Sporting a stronger visual sense than the previous three flicks, Resident Evil: Afterlife is almost always interesting to look at. But writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson still needs to strengthen his storytelling sensibilities.
Alice of Arcadia
R for sequences of strong violence and language
Afterlife picks up directly where Extinction left off – in Tokyo. An artsy opening credits sequence plays off the series’ antagonist, Umbrella Corporation, with a rainy street scene, lots of umbrellas, and one Japanese girl standing in the rain, frozen in place while others walk by. She’s the only one without an umbrella. And she’s got the T-Virus.
The ending of Extinction teased of an entire legion of Project Alices storming Umbrella’s headquarters. Well, in Afterlife it turns out there are maybe a dozen that raid Umbrella’s Tokyo compound.
Blame it on the budget. Reportedly made for around $60 million, this is a movie with big budget ambitions constrained by the reality of a relatively small bank account.
Those ambitions include some impressive set pieces and an engaging production design that make good use of the 3D presentation. Unlike the flat fiascos of The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans earlier this year, Resident Evil: Afterlife was filmed in 3D and there’s enough of an added hoot factor to make worthwhile the extra bucks for the “premium” IMAX 3D ticket.
Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the director’s chair for this fourth Resident Evil installment, having written all four and also directed the first. It’s worth noting this is the first movie in the series to not fall back to Alice’s shower scene and it’s the first one in which Milla Jovovich (now Anderson’s real-life wife) doesn’t sport that hot red dress and combat boots combo.
The story, such as it is, continues Alice’s epic quest to put Umbrella out of business and her exploits take her from Tokyo to Alaska, then down to Hollywood, where Alice encounters a smarmy movie producer, his wimpy intern, an Australian wannabe actress, and a basketball hotshot who also stars in high-priced time piece ads.
It’s easy enough to pick up on what’s happening in this episode with or without knowledge of the previous movies and the games. And this is the cheesy kind of storyline that was the bread and butter of 3D flicks in the ’70s and ’80s. But there’s a nagging sense of disappointment in that this series could gain a larger mainstream audience if the stories simply had more to offer.
The games feature compelling missions in well-developed environments that involve themes and storylines that, to a certain degree, feel like Indiana Jones and Robert Langdon territory. The games are a genre mash of zombies, drama, puzzles, and action that gained popularity long before genre-bending books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies became a zombie cottage industry.
Paul W.S. Anderson has taken a different approach with the movies and he seems to be trying to develop an overarching saga-like storyline on the fly. Trouble is, given that off-the-cuff feel of seemingly random storytelling, this saga lacks the story arc and character development that made the more pre-meditated Star Wars saga flow as well as it did.
Alice in Zombieland
As it stands, the devilishness is in Afterlife’s details and Anderson’s thrown in some fun sight gags to break up the doom and gloom of the series’ world-at-its-end scenario.
One great gag involves a prop plane that, quite unintentionally, blitzes a field of zombies. The high-level overhead shot offers loads of blood accompanied by the sounds of shredded and squished bodies. Hey now, it’s a zombie movie and that’s a funny zombie movie moment. Totally gratuitous! Totally good!
Another goody follows shortly thereafter. Alice leaps from a skyscraper rooftop while a horde of zombies follow her over the ledge like a pack of lemmings. She’s holding onto a cable to swing to safety. The zombies aren’t.
Thanks to a broadening use of characters from the games, Afterlife feels like Anderson’s attempting to tie things closer to the source material’s world. Back once again are Claire Redfield (Ali Larter, Legally Blonde) and Albert Wesker (this time played by Shawn Roberts, Diary of the Dead). Also, Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, Love Actually) makes a surprise cameo; Valentine was a regular in the games and Guillory was a knockout in Resident Evil: Apocalypse. For some extra bloody oomph, the gigantic axe-wielding executioner from Resident Evil 5 makes an intimidating appearance.
The best move, though, is the welcome addition of Chris Redfield; Wentworth Miller (TV’s Prison Break) is a dead ringer for the RE5 rendition of the character. As the movie unfolds, Chris, Claire, and Alice turn into a great action trio packing loads of possibilities that give this series a sense of new life and, with yet another wide open ending, that’s a good vibe to establish.