Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
Paul W.S. Anderson
Milla Jovovich (Alice), Ali Larter (Claire Redfield), Shawn Roberts (Albert Wesker), Wentworth Miller (Chris Redfield), Boris Kodjoe (Luther), Kim Coates (Bennett), Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Angel), Kacey Clark (Crystal Waters), Norman Yeung (Kim Yong), Spencer Locke (K-Mart), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine)
Zombie Virus/Ecological Disaster
“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. This was the start of an apocalypse that would sweep the entire world. The men responsible for this disaster took refuge underground and continued to experiment with the deadly T-Virus. They felt secure in their high-tech fortress. But they were wrong.” – Alice
While far from perfect, Resident Evil: Extinction was a major move by the franchise toward something resembling legitimacy. Resident Evil: Afterlife was the return of Paul W.S. Anderson, who had written all of the movies but only directed the first one. This movie shakes off any vague pretensions of respectability in favor of shallow, ridiculous, over-the-top spectacle. I kind of love it.
The film opens on Alice and her army of clones assaulting the giant laboratory beneath Tokyo where Albert Wesker (now played by Shawn Roberts) is hiding. After massacring the security staff Alice and Wesker confront one another. Wesker escapes in a jet and destroys the facility with a ridiculous self-destruct weapon, completely destroying the clone army. Alice has stowed away aboard the plane but Wesker injects her with a serum that kills all traces of the T-Virus in her body, making her a mere mortal again. If there’s a better way to hit the reboot button then I’m not aware of it.
Wesker’s plane crashes into a mountain, presumably killing him, so Alice heads off to Alaska to find Claire Redfield and the remains of her group. She arrives at a big empty field littered with planes and is attacked by a mind-controlled Claire. After restoring the other woman to her senses they fly South to Los Angeles where they become trapped in a prison with a group of survivors.
Afterlife is a turning point for the Resident Evil franchise. At this point, the games and the movies were on a pretty even balance as far as stupidity goes and Anderson just seems to have decided to go for broke. It’s hard for me to evaluate this movie because I’m having a hard time deciding what a “problem” is, here. The dialogue is composed of harsh and serious whispering that mostly just heigthens the sense of overdone bravado that makes me love this movie.
Clearly there’s a lot wrong with this movie but I consider them all forgivable sins when a movie keeps me entertained. The film looks very polished and uses a nice combination of green screen and practical effects to make it look more expensive than it already is. The Matrix-style action sequences still have no place in a horror movie but this movie embraces hokum so lovingly that I’ve decided not to even care about the wanton destruction on display. Plus, for the first time in this series we have a lot of really gory set-pieces. Resident Evil: Afterlife is like Ultraviolet if it had good special effects, zombies, and wasn’t horribly boring.
Milla Jovovich seems to have hit a glass ceiling as far as progression of her acting talent but she’s as charming as she’ll ever be in this movie. She does actually spend the entire movie clothed for a change. Her smoker’s voice is so raspy that she made me forget that Ali Larter is just as scratchy. Fortunately, Larter gets more to do this time around and Claire even has a pretty great action sequence toward the end of the second act that really makes it harder to justify Alice’s continued headlining of the series.
The plot focuses on Alice trying to get the survivors out of the the prison and onto a nearby container ship that promises to be a safe haven. To do this they enlist the help of professional prison-breaker Wentworth Miller who is playing Chris Redfield, one of the two protagonists of the original game. Chris is kept in a weird Hannibal Lecter cell in the prison’s basement. He claims he was put there by escaping convicts who mistook him for a guard, but he could not plead his innocence in a more suspicious-acting way. Eventually, they do let Chris out when some zombies tunnel in and the movie feels the need to start picking off the less important characters.
Shawn Roberts is the secret strength of the film as Albert Wesker. Roberts plays the character with a smug menace to him that just comes across great. He’s unquestionably and hilariously overacting, but he’s doing it well and Wesker is such a hilariously overstated character in the film that I have to love him. Such a campy performance tips the hand a bit toward the tone that this movie has just beneath the surface.
A very common complaint with these movies is that there’s not enough fan-service. Fan-service in these movies never works well, it’s always clunky and doesn’t quite fit and that’s where the Axeman comes in. The Axeman is a miniboss from Resident Evil 5, he’s a huge guy with a large impractical axe-hammer, a sack over his head, and nails driven in his body. He’s encountered in small villages in foreign countries, so his design seems plausible by video game logic. Here we have an 8-foot tall guy wielding a war hammer wandering in amongst some zombies. Featuring the Plaga zombies from Resident Evil 4 with just as little context is similarly unnecessary. They’re well-done pieces of fan-service but their appearances in the movie are apropos of nothing.
The film’s biggest crutch is in trying to be 3D. All the hallmarks are there: shit flying at the screen, shots with unnecessary slow motion, lots of stuff falling or flying to accentuate the slo-mo. All the monsters and zombies look great, using a combination of practical and CG effects. But the 3D effects are distractingly flat and lifeless in 2D.
I could harp on little stuff all day but the simple fact is that you’ll find a way to suspend your disbelief and find the movie a pleasant barrage of dumb fun or you’ll hate it with the core of your being. I would happily watch Resident Evil: Afterlife again and it’s a movie I’ve never found less than entertaining for what that’s worth. It’s also proof to me that there is no better person to direct a Paul W.S. Andreson script than Anderson himself. I’ve never been able to discern when he’s being earnest or joking in his writing but he is much better at bringing a certain style and quality to his films that others seem unable to duplicate. The series definitely took the Fast and the Furious approach to late-franchise studios, which is better than the alternative of going stagnant and dull like the Underworld films.
It’s dumb, directionless, and absurd but you’ll either love that about it or hate it.
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