Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: Afterlife is the fourth installment in the zombie-apocalypse franchise based on Capcom’s survival-horror video game series. The original Resident Evil film was a forgettable but enjoyable action-horror adaptation. The plot was convoluted but kept the focus tight, limited to a group of survivors as they escaped from a zombie-infested underground research facility. A twist at the end of the movie split the franchise from the video game source material – detonating the manageable focus into an over-the-top global apocalypse.
As a result, moviegoers sat through two lackluster and outrageous follow-ups: Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Resident Evil: Extinction each lacking a cohesive narrative direction. Resident Evil: Afterlife is burdened by the fallout of the previous films, and while it manages to improve upon the other sequels, it still comes with its own set of problems.
Up front, viewers who enjoyed the first three films, as well as “against all odds” slayer films such as Underworld or Legion, will enjoy what Resident Evil: Afterlife is offering. In addition, there are plenty of over the top fight sequences to keep the shoot first, ask questions later, action fans happy. If you’re looking for a zombie film with brains (pun intended) or a gripping action-suspense flick, Afterlife isn’t likely to sate your particular cravings.
However, fans of the game series who may have abandoned the film franchise, because of its lack of reverence to the source material, might actually want to give Afterlife a shot – as several franchise characters have prominent roles in the latest installment. In fact, as each second passed, it felt as writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (who also wrote/directed the original Resident Evil film) was attempting to weave Afterlife back into the franchise canon – as it has been presented in the games.
Resident Evil: Afterlife continues the story of Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she attempts to enact revenge on franchise-favorite, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) and the Umbrella Corporation – a bio-engineering company responsible for genetic experimentation that led to the global zombie apocalypse. The first forty-five minutes of the film are the equivalent of Anderson taking a red pen to everything that made the previous Resident Evil installments slapdash and soulless – a lot of the more absurd-threads get purged and the story settles into a more manageable narrative: Alice’s investigation of Arcadia – a zombie-free zone, where survivors attempt to rebuild human civilization.
In her search, Alice is reunited with Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and the two travel to Los Angeles where they meet zombie-food, I mean the supporting cast. The new survivors are mostly Hollywood caricatures, literally: Bennett (Kim Coates) is a smarmy movie producer, Kim Yong (Norman Yeung) is Bennett’s over-eager intern, Crystal (Kacey Barnfield) is an aspiring actress, and their leader, Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), is a star basketball player. They’re not terrible characters but their cookie-cutter design reveals the biggest problem with the film, as well as the Resident Evil film franchise: the films aren’t about people trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse, they’re about finding the most intense, over the top, ways to kill zombies in an apocalypse.
There’s nothing wrong with a film about mowing down zombies thoughtlessly, if that film contains loads of great action set-pieces, but Afterlife has too much downtime and takes itself way too seriously to succeed at being campy-fun. The stakes are too high, we’re not talking about a lake in Arizona or a single suicidal mission, we’re talking about a global zombie apocalypse. Early in the film, Alice bemoans the possibility that she could actually be the last uninfected survivor… in the world. As a result, it’s hard to feel particularly relieved when she discovers other survivors – and they’re the most one-dimensional group of people imaginable.
That said, Anderson succeeds in building intrigue and complexity around a late addition to the group, a man trapped in a Hannibal-like glass isolation box in the basement of the prison where Alice and the survivors get holed-up. Fans of the game series will recognize the character, played by Wentworth Miller. Upon his release, the story, character-dynamics, and future franchise installments instantly become more appealing.
The second half of the film shows that Anderson is attempting to build a Resident Evil narrative that isn’t dependent on the soulless butt-kicking Alice that’s been provided by the series – giving it room to grow (as well as borrowing heavily from last years game Resident Evil 5 – which is more action than survival horror). Anderson introduces a new zombie-type which fans of the game series will recognize as the Uroboros virus at work – capable of 28 Days Later-style quick movements, instead of the zombie shuffle. The director also brings in the Executioner Majini. Even though the monstrosity goes totally unexplained, his presence helps break up the zombie-horde attack scenes – and he looks and moves significantly better than Nemesis in Resident Evil: Apocalypse.
Once the survivors attempt their escape, the plot doesn’t offer many surprises but at least manages to stay on the rails. Compared to the previous films, the story follows a sensible progression and offers some fun moments along the way.
Viewers who wait a few minutes after the credits start rolling will be treated to a taste of what’s to come in Resident Evil: Revelations (or whatever they decide to call the fifth film in the franchise). It’s hard to imagine that drawing closer to the convoluted story in the Resident Evil video games could be a positive attribute, but if Afterlife succeeds at a single thing, it’s bringing in a better batch of central characters – instead of Alice’s lone wolf routine.
Resident Evil: Afterlife was shot in 3D and doesn’t suffer from a terrible post-production 3D retro-fit (like Clash of the Titans). However, that doesn’t mean the 3D effects add anything to the experience. We all know that Avatar raised the bar for 3D film making with Cameron’s calculated use of subtlety – letting the Pandora visuals speak for themselves. Anderson is not so subtle: ninja stars fly at the screen, swords pierce through chest cavities and poke out of the screen, Alice dives through a plate of glass as we watch her fall away from the screen. The format only succeeds only in reminding us of the physical proximity of the screen.
The effect is especially distracting in the opening sequence where multiple Alice clones storm an Umbrella facility. The combination of copy and pasted CGI Jovovichs as well as the 3D effects make for a blurry and distracting experience. The effects take precedent over the narrative and, on several occasions, a character does something that was designed to look cool in 3D but makes no sense in the dire combat situations featured in the film.
As mentioned previously, this reliance on what would be fun over what makes sense can work (I realize this is suspension of disbelief 101) in a film like Zombieland, where the actors and filmmakers are in on the joke. However, the cast and filmmakers behind Resident Evil: Afterlife take the movie very seriously, (I’m hard pressed to think of a single humorous moment) and, as a result it’s hard to forgive them for not providing a better action, 3D, or zombie-apocalypse experience.
Resident Evil: Afterlife isn’t as good as the original film but it’s a step-up for the franchise – though it’s still operating out of a pretty deep hole. That said, given the direction and narrative choices Anderson makes in the second half, I’m probably more enthused about the possibilities he might explore in a fifth Resident Evil film, than I am about what he already put on film in Resident Evil: Afterlife.
Resident Evil: Afterlife is in theaters today on 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D screens.