Review: Too Many Jovovichs in Newest Resident Evil: Afterlife
by Jeremy Kirk
September 13, 2010
Why are there so many Milla Jovovichs? That's the drilling question that I couldn't keep from traveling through my brain in the opening minutes of Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil: Afterlife wherein Milla, back for her fourth zombie-destroying adventure, and a whole group of clones take on the Tokyo base of the evil Umbrella Corporation. I'm sure the answer to my quandary has some satisfying explanation at the end of Resident Evil: Extinction. Unfortunately, that movie, just like the one before it, had many plot details that slipped effortlessly from memory shortly after seeing it. It's three years later. I can't be expected to remember some clone-generating super power Milla Jovovich picked up along the line. Maybe a hint would help. Did it happen before or after Oded Fehr's character got killed off?
Nonetheless, that question remained throughout the first 15 minutes of this latest film, one that is sure to be just as memorable as the previous two entries. That is, not very at all. What transpires on screen isn't interesting enough to pull us away from that question, and, frankly, nothing in the subsequent 90 minutes proves interesting enough to distract us from the myriad of questions we might have. Questions like how can Milla (Her character's name in these films is Alice, but it's much more fun to envision the real actress doing all this. Isn't that what The Fourth Kind was about?) who has just been sapped of her super powers survive an explosive plane crash in the mountains? Where did she pick up the propeller plane with matching Amelia Earhart costume? Where did that 9-foot-tall giant with the Paul Bunyon axe come from? Why the hell does that Umbrella Corporation guy keep turning back up even after he's clearly been killed, and where does he buy his sweet sunglasses?
All of these questions flood over us, all of them unanswered, as the narrative, such as it is, goes through its bombastic and over-stylized motions. Milla finds her way to LA. She discovers a new band of survivors. There's a ship resting in the ocean just off the coast that may have the answers to survival. Millions of zombies are frothing at the mouth to get a taste of any of the one-note characters that are sure to be eventual fodder. Some of the characters are from the original Capcom games. Being someone who hasn't played any of them, I'm not sure which ones are carried over into the feature films, but I have a strong feeling the ones who survive at least until the end are the ones fans of the games will be most familiar with. There are big chases, big fights, and weird creatures designed way beyond necessity.
That may be where Resident Evil: Afterlife pulls out its only positive. The creature designs here are quite compelling. Most of them involve tentacles coming out of the mouths of zombies, but a few of them fall into the cool category. That 9-foot-tall lumberjack is one. The ensuing fight scene may have been interesting minus all the ridiculous slow motion. What is done with the zombie dogs which most of you will remember from the first film is quite interesting. It's as if they were designed for a video game. The bigger the better and damn the logic that falls dismembered by the wayside. The 3D in which these creatures are presented is another element RE: Afterlife pulls off relatively well, but, as that aspect won't be presented to everyone who sees it, I don't feel the need to spend much time on it.
From there, though, we fall back into the been-there-done-that trappings that tells us this franchise is long past its expiration date. Paul W. S. Anderson, the man who directed the first film in 2002 and has served as writer and producer of the second and third film, is back in the director's chair. Sadly, his directing skills, particularly when it comes to action scenes, has gone from lackluster to wholly dismal in the two years since Death Race. That film wasn't groundbreaking in the way it presented its action, but at least it was cohesive. At least there, the heavy metal style of the action fit into the overall tone of the film. With RE: Afterlife, the action and set pieces are working more on a techno and industrial level, but it's been so plasticized with an overabundance of green screen and super slow-mo that any idea of connection is long gone. It's almost like listening to a Nine Inch Nails song that's been pushed through Pro Tools and Auto-Tuned so much the angst and edge have been chiseled down to smooth nothingness.
The film, then, ends up as a super chic mess with convenient plot points, awful scares, and dreadful performances. It isn't scary. It isn't intense. It fails on so many levels you begin to wonder if an evil, biochemical corporation with subterranean bases underneath the world's major cities may have actually been behind its production. The sad thing here, though, is RE: Afterlife can't even be compared to a zombie, the foremost baddie of the entire franchise. That's where it started, and there was some sense of grounding when you knew all it took was a straight bullet to the head. We've expanded long since then, and, now, the villains are giants, gaudily crafted monsters with massive limbs and equally massive weapons. The human connection has long been buried under the mounds of CG flesh, and the Resident Evil franchise keeps sinking further and further underneath it. Here's hoping they don't ask us to sink with it to watch yet another one. Resident Evil: Indifference might be an appropriate title.
Jeremy's Rating: 3 out of 10