RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE is part 4. Series writer-producer Paul W.S. Anderson returns as director for the first time since part 1. I really like how each chapter seems to be completely different from the previous ones, and this is no exception. The new style may be in part because Anderson hadn’t directed a RESIDENT EVIL in eight years (having only directed ALIEN VS. PREDATOR and DEATH RACE in the interim), but I think a huge part of it is that it was shot in 3D with the cameras developed for AVATAR. Not since STEP UP 3D have I so regretted not having seen a movie in 3D. It’s carefully composed with steady camera moves, lots of depth, with numerous scenes of acrobatic fight moves and projectiles coming toward the audience, many times in slow motion. Bullets, knives, swords, tentacles, people, raindrops, quarters, blood, pieces of bullet-ridden walls and shards of glass are among the things that fly out of the screen. You can just tell it would look really cool in 3D, and luckily this is a style that also looks good in 2D. Anderson has a reputation as a hack, but at least give him this: he is in a very small group of directors who actually put in elbow grease to use the 3D medium well.
As is the RESIDENT EVIL tradition, the opening is like a short film unto itself. There’s a security breach at the Umbrella Headquarters in Tokyo, which makes The Hive look like the FIRST BLOOD police station by comparison. A small army of security troops surround the elevator waiting for the intruder to emerge, a drawn out sequence playing with our anticipation for what Alice promised at the end of the last one.
Sure enough Alice appears, not in the elevator (which is empty) but dropping from an opening on the ceiling. She has two swords on her back and she flips around and kills a whole bunch of people in spectacular, super-human fashion until they kill her. And then there are some more Alices. Because, as promised in the last installment, she’s there with her army of clones.
It cannot be understated how much this section lifts from the MATRIX movies. The style of gravity-defying martial arts and shooting, the extreme slow motion, the bullet time, and the evil executive guy Wesker (Shawn Roberts, LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, replacing Jason O’Mara) blatantly basing his performance on Hugo Weaving’s weird tics as Agent Smith. Even the not-quite-there flipping digital stunt doubles and multiples are reminiscent of the special effects in RELOADED, and the poster art here seems to be based on Trinity’s near-death scene in that one). That said, it is the best executed ripoff of THE MATRIX I’ve seen. It’s completely shameless, but somehow it comes off more exciting than embarrassing.
Basically the Alices kill everybody there except Wesker, and he kills every Alice there except original Alice. Also he injects her to take away her powers, escapes in a cool helicopter and sets off an atom bomb. An especially shitty thing to do in Japan. What a dick.
Then it goes to the thread that seemed to be completely forgotten at the end of part 3: the search for sanctuary in Alaska, now said to be a place called Arcadia. The others went ahead of her, but when she arrives she only finds Claire, who attacks her until Alice removes a spider-shaped apparatus from Claire’s chest. She doesn’t remember what happened or even who she is. (Like Alice at the beginning of the series, but with more clothes on.)
Although this one is full of crazy shit and random left turns, it manages to stop and take a breath every once in a while. It’s sort of divided into chapters that always end quietly and fade out, like a serious movie with time for contemplation.
Alice takes Claire in her small plane, flies along the coast until she notices some people on top of a mega-LAPD fortress called The Citadel, surrounded by zombie hordes. She impresses them with a difficult building-top landing (“I think technically it’s called crashing,” she admits) and meets our new set of characters: a famous NBA player (Boris Kodjoe, SURROGATES), an aspiring actress (Kacey Barnfield, GREEN STREET 3: NEVER BACK DOWN), an asshole movie producer (Kim Coates, WATERWORLD, SINNERS AND SAINTS), the producer’s loyal intern (Norman Yeung), a guy locked in a cell who they think is a murderer but is actually Claire’s supercop brother (Wentworth Miller, voice of the jet in STEALTH) but she doesn’t remember him and at first you wonder if it’s a trick and then it doesn’t develop into anything because it’s not a trick, he’s really her brother.
They all work together well except for the producer. I believe computers still work in this world, so if I was Alice I’d try to look him up on IMDb, find out what stupid movies he produced and then give him an endless avalanche of shit about them. And then do a flip. Anyway, together they escape the zombies to get to Arcadia, because it turns out it’s not a town in Alaska, it’s a boat which was previously in Alaska but now is right here on the coast. That’s where the broadcasts were coming from. We learn that Alice without powers isn’t hugely different, because she swings on a cable from the top of a tall building and then lets go and does a flip and lands safely. And when they get attacked by a crazy SILENT HILL looking motherfucker that comes through the crowd of zombies but he’s like 9 feet tall and wears a spooky executioner hood covered in spikes and carries a hammer/battle ax combo with a blade the size of a car door, she runs and leaps up and does a 360 kick to slap him in the face.
Claire (later joined by Alice) has a long battle with the big dude, and in an era with so many lazy, ho-hum action sequences it’s a thrill to see Anderson get so swept up in the filmatism of this one, lovingly, super-slow-motionly detailing every hit and miss, every fall, every look of badass triumph.
For the finale it turns MATRIXy again with a super-powered fight against Wesker in an all white hangar where he reveals the shocking truth to them and what not. And Anderson ends it basically the same as MORTAL KOMBAT: another enemy shows up and they’re like “oh shit, get ready to fight!” and the music comes in, go to credits.
2/3 of the way through this series I’m very impressed. Consider me a new convert. I like how there’s a certain heightened video game tone that’s consistent through all of them, but each chapter looks very different, goes to different places, adds new characters and abilities and gimmicks. It never feels like it’s very much about zombies, but those incidental swarms of zombies have gotten much better. And Jovovich has really grown into the role, learning how to grimace and pose, visibly aging a little to look more worn than the new young women in the mix but still a model wearing designer combat gear.
This one might end up being the best of the series.