Resident Evil: Afterlife — AKA Not as Terrible as I Remembered

resident evil afterlife posterAs usual, spoilers abound.

When I thought about this movie in the Resident Evil rewatch, my brain whimpered.

The end of Resident Evil: Extinction saw Alice mustering an army of psychic-powered, super-strong clones to attack the Chairman of Umbrella, thereby defeating him and his evil forever. The motivation was always a little lacking, but I guess it was equal portions: “you deserve to die,” and “stop fucking around with mad-science experiments in the hellscape you created.”

So, that first time, I expected the battle to be the climactic act of Afterlife. I wondered how they’d manage multiple Alices (surely brutal on the special effects budget), but I assumed most of the movie would be battle prep. After all, Alice has barely managed safe travel from Raccoon City (Chicago) to Las Vegas. Now she has to locate Wesker in Tokyo, somehow travel there in a post-apocalyptic world, and fight through a zombie-filled city, before she can even defeat his evil fortress.

That wasn’t the movie I got.

Inversion of expectation can be delicious. As long as it’s done well.

This movie opens with zombies rampaging through Tokyo and Alice’s usual voiceover reminding the watcher that everything sucks and it’s all Umbrella’s fault. Then Alice and her clones attack Wesker. All of the clones die when Wesker self-destructs the hive. Wesker strips Alice of her superpowers via a handwavium magical injection turning her fully human before crashing them both into a mountain.

I think that’s around the 17 minute mark in a 96 minute movie. That wasn’t even act one. That was prologue.

Pissed me right off.

This time around, I realized two things about Afterlife. One, I blame the trailer for my disappointment. The trailer makes it look like the Alice Army is part of the climactic battle. Two, the flaws of the opening do not make this movie unwatchable. Remembering the ridiculous not-battle made me not hate it so fiercely this time around. I stopped picturing the writers’ room full of desperate people going “Too many magic powers too soon! Too soon! Who knew we would get another movie? Retcon! Retcon!”

That said, the opener suffers from a couple major flaws, one of which will resonate through this whole damned movie. The Alice army is not Alice. There’s no time spent on them as people. They are blank-faced with determination, fighting soldiers wearing masks. There’s no humanity there. I just… didn’t care much about the fight.

The big problem, however, is Wesker. I loathe Wesker and not in the ways you’re supposed to hate the villain. The actor comes off as a low-rent Agent Smith from The Matrix. Blank-faced and too still. He lacks charisma. He wears his sunglasses at night and inside and oh god, I hate his face.

Seriously, I hate his face.

Seriously, I hate his face.

The story line does Wesker no favors at all. He has no real motive for 90% of the movie, and when he does finally lay out his motive, it’s still pretty much evil for the sake of evil. That’s dull.

Wesker aside, this movie was mostly enjoyable to watch. Even if the writers, potentially drunk on relief for their “clever” way of turning Alice purely human again, lose track of the plot more than once.  Mostly, I ate my popcorn instead of throwing it at the screen.

The Good

The cast. Ali Larter’s back as Claire Redfield. New cast included Wentworth Miller (as Chris Redfield) who has charisma to spare. Boris Kodjoe (as Luther West) also with charisma (& attractiveness!) to spare.

Hi, Luther, you're awesome. Even Alice thinks so.

Hi, Luther, you’re awesome. Even Alice thinks so.

Women show competence all over the place. Alice, naturally. Claire, even amnesiac, is still a force to be reckoned with. And also Crystal, a would-be actress/waitress, has talents beyond food service. Often, this competence is surprising to the men, but never to the other women. When Crystal declares she can swim through two floors of flooded prison tunnels without a problem, Chris expresses doubt, and Alice doesn’t. Luther looks at Alice collecting a gazillion quarters and believes her when she dryly declares it a hobby. Later, of course, she uses the quarters as ammo for her shotguns. The women in Resident Evil movies rarely dither or cry. I appreciate that. A lot.  When Alice is knocked out, Claire continues the fight without hesitation.

I do like the visual style of the world that Resident Evil has created. The sets are varied and generally visually striking — not high art but effective. Alice’s isolation in Alaska is only emphasized by the endless array of abandoned planes — all the signs of life and no life around. The underground hives, even shown in blue-prints, are creepy. The sterile white surrounds of the Umbrella storage and labs are creepy and effective.

I love the fact that 46 minutes pass before zombie attacks are on the page. It’s more about Alice, first desperately trying to find survivors, then learning that Arcadia — which she couldn’t find in Alaska — was a ship traveling down the western coast. She collects a new band of survivors to protect and shepherd to the safe haven of Arcadia. Only once the goal is clear do the zombies really come into play — as an obstacle.

I also love that other people got to play hero. Claire, even with her memory partially stripped from her by the Umbrella corp, manages to fight a monster zombie, and get in a few licks at Wesker. Chris gets to have a few effective fight moments as well. Luther fights and self-sacrifices and still comes out on top. Go Luther!

Bonus/silly good:  Alice wears clothing for the whole movie.  And she doesn’t lose random pieces of it in some inexplicable way.  If anything, this movie errs on extraneous clothing.

You really need those knee-pads, Chris? At least Alice's corset holds knives....

You really need those knee-pads, Chris? At least Alice’s corset holds knives….

The Neutral

Alice’s character arc is stalled in this episode. She starts off full of vengeance — Wesker/Umbrella must be stopped for the good of humanity — and pretty much ends in the same place. She makes a quick visit into “oh god, being the last survivor is my punishment for my part in the virus being released,” but that’s immediately forgotten when she finds Claire. But mostly her arc is pragmatic. She passes Chris a gun soon after they release him from a prison cell and he asks (in a typical Wentworth Miller way) “You’re going to trust me with a gun?” She replies, “Why not?” That’s pretty much Alice in a nutshell at this point. Trust humans to want to kill zombies more than they want to hurt others. And what the hell, if he shoots her, then she’s dead and doesn’t have to worry about zombies.

The Bad

Wesker. Wesker. Wesker. So much Wesker. I just hate him. I groaned when he was revealed at the end, even knowing there would be a rematch between him and Alice. I just hate him as a character. I can’t look at him without him tainting that perfectly fun Corey Hart song.

The Axeman. It’s not a zombie with a rocket launcher, no — nothing that risible. But it is a nine foot tall zombie with an axe that looks like it belongs to a Final Fantasy game and/or movie.

Screencap credit to Shadows of Reflection

Seriously?

Seriously, WTF is up with these dumb zombies? I chalk it up to them being more effective in the games than in the movies. Even Alice and Claire think it’s dumb. After they dispatch him, there’s this moment where they both look at the fallen axe with eye rolls and bemusement.

re4_1878

Alice: An axe? Really? It was bigger than he was.
Claire: I know, right? WTF?

Here, Resident Evil decided that after three movies of us liking all the characters, they should include some that we would want dead. Congratulations. I did want Bennett dead. That he hung on for so long? To do such cliched venal things?  Not good.  I like my bad guys interesting.

Bennett, you dirtbag.

Bennett, you dirtbag.

The Goofy

So many continuity errors!

  1. In the very opening, Alice’s boots (all of the clones’ boots) go rapidly back and forth between spiked heels and flat depending on whether she’s posing or running.
  2. Random plot holes that you could drive a boat through.  Hey speaking of boats, wasn’t it amazing they just found a random boat waiting for them in a scene we never saw?
  3. The Axeman’s stupid axe. Sometimes it’s a meat tenderizer up front with a serrated back loop. Sometimes it’s a triangular blade. You know, depending on what he needs to do with it.
  4. The most bizarre?  The trailer says it’s been five years since Umbrella loosed the zombies.  The movie voice-over says four years.
  5. The most egregious? When Alice finds Claire, she’s feral. No sense of self, nothing but fight or flight. Alice yanks off the memory control device thing (whatever it is — it’s a ruby spider shape, okay, that’s cool right? We’re supposed to stop asking questions when things are cool). Anyway, Claire’s filthy, as one would expect from living wild for 18 months or so. Then, the next time we see Claire, not only is she cleaned up, her clothes magically unstained, but she’s wearing full face makeup. What, did Alice stop to do her makeup too? It was so jarring, I had to laugh.

Continuing forward: Alice and her friends have found Arcadia, snatched it out of Wesker’s cannibalistic grip, freed 2,185 human popsicles from cryogenic storage, and oops, managed to trigger some sort of alarm so that all the Umbrella choppers in the world seem to be converging on them. Where’s your clone army now, Alice?  Bet you wish you hadn’t squandered them earlier. As a cliffhanger, this works.

All screencap credit to Shadow of Reflection.

 

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