Usually the news that Paul W.S. Anderson is returning to direct anything, let alone another chapter of the frequently obnoxious Resident Evil franchise, isn’t exactly reason to celebrate and yet even I have to admit that the appearance of the famously inconsistent director was a legitimate shot in the arm for the undying series – despite the fact that shots in the arm in the Resident Evil franchise usually winds up getting you a large, gooey mutant…
But all joking aside, after sitting out helming duties for Apocalypse and Extinction, Anderson returned to the movie series that introduced him to his wife and essentially tried to give us an action flick who’s action sequences riff hard on The Matrix – despite that movie being over ten years old at that point – and that tries to be a soft reboot for the saga despite continuing a large amount of characters and threads from the first three movies.
Following the events of the previous movie, two things become clear: 1) the previous claim that the world has become a sandy wasteland thanks to the deadly T-Virus is obviously utter bollocks, and 2) Alice’s clone army teased at the end of Extinction was too expensive to make it past the opening sequence; and so after a few months of wiping out various strongholds of the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, Alice loses her clones in a battle with the villainous shades spokesperson Albert Wesker who also takes away her super powers for good measure.
Wandering the world looking for a safe haven, Alice runs into old friend Claire Redfield who has had a noticable makeover thanks to a spider-like device attached to her chest that’s also given her an unfortunate case of memory loss but nevertheless, Alice frees her from the target’s thrall and both head off in search of Arcadia, a place rumoured to be a refuge free of infection, bio-monsters and bitey, bitey zombies.
Flying through an infested Los Angeles, the two warrior women land on the roof of a massive prison which has become the refuge of a random group of survivors that include a slimeball movie producer, his intern, a wannbe actress and a basketball star.
In a classic good news/bad news scenario, although they manage to find Claire’s brother, Chris Renfield locked up in one of the cells downstairs (this franchise, I swear to god), the hordes of the undead outside the launch a two-pronged attack on the juicy morsels within thanks to a new breed of burrowing zombie and the arrival of an nine foot tall, hammer wielding bio-weapon that looks like a wrestler with a Hellraiser fetish that’s going to make short work of that main gate if the living doesn’t hurry up and move their butts.
As the dead move in, the living realise that they’d better quickly vacate and scramble to find a way to get themselves to the true Arcadia, a tanker just off the coast, but the spectre of Umbrella is never far away.
So firstly, let’s not oversell things, Resident Evil: Afterlife still contains all the leaden acting, logic-free characterization, infantile plots and needlessly over stylized action the series has always cherished over anything that could be considered “good”, but somehow this fourth dive into RE lore (usually off a building while firing guns in slow motion) somehow manages to take all these negatives and make them the most palatable they’ve ever been.
Anderson genuinely seems to want to elevate this franchise to hang with the big boys and despite how laughable a concept that may be, he actually comes loaded for bear using 3D cameras to film the thing instead of having it transferred in post and actually coming up with some varied action beats and stunts that aren’t entirely created in the editing suite.
The movie also goes further in adapting more characters and creatures from the newer games, such as enlisting the immobile features of Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller as game regular Chris Redfield or using the leech mouthed zombies from the fifth game (aka. the Manjini for all you super RE nerds) to mix things up a little and actually including head honcho Wesker (overreacted with all his might by Shawn Roberts) gives the series the actual tangible villian it desperately needed that isn’t just a faceless Umbrella suit.
Of course, let’s not forget that this is a Resident Evil movie and that stupidity courses through it’s veins that’s easily as strong as the ridiculously multi-purpose T-Virus. This leads to numerous instances where Anderson childlike enthusiasm for making his wife look cool leads him to forget major plot points that he instigated in the first place – for example he regularly forgets that Alice isn’t supposed to have her super agility anymore as she effortlessly launches herself into the air to kick a gargantuan monster in the chops from a standing jump without so much as a single warm up stretch. Anderson, while having a good eye for unnecessarily complicated shots that ripoff the Wachowski siblings wholesale, also continues with the series’ unbroken streak with beginning the movie with huge action scene that’s only there to simultaneously pay off and negate the last movie’s cliffhanger while ending it with another cliffhanger that’ll no doubt be nullified by the beginning of the next movie (which actually contains a callback to a character that I didn’t even recognize until I read the credits)…
To be fair, however, as consequence-free action scenes go, the opening attack of the clones is admittedly pretty cool despite some shifty effects meaning that the multiple versions of Mila Jovovich have less chemistry with each other than she normally does with the rest of the cast.
Easy cheap shots aside, Afterlife rises easily to the top of the RE pile as arguably the best installment of the entire franchise – which I realise to some would be like proudly announcing which calibre of bullet they’d prefer to be shot in the groin with – it’s all thanks to it’s director’s renewed interest in the series he started. Of course, his old bad habits settled back in, eventually leading to the sixth and final chapter (helpfully subtitled: The Final Chapter) being the worst of the bunch. But for now, we’ll leave this maligned franchise on the closest it ever gets to a high and let that overused recipe of CGI bullets, slow motion and enough action posing to make Yelena Belova throw up all over her Black Widow costume.