Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.
Paul W.S. Anderson returned to the director’s chair for “Resident Evil: Afterlife” after being content to write and produce the previous two sequels and nudged the film further away from its video game roots towards what we now see in the on-release “Resident Evil: Retribution” – an increasingly, unashamed, utterly bonkers sci-fi/action/horror soap opera designed for nerds, with such a dizzying level of reinvention and revisionist, retrospective continuity that most casual viewers will be happy for the help of the ‘previously on “Resident Evil”’ info dump which opens “Retribution”.
Rain-soaked, 3D-enhanced, action heroine posing for the win!
But I’m getting ahead of myself – what can we say about “Afterlife”?
The film follows on directly from the end of “Resident Evil: Extinction”, with Alice and her army of Project Alice clones heading to Umbrella Corporation HQ in Tokyo to remonstrate aggressively with evil corporate bad egg and series kingpin Albert Wesker via the medium of exploding, shooting and stabbing anything with a pulse and obliterating anybody left with a psionic shockwave that vaporizes Humvees and concrete superstructure alike. It’s a zero tolerance of Umbrella Corporation thing – you’ve got to understand…
Given that this is the beginning of the film and Paul W.S. Anderson wouldn’t be so avant-garde as to end the film so abruptly, Alice’s best laid plan fails and Wesker manages to escape by helicopter, remotely purging the Tokyo Umbrella facility in a nuclear shock-wave via some handy Sony tablet jiggery-pokery (If you’re playing the “Resident Evil” movie drinking game, the blithe product placement should ensure that you must down a shot or two right about now).
After the kind of on-board fight that only happens in action flicks and that’s assisted greatly by autopilot, Alice is sent back to the
beginning of the level outset of the classical heroine’s journey by having her previously overpowered abilities stolen by Wesker, neatly circumventing the criticism of the series and the character – that she was, by this point, so ludicrously overpowered that no bad guy or monster henchman could stand against her without being beaten down like (SPOILER!) dear old Loki in the “Avengers“ movie.
My name is Alice – taste Katana death! Image via Hundlund.org
Not that you’d notice that her powers have disappeared – by the time that the plot takes us to the ruined wasteland that was Los Angeles, Alice is doing quite nicely thank you very much without any extraneous super-powers, taking the smack-down to the undead and related monster cohorts in a fashion which suggests that either A) Alice is so bonded to the T-Virus that it can’t be removed from her or B) that an Alice who can’t leap up into the air and kick 12 foot tall super mutants in the face is not exactly what the fan base are crying out for and so that plot development was almost immediately forgotten about.
A brief sojourn flying around scenic British Columbia for survivors reunites Alice with Claire Redfield – last seen escaping zombie-strewn Las Vegas via helicopter – and sets her heading to California and into this instalment’s monster showdown when glorious, oblivious Andersonian plotting sees our heroines encountering a small band of archetypes who’ve holed up in the most secure building that they could find – a high security prison.
One of the incumbents? Claire’s brother, Chris (a, shall we say, more prosperous-looking Wentworth Miller, late of TV’s “Prison Break”), who is assaying the role of mysterious inmate so dangerous that he’s locked up in a Hannibal Lecter-esque, super- max security cell. Anybody with knowledge of the games knows that Chris is basically on the side of the angels, but this is the Anderson/Evil universe and so some temporary ambiguity is required.
Normal service is resumed when we establish that Chris is a good guy but has difficulty in convincing Claire that they’re related as she’s suffering the effects of temporary amnesia – an Umbrella mind-controlling device having robbed Redfield junior of much of her memory (see what I mean about the ‘Soap Opera for Nerds’ thing?) and making her slightly untrusting of the prison’s denizens – a motley assemblage which includes former NBA star Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) and a supremely evil Hollywood producer (the delightful, endlessly watchable Kim Coates, whose slicky, slimy villainy improves most flicks by around 10%).
It’s a poor murderous biohazard psychopath who blames his tools…
The tension inside the prison is soon thrown into relief by a zombie incursion, led by the aforementioned, hitherto (and subsequently) unmentioned Executioner – a proverbial brick-outhouse of a mutant of some ten feet in height and infinite bulk, who carries with him a battle axe-hammer the size of a compact car. If he appears to be something of a non-sequitur amidst the ineffectual zombie shamblers which constitute the bulk of this film’s antagonists, he actually originates from the “Resident Evil 5” game, in which he takes on Chris Redfield and partner Sheva in Africa and won his big-screen appearance because Paul W.S. Anderson knows the elements comprising a showy set-piece when he sees them.
Cue the signature battle in the movie – Claire and Alice smacking down the Executioner in the Prison shower block, with broken water faucets dispensing cinematic rain and normal speed cranked down super low to make everything appear ludicrously cinematic and awesome. Entertaining enough in 2D on Blu-Ray in hi-def, absolutely deliriously batty in 3D at the cinema, with water pouring around your head and Alice’s shotgun blasts of coin-shot (don’t ask) pinging you in the face. Everything else in the film seems like an anti-climax after this orgy of ass-kicking, tech-worship and shamelessly iconic heroine posing.
Achievement Unlocked: Badass Super Pose Edition
Of course, things aren’t over yet. The assembled survivors get out of the dodge when the prison is overrun by zombie hordes and make for the Arcadia – a trawler ship off the coast promising freedom from infection and shelter which has been broadcasting messages throughout the film. With the inevitability of a zombie mode in a new “Call of Duty” game, the utopia offered by Arcadia is a sham and an Umbrella trap set by Wesker – looking surprisingly healthy despite apparently burning to death in the wreckage of the helicopter crash at the beginning of the film and now bonded with a strain of the T-Virus which makes him super-strong, possessed of mutant powers and apparently dressed by the costumers of the “Matrix” trilogy.
Cue an extended Alice/Wesker smack-down, which is really pretty goofy and honestly, just marking time until we get to the signature big reveal /final shot of the film – Alice, Claire, Chris and assorted survivors on top of the trawler looking out to sea as an endless wave of Umbrella shock troops arrive to set up the next movie. And they’ve got a cyber-arachnid brooch-wearing, mind-controlled Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) in charge.
Who doesn’t wear tights and a purple leotard when they’re heading into battle with a bunch of faceless shock troopers?
The impressive commitment to providing delicious, absurd, thrilling insanity demonstrated by the previous entries in the “Resident Evil” sequence is more than upheld by Anderson’s directorial return to the films. Fans of the games by now should now to stay away – this is not, if it ever was, the “R.E.” that they love – it’s a sci-fi/action mash-up which uses horror tropes as punctuation, rather than as the underpinning of the film and gets by on flinging set-pieces and minimal plot-stitching to move events along.
Milla Jovovich is impressively commanding in the lead, adding some colours to the action heroine template she’s developed over four movies – there’s a convincing moment early on in her video diary where she seems to voice the opinion of many a critic, expressing weariness at the road she’s on and wondering if there’s ever going to be respite from Umbrella’s attempts to enslave her or wipe her out entirely.
New addition Wentworth Miller is fine, but he’s so unlike the video game Chris that you have to raise an eyebrow as to his casting – steroid-munching, two-sizes-too-small-t-shirt wearing frequent bromance artist he most certainly isn’t. If his casting was an attempt to inject wholly unnecessary realism into proceedings, I’m not entirely sure that it was necessary – I really enjoyed him on TV, but he doesn’t really get a lot to do except be eclipsed by the Alice and Claire team. Even new character Luther West seems to get more screen time.
To sum up – lots of action, bonkers plotting, slow-motion fights so prevalent that they make the work of Zack Snyder seem like an exercise in uptight cinematic formalism, frequent action posing, a villain so camp that he makes Mike Myers’ Dr Evil look like the protagonist of a Christopher Nolan flick and bountiful, gleeful 3D shot composition which justifies the format and which really looks goofy in 2D.
“Resident Evil: Afterlife” is possibly my favourite entry in the series. Or is it..?