It’s never been en vogue to admit that, generally, you don’t mind Paul W.S. Anderson films.  And in fact, you actually like one or two of them, for guilty pleasures if nothing else.  At best, the guy is a popcorn film director and nothing more.  At worst, he’s AIDS incarnate, sent here to infect moviegoers with incurable cases of movie STD.  At least, that seems the popular consensus on many a movie board.  Admittedly, Anderson seemed to have peaked with Event Horizon, which was his most visually arresting film to date.  

After that, he had success mostly with Resident Evil films.  The first film came off as a faithfully flawed adaptation of the popular video game franchise.  Two more installments of diminishing quality followed, which Anderson wrote and produced but not directed.   Now, some eight years later, he returns to the franchise fully to direct the fourth iteration of the series, Resident Evil: Afterlife: his newest visually arresting film to date.

Typically, a fourth installment of a franchise is nothing to write home about.  But when that installment is the first film post-Avatar to be shot with James Cameron’s vaunted Fusion F35 3D cameras, the film system that is supposed to change up the whole 3D game, it can’t so readily be dismissed.  And if anything else, RE:A is proof that this is how 3D should be done.  Visually, the film is simply stunning in a way that Clash of the Titans and Piranha 3D could only wet dream about.  I liked the latter film for its visuals as well as its cheese, but looking at that film and then this film, there is zero contest. 

There are moments that don’t look too good (the building jumping scene comes to mind), but especially from subjective camera positions, the Fusion F35 visuals show the true promise of 3D.  As for the rest of the film?  Well, it’s not too hard to imagine that the audience had made up its mind about three movies ago whether or not they were interested in checking it out.  You know what you’re getting with a RE film and this one doesn’t break that trend.  In terms of ranking in the series, Afterlife is right under the first film, and solidly over the two sequels on the imagery alone.  Anderson is at times way too eager with the slo mo, but he does know how to make good use of the 3D medium.  If the film weren’t littered with so many dead characters – and not referring to zombies – this could have been something quite a bit more.

This outing continues the storyline that finds Alice (Milla Jovovich) furthering her vendetta against the evil Umbrella Corporation, the entity that was responsible for unleashing a virus that ended up destroying the world in the stereotypical zombie apocalypse.  If you caught the previous chapter of the saga, Extinction, after dispatching the latest Umbrella honcho, Alice had discovered that she had been cloned multiple times by the corporation in  an attempt to harness her ability to  bond with the T-Virus, the plague responsible for turning the entire world into extras in a Romero flick.  With her genetic counterparts,  she planned an assault against the world headquarters of Umbrella in Tokyo and its leader, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts).

Said assault is what takes up the first ten minutes or so of the film in somewhat dramatic fashion.  The highlights have been well recorded in the previews and video snippets available online.  You know, where Anderson gives his…um *homage* to The Matrix: Reloaded.  And a bunch of Umbrella underlings get Ginsu-ed and otherwise sent to flunky heaven by the multiple Alices.  The resolution of that assault finds the original Alice de-powered by a Wesker vaccine, Wesker and Umbrella presumably dead, and Alice looking to regroup with the survivors of the prior film in an Alaskan town that had broadcasted an emergency beacon stating they were 100 % Stench free.  This leads to an unexpected reunion for Alice with a conveniently amnesiac Claire Redfield (Ali Larter).

The two lovelies make their way to a zombie-ravaged Los Angeles (actually, I didn’t notice much difference), where they meet up with a handful of survivors holed in a local high security prison.  From here, several characters that essentially have ZOMBIE BAIT tattooed on their foreheads are introduced, as is the non-entity that is Claire’s brother, Chris (Wentworth Miller).  Miller is about as charismatic in the role as to make Channing Tatum look like Edward Norton.  Former baller, Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), and the always welcome Kim Coates as resident asshole, Bennett add various support.   Everyone else is almost not worth mentioning.  Okay, sorry that’s rude.  They are worth not mentioning.  After some requisite thinning of the herd, including by franchise notable, The Executioner, and some zombies with serious dental problems, Alice and the survivors enter into a showdown with Wesker that gives you that fourth Matrix film you were hoping for, and not in any good way whatsoever.

Aside from the occasional cringe-worthy line (“…any way to treat a lady…”), Jovovich has always given her all for these films, and that’s probably one reason why they keep going.  As Alice rediscovers her humanity, her bleak outlook of the last film is replaced with hope, which is a definite improvement.  Jovovich handles the action well as she always does, and gets to impart a bit of emotion to Alice at times, which also doesn’t hurt.  Larter is wasted as Claire, who is a non factor for the entire film aside from an intense shower scene with Jovovich (and the axe dude unfortunately)

Resident Evil: Afterlife delivers on all the expected points and misses on all the other expected points.  There’s some decent action and good kills of both the living and non living.  The supporting cast is the worst of any of the RE films, which leaves Jovovich having to pick up more of the slack.  Anderson’s script is pretty par for the course for the series.  But again, the story here is the visuals, which are worth seeing if you plan to check out any 3D movie this year.

6.5 out of 10 

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