Resident Evil: Apocalypse Review
When the original Resident Evil ended, Matt and Alice had survived a zombie plague that infected the Hive (a top-secret underground research facility) after the T-virus was unleashed on their fellow employees turning them into walking dead flesh-eaters. They made it out alive only to be taken away by scientists in protective suits and separated. We last heard those men say they were headed back into the Hive. Alice awoke sometime later alone in hospital and discovered to her horror that the virus had breached the quarantined Hive and infected the residents of Raccoon City. She grabbed a shotgun and surveyed the destruction.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse picks up where the first film left off bringing everything up to speed through a series of flashbacks and a voice-over by Alice. All hell has broken loose in Raccoon City and its non-infected residents are desperate to escape. The Umbrella Corporation's top brass led by the evil Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann) let some of them leave, but eventually decide to seal off the city and nuke it from existence dooming the infected and non-infected alike. Alice learns that while separated from Matt, she was used as a lab rat and has been genetically-altered to create the ultimate fighting machine. Armed with that knowledge and some badass weaponry, she joins forces with a group of survivors still trapped in the city. The group, which includes demoted STARS member Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillroy), Umbrella Corp. mercenaries Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and Nicholai Sokolov (Zack Ward) and resourceful weather reporter Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt) is offered an escape route by Dr. Charles Ashford (Jared Harris) (the scientist who created the T-virus) in exchange for the rescue of his daughter Angie. Seems the girl is trapped in Raccoon City and has the only known antidote, so Alice and company band together to battle flesh-eaters, Lickers, zombie dogs and an 8 foot assassin called Nemesis (Matthew G. Taylor) to find young Angie and their eventual way out.
Upon it's 2002 release, the eagerly-anticipated Resident Evil was met with mixed reviews - people either loved it for its cheesy zombie goodness or hated it for straying too far away from its video game origins. Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon) who did duty as both writer and director for the first film, wrote the screenplay for Resident Evil: Apocalypse as well, but was too busy killing off the Alien/Predator franchises to direct its sequel and passed the baton to first-timer Alexander Witt, a second unit man for the likes of Black Hawk Down and The Bourne Identity. Witt had a bigger playing field with Raccoon City and made the film a series of confrontations between survivors and zombies, survivors and mutant creatures and survivors and the evil betraying Umbrella Corp. He also likes to blow things up. The weapons of choice range from kick-boxing to rocket launchers and there are some great scenes involving explosions. There are lots of zombies too. One nasty scene in particular involves zombie school children and one of the unfortunate survivors.
The performances are good and about what you'd expect from a video game-cum-horror film. Jovovich (Resident Evil) and Guillroy (The Time Machine) provide eye candy with their big weapons and small outfits for Witt's target audience (mainly gamers and younger males), but it's Jovovich once again who is the film's main attraction. With her combination of beauty and tomboyishness and her willingness to take on physically challenging parts, she has established herself as a bona fide action star. Alice's newfound superhuman abilities allow her to flex her martial art and gymnastic muscles as she kick-boxes, leaps, punches, flips and runs down the sides of buildings. Guillroy plays sexy, tough-as-nails Jill Valentine who looks more like a hooker than an elite cop as she dispatches zombies wearing a mini skirt and tube top. Oded Fehr (The Mummy Returns), Sandrine Holt (Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever) and Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist) do what they can with a paperthin script and Mike Epps (Friday After Next) is thrown into the mix for some comic relief as the wisecracking LJ.
By taking Resident Evil: Apocalypse above ground to Raccoon City, the filmmakers broadened their zombie-killing playground, but lost the chilling sense of dread you felt for the characters as they fought for their lives in the claustrophobic Hive. Anderson did listen to the negative feedback from the first film though and the sequel is definitely closer in feel to the video games. Some of the locations and imagery are virtually identical to the games and the film itself is structured like a video game. The inclusion of Jill Valentine and Nemesis and the return of the zombie dogs and Lickers was a step in the right direction, but he is visually making the same mistakes. Though the film is loaded with non-stop action and zombie carnage, the lighting is so dark and blurry that you miss a lot of what is going on (whether or not that was an artistic choice or a way to camouflage the Toronto locales and hammy acting by zombie extras is up for debate). Witt also apparently shares Anderson's love of jump cuts and slo-mo and his use of the ever popular MTV-like editing is nauseating and distracting. As with Anderson's previous work, the story is short on character development and full of major plotholes - for example: loads of Raccoon City residents are allowed to leave before the Umbrella Corporation decides to nuke the city and claim it was an accident. Do they really think all those people who escaped will keep quiet about what really happened?
A sequel is set-up in the last ten minutes of the film, but you have to wade through multiple false endings to get there. If you're a fan of the first film like I am and you approach this with lowered expectations, you'll enjoy it for what it is: mindless, zombie-killing action by hot women in skimpy outfits with familiar faces from the games and some naked zombie strippers (well, actually topless) thrown in for good measure. It never pretends to be anything but. If you're looking for a cinematic copy of the games with snappy dialogue, great acting and an imaginative plot, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is not the film for you.