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Entries in Resident Evil: Afterlife [2010] (1)

Sunday
Sep122010

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

It's the End of the World (Again)

There’s an old joke about horror movie franchises that goes something like this: 

Tom:  Hey, Man, you wanna watch Psycho Hatchet Killer Part Twelve?

Dick:  Nah.  I didn’t see parts one through eleven, so it might be hard to follow the plot.

It’s not just a gag, it’s a truism.  Horror movie series are meant to be disposable enough so that newbies can jump on board as quickly as the devotees and not miss a beat.  After all, the formula of blood, boobs, and the Unstoppable Killer Who Will Return is hard to mess up, unless complicated with a lot of unnecessary—and often dodgy—continuity.

So, how to explain Resident Evil: Afterlife?  After eight years and four movies, I still don’t have a clue as to what’s going on.

The first film was a simple story about a girl named Alice (Mila Jovovich) who awakens inside the underground labs of military/industrial giant Umbrella Corporation.  One of Umbrella’s bioengineering experiments got out of hand, making flesh-hungry zombies out of most of the staff, and it’s up to Alice—and the security team hired to control the problem—to fight off the hordes and get to safety.  Rather than being “just a stupid video game movie”, Resident Evil mixed shoot-‘em-up action with the creepiness of a haunted house movie and a zombie movie; kind of like Dawn of the Dead with ADD.

The second film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, picked up outside of Umbrella’s headquarters, in Raccoon City.  With the infection spread to the outside world, Alice took up the mantle of global super-heroine, and fought to bring down umbrella while saving the dwindling human population.  This movie was more of an action film, but preserved the horror movie look of the original; it was also much more entertaining than it deserved to be.

Resident Evil: Extinction blew the wheels of the franchise.  I don’t remember a lot about this one, because it was so boring and disconnected from the other pictures.  It was essentially Mad Maxine, with Alice running around the Nevada dessert in the daylight, blowing away monsters and cultivating psychic powers.  It ended with the revelation that Umbrella was actually running the whole show from an underground complex in Japan, or something—by which time the video-game-ness of the story became so pronounced as to barely qualify part three as a movie.

Afterlife continues the tradition with an uninspired first act that sees Alice and an army of Alice clones raiding the Japanese headquarters.  They kill hundreds of faceless soldiers with swords and machine guns, and they flit from scene to scene with the aid of computer-generated acrobatics that are meant to impress any child who sees this as their first film; and, believe me, there are plenty of those.

The head of the facility, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), jumps into a getaway jet and nukes Tokyo from the sky.  He soon discovers that Alice is on board.  The two exchange kicks and jabs, and Alice gets a nasty injection of a serum that robs her of her special abilities.  Then the plane crashes.

Unfortunately, what felt like the climax of a really bad movie was just the introduction to one.  The rest of Afterlife sees Alice traversing different levels—sorry, scenes—in an effort to find safety and civilization.  She begins with a trip to Alaska to pick up her friends from the last movie.  She only finds Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), now a ferile amnesiac thanks to Umbrella tinkering.  The two make their way to Los Angeles, and encounter a small band of strangers holed up in an abandoned prison, surrounded by zombies.  This twenty minute stretch is truly lawsuit-worthy in its blatant “homage” to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake.

Oh, God.  Are you as bored reading about this movie as I am writing about it?

Must. Carry. On.

Fast forward through the generic characters (tough-talking cop, old guy, wimpy guy, hot aspiring actress) being killed off and we’re left with another perilous trek to an aircraft carrier.  It’s been transmitting messages of hope and shelter for weeks, but when Alice and her two remaining friends get there, they discover that it’s—GASP!—a secret Umbrella laboratory.

Running the lab is a regenerated Albert Wesker, who can now add super-strength and super-speed to his Level-Boss portfolio (which also includes a black suit and sunglasses, and a husky monotone voice that barely masks the worst ever British accent by a Canadian actor).  More bullets fly.  More mutants appear and are dispatched.  In the end, Alice defeats Wesker—or maybe it was Claire, or her long-lost brother who happened to be at the prison; I honestly don’t remember, and I saw this movie less than forty-eight hours ago.

The film ends with Alice (or Claire, or brother-man) freeing hundreds of captives from stasis chambers; which is weird for two reasons.  First, since it was established several movies ago that Umbrella loves turning dogs and people into savage creatures with a penchant for swinging around giant axes and/or opening their own heads to reveal slimy, tooth-lined tentacles—why is it that all of the people in the aircraft-carrier/lab appear to be fine?  More to the point, why don’t Alice and company at least check them out before leaving them free to roam the ship?

Second, the rest of Alice’s friends from Extinction are in this lab.  Doesn’t Umbrella have a facility closer to Alaska than Los Angeles?  It just doesn’t make good business sense; and what better time to watch every penny than during the apocalypse?

At least at the end of this movie, I felt good knowing that I’d seen the Resident Evil franchise through to the end.  It was an uneven run, to be sure, but at least writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson would now be free to play in a different sandbox.

Turns out the joke’s on me.  As the happy, “We Did It” music plays and the camera pulls out from the deck of the carrier, we see swarms of black Umbrella planes closing in for the kill (or at least another sequel).

I slunk out of the theatre with a sad, heavy spirit, just slowly enough that I caught the mid-credits sting.  It opens on board one of the Umbrella craft, where a sultry blonde Level Boss delivers a motivational speech to another long line of faceless soldiers.  It’s maybe half a minute long and ends with an ominous close-up of the smiling baddie; and I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing something important.

A simple Google search revealed that this character is Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), one of Alice’s friends who disappeared after the second film; not “disappeared” via kidnapping or anything like that—she was simply never mentioned in parts three or four.

So I guess Resident Evil 5 will see her squaring off against Alice—and probably being defeated; but not before psychically jumping into the body of Alice’s high school chemistry teacher, who’s also Claire Redfield’s long-lost second cousin, twice removed.

None of this matters, and the filmmakers know it.  The series now is just an excuse to sell 3D glasses and prove that Mila Jovovich still looks amazing in form-fitting leather pants.  There’s not even an attempt to create interesting monsters anymore.

If the key to any horror franchise’s longevity is finding ways to make each film seem new while still delivering the gory comfort food that made it popular, I’m betting Resident Evil won’t make it past part five; maybe part six.

Until the inevitable remake of the first one.

Shit.