Saturday, September 11, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Resident Evil films. I never worried about how the films broke away from the spirit of the games. If you think about it, the games would be boring as a film. Claire run up the stairs, solves a puzzle and gains a key, then runs back down the stairs to solve another puzzle, then repeats the action yet again. Hell, I had a hard time making that last sentence interesting, so I can’t even think of how to make it fun in a movie.
Maybe George Romero would have made a decent horror film out of the franchise, had he been allowed to shoot his script. But survival horror games often rely on providing players with a very limited amount of ammo and weaponry, so one spends a lot of time avoiding the zombie theat. It makes for a great game, but I don’t know of any director who could translate the chills of playing Resident Evil in a darkened room with the more passive act of watching the story on a movie screen.
So, Paul WS Anderson took iconic elements from the games, added a lot more zombies and gunfire, and crafted a fun little franchise following Alice’s (Milla Jovoich) struggle to end the reign of the Umbrella Corporation. The series isn’t a classic by any means, but the films are terrific fun. And at least it wasn’t the train wreck called Doom, where the entire storyline was changed and little of the original was left.
So now we come to Resident Evil: Afterlife, shot with James Cameron’s 3D technology and it’s a big, shiny, fun rollercoaster ride. If only the movie ended three minutes before the credits rolled….
I’ll get to that later. The film opens in Tokyo, with a nice nod to the game’s origins. The Alice clones storm the main headquarters of Umbrella in a beautiful orgy of blood, gunfire and psychic attacks. Unfortunately, the ladies meet up with the latest T-virus warrior (the big blond guy in the trailers), who manages to escape the base before destroying it, and the Alice army, with a massive explosion.
However, the big guy’s ship has a stowaway, the original Alice (how he knows this, I have no clue). He injects her with a vaccine that neutralizes the T-virus and eliminates her super-powers. Yet Alice manages to survive a cataclysmic plane wreck (in the most ridiculous effect sequence in the movie), and heads off to Alaska in search of Arcadia, the land of no infection mentioned in the third film.
What Alice finds is a ghost town of abandoned airplanes haunted by Claire (Ali Larter), fellow zombie ass kicker from the third film, now in a state of amnesia with a mechanical spider on her chest. The two head out down the West coast in Alice’s prop plane, looking for other survivors.
I need to comment on Milla’s performance in the plane graveyard. While no great thespian by any means, she conveys Alice’s change from super-human to mortal quite well in these scenes. Her massive guns shake for the first time in the past two movies, her posture is more tentative then cock-sure. Milla conveys the sense of her character’s rediscovered mortality through a strong physical performance and it’s quite convincing.
Of course, the two find survivors barricaded in a LA prison. They also discover that Arcadia is a massive cargo ship, which is anchored just offshore. As the group try to formulate a plan to reach Arcadia, new zombies start picking them off and a battleaxe wielding giant knocks the gate down. This sets up the next big action sequence, with Milla pulling a John McClane as the zombies follow her plunge off the building, while she lands with a single roll onto the ground several stories below.
But wasn’t Alice robbed of the T-virus super powers? Well, as Claire is taking on the giant without any major injuries, I’d say just let it ride. No reason to let common sense get in the way of a good time.
The group makes it to Arcadia, only to find it was under the control of Umbrella. However, the crew abandoned both the ship, and the cryogenically frozen survivors from Alaska, days ago. That means it’s all a trap, set up by….
Oh hell, you already know who is behind all this. But it doesn’t really matter. This is a terrific comic book on the big screen, full of great stunts, gore, cool monsters and kick ass women.
What, you want more? Okay, the film boosts some of the best 3D since Avatar. The images are clean and bright, and I had to fight the urge to brush smoke and fog away from my eyes at a few points. The cast delivers decent performances, and both Milla and Ali look great as they kick all sorts of monster butt.
In fact, my only complaint was the cliffhanger ending. Yes, I liked the character appearance during the credits. But while the previous three films reached a conclusion while only hinting at a potential sequel, this one should have posted a “To Be Continued” tag in the ending credits. Unlike the other films, this conclusion felt like the story stopped in the middle of a chapter.
Look, I don’t mind being teased into a mild climax with a promise for more. But to be told that any climax will be delayed for a year or two annoys me (yes, that sounds more sexual than I intended). And given the fact that a follow up film is dependent not only on box office performance, but the possible series reboot, Anderson should have let the series end when he had the chance. Sure, he could have always written a sequel. But he had the perfect ending and he blew it. Now fans are stuck hoping for a sequel that might never happen.
Regardless of how it ended, the rest of the film is great fun. If watching badass women kicking monster and zombie butt sounds like a great way to spend a couple hours, then the thought of watching it unfold in state of the art 3D should send you racing to the theaters.
Just be ready to mentally roll the film back a bit as the credits roll.