performances. It feels like a "real" movie in a way that many of the other films mentioned here do not. Eh, no, it's still not that great.

But Is It Fun? Pretty much. Anderson's action is slick and Russell is a blast. It's lightweight stuff, but like Event Horizon, you can actually see something truly great lurking right below the surface.

 

Resident Evil

The Premise: An elite police squad investigates an underground laboratory where an experimental virus is transforming people into zombies and monsters. The only thing louder than the gunshots is the screeching rock soundtrack.

Is It Good? Goodness, no. Resident Evil tosses away the horror framework established by its video game source material and delivers lots and lots of Milla Jovovich kicking zombies in slow motion. It's not scary and it's not that exciting and it's all so nonsensical.

But Is It Fun? Yes, it's fun. Once you understand that Resident Evil is less of a movie and more of an opportunity for Anderson to film wife Jovovich looking really good while she fights gnarly monsters, all bets are off. It's barely a movie, but it's a good time (especially with a beer or two). Anderson wrote, but didn't direct, the sequel—one of the worst movies ever made.

 

Alien vs. Predator

The Premise: Aliens. Predators. Together at last… and ready to fight to the death. Oh, and pesky humans stealing their screen time.

Is It Good? Even the worst Alien and Predator solo films felt like creative endeavors on some level, but AvP felt like two dying franchises desperately attempting to regain relevance and failing miserably. So, no.

But Is It Fun? Nope. Unlike Resident Evil, which made up for its silliness with violent excess and crazy action, Alien vs. Predator is a tame PG-13 experience that feels geared toward younger audiences who haven't even seen the original Alien or Predator. Anderson is at his best when he's off the leash, but this film sees him as restrained as he's ever been.

 

Death Race

The Premise: Jason Statham is a wrongfully convicted prisoner who finds himself recruited into participating in a violent, televised racing competition that finds inmates racing (and killing) each other. Since this is Jason Statham, he makes sure he kills everyone else first.

Is It Good? Sort of. It's a better made and more entertaining movie than some of Anderson's other '00s efforts, but it lives in the shadow of Corman's silly, satirical Death Race 2000. Death Race is a competent action movie, but it has nothing to say.  

But Is It Fun? Jason Statham growls his way through countless rounds of the world's bloodiest demolition derby. Of course it's fun! You'd have to work overtime for that to not be fun!

 

Resident Evil: Afterlife

The Premise: After handing the first two sequels off to other directors, Anderson returned with the fourth entry in this series, which finds Milla Jovovich's Alice battling even more zombies and mutants in slow-motion action sequences set to pounding rock music.

Is It Good? Although not as bad as the Anderson-less Resident Evil: Apocalypse, it is one of the weaker films in the series despite a handful of nice moments. It adds little to the franchise's mythology and undoes some of the crazier ideas introduced in Extinction.

But Is It Fun? Not particularly. If you can't get enough RE, this one will provide plenty of mindless entertainment. But there are better dumb action movies out there and, more importantly, there are better Resident movies out there.

 

The Three Musketeers

The Premise: Alexandre Dumas' classic adventure story gets the ADD treatment, sending Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan against Orlando Bloom's evil plan to build a fleet of airships. Yikes.

Is It Good? In a word: noooo. Hollywood has given Dumas plenty of reasons to roll over in his grave before, but this 3D monstrosity distorts one of the greatest novels of all time into an pile of unwatchable garbage. Perhaps the film's greatest crime is wasting the talents of Christoph Waltz and Mads Mikkelsen, who play their one-note villains with gritted teeth.

But Is It Fun? Anderson has made this kind of nonsense fun in the past, but he's never done it while spitting in the face of great literature. There's a time and place for a Paul W.S. Anderson movie and adaptations of classic literature do not apply.

 

Resident Evil: Retribution

The Premise: Imprisoned by the evil Umbrella Corporation, Milla Jovovich's Alice must battle her way across various testing grounds built to resemble major cities. There's even less story this time around, but nearly every scene contains an action beat.

Is It Good? In a traditional sense, no…

But Is It Fun? Very much so. Somehow, the fifth film in the series is probably the best, mainly because Anderson abandons any pretense of telling a story and simply makes a 90-minute-long action scene where attractive people dropkick zombies every five seconds. It's ludicrous and it often doesn't even feel like a real movie, but it's slick, fast and too dumb to hate. Bring on Pompeii.

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