The new Resident Evil movie has one good thing going for it, and that’s the fact that it’s the first movie shot in 3D (not done in post as a transfer) since Avatar. And it shows. The 3D is pretty great, and makes the movie marginally worth watching, that is if you’re the kind of person who’s willing to sit through a mediocre Resident Evil movie. The opening credits are done with the camera pointed down below from a high overhead as rain falls slowly down all around, and although it’s simple, it looks gorgeous. The movie stars Milla Jovavich and Ali Larter, who are both very attractive and likeable leads, and able to pull off this kind of schlock, though Larter’s not helped with the fact that her character is saddled with amnesia for about half of the running time. The film also stars Boris Kodjoe, who’s one of the two leads in the recently launched series Undercovers, and he demonstrates a lot of likeability and charisma.
But other than some willing and game actors and an upgrade to 3D, it’s more of the same from the Resident Evil factory, which means a story narrative that feels like pure exposition. Anderson is a slightly better director than he’s given credit for. He does create coherent scenes, and he’s able to tell a story, but for some reason his films always feel like he’s catching up on backstory to get to the important part of the plot, which never happens. It’s all simply a fast run through that tiresome exposition. And though he can handle actors on the most superficial of levels, beyond that he’s likely lost, which may be why you’re never likely to see any kind of a scene in an Anderson film that’s challenging for the actors or rewarding to the audience. What a far cry a W.S. is from a T.
The plot picks up from the last movie, with Alice going up to Alaska to reconnect with the survivor group led by Claire Redfield (Larter). This is after an opening sequence where she invades an Umbrella base operated by Wesker. The casting of Wesker is unfortunate. He’s always been a sleazy, forbidding character in the video games, but the actor playing him here feels more like a vapid Hollywood twentysomething than the kind of spooky, charismatic leader with uncertain allegiances who keeps you guessing, and lacks the villainous weight Wesker requires. Any kind of performance is simply a steal from Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith from the Matrix films, which echoes the fact that Afterlife steals a lot of its fight choreography and look from those films, but can’t even come close to matching them. Alice invades the base with a horde of clones, but Wesker is able to get close enough to the real Alice to shoot her with a syringe that disempowers her. It’s a cheap way of resetting the ludicrous extra-sensory powers she acquired in the third film, but seems to be the only thing Anderson could come up with to make the character something less than invincible.
Her trip to Alaska yields an amnesiac Claire, and then she’s flying down the coast in a two-seater trying to relocate the signal for the supposed safe haven of Arcadia. She spots a group of survivors and manages to land the plane on a rooftop, and the rest of the movie is spent fighting alongside the survivors holed up there. Chris Redfield, played by Wentworth Miller, is among the group. Miller is not unimpressive in the role, with an intuitive understanding of how not to overplay the character, and simply let a relaxed confidence and grace create a strong, heroic persona, rather than working too hard or putting too much effort into it. Brendan Fraser could certainly learn a few lessons from this performance, as working too hard to appear strong seems to be his Achilles’ heel.
The rest of the film is rife with continuity errors, fight choreography that contradicts itself, and nicely-sized gaps in plot logic. By the time Alice and the survivors discover what Arcadia is and make it there, and Alice has her inevitable rematch with Wesker, everything’s running on autopilot. As far as how it compares to the other Resident Evil films, it’s better than the second one, which was by far the turd of the group. Other than that, take your pick. They’re all equally competent yet inane, and if you like this kind of stuff, they’re the cinematic equivalent of a bag of potato chips, and it’s possible to enjoy it in the most marginal of ways. Some of the 3D is worth a look, but keep in mind that means sitting through the movie. And yet, as terrible action movies go, it’s still a step up from the embarrassingly bad Expendables.