17 September 2012

THEY BLOW UP THE ZOMBIES REAL GOOD

I do not suppose that any of my habitual readers were anxious for me to watch and review Resident Evil: Afterlife, any more than I was. If my opinion would have ever mattered to anybody, including myself, that time was all used up two years ago, when it was new. And yet here I am, reviewing Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth movie in the irritatingly resilient franchise of video game adaptations in which Milla Jovovich sashays about looking sexy as all hell whilst smirking and firing guns at badly-composited CGI effects in the shape of zombies, for two intertwined reasons: I hate having gaps in my review index, and with Resident Evil: Retribution looming on the immediate horizon, I didn't like the thought of just 2007's Resident Evil: Extinction sitting alongside the new one. Secondly, in 2009 I made a promise that I'd review every single movie that went to #1 at the U.S. box office, and Afterlife was one of the handful of movies I'd managed to miss at the time of its box office reign. I hate that even more than gaps.

Apologies to anyone out there who couldn't give less a shit about my blogging process, but navel-gazing is a good deal more enjoyable than actually digging in and talking about Afterlife, a movie whose chief point of merit was that it was the first Resident Evil movie in 3-D, thus making it doubly useless to the viewer who encounters it in the decidedly flat environment of DVD; especially because it seems, on the evidence of all the slow-motion shots of shrapnel and people flying through the air in achingly slow motion, that the 3-D effects in this movie were over-the-top, tasteless, and hammy, jes' the way I likes 'em.

So anyway, the movie takes place some while after the world ended thanks to an experimental bioweapon getting out of control in the labs of Umbrella Corporation, the franchise's multi-national conglomerate EvilCo villains, which we now see for the very first time had its ground zero right underneath Tokyo, where Umbrella made its headquarters. Four years later (which, if I am not mistaken, is incompatible with Extinction's chronology), the remnants of that company, hidden in their impenetrable underground bunker, are besieged by the Umbrella-created supersoldier Alice (Jovovich) and an army of her own clones, liberated from another Umbrella facility. She (they?) succeeds in doing a lot of damage, though in the ensuing frenzy, trying to escape, villainous boss Wesker (Shawn Roberts) injects her with a serum that will undo the super-soldier genes inside her; since there is not point in the rest of the movie in which she appears to be even marginally weaker or more easily damaged than anywhere else in the franchise, I cannot imagine why it was important to dedicate ten whole minutes of the movie to this subplot which serves no other purpose besides establishing this one plot point.

Six months later, Alice is in Alaska, failing to find the legendary community of Arcadia, the last outpost of uninfected humans in the world, but she does find Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), her companion from the last picture, suffering from Umbrella-enforced amnesia. Together, the two of them travel to Los Angeles, and the rest of the movie settles into the graceful simplicity of all zombie movies: living people inside a big, secure building (a prison in this case), undead people milling about outside, moaning. Living people want to get out, fight and act stupid, create opportunities to get eaten. Alright, so that's not completely fair, by the time we meet up with the cache of survivors living in the prison, the zombies have just about figured the way inside, but there are still some exorbitantly dumb choices made throughout the movie, such as the weapons room at the far end of a flooded corridor or just a bit down the air shaft, so of course they have to go in through the flooded corridor.

Eventually, they all get away - actually, virtually none of them get away, and for the most part we don't care about any of them, but the point is that Alice and Claire and Claire's long-lost brother Chris (Wentworth Miller) get away, finding Arcadia at last, and learning a) that it is a ship, not a town, and b) it is a trap. Fighting and production design ensue, leading up to a sequel hook.

The chief sell of the movie, as with the three movies preceding it, is simple enough: Jovovich being a sexy action chick. Afterlife was made after the actress's marriage to Anderson, and the entire thrust of the movie is bent with unerring precision towards demonstrating how incredibly hot the director finds his spouse to be. This may or may not have weird psychological ramifications for their marital life, but since Jovovich is incredibly hot, the gesture does not go unappreciated, regardless of the uncomfortable space it puts us in vis-à-vis Anderson's excitement about objectifying his wife. The action might be - is! - more ludicrous than ever before, but the sheer enthusiasm with which Anderson frames shots of Jovovich spinning in the air, wielding giant swords, or firing a huge gun with one hand as she runs backwards, or whatever, at least gives the movie some bold, kitschy energy.

As anything else than a Jovovich Kicking Ass machine, the movie just does not work in any way - I still prefer it to Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the first two movies in the franchise, for its relative simplicity (the "get out of the besieged fortress" structure is much less unwieldy than anything in the preceding films), but it has nothing to match the spectacularly interesting post-apocalyptic design of Extinction, making its burned-out husk of Los Angeles look positively dull. And the action, however spirited in its manic creativity, is so relentlessly repetitive (Alice glares; Alice charges; slow-motion; camera swirls around 270 degrees) that it ceases to be as cool as the director plainly imagines it to be a very long time before the end of the movie - a long time before the main plot begins, even.

The only modestly interesting thing about the film on its own right is that it feels the most like a video game out of anything in the series. Not necessarily like a Resident Evil video game; the distance between the films and the games they are nominally based on only gets wider. But a couple of what I couldn't help but think of as boss fights have the basic rhythm and structure of their counterparts in the gaming world, complete with cut scenes in between "phases" of the boss. Particularly the one with a big hulking masked dude with a giant axe, which starts with him destroying the support pillars that, in a game, the power-ups might be hiding in, and also to create a more dramatic space to fight; you can practically sense when he's done showing off and the controls switch back over to the player.

I really do wish that I could consider that a sufficient reason to find the movie as a whole worth spending time on, but it's really just more of what made the last three movies pretty hard to tolerate: lousy effects, screaming noise on the soundtrack, and the absence of any vaguely credible characters or performances besides Jovovich's Alice, which is credible only insofar as she has the kind of intense face that would have made her a much finer movie star in the silent era than in the one she happens to live in. Heck, maybe that's why Afterlife is made with such a consistently primitive, hopelessly literal style whose chief merit is that unlike much contemporary action cinema, it's visually coherent.

3/10

3 comments:

Cody Rice said...

It took me five minutes to read the first paragraph, because I was thinking, "Afterlife, the new one. Wait, or was it the one before? Extinction. No, the new one is Retribution. Or Resurrection? Why the fuck can't they just number these stupid things?"

I must say though, I find something kinda sweet about Anderson thinking his wife is so drop-dead hot that he casts her as the female lead in all his movies, like no other woman in the world could compare. And now you've just made me defend Paul W.S. Anderson.

Mr. Blackwell said...

I know this isn't really the purview of your website, but you should really consider reviewing the video games that these video game movies are based on. I would read the shit out of some Tim video game reviews.

Tim said...

I get a lot of that, and it's flattering. I have to confess that my value as a video game writer would be severely limited by two things:

1) I've never owned any PlayStation or Xbox, and thus have missed out on a tremendous number of important games, including fully half of the ResEvils.

2) I don't have the formal vocabulary to discuss games.

The second of these is more readily overcome than the first; and I'd be lying if I said that I've never given it any thought at all. Maybe in the future, I'll figure out something.