Series star Milla Jovovich returns as Alice for this 4th installment in the Resident Evil film franchise, based on the video game series that won’t stay dead. Also returning is her hubby Paul W.S. Anderson, director of Resident Evil (2002). Alice is accompanied by game protagonist Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). The two search the Earth for survivors from a worldwide zombie infestation and find some people atop a Hollywood prison. The plan is to get them to a rumored sanctuary known as Arcadia. But trying to stop them is the evil Umbrella Corporation boss Wesker (Shawn Roberts doing a really good Hugo Weaving impression) who started the plague, and of course a variety of walking, er… running dead.
The Resident Evil film series is supposed to be taking place in the “universe” created by the games. Newsflash, this isn’t Star Trek. Focusing on anyone outside of the central conflict isn’t very interesting. That explains why Alice is at the head of everything, which conflicts with the story told in the games and confuses the heck out of fans of the game series.
From start to finish Resident Evil: Afterlife is a mess of unexplainable scenes. I’d say it was confusing, but that word implies a lack of understanding on my part. No, I’m certain that had I seen the first and second sequels that there would still be no way to make sense of this movie. Plot holes, contrivances, and silliness come at you in full force. Since I can’t remember all the offenders, I hope to be forgiven for the ones I miss. There’s Alice’s HD camcorder that is set to record in only white, black, and red. There’s the “Executioner” who appears in the middle of the city without provocation. Another strike for his ridiculous weapon, an axe chained to an anvil—a sign that what makes a fun game opponent doesn’t necessarily make for a believable film character. This same game logic translates to the stupefying nature of the “zombies” featured this time around who are able to burrow and open their faces as though they are mandibles. This goes unexplained in the film, but it’s a nod to the direction the game franchise went as it moved away from the confinements of the zombie definition and toward new outlandish territory. Lastly, my favorite gaff involves the look of shock in the faces of survivors when Alice attempts to land her plane on their building just after they were disappointed that she may fly off without them, raising questions over what they wanted in the first place.
Knowledge of the game series is vital since carryover characters did all their developing in the games. Characters created for the film are either soon to be dead or stoic. A girl by the name of K-Mart (Spencer Locke) is mentioned on occasion, and when the team finds her she manages to go the entire film without a line. The central antagonist is known in games as Wesker though I don’t recall his name being said even once in the film and a cameo at the credits requires, you guessed it, knowledge of the games and previous films.
Not all is lost. Resident Evil: Afterlife is surprisingly attractive. Since Avatar launched 3D as a high-profit concept to escalate ticket prices, many films have tried to capture the same magic. Some resorted to adding the 3D effects in post-production. This film, like Avatar, does it in the camera. The difference in noticeable even if you rarely catch a 3D film at the cinema. Anderson shows this off by taking every opportunity to throw and point a variety of objects at the audience. Alice may have as many guns as her frame can carry, but that doesn’t stop fellow survivors from tossing her a pistol or submachine gun. Even baddie Wesker gets into the act, needlessly tossing his sunglasses at Chris (Wentworth Miller). All of this is done in slow motion and all too often stealing the “bullet time” effect from The Matrix. Many Anderson vets have seen his movies because he got his hands on a franchise they care about, and they are often times disappointed at the numerous opportunities he takes to slow down the speed of the action, almost as though the goal is to bore the audience or stretch the runtime to meet a quota. Oddly, his pioneering efforts may have finally achieved notoriety thanks to the nature of 3D, because the slowed action provides audience members the time needed to admire the view. The crowning moment is the entirely slowmo fight with the Executioner in the prison shower. Water is flying in all directions, blood splatters on the lens of the camera, a giant axe is hurled at the crowd (making you consider ducking), every element plays on the 3D gimmick and to this date I have not seen a better sequence to showcase the technology.
Aside from the poetic nature used to hand justice to the bad guy, little if anything good can be said about the writing. Too often I was begging a character to make a quip and realize just how over-the-top the situation has become. There are worse zombie movies, and there are better. What saves Afterlife is an apparent dedication to production values, even over producing the film with some lavish sets, effects, and makeup (good to see that the girls found concealer in the midst of the chaos). It never comes across as second-rate and its knee-jerk pacing keeps you on edge. Almost a teenage gamer’s dream come true. **