More to Umbrella Than Zombies – Resident Evil:Afterlife

I’d been warned about the new Resident Evil movie; apparently it was pretty “bad”, but there are generally four kinds of bad movie. There are movies that are just bad – boring offerings that fail to really make an impression one way or the other. There are movies that are so bad they’re good – flicks that embrace their b-grade bargain bin nature and refuse to take themselves too seriously. There are movies that are so bad they’re bad – disasters of celluloid that leave you wishing you could set your eyeballs on fire to purge the pain. And there are movies that are so bad they’re funny – films that try a little bit too hard and being plastic-spoon-at-the-screen laughable.

Resident Evil: Afterlife wavers between all of these types of bad, never quite settling on how it wants to portray itself to the viewer. Thrilling action rubs shoulders with ridiculous throaty, poker-faced antagonists while awkward exposition counterpoints groan-worthy humour.

I tend to define things by how they feel when they are over. If at the end of a night out I am tired, grumpy, and want to stab everyone in the face with a fork; I call that a bad night, no matter how well it started, nor how much I want to do that kind of event again. If I come out of something feeling good, then I’m happy to call it a success. So, your Resident Evil: Afterlife may vary, depending on how much crap you’re willing to sit through to get to the good bits.

This review is spoiler-free! Huzzah!

The Resident Evil movies started somewhere in the “so bad it’s good” category – standard action-thriller with a sexy female lead and lots of gore and violence. It was fun, maybe a bit stupid, I think we were willing to overlook some of the stupid if it meant seeing people sliced up with cool lasers. Through the second and third movies, the stories started to slide towards “so bad it’s bad”, trying to carry more weight on the plot than on the ZOMBIES! EVERYWHERE!

Perhaps “so bad it’s funny” is the natural progression of the Resident Evil series passing all the way through “so bad it’s bad” and out the other side. And this is where our movie starts. The opening scenes are a ridiculous romp in 3D, the Final Destination-style, with shurikens hurtling towards you and impressive 3D explosions. This is interspersed with shots of the hilariously over-acted antagonist, whose characterisation is neatly summed up in his Commissar-style shooting of a subordinate.

The movie takes an ubrupt left turn into “so bad it’s bad” with horrible clunky narrator-style exposition that possibly went on a date once with show-don’t-tell, but it ended badly when narrator-style exposition got a little too drunk and made a scene, and hasn’t seen show-don’t-tell since. Alice brings the watchers up to speed on what the whole “Resident Evil” deal is (you know, Umbrella, T-Virus, outbreak, underground lairs) – which is not bad in and of itself as all stories (including books/movies/games) should be able to stand on their own, without it being critical to your understanding that you have seen/read/played earlier installments – just badly delivered.

3D effects have only gotten smoother and slicker since the premier of the Final destination. The “cardboard cutout” effect has given way to a realistic sense of depth that transitions smoothly from layer to layer. There is a brilliant moment in Resident Evil: Afterlife where a clump of flying gore “lands” on the wearers glasses. Much of the beauty in that moment is its brevity – surely an effect would not hold up to scrutiny, and would be annoying as hell. But it was gone almost as quickly as it flew across the screen at you, and probably has the same artistic impact as the first time someone tried splattering the “screen” with blood.

The music for the film is excellent. The crowning moment coming at the very conclusion when A Perfect Circle’s The Outsider (Apocalypse Remix) bursts from the speakers. Just don’t listen to the lyrics too closely – spoils the effect (the lines “disconnect and self-destruct / one bullet at a time / what’s your rush, now? / everyone will have their day to die” sound like they fit great, but the song is about suicide).

Resident Evil: Afterlife makes what I guess is the stylistic statement of using slow motion throughout much of the film. And when I say “much of the film”, I mean “the screening would have taken 45 minutes if shown at normal speed”. And then, we accidentally slipped into the Matrix. At first it was amusing – “heh, all this messing with the camera speed reminds me of the Matrix“. But then they did that “Agent Smith moves so fast that he blurs on camera” thing. Then they did that “Neo dodges bullets and you see the contrails through the air” thing. Then they kept doing it. Yes. We get it. He’s fast. Once is a homage, a dozen times is a rip off.

It should really go without saying, but Mila Jovovich is beautiful as (the real) Alice – not so much the clones, but she’s so pretty I have to forgive her. She is strong, never showing us a “vulnerable side”, but never coming off as cold, impersonal, or crazy. She is tough, without taking it over the top and becoming “masculine” (think of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who was quite masculine, but suited the role well). Her costume is also a step back towards the more practical, but it would be hard to do worse than that get up they had her in for the last one.

Overall, I feel this is a good movie that just had a little trouble getting started. A little more emphasis on the SHIT! ZOMBIES! would go a long way, and a return to showing us what kind of diabolical experiments are on Umbrella’s mind – as opposed to just showing the effects; for example the massive character from the trailers with the nails in his hessian-covered head, where did he come from? what happened to him? what is he? – would be great; but I have to agree that Afterlife is definitely a step in the right direction for the franchise, and would happily give my money to watch the next installment.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

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~ by ghostwolfe on October 14, 2010.

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