REVIEWED: RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
September 13, 2010 Leave a comment
Critics and fans alike have savaged the Resident Evil film series thus far for its lack of regard to the video game source material, and more apparently, its simple disregard for basic storytelling hallmarks, like intelligent characters, engaging dialogue and exciting action. Though I was among the few critics to give the first film a break – in as much as it enthusiastically embraced its B-movie origins – we have since had to endure a further two films, and now, the fourth entry into the successful series, Resident Evil: Afterlife, comes to us in 3D, just in case you had forgotten how much of a soulless cash-grab the series really is.
Continuing where Resident Evil: Extinction left us, Alice (Milla Jovovich) and her various clones are attempting to take the evil Umbrella leader Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) out once and for all. After a bungled attempt leaves her stripped of her powers, she decides to head for Arcadia, a supposed Haven for survivors of the zombie apocalypse. This search brings her quickly back in touch with old comrade Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), who has lost her memory, and they also meet a small group of survivors along the way, with whom they will attempt to find salvation at Arcadia.
Though in virtually all filmmaking terms, Afterlife is an abject failure, it at least has more regard for its video game namesake than the previous films, especially the dreadful Resident Evil: Apocalypse. There isn’t a single shoddy latex suit in sight, and most of the film’s mildly rousing moments result from a few liftings from the game’s most recent entry, Resident Evil 5; the curious mind-control device that Jill is fitted with appears here, as does the fifth game’s hulking executioner character, and there also features a showdown on a boat. Still, while it might be more relevant and a touch more gratifying to those who enjoy the games, we must never forget that Afterlife is still directed by schlock master Paul W.S. Anderson, and therefore it is mostly a bust.
The hackneyed dialogue and lazy plotting is a prerequisite by this point, but what really hurts this film is Anderson’s juvenile handling of a mass-budget project like this. The 3D is, in fact, the least of the problem – it clearly was not an afterthought, and during the film’s opening hallway shootout, chunks of concrete hurtle towards the audience jubilantly – rather, Anderson seems to have spent most of his time in the edit suite gawking slack-jawedly at the time-dillution benefits of a camera with a high frame-rate. From the opening credits scene, which spends three minutes showing a female zombie turn around and eat a man, to the painstaking slow-mo fight between Claire and the aforementioned executioner, Anderson appears irresponsibly out of control on a project this flush. He indiscernibly ramps the action up and down, yet not in a way that is remotely exciting, as in Zack Snyder’s hyper-kinetic 300.
Given that the film would run in at probably about an hour were it played entirely at full speed, it is unsurprising that the cynical laziness of the project creeps – nay, smashes – through in myriad other ways; the film’s key-set pieces blatantly plagiarise some of the very best action films from the 1990s, such as a chaotic hallway shootout lifted from The Matrix, and a high-wire dive from a roof that mimmicks Die Hard. Perhaps scarier than the pilfering itself is the contentedness of Anderson and co. to coast by on this MO, for the film’s climax provides little resolution and only sets things up for yet another sequel, setting the scene for what appears to be a final, final showdown before promptly smash-cutting to black. The smarminess of excising what could have been a fun action scene from the film purely to keep the moneyball rolling – in a film that barely runs 90 minutes, and could have definitely benefitted from more firepower – makes Afterlife one of the year’s most infuriatingly complacent works.
So, why two stars? There is a certain perverse pleasure to seeing 3D utilised this way, and it does add to the experience, in that it is good 3D; yes, Anderson throws a lot of objects at the screen, but during those few times when slow motion is actually employed well, it does create a few striking images, particularly of rain droplets, bullets, and some gore. Tomandandy should also be commended for a musical score that generates palpable atmosphere, yet Anderson unfortunately has not found many accompanying images worth filling the screen with. Talented yet frequently slumming character actor Kim Coates is also delightfully hammy in a small role, in as much as he seems to be the only actor in the film who gets the material, while many of the other performers are guilty of the Jack Bauer-inspired serious, dramatic whisper (Jovovich and Wentworth Miller especially).
Afterlife otherwise fits every expectation of a Resident Evil film; it is dumb as a lug, horridly acted, and written without the flair or personality that makes the video games so much fun. How Anderson is going to wring yet another sequel out of this franchise, short of initiating a lesbian sub-plot between Jovovich, Larter and Sienna Guillory, is anyone’s guess.