Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) / Action-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language
Running time: 97 min.
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller, Sienna Guillory, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson
I'm not sure why this fourth entry of the Resident Evil film series has the title of Afterlife, as this series has been pretty lifeless thus far. Or perhaps it's meant as the afterlife of The Matrix, as this entry borrows about as heavily from that film as it does its own predecessors. "Bullet-Time" action sequences abound, as well as its leather-clad look and sunglass-sporting villain (a la Agent Smith), Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts, Edge of Darkness), and the slickly clean aesthetic will sometimes have you doing a double take as to exactly what series this is the fourth entry to.
But if you're looking to find out the plot (and, really, who is?) it's this basic premise: Alice (Jovovich, Ultraviolet) returns in an effort to take down the dreaded Umbrella Corporation whose evil designs with pharmaceuticals have incurred a zombie apocalypse across large swaths of the population. Early in the film, we find Alice injected by nemesis Wesker with a serum to return her back to normal human form (her clones are also wiped out in one grand explosion). Her resulting adventures takes her to Los Angeles where she, along with an amnesiac Claire Redfield (Larter, Obsessed) she picks up in Alaska, ends up helping a small group of colorfully diverse survivors living atop a prison building surrounded by crazed zombies, trying to make their way to the fabled Arcadia, a purported safe haven for normal humans (though it is odd that we establish in the first scene, which turns out to be unrelated to the rest of the film, that there is still nearly an entire city in Japan full of normal humans).
Somehow, Paul W.S. Anderson (AVP, Event Horizon), director of the first Resident Evil and producer/screenwriter for the the next two (Apocalypse and Extinction), keeps getting big budget films to direct without much in quality to show for it. Perhaps it's because his movies have such international appeal (not much dialogue to translate and not much political/cultural/ethnic overhead to limit its appeal) that he's handed the keys to more barely-passable actioners that make more dollars than sense. Why is there a behemoth axe-wielding executioner zombie in the middle of this film? Do movies really need boss-fights just to have one, with no other explanation as to its origin or motive? And why do the zombies now have mouths that open up Predator-style? Were zombies becoming that boring that we need some extra level of ugly to repulse from?
The answer to my questions and complaints above is that they come primarily from the games, and most specifically the more recent entry in the "Resident Evil" video game series, "Resident Evil 5". But this brings up other questions to ponder from a review perspective: Is it really a good entry in a movie series if you have to also partake of a the series in a different medium in order to understand? And should the ripping off of The Matrix be forgiven if the video game it's borrowing liberally from had ripped off The Matrix first?
From my perspective, not only should the makers of Afterlife not be allowed a pass for using elements of the video game series without introductions, but they are actually making their film worse. While the lovers of the video game series will no doubt be in the audience for the films, the vast majority of moviegoers have not played the games, and if they have, they may not have played them for many years. At least the thinnest of attempts to tie in story and character elements together would have sufficed in a film this kiddie-pool shallow, but we aren't even afforded that. The premise behind this decision is either that the producers think we'll already know, or that we're just morons, so no need to bother with linking anything we see to anything already established.
Note to Paul W.S. Anderson: when you have turned in a 97-minute film, and about 75 minutes of that film is gratuitous action or cheesecake, it's ok to add another five minutes to the total run rime to give some exposition in order to introduce characters for those not intimately familiar. And while you're at it, stop trying to make the next entry of the video game series; concentrate more on building solely on the movie series you've already established. And if you really have no ideas on which direction to go that you find you must lift them from other sources willy-nilly, without a care for explanation to the film's audience, perhaps it's best to give someone else a crack at the screenplay, because what you've turned in is an abomination.
The real downside to Afterlife is that it isn't going to die with this film, as this entry continues the tradition of having a cliffhanger ending to go out on. But what's the point of a cliffhanger if we have no rooting interest in these characters or their story, or if the filmmakers have no intention of even following the story as told from the previous entry? Anderson touted that he used the same 3D technology as Avatar when making this film, but neglected to mention that he wasn't going to inject the plot, pacing, character development, and excitement of that film. Comparing dollars to dollars, when you're paying the same amount to see both films in 3D, Afterlife, at just over half the length and a quarter of the talent, just doesn't seem like money well spent.
Resident Evil: Afterlife does little but give lovers of kick-ass women in tight clothing delivering a never-ending barrage of money-shot brain-splatters another excuse to sit with mouths agape at more bullets, bloodshed, explosions, pulsing techno, and action poses galore. Very little outside of Alice losing her superhuman powers (not that you'd really know it from the incredible feats she ends up performing) pushes forward the series. In fact, what little story there was to build on is all but completely wiped out; with Alice losing her powers and all of the clones wiped out, Anderson effectively makes the last couple of films virtually obsolete. One wonders, with so little put forth to have an clear narrative direction, if they simply aren't just spinning their wheels with the series -- a symptom of having no vision as to where to actually go from here, so they just choose to return back to square one.
Like one of the zombies in the film, the Resident Evil saga just keeps going beyond its expected life without any clear incentive except for simple-minded consumption, growing uglier and nastier, and more cannibalistic. But as long as the film keeps spilling the red stuff, moviegoers will keep spilling their green stuff in exchange. Alas, there won't be the equivalent of an Alice to save us from more mindless carnage as long as that formula stays in the mix.
-- Followed by Resident Evil: Retribution
©2011 Vince Leo