Sunday, September 19, 2010
A Frank Review of "Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D" (2010)
The Short Version? The Matrix with zombies in 3D
What Is It? Action-Horror
Who Is In It? Leeloo, the other blond from Heroes, the Prison Break guy, that black dude who does black movies your pale ass don't see, that asshole who always plays scumbags
Should I See It? Maybe.
I slag on most movie franchises-- hell, most movies-- but I have my weak spots. Resident Evil is certainly one of them. I'm up for unpretentious cinematic badness if the formula is right. I love zombies, and adore Milla Jovovich, so I'm Paul W.S. Anderson's meal ticket. I have warm memories of playing every damned variation on the incomparable Resident Evil 2 video game I and a group of friends could manage (Hunk's Run owned me,) and followed that series through until Codename: Veronica, by which point I'd given up on all gaming. I even read a few of the comics, and started one of the books. I didn't mind the liberties taken in the first Resident Evil movie, because it offered enough respectful nods while clearly being its own beast. I say that with full consciousness that the games were little more than a mutated mating of dozens if not hundreds of zombie movies, while the movie owed outrageously blatant debts to films from other genres. They're both totally derivative, and their pleasures run to the guilty side, but I indulge in them unapologetically.
I've seen every Resident Evil film in the theater, and I've run through the first on DVD better than a dozen times. Of the many "influences" you could slap across the franchise's face, I find the closest parallel for myself to be the Roger Moore Bond movies. No one ever confused the dubious quality of Moore's outrageous '70s spectacles for the better Sean Connery material, just like George A. Romero can rest easy knowing his first two Dead films remain the gold standard. Still, Connery made Diamonds are Forever, and not having seen Survival of the Dead, I can safely say Romero went at least thirty years without producing a good zombie movie (quiet, Day apologists!) Given my druthers, I'll take the cheap thrills of RE over any additional screenings of Diary of the Dead, not to mention any Brosnan Bond besides Goldeneye.
For the uninitiated, the first Resident Evil introduced Alice, an initially amnesiac heroine who worked with a commando squad to investigate a top secret laboratory of the sinisterly omnipresent Umbrella Corporation. This was followed by Apocalypse, the messiest, ugliest, and least interesting chapter, as an outbreak of the murderous undead sweeps Raccoon City. Extinction took the franchise into Mad Max territory, involving some entertainingly goofy sci-fi/super-heroic elements. Each has ended with a cliffhanger, even though the directorial vision is quite inconsistent, and nothing is sensible enough to lead anyone to believe the continuing story is given any thought until after the box office indicates a greenlit sequel. This is especially amusing when you realize this is the rare series written by a single individual, but it's Paul W.S. Anderson, so yeah.
Afterlife picks up in Japan, as Alice leads an assault on Umbrella headquarters that recalls Kurt Wimmer's Ultraviolet (also starring Jovovich,) which effectively ended his directing career. Anyone who tells you this is the high point of the movie likes their shit dumb, extending from the lousy acting to the stupid dialogue through the questionable CGI. However, it's in 3D, and the kind Jim Cameron used for Avatar, so I suppose the gimmick of throwing stars coming right atacha does it for some people. Paul W.S. Anderson is back in the director's chair, and still desperately wants his own Matrix, but at least this is better than a Matrix sequel. The patented "homage" and magical unclear resolutions of once dire circumstances will be familiar from past entries in this series, but there's an added dose of excessive bullet time slo-/non motion. Besides the gimmickry and a desire to start things off with a bang, the main purpose of this sequence is to hit the reset button on elements of escalating lunacy from previous chapters.
From there, Afterlife slows way down, a source of complaint for some. Tonally and as manifested, it falls somewhere between Apocalypse and Extinction. A bunch of new characters are introduced as cannon fodder for cartoonish action set pieces like the second flick, but as in the third, the pacing is more deliberate, with some returning characters lending tension to situations where someone who matters somewhat in imperiled. Some new mystery/conspiracy elements are introduced that will never be satisfactorily resolved, and the appearance of any characters originating from the actual game will continue to alert viewers of a dip in the already shoddy acting standard present.
I condemn Resident Evil: Afterlife in the same way I would admonish myself while enjoying a triple meat cheeseburger. I know it will attack my heart, do damage to my bodily systems, and could be easily replaced with something better for me, but I'm not going to stop chowing down. Zombies whose mouths split into tentacles just like the genetically altered vampires in Blade 2 means idiot characters getting ate in the face. Fast zombies swarm rooftops like cockroaches in a sewer, twelve foot tall medieval executioners throw meat tenderizing axes, Milla/Alice jumps off the usual shit while things blow up, and brains hurl at the audience's altered perceptions like watermelon at a Gallagher concert. If you don't know you're supposed to giggle when Alice steps out of a prop plane dressed like Amelia Earnhardt with the full Maybelline treatment after experiencing 177 days without any signs of human life, you're just not getting it.
I continue to miss the atmospheric music of the first film. The only song here I can recall is an incessant remix of A Perfect Circle's "The Outsider." How do we go from new Slipknot and inventive old Nine Inch Nails to a tired ass single from Bush's first term (the president, although I could see thinking of the band under these circumstances.) No one in this cast makes an impression beyond Jovovich, and the villain is flat out terrible (Agent Smith by way of Val Kilmer, with a reasonable approximation of the hilariously awful voice acting of the early games.) The movie runs long at 1 1/2 hours, because that silly ending will. not. stop. There's even a mid-closing-credits tease, involving a pre-existing character I didn't recognize (six years and a dye job will do that,) building off a cliffhanger too stupid to live. Resident Evil: Afterlife is an objectively bad movie that thrilled me, and I'll be back at the trough for part five, especially if they finally work out the kinks with Smell-O-Vision. What an olfactory trauma that would be!
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