– Summary –
Director : Alexander Witt
Year Of Release : 2004
Principal Cast : Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann, Sophie Vavasseur, Jared Harris, Mike Epps, Iain Glen, Matthew G Taylor, Eric Mabius, Raz Adoti, Sandrine Holt, Zack Ward, Stefen Hayes.
Approx Running Time : 94 minutes
Synopsis: The T-virus has escaped The Hive and spread to Raccoon City. With the Umbrella Corporation about to nuke the city, it’s up to Alice and a team of survivors to get out before the blast.
What we think : If the idea of spending an hour or so watching Milla Jovovich getting about in skimpy clothing, gunning down a variety of undead zombies, all to a thunderous heavy rock soundtrack and headache-inducing direction from Alexander Witt, then by all means, this is the film for you. If this sounds like some kind of torture, then perhaps you’re reading the wrong review. Apocalypse isn’t a great film, even by the standards of the Resident Evil franchise (which is saying a bit, I wager), but I guess at some guttural, visceral level there’s a mild entertainment to be gleaned from it.
The only apocalypse is this film’s existence.
If Resident Evil is like an expensive, fine wine, then Apocalypse is like flat cola. The law of diminishing returns strikes hard in Apocalypse, a film so bereft of the original’s satisfactory aesthetic that it’s borderline insulting. Original director Paul WS Anderson, who oversaw this film as a producer, was off making Alien vs Predator, so industry 2nd unit director Alexander Witt was given the chance to helm his debut feature. Anderson write the script, which I can only imagine he had grand plans for, but the end result of Witt’s sonic assault on the eyes and ears is one of cinematic travesty. Gone is the subtle horror of the original, replaced by a more traditional, violent, audience friendly “event” film that trashes much of what made the first film great. Gone is Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson’s thunderously evocative score, replaced by Jeff Danna’s approximation of the same (to varied effect), and on board are a slew of new faces and characters, some of whom work, and many of whom do not. Apocalypse is a cacophony of sound and fury with little purpose, a disaster sequel that widens the scope of the franchise at the expense of character or plot.
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: 30 days after the contamination of The Hive, the Umbrella Corporation unwisely sends in a research team to re-open the complex and investigate the incident, since no one survived except Alice (Milla Jovovich) and Matt Addison (Eric Mabius – in flashbacks), and as Alice was experimented on, Matt was put into a mysterious “Nemesis Program”. When the team reprograms and opens the sealed blast doors, it is slaughtered by the massive crowd of infected. With the infected released outside, they reach Raccoon City, spreading the infection among the general populace. Two days after the infection has spread to the surface, Umbrella, worried about possible worldwide contamination, quarantines Raccoon City and establishes a security perimeter around it. However, a girl named Angela Ashford (Sophie Vavasseur), daughter of a Level 6 Umbrella researcher Dr. Charles Ashford (Jared Harris), who is also the T-virus creator, goes missing, after an Umbrella security car transporting her out of Raccoon City suffers a traffic accident. Alice awakens in the deserted Raccoon City hospital with wiring attached to her. Finding no one in the hospital, she wanders outside to find the city a ghost town, infected. She arms herself with a shotgun from a police car. She is constantly disturbed by a man who keeps showing up in visions, who was revealed to be experimenting on her; she now has superhuman agility and strength. While Umbrella is evacuating civilians at the Raven’s Gate Bridge, the only exit out of the town, disgraced police officer Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) (who was suspended for releasing the story of infected), confers with Sergeant Peyton Wells (Razaaq Adoti), her old ally, after hearing about the infection being true. However, the T-virus infects a man having a heart attack, turning him into a zombie that bites Peyton at the city gates. Umbrella supervisor and the head of the Raccoon City contamination operation, Timothy Cain (Thomas Kretschmann), worried that the T-virus has reached the gates, seals the exit and orders his soldiers to fire over the crowd’s heads, scaring them back into the city.
It’s kinda hard to know what to make of Apocalypse, the 2nd film in the increasingly mindless Resident Evil film franchise. A film series based on a video game, hardly smacks of quality storytelling, but at least the original Resident Evil had enough hutzpah and style to overcome its gamer-based roots and be a reasonably entertaining film in its own right. Apocalypse doesn’t have that luxury. The weight of expectation seems to weigh the film down, as it ticks off the boxes of audience wink-wink plot twists, adding a sprinkling of new characters to advance an already generic zombie-apocalypse plot in ways that aren’t entirely refreshing. Revisiting this film a decade after release, I came to the conclusion that the whole thing stank of desperation – a desire to keep the franchise afloat by any means necessary, even by keeping the Resident Evil brand on a film with so little intelligence or even nuance, it’s an affront to paying audiences. I know, the third film – Extinction – would raise the bar again only a few years later, but Apocalypse is perhaps the most disappointing film of the franchise in that it began with such a solid jumping off point.
Apocalypse’s problems are many; particularly, it knows it’s a sequel and tries to go bigger, louder, better, by throwing everything that made the original great out the window, and chucking a bunch of new stuff at the screen in what appears to be a random series of plot twists, hoping something sticks. Typically for a “bigger, faster, larger” sequel, the story becomes saddled with too much stuff to cover in such a short space of time – it’s the requisite 90 minutes long, but feels longer – and the influx of characters and ideas is so haphazard, so uninspired, the film blunders badly in handling them all. A director of Witt’s tenure, in his debut feature at the helm, is telling in its ineptitude. Witt is unable to give the disparate plot arcs any cohesion, as Alice, newbies Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliviera, and Bad Guys Major Cain and a late film cameo by Iain Glen, struggle to give the short-sheeted plotting any heft. Indeed, you can tell Anderson’s script here is second-class, as it ticks a few “studio mandated” action beats, throws a few uncomfortably generic plot twists into the mix, and feels wholeheartedly like Anderson’s mind was elsewhere when he wrote it. It probably was – Anderson’s duties on Alien vs Predator were no doubt soaking up a lot of his creative intellect.
As usual, though, the film does touch on many of the elements from the games themselves, notably the inclusion of Jill Valentine, here played by a razor-sharp Sienna Guillory. Guillory’s given very little backstory, behaves like an automaton, and is as blank-slate a character as Jovovich’s Alice was in the opening five minutes of the first film. Oded Fehr, who did a rockin’ job of playing a badass in Steven Sommers’ Mummy franchise, seems lost as Carlos, consigned to a minimal role of Man With Gun when he could easily have been more fleshed out. Jared Harris, Mike Epps, and Sophie Vacasseur fill out a roster of actors all hamstrung by poor scripting and/or shoddy direction, although you can hardly fault the actors. Instead, blame must shift to the writing, which is terrible, and the direction, which is equally so. Instead, the film relies too heavily on action, most of it without any logic, as zombies and survivors clash in an aural assault on the viewer that never seems to let up. Expended shell casings and detritus from the copious explosions and structural carnage can never be counted as “plot development”, and yet you get the sense that that’s what Witt was striving for. The thrill of the original film, the terror of “what’s around the dark corner” is lost amidst headache-inducing action sequences that last exactly as long as a focus group might have suggested. The gravity defying finale, in which Jovovich’s Alice not only outraces a nuclear blast but survives it, is the nadir of this film’s impossible grandstanding, a lack of realism in a franchise sorely in need of it. At least the first film didn’t try and make scientific impossibilities possible.
Witt’s handling of such a large scale production is uneven at best. He can’t string the narrative together with any real love, any real conviction, as if he’s merely joining the dots on somebody else’s project. The whole thing feels second-hand, as if Anderson’s tentacles are on this from afar, and such directionless overseeing ruins what might have been a fairly convincing B-grade movie. Even the film’s Big Bad, the Nemesis, lacks punch, hidden by shadow and relegated to an unconvincing Man In Suit routine that, from where I sit, hardly justifies the build up. The emotional subtext of the Nemesis/Alice confrontation (the monster is a mutated version of Eric Mabius’ character, Matt, from the first film) is merely an afterthought, a drunken edit-bay session in which his entire arc is lost to us in place of more explosions. Dammit, that was something the film needed – more emotional content.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse is not what one would consider “great art”, but I guess for the purpose of growing the franchise and prolonging the story (and the box-office take!) it suffices. As a stand alone film, it’s an incoherent mess, a disaster of a movie that beggars belief in the same moment as it insults the intelligence. As a sequel, it’s one of those “lesser” ones best left forgotten, a wastrel of junk film-making cast aside in pursuit of more, more, more. In terms of its status in the franchise as a whole, it’s marginally better than Retribution, but well beneath Extinction and Afterlife. It’s crap, but to get to the other films you need to wade through this.