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Friday, September 10, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife is Quite the Biohazard to Avoid


Resident Evil: Afterlife:  1 ½ out of 5 Stars

Alice: The Umbrella Corporation feel safe, they feel secure. They're wrong.
The fourth installment in the strangely popular Resident Evil movie series, based upon the original Resident Evil video game series continues to baffle me in its ways of being fairly unimaginative and derivative, yet still managing to get a pass from audiences.  But this time it’s in 3-D!

After a brief recap, utilizing the first of many, many slo-mo sequences, making sure that we understand that the world has been overrun by T-Virus infected zombies, the film picks up closely after the end of the third film, with Alice (Milla Jovovich) having both fully realized her enhanced powers and discovered that the evil Umbrella Corporation has a whole fleet of clones of her in one of their underground facilities.  We are then treated to an opening action sequence that features many Alices vs. an army of Umbrella security guards and head honcho Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts).  Eventually, the whole sequence comes to a showdown between Wesker and the Original Alice, on board a helicopter leaving the Umbrella facility, which has been detonated by Wesker in an elaborate use of CG.  The result is Wesker injecting Alice with a syringe that takes away all her special powers, followed immediately by the helicopter crashing.

Some months later, Alice is now on her own, headed to Alaska to find Arcadia, the last refuge, where she believes the few remaining human survivors of earth are located.  Upon arriving in Alaska, Alice finds no one except for a scruffy-looking Ali Larter playing Claire Redfield suffering from some memory loss.  After learning that the others that were with Claire had been kidnapped, the two head out on Alice’s plane to hopefully find more survivors and locate their friends (at some point in time, Claire became mentally stable, found a shower, and did her make-up).  The two eventually wind up in Los Angeles, overrun by the undead (don’t forget, this is a zombie movie to some extent).  They land their plane on the top of a large, secure building, amidst some more survivors, including Claire’s brother – Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller), and learn where the real Arcadia is.  However, as difficult a journey as it may be to get to Arcadia, there may be a trap set in motion upon arriving there…

I am sorry to surmise so much of the plot here, but I wanted to have some other things to say before laying out all the negatives.  Basically, I really disliked this movie.  Besides looking expensive throughout and having a face-off with one large, memorable character (the giant, lumbering Axe-Man), there is nothing that stands out or feels original in this film.  All of the action, plotting, and locations feel lifted from other, better movies.  One can say that this is fitting, given that the film is based off a video game series, which is inspired by other forms of popular media.  Well, if this somewhat circular aspect makes you feel better about lame plotting and unimaginative sequences, then have fun with this.

Writer/Director Paul W. S. Anderson, who handled the first film, as well as films like Death Race and the first Mortal Kombat film (which I actually find to still be the best video game movie adaptation), returned to direct this fourth installment, but that didn’t turn out to be quite the “edge” this film needed.  While I always find Anderson’s work solid when it comes to elements like the production design, he’s a terrible writer and storyteller, and this film shows off those aspects once again.  For example, Alice loses her powers early on in this film.  This is something that could easily provide for an interesting character dilemma; however, Alice and the film are basically unaffected by this development.  She continues to be a kick-ass lead character, capable of acrobatics and gunfights made possible via wirework.  There is basically no suspense involving these characters.  If you are Alice or second or third billed in this cast (or named K-Mart), you’ll probably survive; otherwise, your just a poorly developed, lower tiered character that is expendable.

The choice of 3-D is an interesting topic.  As advertised, this movie was filmed using the latest 3-D technology, essentially stating that Jimmy Cameron let Paul borrow some equipment used in Avatar to make his own 3-D experience.  The result is a movie that is certainly better than a fake 3-D movie (upconverted) but doesn’t do much beyond throwing stuff at the screen (sometimes in slo-mo).  It certainly looks fine, but being further immersed in a lame movie is still just being immersed in a lame movie with an added and implied but not necessarily effective “cool” factor.

As a genre film, things fare pretty poorly.  It’s a bad zombie film and a bland sci-fi action film.  The visual effects range from fine to “way too much” CG.  The one memorable fight scene between Alice, Clair, and the lumbering Axe-Man is neat, but in context, why did this happen? Where did this thing come from? We only see him wander over and become a threat for no reason.  I understand this as fan service, but it has no real purpose. 

It’s tough to say how to think of this film as a video game fan.  Despite the fact that the original film completely ditched the story of the first game and became its own thing, much to the chagrin of many Resident Evil fans, the film has become a successful franchise anyway.  So now, with this film incorporating elements specifically from some of the games, it certainly manages to function like a video game.  There are levels and bosses, not to mention random tasks that need to be completed in order to progress, but even as a gamer, I was fairly unengaged in all the events that were taking place.  I will say that having Wesker play a larger role this time around was fairly entertaining, given that all he did was say cheesy lines and constantly smirk into the camera, but that’s faint praise.  If one wants to see a movie that successfully incorporates video game elements directly into its story and action, see Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.

To sum up, this movie has been essentially designed to entertain frequenters of Hot Topic (I tread lightly here, because I’ve bought a few shirts there in the past).  This is basically a messy film that takes a video game premise, adds dark and abstract imagery, features babes with guns, “cool” slo-mo action, and floods the soundtrack with Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle beats.  I can see all of these elements, in some form, plastered on black t-shirts, but for this movie, I wish I could see something more.

Note:  I wonder if a pattern will form for these movies.  The first and third movies are ok (which is more credit than they deserve), but these even numbered entries really suck.

 Wesker: Isn't this a nice family reunion.

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