– Summary –
Director : Paul WS Anderson
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, Shawn Roberts, Boris Kodjoe, Kim Coats, Spencer Locke, Kacey Barnfield, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Norman Yeung, Spencer Locke, Mika Nakashima, Ray Olubowale, Sienna Guillory.
Approx Running Time : 97 Minutes.
Synopsis: Alice, sole survivor of the Raccoon City disaster, is now alone after events told in Resident Evil: Extinction. Her powers, acquired as a result of an experiment by the Umbrella Corporation, have now been removed, rendering her effectively as human as the next person. Flying towards a radio signal indicating a plague-free zone, she once more meets up with Claire Redfield, before landing her plane on top of an LA prison complex to save a small group of survivors. Cue gratuitous violence, blood and gore, as well as plenty of CGI stunts and shocking story twists.
What we think : If you have never been interested in a Resident Evil film by now, then this one isn’t gonna change your mind. A by-the-numbers action/zombie/slaughter entry into the popular franchise exhibits even more gravity defying stunts and gratuitous kill shots amongst the thin storyline and characterizations – although things like plot and character aren’t things Resident Evil bothered to claim as being fine examples of. Milla looks hot, the effects are superb and the action is exciting: all key ingredients into a great Resident Evil film. Newbies might best be advised to head to the original (and the other two Jovovich-starring sequels) before embarking on this adventure.
Reviewing a film like Afterlife is an effort in redundancy. On the one hand, those of you reading this who happen to be fans of the zombie franchise will have already seen it. On the other, those of you who aren’t interested in Resident Evil at all can skip this review and delve right into something else here on the site. Trying to convince those folks of the merits of Resident Evil is like trying to convince Oliver Twist that he doesn’t, in fact, need more. An effort in futility. So, to those of you who enjoy the Resident Evil franchise, and appreciate the brainless action ethos this franchise espouses, you’ll be happy to know that I, like the many millions who saw this film in theaters, enjoyed the hell out of it. I’m not gonna try and convince fence-sitters to grab a copy and give it a watch, but I do want to spend a moment or three explaining why I have given it the score I have. Before you read on, however, one note for those who haven’t yet seen Afterlife. I’m gonna assume readers of this review have at least seen the original three films in the franchise, because I have to spoil a few plot threads from those films to get across the plot points of this one. Consider this a spoiler warning of sorts.
Alice (Milla Jovovich) and her clones (referring to events in Extinction) make an assault on the Tokyo headquarters of the Umbrella Corporation, in order to take out Chairman Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), an attempt which is ultimately unsuccessful. As a result, Wesker removes the T-Virus from Alice’s bloodstream, rendering her enhanced powers null and void, and returning her to a more human state. Now alone, Alice flies a small aircraft towards Alaska, seeking out the origin of a radio broadcast purporting to come from a city or town which is T-virus free. Landing, Alice encounters her friend Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), who was last seen leaving Las Vegas in a helicopter to find Arcadia – Claire has no memory of recent events, and has been controlled by a device on her chest from the Umbrella Corporation. The two take off, making their way to Los Angeles, which has now become a sight similar to Raccoon City – destroyed. A small group of survivors has found refuge inside an LA prison, themselves seeking to locate Arcadia through its now abandoned recorded message. Alice and Clarie land on the roof of the prison (yeah, they land a plane on a prison roof – go girls!) in order to somehow save their fellow survivors, only to find that chances of escape are rapidly decreasing. The zombie hordes have the prison surrounded, and both weapons and means of egress from the solid concrete building are limited – but not impossible. Sure enough, now-human Alice and her rock-solid attitude manage to cobble together a plan involving plenty of shooting, leaping, explosion-ing and other forms of entertainment in order to escape the prison and make their way to the Arcadia: a massive ship moored off the coast of LA and barely visible through the smoldering cityscape.
I read online that Afterlife wasn’t screened for serious film critics. Yeah, I can imagine what the guy over at the New York Times might have made of this, as he sipped his latte and thought more closely about the index share price of gold and equities on the stock market. It would have made for amusing reading, no doubt, but it would have missed the point. This isn’t a film directed at serious film critics, those vocabulary-arrogant twats who make you feel completely devoid of intellect for enjoying, nay appreciating, a work of art such as this. Paul WS Anderson may not be the best film director ever born, but he sure knows how to cater for his audience. And that, my friends, is exactly what Afterlife does. It doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel, it doesn’t try and remake the characters we’ve come to know and love into something they are not, and it doesn’t even try and elevate our thinking on the condition of human consciousness. It takes those characters and puts them in a scenario we haven’t seen them in before (well, we have, but there are differences this time) and elevate the “who’s gonna die” element up to eleven. In this film, all bets are off.
Paul WS Anderson, reviled among the internet film community for his lowest-common denominator directing and often, his outright stealing of others’ work, has put together a Resident Evil film that manages to elevate itself above both sequels and stand alongside the original film as a serious, well crafted thriller. This time, the focus is less about the vast quantities of zombies and monsters and more about the plot development of Alice’s battle with Umbrella, and how her fate fits into the plans of the giant conglomerate. Anderson’s script, which strips the franchise down to its barest elements, strikes hard at the relationship between Alice and Umbrella, setting up potential sequels at the same time as it’s closing arguments on those which have come before. It is definitely a more character-driven film, and I admit I was surprised by the overall lack of major action set-pieces involved herein. Sure, there’s plenty of action, it’s just that this time (as with the original film) Anderson’s loaded plenty of story development in between times as well. Does it work? Most of the time, and while Anderson wisely leaves the majority of the exposition to those people who’s last name isn’t Jovovich, it allows for a more organic development of both plot and character. Sure, there’s moments where things could move a little faster, and the focus shifts a little too much attention from Alice and Claire at times, but the overall feeling is of a film better for the breathing space. You can tell that Anderson’s trying to widen the scope of his franchise, to show some shadows in the narrative which hints at larger forces at play (as they always are), and the inevitable shock conclusion leading into a potential sequel – it’s safe to say a sequel is a foregone conclusion at this point – only serves to extend that scope further.
A film like Afterlife isn’t built on great acting performances. The cast, many of whom are returning to the franchise, wear their characters like well-worn shoes; a comfortable fit. Sure, the characters pretty much exist in a single dimension, but that’s okay, you know. They aren’t there to enlighten us, they’re there to shoot guns, run fast and escape/die/survive whatever action sequence comes their way. Milla Jovovich, who is described in the BluRay’s Bonus Features as having the same tough-chick influence as Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, or Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, doesn’t. Hate to say it, but Alice is perhaps this film’s biggest weakness, as far as characters go. Her personality seems stripped to that of a chunk of iron – she scowls and grimaces her way through this film without a trace of evident humanity, and while this may be an affectation of being “tough”, it just comes across as inhuman. Anderson’s choice to remove Alice’s powers is a brave one, but he also never shows the repercussions of that choice. At no point does Alice ever waver in her ability to fend off the T-Virus afflicted humans or massive monsters who come her way. It’s like they’ve said “lets make her human, just to show she’s got the chance of being killed, but not actually put her into any test of that humanity”. It’s a plot choice wasted, and I was disappointed. Ali Larter, as Claire, has at least the barest hint of character development – she finds her long-lost brother Chris (played by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller) – but there’s no chemistry between them to elevate the relationship beyond the screen. It’s a tacit relationship at best. The rest of the cast are pretty much cannon fodder: human meat we’re just waiting to see killed in a variety of ingenious zombie-manifested ways. Mention to Boris Kodjoe, as former basketball star Luther, for the performance he gives is actually above just about anybody else here – he doesn’t have much to do, but the conviction with which he portrays his one-dimensional character almost turns him into a leading man.
The biggest caveat, however, remains the films primary antagonist, Albert Wesker, as portrayed by Shawn Roberts. I’m not sure if Roberts was going for the wooden performance of the year, but he achieved it with this film. His portrayal of the Chairman (or CEO or whatever) of Umbrella Corporation is the least accessible human element of the film – and that includes the zombies. Roberts has the screen presence of a turd sitting in the middle of the floor: you don’t want to look but you can’t help it, it stinks so badly. Much like Jovovich, it seems Anderson’s given him the brief to act “tough”, and so he pulls out the classic Hollywood tough guy approach – say very little, and when you must, grimace and scowl a lot. It doesn’t work, and you half expect former Evil franchise alum Iain Glen to pop up saying his exit from Extinction was a big practical joke. Ha ha, the laugh is on you all. Righto. Roberts, as Wesker, is the weakest link of the film. Although, if this film is anything to go by, we won’t see him again.
What of the action? Afterlife has a fair bit of it, and it’s all good. Anderson’s stolen some stuff from vastly superior films (a scene involving two Alice clones smashing through a window and falling away from camera is a direct lift from The Matrix Reloaded!) but he’s made up for it with some unique footage of his own. Plenty of slo-motion gunplay and violence, in keeping with the franchises overall tone, as well as the crisp, razor sharp bloodletting we’ve come to expect is once more on display, although it’s less frequent this time around and, if it’s possible, actually less graphic than what we’ve seen before. Sure, there’s plenty of head-shots and rended limbs, but those moments aren’t filmed in the same pornographic way the previous instalments have inflicted on us. Dare I say it – restraint was used in this film. Not much, but just enough. The opening set-piece, in which an army of Alice clones swarm into the Tokyo base of Umbrella and take on the ubiquitous army of soldiers in doing so, is well filmed and quite entertaining, setting the film up for a pretty action-packed flavouring. It’s a shame, then, that the rest of the film is tonally at odds with this sequence, dwelling more in darkness and shadow than the swiftly edited brilliance of this opening gambit. The CGI/green-screen stunts we’ve come to expect from the series once more enjoy some screen time, with Jovovich’s leap from an exploding rooftop and swinging, Tarzan style, to the ground here an echo of a similar sequence in Apocalypse. The appearance of an enormous, unstoppable giant-axe wielding monster, battling both Alice and Claire in a water-spayed shower sequence, is stylish and effective, if completely redundant to the plot – but it does show off the films glorious picture quality.
Paul WS Anderson’s directorial style might be akin to that of throwing a sledgehammer into a room full of babies, but what he does do well is pretty darn effective. Afterlife isn’t some yawn-let’s-see-how-much-we-can-make-from-this-franchise effort to capitalize on the dedicated fan base, but a pretty decent thriller/action flick overall, something I was actually quite shocked to admit to. Anderson show more panache than Apocalypse director Alexander Witt, and delivers a vastly more entertaining film than the fatuously style-over-substance Extinction, leaving fans salivating at the increased potential for further entries into the saga – a saga which, amazingly, seems to be getting better with each installment! Of the four Resident Evil films (live action) released so far, I’d rank Afterlife above the two sequels and only just below the fantastic original.