Now in theaters!
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Light spoilers ahead…
The Resident Evil movies have always received a “pass” from me. They’re pure adrenalin-laced junk food rooted in a post-apocalyptic attitude and I don’t believe I’ve seen any entry more than twice. That’s good for me, thanks. I followed the story, recognized the wafer thin arcs that were being drawn in the heroine Alice’s journey and reveled in the monsters that were brought to the screen, however gaudy they might be. If that’s enough for you to turn away from this review, fair enough, but know this before you go: I’m not letting Resident Evil: Afterlife slide. No way, no how.
As the fourth chapter in the series, one would expect some massive changes to the formula. Insight we’ve never had before. A threat that topples everything. Well, besides the 3D aspect of Afterlife, for writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson it’s business as usual with a thread-bare plot that sets the franchise back a few steps rather than push it forward. The die-hard fans will get a thrill out of the action (now in 3D!) and the myriad baddies (now in 3D!) that have been culled from the video games. The more discriminating, however, will balk at the film’s sense of dÃ©jÃ vu, the utter lack of any development in story and characters and logic-defying elements.
As promised in Russell Mulcahy’s superior Resident Evil: Extinction (and I lightly use the word “superior”), also written by Anderson, Afterlife picks up with Milla Jovovich’s Alice and her army of clones laying siege to the Umbrella Corporation in Tokyo. This is where Wesker resides, surrounded by an inadequate security force. As the video game franchise’s omnipresent sunglasses-wearing bad guy, Shawn Roberts hisses his way through the role, adapting a villainous drawl suitable for a tacky ’80s action film. And needless to say, another faction of Umbrella’s worldwide force crumbles thanks to Alice, however, Anderson throws in a bit of a twist…she loses her powers in the film’s first ten minutes or so. And here is where Afterlife – which until this point had started quite strong with a fierce sense of momentum – greatly stumbles.
I actually admired Anderson for his bold decision to rob Alice of the T-virus. It puts her right back at square one. She’s cognitive of who she is (unlike the first Resident Evil where she’s trying to find her identity), but with the virus out of her system, you would expect her to adapt to her survival instincts again. But here’s the rub: Afterlife doesn’t present this. Alice doesn’t have the telekinesis, but she’s still skillful at what she does: Jumping, kicking ass, going into a fight with guns a-blazing and always hitting her target. There is no expected vulnerability. Where’s the danger? The threat? There really isn’t any. Alice is an adept warrior, it seems, with or without the T-virus.
And so, Anderson wipes cleans the Alice arc in Afterlife, removing what made her interesting in the first place, and sets her on a path to find Arcadia, the Alaskan, virus-free town Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield sought in Extinction. That’s right, like Mulcahy’s film, this one is about getting to Arcadia…again.
Granted, the path is rife with obstacles and Arcadia doesn’t exist in Alaska, it’s something entirely else now in Los Angeles. Reunited with Claire – the one who is now suffering a memory loss, with Larter playing it as flat as can be, thanks to a spider-like device that was attached to her chest – Alice winds up in downtown L.A. where we meet a new cast of survivors.
You’ve got the former basketball player (Boris Kodjoe) who uses his skills – jumping in slo-mo – to catch the tail of a plane, a whiny Hollywood producer (Kim Coates) and his timid assistant (Norman Yeung), a wannabe actress who reveals she’s a pro swimmer for no other reason than to swim for one scene and meet her demise, some other zombie food fodder and Wentworth Miller’s Chris Redfield, the most interesting – and underused – character of the lot. This smattering of heroes and victims are by Alice and Claire’s side the rest of the film until they find their way to Arcadia and ultimately have to battle Wesker in an uninspired display of Matrix-like antics that ends with a whimper more than a bang.
I won’t tell you who lives or who dies, or reveal the events that get them to Arcadia, but Anderson tells the rest of the story in broad strokes and cuts a lot of corners. He also shoehorns in a cameo from the Resident Evil‘s past who looks so much unlike we last saw her that you have to double-check the end credits to make sure she is who you think she is. And this perfectly sums up Afterlife. Anderson repeatedly tries to punch you with these “wow” moments and he misses the mark every time. And, sadly, the new creatures he introduces, like the Executioner, arrive with no explanation as to what they are or where they come from. Seriously. The first time we find the Executioner, he’s meandering down Hollywood Blvd. Who is he? What’s up with this dude? Don’t know. Anderson presumes you already know the story if you’ve played the games.
Now, this isn’t all to say the 3D isn’t spectacular. It really is pretty cool and, utilizing the system created for James Cameron’s Avatar, Anderson immerses you in the world, although some of the underwater scenes are a bit jarring. The 3D really comes to the fore when Anderson slows the action down – more than a few times – allowing you to take in the detail. Action-wise, it’s silly, and almost a snide flip of the middle finger to post-converted films like Clash of the Titans that combine quick cutting and 3D, but it sure is nice to look at. He also falls back on using maps as scene transitions, similar to the first Resident Evil, Aliens vs. Predator and Death Race. It’s time to retire the maps, Paul.
Resident Evil: Afterlife is really a test of your allegiance to the series. You’ll either roll with the punches again and dismiss the flaws or finally recognize that there’s not much more to explore in the series and that it’s painfully running out of steam. I fall in the latter category. Naturally, Anderson offers no answers to many of the film’s big questions as to set the stage for a fifth film. But I really don’t see any hope of a better sequel beyond this dull Afterlife.