Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth installment in the popular video game adaptation franchise, has left a great deal of people, critics too, cold. This zombie infested, disaster stricken wasteland flick is queen of the B-Movie turned A-movie cash cow and delivers on its promise – one gun-toting heroine loner seeks lone survivors in biologically unstable neighborhood, rent negotiable. Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the franchise after directing the successful first film in 2002, and though box office receipts show this to be the most successful film of the franchise, critics and audiences have had mixed feelings. Even with the return of the ever-present, starkly beguiling star, Milla Jovovich as heaven and hell be damned, Alice, along with a rag-tag group of new and memorable survivors, the film struggles in the ratings game even when the franchise has seen well over $600 million dollars, and rising at the box office. If dollars were sense, and clearly they are here, it is apparent the filmmakers are on a bankable, if not enjoyable escapist ride.
There is no mistaking this film with a summer romantic comedy or the next comic book turned movie trial and error; this is a movie based on a video game and the filmmakers offer no apologies there. It is impossible to separate the universe of the game from our own, from the laws of physics and forensic science and enter a state of suspension of disbelief – a formula in literature used for justifying the use of fantastic or non-realistic elements – yet that is exactly what we do every time we watch a movie. Of course we do. Entering a film like Resident Evil with high hopes of character, story, and believable emotional scene development is a lot like wanting your cake and eating it too. Sure, it sometimes happens, but infrequently, and the B-movie as it used to be known was never intended to play first run or draw the biggest crowds – though admittedly, a lot of B movies these days do in fact do just that. What is apparent is that a lot of people have forgotten that some films are exactly the sum of their parts and Resident Evil: Afterlife is just that.
Go see it if you like the franchise, of course, and buy a ticket if you’re into zombie annihilation, post apocalyptic brown and ochre skies streaked with black spires of ominous, though seemingly unprovoked black smoke above elaborate, intense fight sequences. Go see it if ultimately what you’re interested in is escaping into a world where gun wielding, katana or Japanese long-sword strapped make-believe makes you believe because that is why people continue to make these films and people, like you and me, continue to watch and write about them. Milla Jovovich delivers a familiar if not at times vacant portrait of a tough as nails heroine, similar but superior to other actresses who have tempted the genre – Famke Jannsen in X-Men, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill(s), Megan Fox in Transformers. The reason these characters flourish, beauty and sex appeal aside, is how believable, inviting as well as dangerously alluring they perform eye-popping, death-defying stunts and look good doing it.
The problem when you reach this deep into a franchise, however, is inventiveness. The world and characters, both good and bad, have been clearly defined, though in this installment Alice (Jovovich) has at least one new trick up her sleeve. I was disappointed that the technology in the game-movie world remained relatively unchallenged, relying on Matrix-style effects and the over-popularized slo-mo action fight sequences, not to mention a mediocre Real3D treatment for the version I watched. Others have noted that the same cameras and essential technology that was used in Avatar was employed here but to obvious lesser success and impact. The one-liners and recognizable quick-kill sequences, excessive decapitations and blunt force trauma returns, as well as the expendable ensemble group of core survivor military-type stock characters you’d find in films like Terminator Salvation (2009) or even as far back as Aliens (1986) but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There was modest effort to chisel character ever so slightly out of the impenetrable stone of the genre, and while Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, and Boris Kodjoe have been successful elsewhere, these side characters nevertheless end up like the crew members on Star Trek, the original series, who wore the odd colored shirts when everyone ‘beamed down’ to the planet. It was obvious who wore the targets. Some people live, others die; it’s all part of the genre plus a lot, and I mean a lot of zombies getting taken to the cleaners, so to speak.
I must add a word of praise for the opening title sequence and introduction of RE4. I was immersed immediately into the film-game world through a series of interesting shots and opposing camera angles, slowed down for effect and accompanied by a provocative sound track. Others have written about the use of music and violence ineffectively, and the extended, often slowed down to the molecule scenes allowing 3D ‘moments’ to occur while enhancing the overall effect of the action. You won’t find that the filmmakers stretch the boundaries of action-rigging-green-screen fighting but it will be familiar, employed similarly in most of the action movies of the past five years, not to mention just about every action movie derived from interest in, and mastery of, the genre outside the U.S. these days.
Resident Evil: Afterlife’s heroine, Alice dispatches the baddies directly with a bevy of her most favored weapons – twin .357 magnum pistols, twin sawed off shotguns with very nearly inexhaustible ammunition, and her Katana or Japanese long sword and for just a little while, or perhaps longer, we enjoy the ride. Rumor has it the fifth installment is already ‘in development’ but only time will tell if audiences will remain vested and wage another trip through the maneuverings of the RE universe.