Resident Evil: Apocalypse Review
When the first Resident Evil, a guilty pleasure of mine, was released in 2002, fans of the video game series upon which it was based tore it to shreds, getting into quite a tizzy about the fact that it didn't follow the premise and characters of its source material to the letter. With this sequel, the creators have addressed some of these complaints by inserting characters, locations and events from the games themselves. However, this fails to deal with the other problem that plagued the first film and rears its ugly head again here: neither Resident Evil nor Resident Evil: Apocaylpse are good movies, and it is very difficult to defend them on any tangible merit, artistic or otherwise. The original, however, was entertaining movie, and the same is true of this follow-up, even if much of the entertainment factor is unintentional.
Following on directly from the first Resident Evil, Apocalypse begins with the Umbrella Corporation bosses reopening the Hive, the facility that was previously overrun by the undead. Unwittingly unleashing the T-Virus, they quarantine the entire city to prevent it from spreading. As more and more people become zombies, a handful of survivors band together. Led by tough cop Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), they take refuge in a nearly church, where they run into the recently escaped Alice (Milla Jovovich, reprising her role from the first movie), who has undergone numerous experiments that have left her with superhuman combat abilities. Meanwhile, the wheelchair-bound scientist Dr. Ashford, who pioneered the T-Virus, hatches a desperate plan to enlist the aid of the survivors in tracking down his missing daughter. Elsewhere, military leader Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann) prepares to unleash Umbrella's latest bionic mutation, known only as Nemesis...
The film belongs to a very special category that I have monikered the Shitty Movie, in which elements that would be considered downright awful in any other context conspire to make the experience more enjoyable. This is not ultimately the sort of film that is in any way fulfilling on an intellectual level, and most people would probably not admit in good company to liking it, but there is something extremely appealing about this piece of B-movie-masquerading-as-a-blockbuster schlock that makes it enjoyable, provided you are in the right mood. The pace is slick, and the dialogue is at times amusing in an "I can't believe they actually wrote that" sort of way. The actors, director and crew are all game for whatever idiotic nonsense writer/producer (and director of the original Resident Evil) Paul WS Anderson has cooked up for them to perform. It is this eagerness to give it their all that makes the film so enjoyable, since those involved make up for in commitment what they lack in actual skill.
What puts the sequel a notch below the original is the clumsy direction. Anderson can hardly be considered to be one of the best action movie directors around - the mess he made of Alien vs. Predator put paid to any possibility of that - but at least he had a good sense of framing and was able to inject the film with a palpable atmosphere of dread. Both of these traits are completely missing in Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The camerawork has a perfunctory feel to it, and director Alexander Witt's occasional attempts to add style, usually in the form of ridiculously bad slow motion effects and clumsy action choreography, are so bad that they provoke laughter. Witt is an experienced second unit director, but this, his first shot at helming an entire feature, suggests that he doesn't yet have what it takes to carry a movie of this type for the duration of its running time.
Milla Jovovich's performance is also weaker than that of the first film. The script admittedly fails to provide any moment for us to empathise with her character - Alice is set up as a typical action hero with special powers - but even so, her acting seems unnaturally stilted at times. Thankfully English actress Sienna Guillory turns in a good performance, sporting a convincing American accent and making the character of Jill Valentine (a carry-over from the games) come alive. It's a good thing she has the acting chops, because she sports the most embarrassing costume in the film: a good example of why, in the original, Anderson actually made the right choice in not directly porting the games to the silver screen. With her strapless blue tank top, knee-length leather boots and ridiculously short miniskirt, she looks about as prepared for battle as a man in a tutu. Yes, she looks great, but she also looks absurd. Equally unbelievable is the design for Nemesis, which admittedly doesn't look quite as bad as the trailer suggested, although this is a small comfort. Elsewhere, the cast do what they can with the wafer-thin roles provided for them, but since so many of them are playing enormous clichés, they never seem remotely believable. Perhaps most tragically of all, Thomas Kretschmann, who seems to be getting all the "evil German soldier" roles these days, is thoroughly limp and shows nothing of the vigour that characterized his role as Alfredo Grossi in The Stendhal Syndrome.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse is unlikely to please anyone who hated the first movie adaptation, since although it does respond to some of the complaints raised by fans of the game series, they do little to mask its severe failings. Best approached from the perspective of being so bad it's good, this is a fun but ultimately poor piece of filmmaking that really requires a taste for cheese in order for it to be enjoyed.
Above: 2.39:1 versus 1.33:1.
Two separate presentations of the film are included on the same disc: an anamorphic transfer preserving its original theatrical 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and a non-anamorphic 1.33:1 version combining cropped and open matte material. It's a shame Columbia Tristar saw fit to do this, since the OAR version is obviously the one that counts, and by cramming a total of over three hours' worth of video on to a single disc, the image quality understandably takes a blow. The actual master used appears to have been first rate, with excellent contrasts, a good deal of sharpness and pleasingly little edge enhancement. Compression artefacts are, however, extremely pronounced, even on smaller displays, and as a result the UK release (reviewed elsewhere on this site by D.J. Nock) seems to be a better deal, as it includes all the bonus materials of the R1 release but has only an OAR presentation of the film, and by all accounts does not suffer from the encoding problems of this release.
The audio, on the other hand, is excellent, featuring a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation (a French dub is also included). A bombastic assault on the senses, the use of the surrounds and subwoofer during the various action sequences almost make up for the clumsy manner in which they are shot. There are absolutely no problems with distortion or drop-outs, or indeed any other problems. This is, simply put, a great mix.
Subtitles are included in English and French for the film, and the extras are fully subtitled in French. Why this luxury could not have been extended to deaf and hard of hearing English speakers is a mystery to me.
Thankfully eschewing the rip-off "double-dip" system they employed with the first Resident Evil, Columbia Tristar have gone all out with this release, loading it to the gills with bonus features (unless, of course, there's a Super Mega Deluxe Platinum Edition due out in six months). The majority of the bonus features are on the second disc; the first, however, sports not one, not two, but three audio commentaries of varying quality.
The first, the driest, features director Alexander Witt, producer Jeremy Bolt and executive producer Robert Kulzer. Primarily technical in nature, a lot of attention is given to the stunts, visual effects, locations and the like. It becomes clear fairly quickly that all three participants have rather inflated opinions of the product they have created (a problem that characterises the majority of the extras), and it becomes quite irritating after a while to listen to the praise that is heaped not only on the cast and crew but also on the final product.
The second features actors Milla Jovovich, Oder Fehr and Sienna Guillory. Jovovich and Fehr, who were clearly recorded together, laugh and joke and generally talk about anything but the film itself. Sienna Guillory, who was obviously recorded separately and spliced in, mainly talks about the motivations and depth of her paper-thin character. She takes the film too seriously and after a while listening to her becomes hard work. Sadly, this track doesn't have the spontaneity of the laugh-out-loud commentary track present on the Resident Evil DVD, in which Jovovich and co-star Michelle Rodriguez provided ample proof that Hollywood stars really are as shallow as they are characterised to be.
The final track features writer/producer Paul WS Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt, and is by far the most informative of the three. Whatever you think of Anderson's abilities (or lack thereof) as a writer and director, he has an undeniable passion for what he does, and that shines through in this commentary track, where he provides a rather interesting discussion of the sequel from a writing/producing perspective. Once again, the amount of backpatting and self-aggrandising becomes annoying, but in terms of actual substance this is the strongest commentary. Interestingly, this is Anderson's only appearance throughout all the extras on this set. Perhaps he was too busy shooting Alien vs. Predator when the bonus materials were recorded, or perhaps he thought it better to lay low from the lynch mobs seeking his blood...
The second disc begins with Game Over: Resident Evil Reanimated, a six-part documentary covering various aspects of the making of the film. "Game Plan" is your typical EPK fluff, in which cast and crew members hype the product up beyond all reasonable proportions, talk about how cool it and everyone else was, and show of the film's various money shots. "Running, Jumping, Fighting" covers the various stunts and fight sequences, including the training Milla Jovovich and Sienna Guillory went through and providing various side-by-side examples of rough footage compared with the final product. "Zombie Choreography" discusses the extensive training process the zombie extras went through to ensure a specific style of acting on their part. "Building Racoon City" features production designer Paul D. Austerberry, who explains the process of choosing suitable locations and building various sets. Particularly interesting is a demonstration of the making of the church, which I could have sworn was the real thing rather than a set that was knocked together in a couple of months. In "Big Guns", everyone fetishises firearms and goes into detail about the various types of weapon used by each character. Finally, in "Smoke and Mirrors", we get a reasonably interesting look at the various visual effects processes used in the movie, from the spaghetti-covered Dobermanns to the extensive (and frankly crap) computer-generated effects used to create the Lickers. All in all, this is a solid documentary. It is, ultimately, designed to sell the film (to people that have already bought it on DVD, no less), but it is neither too short nor too long, and at least leaves the viewer with the impression that a lot of skill and hard work goes into making even the dumbest movies.
Three shorter, more focused featurettes follow. In Game Babes, various cast and crew members discuss the recent focus on female action heroes, with an emphasis on Milla Jovovich and Sienna Guillory. They spend perhaps a little too long theorising about what is, at the end of the day, little more than a ploy to sell movie tickets to horny teenage males, and a fair amount of material from the "Running, Jumping, Fighting" part of the documentary is repeated, but overall this is a fairly fun piece of triviality. In Symphony of Evil, we are treated to various computer generated previz shots, concept artwork and production progression demonstrations, set to isolated portions of Jeff Danna's score for the film. Finally, Corporate Malfeasance provides a very brief run-down of the Umbrella Corporation and its aims.
Rounding off the disc are a selection of Deleted Scenes; a collection of Outtakes, some of which are actually quite funny, although others quite blatantly aren't; a Poster Gallery featuring five different designs, and a Previews section, which includes both the theatrical trailer and the rather interesting teaser, which takes the form of a commercial for an anti-aging product from Umbrella.
All in all, while Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a perfect example of bad blockbuster moviemaking, it is quite entertaining despite its faults, and this 2-disc set is of a high standard, even if there is room for improvement in the area of image quality. While I doubt that many people (and certainly not its target audience!) will be interested in all the commentaries and documentaries, there is a lot of interesting material to digest, so if by some twist of fate you, like me, both enjoy bad movies and are interested in how they are made, then this release should be right up your street.