REVIEW: With Resident Evil: Afterlife, There's Not Much Thrilla Left in Milla
Sorry to disappoint the fanboys, but this is the first film in the Resident Evil series in which Milla Jovovich neither begins nor ends the movie stark naked. That said, her skintight ass-kicking ninja outfit doesn't exactly leave much to the imagination, and her most sensual features -- her feline eyes and liquid mouth -- are as available and expressive as ever. For the fourth consecutive film in the franchise, she's a whirling, swirling, zombie-killing baby doll, and remains the only reason to visit Paul W.S. Anderson's dopily grim dystopia. It's a fact that Anderson tacitly acknowledges in the film's opening scene, populating the screen with dozens of careening Jovovich clones.
Though none of the three previous films in the series dominated at the box office, they all turned a profit -- each was more lucrative than the last, in fact -- which helps explain why Anderson, after a two-film hiatus from directing his own scripts (and after slumming it on Alien V. Predator and Death Race), has retaken the reigns of his franchise for this lavish 3D affair. Resident Evil: Afterlife isn't as pulpy as the last two sequels, neither is it as skittishly pointless (Resident Evil: Apocalypse, much like the series' video game namesake, is basically a free-associative exercise in kitschy killing). Like Anderson's original, the new film works a kind of clinical, B-movie Kubrick-style set design, complete with deep, symmetrically shot hallways and vast, spotless spaces. Anderson is the sort of poor-man's visionary who's had dreams of The Matrix dancing in his head for the past 11 years. He shoots from above, drops confetti rain down to the ground, prefers twin-gun attacks and the watered-down Woo ballet of physically impossible gunplay, and loves wooden, non-American actors who swallow back accents, don bad-guy sunglasses, and lean back from air-tunneling bullets in slow motion.
Impoverished style is one thing, but after four movies it's remarkable that Anderson has yet to come up with a single novel idea. Each film follows an Escape From New York internal arc -- a ragtag team fights for survival -- while pushing forward a macro-tale of corporate power run amok. The first film succeeded in at least pretending to have an allegorical purpose, calling out not only corporate power but also half-cocked revolutionaries and ass-covering individualists. It also had the wisdom to contain its nightmare within a demarcated space, a massive underground realm called The Hive.
Ever since the deadly T-Virus went above ground at the end of the first installment, the series has followed worst-case scenarios to dramatic dead-ends. In the second film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the virus overtakes and obliterates Raccoon City (still no word on the fate of Possum City or Marmoset City), and by Resident Evil: Extinction, it's swept the globe, turning civilians from Las Vegas to Tokyo into the flesh-eating undead. In the new film, Jovovich's Alice goes searching for a rumored-about Arcadia in Alaska, only to find that no such place exists: hope is really just an oil tanker off the coast of Los Angeles, which turns out to be yet another circle of hell.
Thankfully, Anderson does offer some grandly absurd action: Alice climbs the walls and brains zombies and corporate militiamen alike, with heads strategically placed in the foreground to maximize in-your-face splatter. In easily the best such sequence in the franchise, she dives headlong off the exploding roof of a high-rise citadel as zombies follow her like lemmings, a wave of undead crashing into a sea of their ravenous brethren below.
The number of living keeps dwindling, yet the evil Umbrella Corporation continues to conduct elaborate, diabolical tests on the remaining population. After four movies I still have no idea why a corporation would elect to neutralize its only remaining customers. With no civilization left to manipulate or secretly rule, why bother f**king it over? Why not ditch all the expensive suits and polished metal interiors and just party? Perhaps these conundrums will be answered in future installments (Resident Evil: Coherence?) but I wouldn't hold my breath. Best to just send in the clones.