The first Resident Evil film is a trick, you see. A random, lightning-in-a-bottle movie that despite not being any kind of game changer, succeeded in being entertaining, interesting, and with some nifty effects. Bolstered by the wide eyed tough-girl charisma of star Milla Jovovich, some people found a new piece of late-night cable candy. Never mind that prior to this, director Paul W.S. Anderson hadn’t done anything of note — a campy, idiotic Mortal Kombat adaptation, the almost-but-not-quite Event Horizon, and Soldier, a movie that is only remotely interesting due to the presence of star Kurt Russell. Perhaps, we thought, perhaps Anderson was turning it around.
Not so much. After Resident Evil we were treated to the dumb-but-enjoyable Death Race, and a truly dismal Aliens Vs. Predators movie. The Resident Evil series continued with him serving as producer, with the garbled mass of nonsense Apocalypse coming next, followed by the forgettable but inoffensive Extinction. Both made decent money due to the summer crowds seeking out eye candy, both monstrous and Milla in form, and they seemed determined to out-dumb the other.
Which brings us to the newest film, Resident Evil: Afterlife, another ineptly and clumsily titled entry in the series. Anderson is back in the director’s chair, and this time is touting the same 3D effects technology responsible for the visually arresting (but totally vapid) Avatar. In this go-round, zombie asskicker Alice (Jovovich) is still on the run from the eeeeevil Umbrella Corporation, still trying to find survivors in a world left in ruin after the Umbrella-caused zombie apocalypse, and still trying to find answers to questions that, frankly, the audience has either forgotten or stopped caring about two movies ago.
I’ll say this for Anderson — he does manage to repair one of the mistakes made in the earlier films. After a utterly bananas opening featuring an all-out assault on the Umbrella HQ in Tokyo, replete with guns, katanas, clones, and pretty much everything else in, on, or near the kitchen sink, Anderson quickly moves to de-power the nearly invincible Alice. It fixes the mistakes of the prior two films — a super-powered Alice never really made sense anyway, and telekinetic protagonists certainly didn’t have anything to do with the video game series. It rapidly grounds the character a bit. It’s also probably the last good decision Anderson makes with the film.
The story follows Alice as she heads to Alaska to find the fabled Arcadia, the supposed safe haven from the undead. Eventually, she finds her way back to Los Angeles, and along the way picks up an old friend, Claire (Ali Larter, who appeared in Extinction) and finds some new ones, including Luther (Boris Kodjoe), Angel (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), Crystal (Kacey Barnfield), Bennett (Kim Coates), and in a breathtakingly stupid coincidence, Chris (Wentworth Miller), Claire’s brother. Somehow, after traveling across North America and back, Claire is lucky enough to stumble into her brother in the basement of an abandoned prison. Along with the only other living people within a thousand miles.
Actually, let’s talk about that a bit. This is part of the problem with this series in general. It tries to cram as much goofy shit into each entry as possible — while also trying to bring upon as many video game geek fangasms as possible. The result is a frequently convoluted goulash of suck that makes zero sense to the casual fan, and either frustrates or aggravates the gamers. There are inexplicable coincidences (such as the presence of Chris Redfield, completely clumsily introduced), random monsters who appear that are totally unexplained (including the Executioner from the Resident Evil 5 game, a monstrous hammer-swinging freak, as well asa nod to the tentacle mouthed La Plaga villagers from RE4, both of which are totally out of place here and come with no explanation), and a villain, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) so exaggeratedly evil that he becomes little more than a black-clad parody; an over-enunciating, soliloquy-prone mustache-twirler with zero appeal or personality.
This ties into a ongoing theme in the series: Alice has historically been the only character to be even remotely interesting, and she’s the only one who was created exclusively for the films rather than a Capcom invention. Yet Anderson is recklessly determined to shoehorn as many tie-ins and nods to the games into the films as possible. Instead of creating a film that’s friendly to casual and hardcore fan alike, he ends up creating a pointless clusterfuck of characters, similar to the issue that was partially responsible for bringing down other geek series like X-Men.
Storywise, it’s pretty much pointless. It’s the same setups and conclusions as the prior two entries — Alice searches around, has wannabe deep inner monologues, finds new allies, kicks a bunch of ass, has a big confrontation with an Umbrella Corporation big bad, rinse, repeat, throw in the fucking trash. The dialogue is as banal as ever, the writing (Anderson wrote this gem as well) is aimless and dull, and the story just isn’t strong enough to tether the characters to any kind of purposeful mission. It’s a smattering of boring conversations and tired revelations sandwiched between gunfights and people jumping off walls and punching each other. And blood. Hoo boy, does Anderson like some spurting blood. If there’s a saving grace to the film beyond Jovovich’s raspy-voiced, ass-kicking appeal, it’s that at least the score, by noted composers Tomandandy, is excellent, full of ominous, thumping, reverberating electronica.
The special effects are the real focus of the series, and here they’re front and center as always. The 3D tech is mostly distracting, and while it’s occasionally good for a few wows, I just didn’t see what the fuss was about (which is the way I’ve felt with most 3D films). Anderson’s greatest crimes are twofold: one, a penchant for gratuitous over-editing, and two, and I’ll say this nice and loud so everyone in the back can hear it:
LAY OFF THE FUCKING SLOW MOTION, YOU DIPSHIT.
I mean, holy fuckballs was there too much slow-motion. It felt like 75 percent of every action scene was filmed at 1/4 speed, full of CGI debris and water flying everywhere. It was completely ridiculous. The Matrix-type effects are interesting when used sparingly, but when it becomes routine and constant in every single action sequence, it’s reduced to boring and indulgent. I swear to God, if they’d shown every fight at full speed, they’d have knocked 25 minutes off of the film’s already anemic 97 minute run time.
In the end, Resident Evil: Afterlife becomes yet another boring, poorly-written, effects-heavy blunder that stumbles even at the money shot — the special effects. It comes roaring our of the gate, then promptly trips, hits the ground chin first, and spends the rest of its time crawling. Is it better than the middle two? Absolutely, by leaps and bounds — but that just makes it less than outright shitty, and instead it settles for simply lousy. It brings nothing new or interesting to the series, and its big reveals induce little other than yawns and eye-rolling (complete with cliffhanger ending, so get ready for a fifth entry). Anderson continues to miss what made his original at least somewhat entertaining, and is yet another film maker unable to resurrect the series.