Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Resident Evil: Afterlife - review

2010 (Germany / France / USA / Canada)

Contains spoilers.

Now I've unapologetically given this series a lot of slack. In fact I'd go one further and say that I've been positively enthusiastic about the previous three entries, acknowledging their place in the zombie story and praising Director/Writer Paul W. S. Anderson's lavish reliance on larger than life effects and often over stylised production. Often lambasted by the zombie crowd for being too shallow and Hollywood, I've personally found them, as long as you don't take it seriously, fun, dramatic and flicks you want to whoop at, and throw your pop corn in the air to.

The Resident Evil series has always acknowledged its video game roots with daft boss fights and ridiculous zombie-hybrid mutations, but at heart it's still been unashamedly about zombies. Whether it was the tight claustrophobic first entry, the escape from the city survival second, or post-apocalyptic expansive mad-max third, the main protagonist, albeit increasingly less now I think about it, has always really been our gnarly flesh eating friends. Here we are with the fourth effort and all this seems to have been forgotten. It's thirty minutes till we even see a zombie and fifty before our first encounter and even this is one of the evolved Las Plagas parasite, video game ones. In fact other than the roof top fight and escape I don't think our straightforward, no nonsense undead really make an appearance, other than as background noise. Instead Alice (Milla Jovovich), Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and brother Chris (Wentworth Miller) are generally pitted against the faceless uniform soldiers of the Umbrella Corp and their boss Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts). In many respects these soldiers have replaced the role of the zombies for Afterlife as mindless do as they're told automaton cannon fodder. The problem is they neither as interesting or as good at providing tension.The whole first sequence which should be a cinematic tour de force as Alice and her army of clones storms the Tokyo umbrella research base ends up dare I say, feeling a little flat and that's the problem that follows the film through to the finale.

There isn't much plot, then again there never really is. Alice, brings the fight to Wesker then goes looking for the Alaskan paradise mentioned at the end of Extinction. Unable to find it she bumps into some survivors holed up in a Los Angeles prison, discovers the real location of Arcadia (the haven), lets all the non-main characters die and gets into a few boss fights. Oh, and on the way she loses her superhuman jedi powers, yet still manages to survive a nasty plane crash unscathed. It's all a little tame and empty and that wouldn't normally really matter too much, I mean I enjoyed the last three. The problem as we've said is that it seems to be missing something...

Let's look at the zombies; though there's not a lot to say. The actual zombies are as we've seen in previous instalments; they're fast, hungry and driven by instinct, and they like to hang out in as large a group as possible. What we see far more of in Afterlife though is the majini game enemies, who if I recall my Resident Evil game knowledge are humans with their minds and bodies parasitically controlled. In the games I'm pretty sure the parasite only appears once their host is shot in the head (up till then the host is alive). Those on display here look more dead to begin with, so perhaps they're some new zombie-mutations Anderson made up; still it's all pretty daft stuff and I'm beyond thinking think too much about it at this stage. The other big zombie Anderson decided to bring to the party is the Executioner Majini who's straight out the game. Whilst all this pays great homage to the games I'm not quite sure this far into a film series that's already gone significantly off on its own it all quite works and comes across as a little implausible and silly. As I've said I've always taken the boss fights and fantasy of the films with a grain of salt and treated them as something to smile through after an hour or so of great zombie fighting and tension. Afterlife seems to be big daft boss fight after big daft boss fight without any of great zombie story stuff and it misses it. Ok, there's fifteen minutes or so, in the prison where it all seems to start working again but it's all over before it really begins with Anderson preferring to move on to something bigger and more ambitious at the first opportunity. As for the big finale against Wesker, Anderson manages to reach even new heights of absurdity, even for Resident Evil, takings things off the scale, giving him vampire like speed and agility and filming a sequence that would feel right at home in The Matrix. It's all too much.

Definitely the weakest in the series, Afterlife is the perfect example of style over substance. Anderson seems to have lost the essence of what makes a good Resident Evil film crafting a series of high intensity highly scripted action sequences and forgetting to include much narrative or any of the zombie survival story I like. It's not all bad and Afterlife is still big and bold like its predecessors with expansive panning shots, crazy-scale numbers of zombies on screen and great choreography, and you can't help but be impressed at times. It's just all too shallow and derivative though and never really captures the feelings of tension or excitement we've seen before. Disappointing, 5/10.


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