Looking back at Resident Evil: Afterlife

Feature Sarah Dobbs 28 Sep 2012 - 08:04

Our series of Resident Evil look backs concludes with 2010’s Afterlife – financially, the most successful entry yet...

Once upon a time, we believed that Resident Evil: Extinction would be the last film in the series. We were wrong. I mean, obviously – the whole reason for writing these retrospectives is that there’s a fifth film just over the horizon. But Resident Evil: Afterlife is the sequel that wasn’t mean to be, and maybe that’s why it feels so… pointless.

Here’s the story: after Alice liberated her clones at the end of the last film, she turned them into an army, and set off to get her revenge on Umbrella. Though by now the entire world has succumbed to the zombie-making T-virus, Umbrella’s top dogs are still alive, living in high tech underground fortresses where they’re still busy doing science. So she sets about trying to take them down, focusing her efforts especially on Wesker, a baddie from the game who’s now become the film series’ primary antagonist. Despite having dozens of copies of her kick-ass self in tow, she repeatedly fails to kill him; actually, he pretty much wins the first round by injecting her with a serum that kills off the T-virus cells in her bloodstream, taking away her special abilities and making her human again.

Which should be a pretty neat twist, shouldn’t it? Alice has been struggling with her non-human status, just about coming to terms with it in the last film because of the superpowers it gives her, but now she’s back to square one: she’s just a woman. But just like every other interesting idea in this franchise, that’s swept aside pretty quickly. Actually, if you missed the first ten minutes of the film, you’d have no idea Alice was even meant to have been de-powered. The film ploughs on, throwing various established characters under the bus as it turns out the survivors from Extinction got ambushed by Umbrella when they responded to a transmission promising them safe harbour at a mysterious location called Arcadia.

There’s another glimmer of cleverness there, actually: Arcadia is meant to be a quiet, untroubled place, but there’s a brief (very brief) reference to the Latin phrase ‘et in Arcadia ego’ in the movie, implying that Arcadia might be too good to be true. Because ‘et in Arcadia ego’ is usually interpreted to mean that, even in utopia, death still exists. And since this is Resident Evil, that means zombies. But if your Latin is a bit rusty, don’t worry – it’s a throwaway bit of academia that might just as well have been replaced by a Star Wars reference. Arcadia is a trap.

And when Alice finally gets there, she’s too late – the only person left is Claire Redfield. And Claire has no memory of who she is or what happened to her. It sort of seems like a callback to the first film, when Alice had to figure out who she was and what she stood for, except that we know who Claire is, and so does Alice, and the only reason she’s lost her memory is so we don’t find out immediately what’s going on.

Cue the introduction of a bunch more survivors, with the traditional zombie survival mechanic already in place (i.e. one of their number is a treacherous scumbag who no one likes, and who is obviously going to betray everyone at some point, but who is allowed to live because everyone else is so bloody nice). These guys are holed up in an abandoned high security prison, which seems like a great place to use as your base during the zombie apocalypse, except that its security is actually shit and zombies soon manage to tunnel in under the floor from the sewers. (This is probably the real reason the prison is empty when the survivors showed up, not because the prisoners were released when the T-virus got loose.)

The only interesting person amongst this new ragtag convoy of survivors is… Chris Redfield! Protagonist of the very first Resident Evil game! He took his time showing up. And the movie is coy about who he is to begin with, because it wants you to think he might be dangerous, so he’s only referred to as “Chris” for ages. It’s… look, it’s just more fan pandering, and it’s tedious.

There’s more stuff with a boat, and Wesker’s improbable survival, and the reintroduction of the zombie dogs, and then a massively over-the-top ending that reintroduces a randomly blonde Jill Valentine, but the plot is insultingly daft. Any semblance of narrative structure is completely abandoned. Something happens. Someone demonstrates superhuman abilities. Something else happens. Characters fight through an underwater level. Everything goes into slow motion.

You know, The Matrix was released in 1999, which is more than a decade ago now, but watching Resident Evil: Afterlife you’d never know it. It’s all bullet time, all the time. Presumably, that’s because this film was released in 3D, and all that bullet time stuff with the camera swooping around the frozen action was supposed to look impressive, but in 2D it just makes my fast-forwarding finger itch.

I wanted to love this movie. I remember quite enjoying it at the cinema. But I think watching the movies in such quick succession has actually highlighted how stale they became with each instalment. And yet. And yet, Resident Evil: Afterlife made more money at the box office than any of the previous Resi films. Across the world, it took a massive $296 million – on a budget of about $60 million. The idea that Sony might stop making these movies is laughable now.

Especially because, although I’ve just spent hundreds of words pouring scorn on this movie, I know I’m going to go to the cinema to watch the next one. I can’t excuse it. I thought the trailer was clever! I still love Milla Jovovich! I have an abnormal amount of optimism that allows me to believe this one, maybe this one, will be really awesome. And you never know. It really might be.

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