25 April 2011

Movies: Resident Evil : Afterlife (plus Resident Evil series)

Resident Evil : Afterlife (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1220634/
Action / sci-fi / horror films with zombies of the outbreak variety.

Resident Evil : Afterlife (RE:AL) is the fourth installment in the Resident Evil series of films.  The first three being:
Resident Evil http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120804/  (RE)
Resident Evil : Apocalypse http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0318627/  (RE:A)
Resident Evil : Extinction http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432021/  (RE:E)

My opinion on the series as a whole:

The series of films is based on the Resident Evil video games. If you haven't played the games that sentence is meaningless. The overarching story is the evil Umbrella Corporation develops a virus that causes mutations within people and some animals.  Almost all infected beings end up dying, then coming back to life as violent flesh-eating zombies.  The virus escapes the lab and pretty much wipes out the population of Earth, except for a few stragglers here and there that have been able to successfully stay infection-free.  One survivor, Alice, actually survived an infection without dying and ended up a super being, a living weapon, as a result. The Umbrella Corp wants to capture, study and make use of her, of course, so they can control what the virus does for their own nefarious plans.
Technically this is classified as an "outbreak" film series, not a true "zombie" film series. The zombie purist nerds can explain the difference much better than I can.

As a series it is not a terrible video game to movie franchise. There's been worse, much worse. Which is mostly Uwe Boll's fault.

The first movie was the strongest of the series, and it pretty much takes a bumpy ride downhill from there.  Paul W. S. Anderson wrote the scripts for all four films. He also wrote and directed the first film (RE) and the fourth film (RE:AL). That brings consistency and continuity to the story that runs through the films. Each film connects to the previous film events in some way.  Milla Jovovich plays Alice in each film, which strengthens the continuity. One could say the series could be titled "The Chronicles of Alice".
The most infuriating thing about the films is there is a decent core story inside the films that carries from film to film, but some of the outer layers - yeesh.
In a nutshell, as a series it starts out pretty good (slightly above average for its genre) and continues to degrade as each new film comes out. Still, if you enjoy outbreak/zombie films these do have some redeeming entertainment value. If you're a Resident Evil purist, probably less so.

Now that I'm done with the series, on to Resident Evil : Afterlife itself.
The Good:
The opening sequence nicely sums up graphically the spread of the virus as it wipes out the world. It starts with one person, the virus takes her over, she attacks someone else, then the camera slowly zooms out to a satellite view as the virus spreads - as indicated by the ever increasing circumference of cities' lights winking out. This places viewers who haven't seen the films into the world the film inhabits quite effectively in a short amount of time.
Some flashbacks to prior movies are used to show new viewers, and remind prior viewers, significant events that have impact in this film. The technique is used very sparingly and only when absolutely necessary, which is a good thing.

The Bad:
Milla Jovovich is slowing down. Granted she's been playing Alice through four films spanning 8 years now. But Alice just fought and moved much slower than she had in the prior films.  And I'm talking about even before she got injected by Umbrella Corporation rep. I call Mr. Shades because I have no clue what that character's name is.
Actually I didn't care about any of the character's names. I didn't care about the other characters at all. Probably a by-product of my disappointment so early in the film (outlined in The Ugly section). Plus I didn't care much as I figured everyone else Alice encountered was going to be fodder, except for a select couple of folks, which is how the other films operated.
The 'cleaning up' of the 'situation' the audience is left with at the end of the 3rd film. Yes, something is done about it, but boy is that an unsatisfying way to toss it aside.
The zombies are able to think, plan and execute complex coordinated attacks. Didn't expect to see that.
All the Umbrella Corp security folks are graduates of the Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship.
K-Mart appears, does something significant, disappears, then just shows up later.
The core of the story and it's advancement of the series story arc felt weaker than prior films' contributions.

The Ugly:
Filmed for 3D - thus there are plenty of action shots set up specifically to throw things in your face, regardless of any sense it makes.
The sequence bringing Alice into the film, her taking out the Tokyo Umbrella Corp headquarters, borrowed heavily from the Matrix. This includes a hallway with columns, plenty of bullets flying every direction, slow motion wire-fu. Even the evil Umbrella Corp dude (Mr. Shades as I call him, I have no freakin idea what his name is) reminded me of Agent Smith.
The wire-fu (action fighting sequences enhanced by wires and harness) was mostly terrible.  For example watching a forward momentum leap capped with an abrupt stop, 360 rotation midair, followed by gentle landing on the feet.
The computer generated anythings are very obvious - apparently expense was spared in that department.
The CG shot post-injection - the stupid - it burns. A nit I pick mostly because at this point I'd already facepalmed a couple times. Plus the injected cells looked like the squids from Matrix.
Not only was Matrix heavily borrowed from, the film borrowed from Silent Hill and brought in a very Pyramid Head-like character. A giant mutant with a giant axe/hammer. He's called Axeman, but he really just looks like Pyramid Head with a potato sack over his head.
Physics aren't only bent, they are generally ignored at every opportunity.

One super breaking of physics event: While Alice and Mr Shades are fighting in an aircraft, thus distracting Shades from his piloting duties, the plane crashes into a mountain. Instead of being turned to paste from the impact Alice stumbles out of the wreckage.
Another super breaking of physics event: the folks with Alice on the roof pile into an elevator, she tosses an explosive on the elevator winching mechanism which is about 5 feet above the occupant's heads. The explosive detonates, the elevator falls 30 or 40 stories down into water and everyone survives. They not only survive the explosion above their heads with no negative effects of the concussive force, the elevator gently splashes into the water.
Two words: Airplane landing.
There's plenty more - but those events were so shockingly absurd I forgot what happened immediately after, I even almost missed Alice's tarzan act. I can forgive some bending of physics, to a point, but geez.

In the end, the only worth to me of seeing the film is to complete the watching of the series. If you enjoyed the series up to this point the film might not be particularly satisfying except in that it wraps up the end of the third installment, nudges the story arc forward a tiny bit, then leaves you hanging for a probable fifth installment.
If you haven't watched the prior three films, definitely do not start here. I won't discourage watching the series, overall it has its entertainment value.
Thus RE:AL is entertaining in one or two aspects, and rather not in many others.  Especially the disappointingly heavy borrowing from other films.

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