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“Resident Evil” week – it’s a wonderful “Afterlife”…

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?

Gulp.

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..?

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“Resident Evil” week – “Extinction” Level Event.

 

Hmm…moody.

When we join the protagonists of “Resident Evil: Extinction“, the 2007 iteration of the scifi/horror/action/video game adaptation franchise, things are not looking too good for the scattered inhabitants of this blue and green cosmic marble we call Earth.

The Umbrella Corporation‘s T-Virus has spread like wildfire across the globe, turning man and beast alike into undead shambling husks.  The few people who have managed to stay alive and T-free have banded together and wander the planet struggling to acquire what few resources are left, puttering about in a post-apocalyptic environment which in no way resembles Mad Max 2(or the “Road Warrior”, if you are so inclined).

When we first meet our heroine, Alice (the always luminous and awesome Milla Jovovich), she’s been transported back to where we first met her – in the Umbrella mansion, passed out in a shower tray, wholly disoriented yet still fashion forward enough to recognize a good red frock when she sees one.  She’s not the only one who’s confused – haven’t we been down this path before?  Has Sony royally messed up and pressed me a copy of the first “Resident Evil” by mistake?

All rapidly becomes sort-of understandable when Alice steps through a door and finds herself in the Red Queen’s laser corridor from the Umbrella Hive facility in the first movie – she’s in the evil corporation‘s own version of the X-Men’s Danger Room and those body-cubing lasers are about to dice up like she’s the main ingredient in Alice stew.  Evading that trap, and a few others, Alice is eventually caught out by another hidden obstacle and dies, very bloodied in front of us.

Yep, this will end well.

What the actual frak?  Alice dead at the outset of the film?  I call shenanigans!

As it turns out, our scepticism is wholly correct and the Alice whose gut-shot body is duly disposed of by Hazmat suit wearing Umbrella functionaries and tipped into a trench with other failed clones of Project Alice, in a striking image of scientific contempt for failed meat product which also recalls the similar, nightmarish discarded failed clones of Ripley in “Alien Resurrection“.  Coinky-dink?  With this franchise’s barely disguised worship of the Fox sci-fi series and Warrant Officer Ellen R., I suspect not.

“S’up?”
“Zombies”
“Word”

If this all sounds a bit light on revisiting our established characters, you’re not all wrong – it does seem like quite a while into the brief running time of this second sequel before Alice enters the main plot and interacts with old friends and new protagonists alike.  Alice, you see, is taking the lone hero route, possessed of the knowledge that Umbrella can track her movements and so choosing to stay clear of the path of their satellite tech so that she’s the only person who could be targeted when they inevitably catch up with her.

Of course, there’s the other compelling issue at hand – Alice’s abilities are developing apace and turning her into a lethal psionic killing machine, which rather precludes having people around you too much.

Fate will out, however, and after some preliminary life-and-death dust-ups with zombie dogs and redneck cannibal rapists (I’m assuming this is their intent – it isn’t particularly well-stated), Alice finds a book detailing radio transmissions received from Alaska which promise a Z-free haven where the infection hasn’t flourished yet, which sets her on a path intersecting with survivor Claire Redfield (the impressively tough Ali Larter) and old mate Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr – still fantastic) and their convoy of kids and bound for the chomp non-combatants.

If the “Resi” flicks wear their influences on their camo sleeves at all times, it should come as no surprise at all that this section of the movie manages to mash-up Hitchcock’s “The Birds” with the aforementioned George Miller sci-fi sequel.  What does grate, slightly, is that this set-piece also finds time to bump off the convoy’s red shirts  – debuting R&B star Ashanti and survivor of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Mike Epps are dispatched with undue haste in a move which suggests that director Russell Mulcahy and the producers were unaware of  just how popular horror cinema is amongst African-American movie-goers and that it might be nice to subvert the irritating genre trope of killing black characters and letting the suburban white kids survive more or less unscathed.

Yeah, with these films – everyone’s a critic.

Observing all of these events from his underground lair is Iain Glen, turning in glorious moustache-twirling work as geneticist/suave madman Dr Isaacs, who wants Alice and her blood back so that he can engineer some kind of master race of ass-kicking supermodels (one assumes) to reclaim the earth from the biohazard horde he and his Umbrella colleagues have bequeathed to the planet.

Somewhat peripheral in the second film, Glen really gets to crank up the low-key, deranged villainy in earnest in this sequel, pitching his bad guy as lost between genuinely believing in the horrific science that he’s responsible for, trying to find a solution to the hell his work has wrought and dead-set on vengeance against Alice, the Umbrella I.P. loose in the wild, eluding the furthest grasp of the corporation’s technological eyes in the sky.   I really enjoyed his work – he’s a despicable heel of a man who only becomes uninteresting once he gets gnawed on by a z-head and turns into the Tyrant, a gloopy, grossly self-regenerating bio-weapon from the games series.

You’ve got the idea – Alice versus monstrous tendril beast in the climax.  You know who’s going to win that fight, so it becomes less than involving.

What is kind of fun is this series’ hallmark – closing on a big final image which drags you back to see the next movie, even if logic suggests that they can’t possibly live up to the promise of that last shot.  In this go-round, we see Alice and a newly awakened clone of herself, having bested Tyrant Isaacs, about to wake up a veritable sports league worth of cloned Project Alice subjects and making ready to take the fight to Umbrella’s home territory of Japan, promising once and for all to wipe out series villain overlord Albert Wesker.

That leads us neatly to the next film in the series, “Afterlife”, which returns Anderson to the director’s chair and brings the chairman of the Umbrella Corporation fully into the fight – but I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s for the next post.

This film was a mostly enjoyable exercise in scares (there were cheap ones, but they worked), action (the scene in sand-drowned Las Vegas, with Alice slicing-and-dicing undead forces like a human food processor, all whirling blades and bad-assery) and mythos continuation.  It gets a bad rap, which I can’t quite understand, as it’s nowhere near as ropey as the second one was when I viewed it for the previous post in this series.

Director Mulcahy stages action well, works brilliantly with long time series editor Niven Howie and uses locations to considerable effect – this is a horror movie set largely in the daylight and doesn’t get to rely on dark corridors and things lurking in the shadows to unceremoniously jolt the viewer until the end of the film.

Alright lads, who wants some?

I honestly don’t get where the antipathy comes from, other than from knee-jerk horror fan boys who can’t get over the fact that Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt aren’t making the films directly to their blog-post and forum comment specifications.  A fun genre pic and fine series entry – best viewed loudly, on the biggest screen available to you.

 

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“Resident Evil” week – “Apocalypse” LOL

Yes, this scene appears nowhere in the film. Truth in advertising – how does that work?

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.

Oh hai there Resi Jill!

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.

They’re coming for you, Alice…

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.

Razaaq Adoti, Sienna Guillory and Sandrine Holt bask in Alice’s awesomeness in “Resident Evil – Apocalypse”.

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.

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“Resident Evil” – one film series, hundreds of dead(er) zombies, multiple opinions…

Regular readers of this blog will doubtless be aware of – and lamenting quite a bit by now – my inexcusable “Resident Evil” film fandom.

Massive, hugely absurd set-pieces wholly at odds with the original video games? Don’t mind if I do!

Given that it’s nearly September, I must forewarn the thus concerned that I may be posting a fair bit of guff and balderdash concerning the popular Paul W.S. Anderson shepherded film series. as the fifth entry “Retribution” will be in cinemas in the US on September 14 and in the UK a week later.  Expect much discussion of the heretofore hidden, unexplored nuances and deeply coded meanings inherent in the subtext of Mr Anderson’s bitchin’ Zombie smash-em-ups.  Or, like, reviews of the previous movies and junk.

Those of you likely to gag at the numerous ways in which this series of films has messed with the continuity of the games and the universe therein may wish to skip the odd post or two – I’ll try to make them obvious enough for you to be able to do that.

How we started, back in 2002 – when Marilyn Manson did the soundtrack and Michelle Rodriguez’ character popped her clogs for the first time…

Truth be told, the films and games began an inevitable process of divergence before the first movie was released ten years ago – other than the presence of the Umbrella Corporation‘s proverbial moustache-twirling villainy at the decaying heart of each plot twist, there’s been precious little to link the two cross-media properties, save for director/producer Anderson’s propensity to cut-and-paste in elements from the games which particularly tickle his fancy (uber-bad guy Arnold Wesker, Jill Valentine, Lickers and the like).

It’s this going-off-script, cavalier disregard for canon which seems to upset fans of the games so much – the “Resi” flicks would be an otherwise easy-to-ignore sequence of sci-fi/horror mash-ups , were they not performing double duty by offending fans of video games and the long-lived Capcom franchise – why does their pioneering survival horror video game sequence have to bear the unfair burden of being the poster child (in the eyes of critics) for mediocre ‘games-to-films’ adaptations?  And where’s their George A. Romero directed version of the first movie, more to the point?

I strongly suspect that your prospective enjoyment of the series is in inverse proportion to your love of genre fare in general – if you have an uncritical love of things that go ‘Boom!’ and ‘Aarggh!’ in the night, this franchise is almost certainly up your zombie-infested alley.  If you love Bela Tarr, however, the rather more rudimentary pleasures of a Paul Anderson genre flick are almost certainly going to be denied to you.

As an object lesson in seeing how audience and critical reactions diverge on films, take a look at the professional critical response and the general public’s take on “Resident Evil”.  What I take away from those responses, other than that film critics can write and the general public has some way to go in attaining that goal, is that people don’t go to these films for the same reasons.

It’s enough for many viewers to have familiar horror tropes, action set pieces, characterisation and even plotting in place when they see a film like this one – they neither want nor expect an entry in this series to deliver anything more than uncomplicated fun and the odd jump-scare.  Critics, meanwhile, seemingly have to take a jab at video games in the body of their review – perhaps on the basis that they view them as low art and incapable of conveying anything worthwhile to an intelligent viewer or because they are aware that their reviews are being read by an ageing audience who hold the same prejudices about the medium and adaptations thereof as they do.

Milla Jovovich’s Reddit “AMA” appearance didn’t end well…

Those without knowledge of a subject matter presuming to publicly critique something in the full knowledge that they won’t have to answer criticism about it – what a marvellously tenable position from which to offer an informed opinion to an audience who will presumably take you seriously.

Expect more musings on the undead, Alice’s questionable Zombie-slaying attire, the confusing web of insanity which is the ongoing series’ plotline and the “Resident” iterations thus far in the weeks to come…

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