Sunday, 16 January 2011

DVD Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m a fan of Paul WS Anderson’s ‘Resident Evil’ movie franchise, based as it is on some computer game series which I’ve never played and never will. But I’ve always tended to support the underdog and, in the face of constant derision from sniffy critics, I have to say I quite enjoy the films in an utterly mindless, undemanding sort of way. They’re not art but they’re not supposed to be. They are what they are – and they’re solid, spectacular, action-packed adrenalized sci-fi films which may not be as important or ground-breaking as the likes of ‘Inception’ but they’re a damn sight more fun to watch. So there.

‘Afterlife’ is the fourth entry into what now appears to be an endless series of movies. Released on 3D in the cinemas (even on 2D it’s easy to see where the 3D sequences were – things fly towards the screen or imbed themselves in walls next to people – but, as usual, the film loses nothing when viewed in 2D) the movie picks up where the previous entry ‘Extinction’ left off (at least, I have to assume so. It’s the way of the ‘Resident Evil’ movies that you tend to forget them the moment you’ve watched them – all I can really remember about ‘Extinction’ is that Ali Larter was in it and there were zombie crows – zombie crows!!!) Anyway, after an explosive action sequence which sees the destruction of the Umbrella Corporation headquarters in Japan (Umbrella being the evil organisation which, you’ll surely recall, unleashed the dreadful T virus which caused the zombie apocalypse which remains the backdrop to the series) the genetically-augmented Alice (Mila Jovovich), no longer augmented when she’s deprived of her preternatural agility and strength (although the film seems to forget this a bit later on when it’s balletic-fight-sequences as usual, but hey-ho) is flying solo in search of a sanctuary known as Arcadia which is believed to be in Alaska. It isn’t. But Alice is reunited with Claire (Larter) who can’t remember how she found herself alone in Alaska and together the two set off to try and pick up the trail of Arcadia and eventually they find themselves in a devastated Los Angeles which is crawling with zombies. In an abandoned prison complex are a handful of other desperate survivors. Arcadia – it turns out to be a refugee a ship – is anchored just outside the city and Alice and Claire join forces with the group in the prison. But how are they to make their way to Arcadia when the prison is surrounded by zombies who are on the verge of breaking in?

That’s pretty much it for the plot – but then were you really expecting anything else? Every time a ‘Resident Evil’ pic arrives, whether it’s at the cinema or on DVD, the same old critics say the same old things. Of course it’s shallow, of course it’s nonsense....that’s sort of the point. Complaining about plot holes and poor characterisation in a film like ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ seems like just about the greatest example of utter futility imaginable. The truth is that the critics get a bit frustrated when films like ‘Inception’ come along and make their beloved sci-fi genre respectable again for a few weeks, and then ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ shows up like a gatecrasher at a party and brings the tone crashing right back down. In actual fact there’s never a dull moment in ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ (where there are several very long ones in ‘Inception’) and, for a film made with a fairly low budget, the visuals are really pretty astonishing. From Alice’s attack on the Umbrella Corporation’s hi-tech base in Japan, the burning, crumbling Los Angeles (the scenes of Alice’s little plane puttering over the devastated city are music to the eyes of an apocalypse fiend like Yours Truly) to the final shattering fight through the zombie hordes to the escape to Arcadia and its own horrors (I’ll just say...zombie dogs with heads which split open!) and the thrilling cliffhanger ending, the film’s visual palette is rich and never less than totally convincing.

Having suggested that films like this are just for watching and not really analyzing, it’s hard to ignore one or two niggles. There’s a slight longeur in the middle of the film after Alice and Claire arrive at the prison and Get To Know their fellow survivors, the new characters are just zombie fodder and it’s not difficult to work out which ones will be for the chop and which ones will be lucky to make it to the next reel. Still, good to see ‘Prison Break’ star Wentworth Miller back on the screen as Claire’s brother Chris (apparently a core figure from the game franchise...who knew??) and the rest of the unknowns in the cast do their best with the thin and stereotypical character stuff they’re given.

Obviously I’m on to a bit of a loser by even trying to defend the ‘Resident Evil’ series but if nothing else Stuff speaks as it finds. If you want a bit of spectacle, a few zombies, some gore, some mad fight sequences and OTT CGI allied with a slight plot and paper thin, perfunctory characters – and sometimes that’s enough – and you’re willing and able to suspend your critical faculties for ninety-odd minutes, ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’ will fit the bill. Yes, it’s nonsense and yes it’s disposable but ultimately it’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s entirely forgettable. It’s certainly not as offensive as the reviews would have you believe so set aside your prejudices, ignore the prejudices of the jaded reviewers, and give this one a spin. It’s as good a way as any of blowing away those New Year cobwebs.
THE DISC: Terrifically sharp Blu Ray image and, as usual, it’s the BR purchasers who get the best deal with a string of featurettes alongside the director commentary. DVD buyers get a handful of features and the commentary.

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