Reviewed by John Hussey
The Resident Evil film series certainly got off to an abysmal start with Resident Evil, a film that might as well have not been called Resident Evil due to its lack of connection to the video game of the same name. Luckily (beyond all expectations) the sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, gave me hope that there is such thing as a good video game adaption.
This time round Paul W. S. Anderson took more of a back seat by being the film’s producer and writer only, choosing to concentrate his directing duties on Alien vs. Predator. Considering both Resident Evil and Alien vs. Predator turned out to be piss-poor interpretations of their source materials, it’s fair to say Anderson being pushed out of the director’s chair did this sequel a world of good.
Apocalypse picks up pretty much where the first film left off, minor a quick recap by Alice via a message accompanied with footage of previous events. The Umbrella Corporation foolishly continue to investigate Hive and ultimately release the zombies within. It’s baffling why they would be this stupid, considering they’d already sent in a taskforce prior to this and should’ve become wiser of the situation. But alas the idiotic and corrupt corruption bring about an epidemic and instead of trying to solve the situation they instead concentrate on getting their top operatives away from the hot zone that they themselves created.
What is great about this sequel is its incorporation of its source material. Unlike Resident Evil, Apocalypse tries to adapt the video games beyond a few simple nods here and there. One of the first notable aspects is the adaption of the events of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Nemesis by concentrating on the outbreak within Raccoon City (as first indicated would happen at the end of the first film). Then there’s the inclusion of characters Jill Valentine and Carlos Olivera.
This sequel just seemed to fall nicely into place and the narrative told itself. It didn’t really need to add much, or fanny around changing things for the sake of it. The film adapted the source material and added accordingly. But at least it felt more like a Resident Evil film because of its tone, style and imagery. I enjoyed the fact that director Alexander Witt went out of his way to adapt key scenes from the games, moments that made me acknowledge the game and remember that I’m watching the film adaption.
What seemed like a simple check list within the first film, now was turned into a guideline of what has to be in this sequel and how it has to represent the video games faithfully. The Lickers, the dogs, the zombies, the Umbrella Corporation. They all had a useful purpose within the film and weren’t just there for the sake of it. Every moment was given thought and consideration and all of these elements were used to the best of their abilities and delivered a treat to the hard-core fans instead of the middle finger.
The incorporation of Jill Valentine really brought this sequel closer to the games. It reminded me why I loved the games because not only did they have a great chilling atmosphere but also fantastic characters to follow. To disregard these characters within the first film was simply disgraceful and disrespectful to both the games and the fans. Now the films were utilising the source material wisely. They even chose to remain faithful to Valentine’s iconic costume design from Resident Evil: Nemesis, which was an extra bonus.
Apocalypse continued the idea of not having Alice be the frontal character and instead relied on using all the different characters as a team, having moments dedicated to each of them. In fact, it takes a while before Alice properly gets introduced and brought into the fold. A large portion of the first act is dedicated to the new characters, particularly Valentine, as the new events develop. It isn’t long until the outbreak spreads out of control and what is depicted as a peaceful city, filled with unsuspecting residents, at the beginning is now a place of hell.
The bridge scene really helps to envelope why the Umbrella Corporation are a fierce, and despicable enemy. Their share disregard for human life is quickly apparent and all that bothers them is their imagery and their beloved experimental products. When it is feared that the infection cannot be contained they resort to extreme resorts. Despite thousands of civilians still lining up to be released Umbrella deems it necessary to send them back into the city to prevent further infection, ultimately forcing them back at gun point. The next shot simply shows you the carnage at the heart of the city, making you realise that these innocent people were sent to their death.
This film had the extra layer of having a villain in the form of Timothy Cain, played perfectly by Thomas Kretschmann. Though Cain stands as a typical corrupt businessmen, he generates a good performance in which his thirst to see his experiments evolve really explores him as an obsessed individual. This becomes the trait of Umbrella within the film series as they continually show their obsession over Alice and her potential, and how they can exploit her gifts. What I like about Caine in his innocent voice which never comes across as insane. He always feels proud of what he’s doing, sometimes almost caring and understanding, which makes him a different kind of villain.
Alice is certainly given some needed development after she is experimented on by Umbrella and turned into a superhuman. This in turn makes her feel less like a Mary-Sue as her overpowered abilities are more justified now, unlike in the first film where she can do anything just because. This makes her feel more personal to the plot as she has a real score to settle with Umbrella, as well as a personal connection. The only time I didn’t like her character was when she became a know-it-all and tried outshining Valentine. But other than that she was a great addition and I applaud Milla Jovovich for pushing herself with her own stunt performances.
I like how all the characters felt important to the narrative and you felt for them, growing an attachment as they journeyed through the nightmares within Raccoon City. Carlos Olivera became the rogue Umbrella mercenary after he disobeyed his orders and tried helping a civilian from a horde of zombies. Terri Morales was a former news reporter who now aids in documenting the events, but overall proved rather useless and ended up being mauled by children. And then there is L.J. Wade who became the comic relief with his black gangster traits, “GTA motherfucker!”
The crowning glory of Apocalypse is the inclusion of Nemesis. This monstrosity is the main adversary within Resident Evil: Nemesis, and a fan favourite, and so his presence within the film was much appreciated. Though this could’ve easily gone wrong I was delighted to be proven wrong and watch a fully adapted version of Nemesis walk around Raccoon City with his infamous rocket-launcher shouting, “STARS!”. The special effects and make-up department really did a fantastic job and did a great service to the fans by respecting the original design.
It’s even interesting how this sequel taps into the law of Resident Evil by incorporating character Dr. Charles Ashford who is based on Edward Ashford, one of the founding members of Umbrella introduced in Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Apocalypse deeply feels like a Resident Evil film due to all of the game’s inclusions. I also like how the environment fits in with the style, by having scenes set within a church, a graveyard and a school.
Each of these locations are given a Resident Evil feel, becoming dark, isolated and eerie places were threats await around every corner. The film even throws in a few supporting characters who add further grimness to the narrative, specifically with the creepy old man in the church who is keeping his zombified sister chained up whilst feeding her other fellow survivors.
The narrative unfolds as Dr. Ashford requests that his daughter, Angela, be rescued from the school in exchange for Alice and her friends freedom. In the process Cain stumbles upon Ashford’s operations and uses this to his advantage, luring Alice into a trap so that she can be pitted against Nemesis. The sick scientist goads Alice on to kill Nemesis in order to benefit his enjoyment of her successful progression as a guinea-pig. Alice refuses to participate in his sick, twisted game and so the scientist kills Ashford to demonstrate that he wouldn’t hesitate killing one of his own, meaning her other friends mean even less to him and his corporation.
Revelations unfold as it is revealed that Nemesis is in fact a mutated Matt Addison. After he began mutating at the end of the first film Umbrella captured him and engineered his process until he became their deadly tyrant. I’m kind of in the middle with this scenario as on the one hand it deflates Nemesis as an unstoppable killing machine, whilst on the other hand gives him further character and depth, making him less dangerous and more sympathetic.
Nevertheless, the final fight between Nemesis and Alice is rather entertaining and gives me a sense that Alice isn’t all powerful and she can be put in the line of death. It also felt really personal as she was fighting against her friend who had been corrupted by their enemy, throwing more salt into her wounds and the dark journey she has been put on because of their cunning and devious corporation.
One thing that I do hate about this film, and it was a problem within the first film, is its insistence on recapping the narrative, often resorting to replaying the same clip and dialogue over and over again. It makes it very obvious to the audience very early on what’s going on (taking away any real surprise) whilst the character’s are still completely in the dark half an hour later. It becomes repetitive and extremely annoying.
Apocalypse wraps up rather well, having Nemesis turn a new leaf and fight alongside Alice to combat Umbrella. This is where the action kicks up a notch and I can’t really moan here because the film had done well at balancing the action and horror aspects, making the film a perfect combination of the two genres unlike the first film. Cain is eventually defeated and given a taste of his own medicine as he’s dropped off the helicopter into the middle of a horde.
Like in the games Umbrella try covering up their tracks with a missile strike and destroy Raccoon City. However, the film doesn’t get dealt a happy ending as Alice is once again recaptured by Umbrella as we are introduced to the puppet-master, Dr. Sam Isaacs played by Iain Glen. This role was introduced after Jason Isaac didn’t return to the role of Dr. William Birkin from the end of Resident Evil (again, a foreshadowing perhaps?)
After being pulled out of a tank where Alice is (once again) naked, accompanied with clear breast shots, she quickly regains her memory and shows that her abilities have evolved further and have become more dangerous, but alas Isaacs allows her to escape for reasons unexplained. Though it’s a strange ending, it does leave doors open for a possible continuation which can (surely) only add to the success of Apocalypse. I only wish that were true.