Written and Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“My name is Alice. I worked for the Umbrella Corporation in a secret laboratory developing experimental viral weaponry. There was an incident. A virus escaped. Everybody died. Trouble was, they didn't stay dead."
A lot of people accuse Paul W.S. Anderson (aka “not the good Paul Anderson”) of continuing the Resident Evil series simply to show his wife off every few years. I can only take him to task for not churning these things out quickly enough--I think we should find an excuse to trot Milla Jovovich out in form-fitting clothing and battle the undead on a yearly basis. Really, I’m more upset that Anderson decided to come back and direct this series himself handing the first two sequels off; my memory of the first three grow increasingly hazy, but, if I recall, Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy did a pretty decent job of improving on the weak foundation he laid way back in 2002. While neither Apocalypse nor Extinction were great movies, they didn’t exactly warrant Anderson coming back aboard for Afterlife, which shuttled the series into the third dimension, where it becomes even more of a techie demo reel, full of digitized style and little else.
Because none of these movies have real endings, part four picks up at what should be a logical climax for the last one, as genetic super-freak Alice (Jovovich) and her legion of clones have finally descended upon the Umbrella Corporation’s underground lair, where lead bad guy Wesker (Shawn Roberts) has been hanging out all this time. After the horde of Alices wades through Umbrella’s not-so-finest, the real deal ends up finally ridding herself of Wesker, but not before he injects her with a needle that returns her to human form. Pretty good ending to the saga, right?
Well, the only problem is there’s another hour of movie left, so Anderson essentially stages an attempt to keep the series on life support by having Alice go back and check on the other survivors that she ditched back in the last movie. Save for Claire (Ali Larter), they aren’t there, so the two fly off in search of other folks and stumble across an abandoned prison, where a handful of survivors have holed up. For the most part, their names and identities are pretty incidental to the experience, as the meat of the movie just feels like a stopgap for the series. Taken as a one-off zombie movie, it’s a non-descript offering that essentially boils to another pack of survivors fending off the undead until the franchise mythology finally advances during the last fifteen minutes or so with a telegraphed twist or two. I think it’d be difficult for this film to simply walk through the motions any more lazily than it does, and it’s almost charming how this series trudges along with twists and turns that thud more than they surprise.
Weirdly enough, there’s a good amount of lip service paid to the video games now, which is odd considering how the first film is famously nothing like the original game (and this is not to mention that the entire series revolves around a character invented for the movies). At any rate, this one has some familiar sights--Claire has that mind-controlling red jewel from Resident Evil 5 attached to her, and that giant, axe-wielding behemoth from the same game shows up, which is cool. The only problem is that neither is really explained--sure, the T-Virus has resulted in a bunch of different mutations or whatever, but the explanation for this thing basically amounts to “fuck you, it’s in the games.” Likewise, Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller), the protagonist from the first game, finally makes an appearance in the fourth movie, which is fine if you can accept that his sister (Claire) just happens to randomly bump into him. Forgiving that contrivance would even be easy if anything of note was done with the two, but, save for a cursory “hey, you’re my sister!” scene, the angle’s all but dropped and seemingly only appears for maximum fan-wanking. Also dropped: Alice’s newly recovered humanity, which would provide an intriguing wrinkle that would make it difficult to kick zombie ass this time around.
But no, there she is dispatching them as easily as ever with her quarter-shooting shotgun; I know criticizing Resident Evil movies for their plots is like disparaging McDonald’s for making unhealthy food, but this sort of thing is sloppy by this franchise’s standards. It’s almost as if Anderson gave up on writing an actual movie and just directed a bunch of stuff that’d be cut scenes in one of the games. You can almost hear him mashing on the controller buttons to skip through the stuff we typically call “narrative” to get to what he (and, let’s face it, us too) considers the good stuff: the parts where Alice gets to shoot bullets (and quarters) at zombies. For all the grief I give Anderson, it’s hard to deny his ability to put together absurd action sequences. Even though they’re saddled with post-Matrix tics--like slow-motion--they also exhibit a basic competence in terms of geography and scale, and I think we’re at a point where that basic competence is laudable for action movies. Anderson also relishes any opportunity to soak his babes in water when doing all of this, so he’s sort of half-director, half-wet t-shirt contest emcee, which sounds about right for this series.
Once upon a time, Anderson made movies (like Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon) that were thoroughly watchable, whereas the Resident Evil series is just sort of barely functional, agreeable popcorn-movie background noise that occasionally features some cool sights. With bland characters, serviceable acting, and plot “twists” you can set your watch to, Afterlife is a most egregious example of clockwork filmmaking, and, just when you think it’s wound down to a perfectly fine conclusion, it of course tacks on a final stinger that sets up part five. You almost expect a “next week on Resident Evil” promo before slamming into the credits. If nothing else, Anderson has at least cut down on the time between entries, as Resident Evil: Retribution is arriving just two years after Afterlife. I’d ponder that Anderson could make it the Fast Five of the series, but, honestly, I’m not sure there have been enough memorable characters in this series to comprise an event film like that. In the meantime, check out the Blu-ray of this one to get prepared for the new one--it features a sterling presentation and a decent amount of extras, including a commentary with Anderson and producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer. Like anything that comes off of an assembly line, these movies are pretty much a known quantity at this point--just once, I’d like to be pleasantly surprised by one, but Afterlife isn’t that time. Rent it!
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