Sunday 12 September 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

Director: Paul W S Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe and Wentworth Miller

Resident Evil: Afterlife may be the worst film I've seen in months. Given that I spend a good deal of my time deliberately watching the worst films of all time for my Cinematic Hell series, I'll let that sink in for a moment. Yes, this deserves mention in the same breath as Robot Monster, The Wild World of Batwoman and The Brain from Planet Arous. Beginning a review of a film currently in theatres with such provocation, I should add some caveats. Firstly, I have no background with any of the Resident Evil games which sparked this movie series. I'm aware of them but I haven't played them and so I have no vested interest in any of the characters or events. Secondly, I have no hate for writer/director Paul W S Anderson. While I don't see either as great cinema, I enjoyed both Alien vs Predator and Death Race. Lastly, I haven't seen the third Resident Evil movie, but I mildly enjoyed the first and was mightily underwhelmed by the second. This is the fourth.

So I came to this fresh, without high expectations and without any real background. That was a bad call, as there is much that references the third movie and more that references the games here, but never with explanation. As an example, halfway through the film, as most of the key players have met up at a prison in Los Angeles, a huge behemoth of a character turns up, twelve feet tall and dragging a half axe, half meat tenderiser of comparative size behind him. Who is he? Good question. He enters the story without a name, background or purpose, walks through a horde of zombies without being attacked, breaks into the prison and attacks the lead characters. He's pretty tough, as you can imagine, but they take him down. We know no more than we did when he arrived but now he's departed. Only reading up on the film afterwards tells me that he's the Axeman, the movie version of a character in the games called the Executioner.

This sort of thing happens a lot in Resident Evil: Afterlife, because 'explanation' is apparently a bad word in this post apocalyptic world. The film feels like a collection of setpiece moments with only the slightest story to link them together, and while I'm thoroughly aware that that's hardly a new concept in Hollywood, I don't remember seeing it so blatantly adhered to as this before. I'll be courteous, though, and assume that there's a story here and attempt to review it accordingly, so please bear with me. Those who know something about the franchise may be able to explain away some of the gaps but what I've heard from such people suggests that that's more optimism on my part. The overwhelming feeling I took away from this film was horrendously bad writing, as everything seemed to fit one of two categories: disappointing events that happened out of the blue and disappointing events that were all the more disappointing for being telegraphed.
The first scene promises much, at least visually if not for the story. An unknown girl stands on a pedestrian crossing in the rain apparently waiting for the credits to finish unfolding around her. Something is going to happen but there's no clue as to what. Perhaps she's escaped from one of the research facilities so prevalent in these films and one of the salarymen walking towards her with an umbrella plans to recapture her, given that the Umbrella Corporation is the bad guy in the Resident Evil series. She turns out to be a zombie, perhaps the first in Tokyo, because that's where we are as the camera zooms out so far that we end up looking at the Earth from space, before we're zoomed back in to the very same crossing, now part of an apocalyptic wasteland. This whole scene is a great example of what can be done right with the cinematic toolkit that's available to the modern action filmmaker, but it all goes horribly wrong from there.

Underneath Tokyo is an Umbrella Corporation research facility, which our heroine Alice attacks blatantly and with no apparent concern that there's only one of her and a vast number of heavily armed guards to take on. What we soon find is that this is because there isn't only one of her, as the third movie presumably has a subplot about cloning Alice as much as is humanly possible. I have no idea what it is because it isn't explained here but it does provide plenty of opportunity for her to attempt every move in The Matrix five times in five minutes. It's even possible that this is the point of the cloning subplot because once we've been introduced to it, it goes away again. All the Alices promptly perish in the assault as Wesker, the evil genius who runs the Umbrella Corporation, escapes in a cool helicopter and blows the entire place up. He comes across as the coolest guy in the world to a twelve year old wannabe supervillain. He's embarrasingly awful.
And I have to wonder here. It would seem that we're in a film set after the zombie apocalypse, in a world where society and currency are long gone and the heroes are surprised to find a couple of thousand people still alive, but the villain of the piece runs a global multinational corporation. He keeps his employees loyal by shooting them in the head when they disagree with him and blowing up gazillion dollar underground facilities because someone got past security. Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't help but wonder why this company still exists when there's nobody left to sell anything to; why its people stay loyal to a professional asshole when they could just steal some high tech weaponry and go on a rampage of fun in the ashes of the world; and why Wesker carries on creating mutations with no possible benefit for anyone. He already runs the world, right? He has the only power structure left and half the survivors cater to his every whim.

It's as if the entire rationale is that he's a villain so he needs to do villainous deeds and we have an hour and a half to find out just how villainous they can be. So here goes. Let's see if we can find a plot in and amongst the conveniences and holes. Wesker escapes but hey, the real Alice had already sneaked onto his helicopter. She can't kill him without letting him know she's there so he strips her of all her superpowers and they fight long enough to fly into a hillside. Though she's now human again she walks away from certain death and decides to fly around the country in a plane with unlimited fuel filming herself for a reality TV show. After six months she finally decides that it might be an idea to just go to Arcadia, because a repeating radio signal has been inviting all survivors there all along. It's apparently in Alaska but she only finds a graveyard of planes and Claire Redfield, who she personally sent there way back in the last movie.

Claire doesn't have memory or free will because she's been taken over by a cool spider device attached to her chest, but she still survived for months in the Arctic wilderness. Alice kicks her ass, ties her up and removes the spider, but her memory only comes back gradually. They fly down the western seaboard and finally see survivors advertising their presence from the roof of a prison in LA, a prison entirely surrounded by a horde of the living dead. Personally, I'd have gone to LAX and come back with a helicopter to ferry them all out but Alice decides to land her frickin' plane on the frickin' roof instead, thus marooning her and Claire in the sea of zombies. Bad things happen, more bad things happen and eventually they discover Wesker, miraculously alive and ensuring that yet more bad things continue to happen. Oh, and I should add that Chris Redfield, Claire's brother, is in the prison. Did I mention there are plot conveniences here?
There are good things too, trust me. I counted two of them. One is that we get a scene full of zombie lemmings. What may be the entire human race is on the prison roof but needs to get off it because it's about to be flooded with zombies, the arrival of the Axeman serving at least to let them into the building. So everyone but Alice gets into the lift so she can blow up the cables and drop them a couple of dozen storeys hard and fast into water that conveniently cushions their fall so softly that nobody even loses their footing. Alice then grabs a cable and leaps off the roof to land in a neat forward roll on the ground outside, a couple of dozen storeys down. Realism is not dead, huh? Well, while all this idiocy is going on, zombie lemmings fall to their doom. That's cool, at least. The other cool thing is an escape attempt by plane, which involves falling off the roof and pulling up just in time to cut a bloody swathe through the massed zombie horde.

Is that really it? Is there nothing else worth watching here? Well, yep, that's it. Sorry. My stepson, who is a long time fan of the Resident Evil series, both games and movies, hated the film too. I think that says plenty. He sees it as merely an opportunity for Paul W S Anderson, who wrote all four films and directed two of them, to show that his wife can still look hot when kicking ass. To be brutally honest, Mrs Paul W S Anderson, aka Milla Jovovich, the star of this entire series, didn't look too great to me here. As usually gorgeous as you might expect Russian supermodels to be, she seemed tired here and older than her 35 years. She's outshone by the lovely Ali Larter, who reprises her role as Claire Redfield from the third movie. The acting is capable throughout but never anything special, only Shawn Roberts standing out as worthy of note as Wesker, though not in a good way. I'd bet money that the video game character was better acted in pixels.

Also in the film are people like Kim Coates, Boris Kodjoe and Wentworth Miller. Coates is suitably sleazy as Bennett, a Hollywood producer who unfortunately looks like Ron Jeremy on a bad day. A talented actor, worth far more than he's given to work with here, he seems to have a habit of picking the wrong movies to appear in, including Waterworld, Pearl Harbor and Battlefield Earth. I hope he gets paid well at least, because his part is badly written even for this film and this film doesn't set its sights too high at the best of moments. I felt somehow dirtied for having watched the movie, as if my unabashed cynicism at how low Hollywood has fallen was suddenly revealed to be far too optimistic, but how much worse must he feel for having been in it? I hope he never gets to see the picture. At least it's clear where the fault lies: squarely in the hands of Anderson, who is already planning a fifth movie. I don't care how good the company, I refuse to see it.

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I wonder what Chester Morris and Roland West would have thought of Resident Evil: Afterlife?, but then again Paul Anderson would be equally baffled by what they`ll be making 80 years from now if he were transported there in a time machine.