Resident Evil: Afterlife Review
The Resident Evil franchise, like its countless undead denizens, somehow keeps coming back to life despite the total absence of any brain activity. All credit to series mastermind (the term is used somewhat recklessly) Paul W.S. Anderson for shepherding the franchise through from its low-budget origins to this evidently more expensive fourth entry, quite unscathed by its lack of popularity with fans of the original games, as well as fans of the horror (and specifically the zombie) genre in general. At best, the films have been trashy late night fun – good for a few beers and laughs; at worst, they have been incoherent, sloppy, utterly stupid and content to rip-off any number of other, better sci-fi/horror movies.
Anderson himself is a magpie director, only able to survive by stealing other people’s ideas and using them to spruce up his own limp concoctions. Having written and produced each Resident Evil film, and directed the first, he returns to the director’s chair here possibly as a sort of self-congratulatory lap of honour, but more likely because the go-ahead was given to shoot it in 3D – a technology one imagines Anderson, for whom the phrase “Overkill is underrated” would serve as a fitting epitaph, was only too thrilled to get his hands on.
The story picks up a few weeks or months after the end of 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction. Milla Jovovich is back as Alice, and also as a whole army of Alice-clones, who have descended on Tokyo intent on obliterating the headquarters of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation and its evil genius chairman, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts, in full-on moustachio twirling villain mode). Wesker escapes however, and succeeds in neutralising Alice's biological superpowers (see part 2). Alice heads off in search of Arcadia, a rumoured colony of T-virus survivors. In Los Angeles she finds a handful of people locked down in a prison, fighting to keep the doors closed to the thousands of undead outside. Among their number is a prisoner who knows the only safe route out – none other than Prison Break star Wentworth Miller, in a piece of casting so goofy it almost defies belief.
As is now traditional, Anderson brings us the usual round of “homages” to pad out the running time. So we have the prison scenario borrowed from Escape from New York and Alien 3; an underwater swimming sequence that invokes memories of Alien: Resurrection (a sure sign of creative desperation); dogs with heads that peel open, an obvious nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing; and (for goodness’ sake!) The Matrix, with its slo-mo acrobatic gun battles with a bad guy who dresses in black and wears sunglasses indoors. One can only assume Anderson suddenly rediscovered it on his DVD player shortly before filming began and was reminded of how cool all that wonderful bullet-time photography was. Yes, it was cool – ten years ago.
As a film based on a computer game, it barely gets the job done. There is enough action to keep the average teenager satiated for ninety minutes, featuring plenty of fights with strange creatures who appear for no apparent reason. Quite why some zombies have mouths that peel apart is never explained (or quite conceivably it was a sequel or two ago, and this reviewer missed it), and neither is the sudden appearance of a giant axe-wielding zombie who wears a bag over his head. At least the poor actor succeeds in hiding his identity and his shame, something that cannot be said of other cast members like Ali Larter.
The plotting and dialogue are also up to the usual Resident Evil standards. Alice has apparently lost her amazing zombie-killing powers, yet she still flies around the screen like a... well, a computer game character. My favourite moment (besides the hilarious shot of hundreds of zombies tumbling off the top of a skyscraper like so many undead lemmings) was the scene where our heroes are standing outside a giant darkened room, and are understandably somewhat cautious about entering. “It’s a lie” someone says. “Worse – it’s a trap” says another. And then, realising it's a trap, they enter the room. Cue the doors sliding shut behind them. Good riddance, I say.
On a happier note, the one thing going for it is the 3D. Using the same technology that James Cameron used for Avatar, there are a few lovely beach shots that have a real sense of depth. If only the same could be said of the rest of the film.