Having inspired the ire of survival horror gamers globally by not sticking slavishly to the “R.E.” canon with his first “Resident Evil” film, writer, director and producer Paul W.S. Anderson handed off directorial duties of the sequel, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” to Chilean-born Alexander Witt.
Witt’s long CV encompasses the likes of “The Hunt for Red October“, “Twister“, “Gladiator” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” – as a second unit director of photography. A pretty crucial distinction, that. Because whatever he may have picked up whilst working with Ridley Scott, John McTiernan, Steven Spielberg and Rob Cohen, storytelling wasn’t a part of it – even by the questionable standards of coherence exhibited throughout the “Resident Evil” series, this sequel is low on clarity, high on explosions and subject to some bonkers shifts in tone.
“Apocalypse” picks up where the first “Resident Evil” left off, with heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) waking up in a Raccoon City overrun by zombies and possessed of a powerful urge to get even with the all-powerful Umbrella Corporation whose unchecked bio-weapons division are indirectly responsible for the catastrophe in the first place. As Alice wanders the streets searching for suitably fashion-forward combat gear to replace the hospital gown she awoke in, the film series takes the opportunity to introduce another iconic character from the video games.
British actress Sienna Guillory plays tough-as-nails, swaggering Raccoon City cop Jill Valentine – a quite distinct departure from games series canon, where Jill appeared in the first title and was a bad-ass member of the elite S.T.A.R.S team – and is one of the best elements of this sequel, albeit one who is inexplicably attired throughout the movie: If you found yourself abruptly quarantined within the city limits of a burg violently overrun by the recently un-deceased and needing to fight your out-of-town against hefty P.M.C. aggression, would you dress like you’ve just stepped off the set of a Warrant video?
When it’s not undoing the mostly good, almost feminist work of its previous instalment, this “Resident Evil” sequel is content to barrel along from set-piece to set-piece, merrily jettisoning logic and eschewing characterisation in a hunt for a bigger, badder bang – there’s not a great deal of ambition on display in this entry beyond finding new camera angles for unfortunate zombies to pop in from, periodically attack characters (in order of importance) and get blasted into z-burger by our tooled-up cast.
As we spend the entire film’s running time in and around Raccoon City, the plot focusses on the hunt for Umbrella Corporation’s scientist Charles Ashford (Jared Harris)’s marooned daughter, Angela (Sophie Vavasseur) due to be evacuated from the hot zone before lock down and left behind when her rescue SUV is beaned by a convenient, almost non-sequitor truck collision – it’s staged so abruptly as to boggle the mind. I know that this is an action movie and that the genre’s not one where logic has to take centre stage, but one might hope that a truck in a recent collision with a vehicle might stop a while and see that it’s occupants are not, you know, dead and stuff.
The big let-down, for me, with this film was the wholesale lack of coherence in the action sequences – something which really shouldn’t be an issue when a director of photography with experience of shooting just such footage is at the helm. Rather than a compelling story which follows our rag-tag band of survivors to safety through Ground Z, we get exaggerated, ‘Dutched’ camera angles and film processing techniques employed which don’t add anything to the viewing experience other than annoyance and the distinct sense that somebody’s trying to mask the lack of a script by flinging gun-fights and periodic fights with the new Nemesis villain into the mix.
Yes, I said it – Anderson’s screenplay is perhaps the actual antagonist which besets this film, managing to insult your intelligence and barely pass muster in terms of scares, thrills or storytelling. If you told me that it was a first draft effort and never meant to be taken to production, I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you – there’s a rushed, unfinished feeling to the piece. It has real problems with advancing the story, being content instead to give Alice not especially well-explained super human powers which let her perform cool, wish-fulfilling bad ass feats of heroism and make her essentially invulnerable.
You don’t need me to tell you that this creates real dramatic problems, namely that there is no drama if your lead character can’t be hurt and spends half of her time on screen being cooler, more athletic, wittier and more empathetic than anybody else in the film. If you read my review of the first film , you’ll note my use of the term ‘Mary Sue’ – here, in the second film, Alice becomes a definitive embodiment of that dubious notion.
It’s not all a downer – Jared Harris brings genuine class and invests a by-the-numbers role with layering, Oded Fehr pops up as Carlos Olivera and reminds us that he should have been a much bigger movie star than he is and the soundtrack’s quite good in a Fluffrick Playlist kind of way – Deftones, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish (on the Euro release), the glorious A Perfect Circle and Rammstein bang out state-of-the-art metal tunes which still have a place on my mp3 player today.
Overall, though, this is definitely the least accomplished entry in the series – crap action sequences, cardboard cut-out characters with ersatz motivations and throw-it-in-the-air-and-see-where-it-lands plotting all conspire to make this film live up to every criticism often levelled at video game to movie adaptations and make a boring zombie action movie.
It takes real talent to make an action horror movie with a ninety minute running time dull.
- ‘Resident Evil’: Milla Jovovich on zombies and strong women (herocomplex.latimes.com)
- ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’: Clones, Again (Review) (popmatters.com)
- “Resident Evil” week – Alice? What’s The Matter? (fluffrick.wordpress.com)
- Exclusive: Paul W.S. Anderson Discusses Resident Evil: Retribution, Future Franchise Plans and More (dreadcentral.com)
- Resident Evil: Apocalypse [retro review] (mutantreviewers.wordpress.com)