Everything Paul W.S. Anderson has done up to this point in his variable career has had all the creaks and groans of a film in its premature stages of conception – all of his efforts feeling as if he were working from a screenplay’s first draft. Characters fight for further development. His themes, if there are any to even be found, suffer for definition collapsing beneath the weight of sloppy storytelling. There’s always a seedling for potential coolness (save for Soldier and Mortal Kombat) in his work, but not much emotional complexity or meat for us to gnaw on. So what kind of spread has Anderson laid out in Resident Evil: Apocalypse? A pretty big one, actually. Whether you heartily dig into this feast or not, I suppose, depends on your relationship to the Capcom source material, and most of all, what you expect from an Anderson-penned sequel to a passable adaptation of a video game.
Apocalypse is bruised with all of Anderson’s familiar bite marks: high action favored over distinction amongst characters; exaggerated villains with exotic accents making natural bad guy choices because, well, they’re bad (worst of all, we’re one step ahead of their deviant schemes); and, through the gun blasts and ear bleed-inducing music, a ragged semblance of a story that introduces itself too late in the game. But you know what? Unlike Anderson’s numbing, stodgy Alien vs. Predator, I actually got some stimulation from this undead-heavy chapter for reasons that stem purely from the same hollow place in me that gets off on playing the Resident Evil video game, getting into a zombie fix, blasting their asses to all hell then jumping up and down in victory. Stupid, I know. But I’m a simple creature who sometimes enjoys seeing living corpses crawling from their graves only to get a vicious pummeling from a former model turned actress. And yes, there is a sequence in Apocalypse in which this happens. It’s one of the many that I got a kick out of, the others relating fairly close to the games themselves in look, setting, and action.
Director Alexander Witt fills in for Anderson at the helm this time for a story that picks up immediately after the first Resident Evil. Well, actually a few hours before Alice (Jovovich) emerges from The Hive as we follow the Umbrella Corporation’s movements throughout Raccoon City. Learning of a biohazard containment breach within their underground facility, the company takes necessary steps to quarantine the entire city. They extract high-ranking officials and leave the rest of the metropolis’ residents behind. One member of Umbrella’s personnel who voluntary chooses not to leave is Dr. Ashford (Harris); wheelchair-bound and adept at hacking Umbrella’s computer mainframe, he utilizes the city’s street cameras to locate his daughter, who was initially lost in an accident during an attempt to pull her out of the city. Ashford makes quick use of the city’s payphones to contact Apocalypse‘s main band of survivors to rescue his kid. Jill Valentine, her partner Carlos Olivera, L.J. (the token holy-shit-what-am-I-doing-in-this-situation? guy), and Alice – now genetically altered for the better – take Ashford up on his mission, his little girl now seen as a bargaining chip to get Alice and her crew out of Raccoon City, away from the undead, the lickers (bio-weapons with tongues only Gene Simmons would envy), and Umbrella’s latest creation, the Nemesis.
Bear in mind, none of this – I mean, Apocalypse‘s actual story – doesn’t kick in until a good half hour to forty-five minutes in. Until this time Witt gets to show off what years of second unit directing experience has taught him with scenes of S.T.A.R.S. officers facing off with zombies on fire-lit streets, Alice and Carlos performing some fairly impressive stunts, and lickers taking out their prey in an abandoned church. Sounds pretty cool, right? It is, especially when the cocky Valentine discovers what said church’s priest is doing with his zombified sister; or when we’re introduced to a horde of zombie children; and it’s really friggin’ groovy to see the Nemesis lumber around (ahem, with little CG assistance) and growl “STARS!” just like he does in the game. Execution-wise, though, all of the action is clumsy. Witt mimics a similar delivery Anderson pulled off in AvP. His camera coverage is too damn tight, underlit, and confusing to appreciate what’s happening! He also chooses to use some lame, skittish skip-frame technique for all of the zombie shots that looks blurry; and the gore is so weak it’ll have you scampering for the warm shower of grue Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive delivers. In light of all the exposure the undead had in the recent Dawn of the Dead remake, you’d think the Apocalypse crew would want to amp up the zombie goodness, but nooooo.
On the story front Anderson misses his opportunity to explore some Frankenstein-like parallels to (and furthermore develop sympathy for) the Nemesis. Anderson’s newly introduced direct-from-the-game characters don’t resonate all that much either, but something tells me we’ll be seeing more of them in the future. That said, is Apocalypse sorta dumb? Yeah, but it’s cheesy fun too. More action than horror, it has a Matrix: Reloaded vibe, like it’s a bridge to something bigger, which Anderson incidentally alludes to in the final minutes of the film. If that’s the case – and if Apocalypse was one step closer in staying in tone with the game – then maybe part three will be the balls-out Evil film we’ve been waiting for.
RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (2004)
Directed by Alexander Witt
Starring Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Sienna Guillory, Thomas Kretschmann, Jared Harris
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