SEPTEMBER 10, 2010
The most surprising thing about Resident Evil: Afterlife, besides it's puzzling lack of action in the first two acts, is that it's the first one I stayed awake through my initial theatrical viewing. I dozed a bit during the original and Extinction, and through almost ALL of Apocalypse (I never even saw Mike Epps or the Nemesis), but despite being a midnight screening after a long day at work that began with some frustrating news about my car (it's basically dead), I saw every second of this movie. Go me.
But like I said, there's a lack of action, which makes this a puzzling fact - shouldn't I have dozed off during any number of the endless scenes of Milla Jovovich walking around and talking to people about "Arcadia"? Because just thinking about them now is making me sleepy. The movie kicks off with a gonzo, largely Matrix "inspired" (read: borderline plagiarized*) shootout sequence in the Umbrella headquarters, which climaxes with Wesker taking away Alice's powers. But he needn't have bothered, because it seems by the time she has any reason to use them again, they've either come back or she's just figured out how to fight just as well without them. You'd think after ending the first reel with her being powerless that they'd put this predicament to ONE DRAMATIC USE in the entire movie, but no. By the time they get back to any action over 45 minutes later, she's expertly shooting zombies, diving off of buildings without a second's hesitation, etc. Sure, she doesn't use her psychic powers anymore, but who the hell cares? It's not like she used them much in the first place; even with a bunch of clones helping her in that opening sequence she still goes for hand to hand combat most of the time, instead of just Carrie-ing them all to hell. And if she doesn't have any sort of "advanced healing power", how the hell does she survive a plane crash without a scratch?
To its credit, it resembles a real movie more than the others, with attempts at characterization (I love that Boris Kodjoe's character was a famous basketball player in the pre-zombie world) and a refreshing lack of annoying comic relief characters like Epps. But I mean, this is part 4 of a rather goofy series; why turn all serious now? Christ, unless you count the Majini (called Axeman here), there aren't even any mutant/monsters in this one, just advanced zombies that have splitting heads like the ones seen in RE5.
Continuing the tradition of Extinction, the film introduces a game character and gives no explanation for who they are or why they're important. It's not as crippling as Claire's "introduction" in Extinction, but still, Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) just happens to be held in the prison where the bulk of the film's 2nd half takes place, a coincidence made even more ridiculous when he reveals that he is Claire's brother. Since Claire has memory loss from a never-explained "bug" placed on her chest, she doesn't recognize him, and if she ever does, then it must have been deleted - the two never really converse again after that moment. And no one seems to question the odds of siblings finding each other in a world that seems to have about a hundred living people, and in Los Angeles when neither of them came from there. Maybe they played the games and figured it out for themselves.
I do like that Wentworth, Michael Schofield himself, plays a character who knows the best way to escape from a well guarded prison. Intentional or not, it's pretty amusing.
Of course, the big question is: How is the 3D? Unfortunately I cannot give a definitive answer, because I saw it in a Fauxmax screen that was curved (the AMC Burbank 16, for the record - don't see it there!), which is a huge no-no for a 3D image. So the center looked really great, but everything on the sides was "off", which was constantly distracting me. Also, a lot of the movie had that weird green-screen/composite look of the Feast/Pulse sequels, and I couldn't tell if it was an issue with the 3D rendering or just odd color timing. But I must stress that this was NOT a convert job, it was shot with the same 3D cameras that Cameron used for Avatar, and I have no doubt that if it was being projected properly that it would look spectacular. Even with the curved screen, many shots looked amazing, and it's kind of funny that Anderson toned down his usual frenetic style in order to allow the 3D shots to linger long enough for the brain to process them. Sometimes he goes overboard with the approach - the Axeman fight SHOULD have been more frenetic/exciting, instead of depicted entirely in slo-mo, but it's definitely his most accomplished work as a director. I also applaud him and the rest of the crew for not converting the footage from Extinction that pops up from time to time so that we can follow the dense, richly convoluted narrative.
I'm kidding, of course. Ultimately, the biggest problem with the movie is that it's not ABOUT anything. Alice tries to kill Wesker, fails, so everyone schmucks around for a while and then she tries again, once they figure out how to get to him on Arcadia (a boat that they can see). That's about it. There's no new wrinkle to the virus, no evil doctor shenanigans, no personal stakes in anything... hell they don't even bother having someone get bit and turn; the characters who are killed die instantly and are never spoken of again (love how cavalier Alice is toward the death of one character; she watches the person die and 30 seconds later she's got a big goofy grin on her face and cracking jokes as she finds a stash of weapons). Sure, it's entertaining (at least when there's on-screen carnage; this movie has the most amount of zombies of any of them, I'll give it that much), but even by the rather low narrative standards set by the others, it's entirely weightless.
And of course it ends on a cliffhanger for the next one, with Jill Valentine. And she's nearly unrecognizable; I know the actress is blond in real life but couldn't they have at least given her the same haircut or something to clue us in? It's been 6 years and Sienna Guillory has "blossomed" quite nicely - but they don't even bother have someone saying "Ms. Valentine?" or any other cinematic shortcuts commonly used to identify a character. But anyway, it seems she's bad now. See you in 2013, I guess.
Overall, it's a slight improvement over Extinction; the action is more satisfying and the new characters, paper-thin as they are, are somewhat enjoyable (though the movie criminally wastes Kim Coates). And no warm-blooded male on the planet would argue with the appeal of having Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, or newcomer Kacey Barnfield jumping and diving their way around, falling practically into your lap. But it reeks of laziness, as if the 3D alone would be enough to forgive the movie its numerous weak spots. Come on folks, you can do better.
What say you?
*It was actually worth seeing the film on this crappy screen for the moment that Milla (actually two of them) jump out a window backwards and begin firing straight up into the air, despite the fact that their opponents are about 90 degrees (and down a hallway) away from the direction of their pistols; a guy a couple seats over from me yelled "What the hell are they shooting at?". Sometimes, the annoying "vocal" crowd at this terrible theater can actually add to my enjoyment.