Reviewed by John Hussey
It’s fair to say that the Resident Evil film series took a massive nose-dive with Resident Evil: Extinction by going in a completely different direction to its source material, ultimately turning the franchise into a generic zombie platform that incorporates little, to no horror, whilst being filled to the brim with needless action sequences to make the films look cool. I wish I could say that the fourth instalment, Resident Evil: Afterlife, made a difference but I’d be lying.
As promised at the end of Extinction, Alice decides to attack the Umbrella Corporation head on and brings with her an army of her clones. But first we have to sit through a pointless title sequence (which has never been featured before) just to eventually show us that one person becoming infected is enough to start a pandemic. Isn’t that obvious by now within this genre? As expected Paul S. W. Anderson doesn’t fully deliver the goods and gives us a half-arsed effort as we see a few Alice clones attack the Tokyo facility. He even has the balls to produce a cheap death fake-out not once, but twice, as he continually tries to fool you into thinking the real Alice is on screen when in reality it’s clearly her clones.
Just when we’d got used to Anderson not been being in the driving seat he returns with a vengeance and starts to turn this unravelling franchise into a massive gimmick. If Alice’s ultra badass nature wasn’t enough, well now you can enjoy the luxury of being bored to death with slow-motion sequences combined with 3D. I hate 3D at the best of times, and even more so when it’s used just for the sake of making a film look extra clever (when in reality it’s just making itself look like a further tool).
What was promised to be a spectacle turns into yet more disappointment. We barely see any Alice clones incorporated and the action sequences are just there to make this Goddess-like character look even more capable as she tears through the facility with ease despite the ridiculous odds. Either that or films enjoy using the “guards are incredibly pathetic” trope to death.
An added bonus of this film is they now have Albert Wesker right. After probably realising that their version of the character was all wrong, they decided to recast him with Shawn Roberts who at every attempt tries to recapture the Wesker from the games (particularly Resident Evil 5). There’s a brilliant moment when Alice attempts to sneak up on Wesker and he simply retaliates by injecting her with a serum that takes away her powers. Finally, Alice is reduced to a normal person. Though in hindsight it makes the whole structure of this narrative feel even more jarring as it just continues to make no sense, having plot-threads introduced and then discarded the next minute without any real course or reason (a bit like the characters in that respect).
For a brief moment we got to see Alice taken down to size as Wesker dominates the short-lived battle. But this doesn’t last long and Wesker (the main villain of both franchises) is discarded just like that. So after being promised a massive battle between Wesker and an army of Alice clones, we end up with a five minute sequence that doesn’t do a lot apart from look kind of nice, and quickly brushes over the moment in a desperate attempt to move the plot forward. I really have no idea anymore where this franchise is heading. It’s past the point of oblivion and has ended up in its own freakishly twisted nightmare to be forever trapped.
Alice then picks up the trial of the last film and searches for the supposed safe-heaven in Alaska where apparently the infected haven’t reached. But guess what, there isn’t one and her friends are nowhere to be seen. Suddenly Claire Redfield turns up wearing the mind-control device seen within Resident Evil 5. By this point I’m unaware whether Anderson uses elements from the games for the convenience of his demented narrative or to desperately remind fans that these are still without a doubt Resident Evil movies.
For the convenience of the plot Claire has no recollection of memory, making it easier for her and Alice to bond as the two of them become a double pair of badasses. Alice and Claire then head over to Los Angeles where the next chapter in the series properly begins. They end up within a prison where the majority of this film takes place and their new goal is to reach the mysterious ship known as Arcadia, which promises a safe heaven. We all know how this is going to turn out.
If the pointless addition of a zombie apocalypse in Extinction seemed ridiculous then Afterlife just wants to take the piss by having the pacing become so slow and boring as the narrative grinds the gears towards something interesting. And as always the side-characters end up more interesting than the protagonist. We actually have a somewhat colourful cast as they represent the familiar traits of survivors, right down to having the major selfish douchebag.
We are then introduced to Chris Redfield. Hallelujah! The main protagonist from the games actually gets dragged into the films! But unfortunately this is Anderson’s design so we can’t expect much can we? The annoying thing about the film series by this point is it’s completely lost the plot and doesn’t know where it stands anymore. Clearly with the massive side-steps within Extinction Anderson and his team realised they had gone too far and were now desperately trying to turn things around. But it was far too late due to the massive shift in design and structure.
By this point all they can really do is fling nods, references, characters, and monsters into the narrative and hope for the best. The worst part is how half-arsed their inclusions are. This is why Resident Evil: Apocalypse remains superior because despite it’s clear different direction it had the decency to incorporate those ideas within the realms of the games mythology, which made it easier to bridge the two elements together without having to really try. You could have Jill Valentine appear without having to change her character because the narrative is set within Raccoon City during the outbreak. You can have STARS be included, you can have Nemesis, you can stick to the games’ structure.
Here we have a narrative so far away from the source material that it is belatedly obvious when a character from the game is shoehorned in. Chris is no exception. In this version of events he’s not a STARS member but just a random soldier that conveniently got incorporated into the plot. He might be called Chris Redfield but beyond that there’s no connection to the iconic character. And I can’t fully blame Wentworth Miller because he does the best he can with the material given to him. But that’s just it, the material sucks and it’s made worse by the fact that Anderson casted someone who didn’t fully understand who his character was.
After a very slow plot things kick up for the third act as Alice and her new band of survivors have to escape the prison as an army of zombies attempts to penetrate. This leads to a combination of forced references and over-the-top action sequences (accompanied by gimmicky direction). For some reason we now have Las Plagues zombies (which were first featured in Resident Evil 4 as a different branch of Umbrella’s virus strain) and the Executioner from Resident Evil 5. There’s no explanation as to how or why they’re there. It’s simply an attempt for the film’s to feel relevant as they slap in recent game continuity to make themselves look clever.
Unfortunately simply shoehorning in characters isn’t enough to disguise the fact that these films have well and truly died on their arse and I merely await for them to end just so I can make it easier for myself to pretend they simply don’t exist. The action scenes are vamped up for the sake of “let’s look awesome”. If I didn’t like how Alice had no real character and was simply there to be an action-bitch before, then I sure as hell hate it now.
Literally it’s even more painful to watch her badass awesomeness now that it’s so over the top. Alice no longer has her superhuman abilities and yet she’s still able to do abnormal things to which I simply call bullshit. It’s so obvious that this film franchise is pandering to the action-junkies but even then they deserve some due credit. I like a good action film but I also like a good story and a likable protagonist. And what I mean by this is a protagonist that isn’t just bond by their awesomeness but also has heart, something you can connect with. The only attempt to give Alice a soul is when she occasionally feels sad when a specific character perishes. Not enough Anderson.
What ticks me off more is that this is supposed to be a motherfucking Resident Evil movie and yet it screams Michael Bay Transformers films. Now those films are okay if you want to just turn your brain off and enjoy explosions, but you don’t go to see them to watch a good interpretation of the Transformers cartoons. The same can be said here. I know Milla Jovovich is basically performing the role placed in front of her, and it’s evident that she loves to play it, but this isn’t what I’m looking for in a Resident Evil film. Take that shit elsewhere and then I might appreciate it more without having to point the finger and ask, “Where the fuck is Resident Evil?!”
The long drawn out pay-off comes when Arcadia is revealed to be (wait for it) an Umbrella vessel. Because that wasn’t completely obvious by now. The past three films have made it clear that Umbrella is behind everything and has secret facilities hidden across the globe. I love how every time it showed you satellites tracking Alice it deliberately avoided to incorporate an Umbrella logo just to hide the fact it was clearly them watching her. It’s not like the films needed to do this before and this is just a pathetic attempt to create anticipation.
Thank God that we see the return of Wesker, who was desperately needed throughout the rest of the film. I will actually go on record and say that this final battle is complete and utter fan-service and I really appreciate it. We have Wesker fighting both Chris and Claire. What a moment! Yes it doesn’t last long but it’s the thought that counts. I really enjoy Roberts portrayal of Wesker and how the costume department (like with Nemesis) kept his design faithful to the games. They even added in the red eyes and his incredible speed during the fight sequence.
It’s a massive shame, however, that this moment doesn’t last long and Wesker is turned into the latest Resident Evil villain that requires Alice in order to progress, this time because the T-Virus is trying to dominate him and he requires Alice’s blood to rebalance himself which randomly turns Wesker into a Las Plagues zombie. For good measure they even threw back in the zombie dogs (just because it’s part of the tick list) but this time turned them into the new breed seen in Resident Evil 5.
Wesker ultimately becomes the villain that never quite dies as he constantly manages to escape at the last second to return later on (as if it’s a surprise). And don’t ask me when and how Alice managed to sneak the ship’s explosive device into Wesker’s ship. Maybe she anticipated this move but even then. Yet again the film concentrates on building up the next film by having Arcadia surrounded by dozens of Umbrella airships, leading you into thinking that the next film promises something awesome. As an added bonus we have an after-credit scene which shows us that Jill Valentine is still alive, and conveniently, is under Umbrella’s control.
Afterlife is probably the blandest of the film’s so far, despite it having some of the better scenes, some good fan-service, and some decent characters and action sequences. But the pacing is horrific as the narrative slows down in the middle to allow for the build-up of the third act which ultimately serves as a teaser for the next chapter. It’s a repetitive trend with these movies as each film acts as a continuous chapter but without actually really moving the narrative forward. On top of that each chapter within this franchise lack any real identity and more or less start blending into one massive mess of common traits, “Make Alice a badass, have ridiculous action sequences, look awesome, and don’t forget to throw a bone to the fans once in a while.”