Resident Evil: Afterlife is really Resident Evil 4, but since numbered sequels are out of fashion at the moment, we get a subtitle instead. If anyone can remember Resident Evil: Extinction (the third one), Afterlife follows directly on. Those who never saw the previous film or can’t remember what happened are well advised to do a little research before going in, because there is almost no introduction to this instalment, save for the briefest of recaps about the apocalypse currently engulfing the planet. We are dropped straight in on the army of clone Alices attacking Umbrella’s latest massive base, built this time under Tokyo. Creating a 90 minute film full of clones of Milla Jovovich would be require a substantial CGI budget, but the writers have a simple solution – kill them all off pretty quickly. Therefore, we are treated to 15 minutes of one of the best stand alone action sequences of the year as the clone army is slowly whittled down and somewhere in the region of 300+ soldiers are massacred. It’s mindless, but it’s well choreographed and beautifully shot, paying a large debt to the Matrix and its sequels. All too quickly, things are back to status quo – only the original Alice is left, and she’s lost all the super powers she gained in the previous two entries. Searching for the promised safe haven of Arcadia (again a plot point from film No.3), she chances first upon her old friend Claire Redfield, and then a small group of survivors holed up in a Los Angles Prison, surrounded by the zombie hordes.
It’s fair to say that plot is not the film’s strong point. The story is baffling for newcomers, and yet at the same time manages to be hugely predictable. Character deaths are signposted a mile away; you’ll never be in any doubt as to who’s going to live and who isn’t. What it does well, for such a relatively small budget (around $60 million) is spectacle. While the remaining action may not reach the heights of the opening, it’s all well put together and entertaining to watch. The film benefits massively from the 3-D. This is not some post-production rush job, but a fully fledged 3-D movie, filmed using the Fusion Camera System, originally developed for Avatar. Personally, I don’t find 3-D altogether convincing, with some sequences still looking like cut-outs, placed in front of a green screen. But ultimately, I suspect this is the nature of shot setup, as not every single image in a movie will maximise the opportunities provided by a third dimension. Despite my scepticism, certain individual sequences looked fantastic, with fully-rounded characters and some static items such as cables or ropes stretching far out of the screen. Quite how any of this will transfer to home viewing is questionable, but as a cinema experience it works very well.
Another thing the film does far better than the previous entries is incorporate aspects of the computer games. While the first three films made use of several familiar faces, it never really successfully recreated any of the game’s monsters or plot lines – the most spectacular failure being the rubber-suited Nemesis of Resident Evil Apocalypse (the second film). In Afterlife, however, many of the creatures from Resident Evil 4 and 5 are not only incorporated but rendered almost perfectly. The Majini/Ganados appear later on, as does the Executioner Majini, who is the best game->movie translation since Pyramid Head’s cameo in Silent Hill. Given how badly such characters have been treated in previous films in this series and other video game based movies, it’s an encouraging sign to see the film makers look more closely at the source material and try to better represent these characters.
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Where this representation fails miserably is in the casting of Chris Redfield. Wentworth Miller plays this role, and is simply awful. Quite how someone who spent 4 years playing a tough no-nonsense hero in the TV show Prison Break fails to play a tough no-nonsense hero for this film escapes me, but everything he did or said made me cringe. His performance is terrible. The chief villain of many of the games, Albert Wesker, is brought to life by Shawn Roberts – Wesker appeared briefly in the previous film, played by Jason O’Mara, but here he is centre stage. Any by “stage”, I mean a pantomime stage. Camping it up beyond all redemption, Roberts throws every evil villain trope at the screen, including shooting henchmen to make a point, laughing at how evil he is and regularly underestimating the heroine and her friends. Of course, your tolerance for such characters will likely not be as high as mine (I’m a huge fan of Brian Cox’s Agamemnon, and Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor interpretation), so be warned – this performance is right up there with the best (worst?) of them.
Milla Jovovich reprises her role as Alice – the only survivor of the original mansion outbreak which triggered the series. Now 4 films in, playing Alice is probably as easy for Milla as playing Wolverine is for Hugh Jackman. But to say that takes away what a good job Jovovich is doing in the role. She’s always believable as the tough outsider and handles the action well. It may not be the most dramatically taxing of characters, but Resident Evil is still one of the very few movie franchises with a lead female role. Think of how many female action heroines were created in the wake of Tomb Raider – such as Selene from Underworld, or Aeon Flux. Milla’s Alice is big step above these, and really the only actress better for such roles in Hollywood at the moment is Angelina Jolie. Alongside her Ali Larter also returns as Claire Redfield, although her main job seems to be making Milla look more convincing. While not on a par with Wentworth Miller’s “performance”, Larter doesn’t do much more than sulk and shoot things.
No one would mistake Resident Evil: Afterlife for a great work of art. Looking back in the cold light of day, it’s cheesy, incomprehensible to newcomers and not a great deal actually happens in moving the overall plot of the series forward. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. I had a great time watching it, laughing at the over-the-top action and really enjoying the pace and spectacle of the film. After the dull slump of Extinction, Afterlife has steadied the ship and whetted my appetite for a potential 5th. And with a no 1 opening at the US box office and strong returns being reported worldwide, there’s a good chance Alice will be back to take on the Umbrella Corporation again soon.