Eight years after the first entry into the Resident Evil film franchise, the series is still a gamer favorite as it goes into its fourth chapter, “Resident Evil: Afterlife”. For horror franchises, once you pass the second or third installment, most of them begin to falter in some capacity, so how long before this critic-proof, zombie series outstays its welcome with moviegoers?
“Resident Evil: Afterlife” is set approximately four years after the initial outbreak upon Raccoon City. Alice (Milla Jovovich) is continuing her crusade to destroy the malevolent Umbrella Corporation. At the same time she is making her way northward to one day join Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and her band of survivors that headed to a supposed infection-free zone somewhere in Alaska. However, Alice quickly discovers that the safe zone was nothing more than another elaborate ploy by Umbrella. With time and patience running thin, Alice luckily finds and enlists the aid of Claire, her estranged brother Chris (Wentworth Miller), and a few others in one last-ditch effort to save humanity from Umbrella and the undead nightmare that has plagued the world.
Continuing his writing duties, and returning to the director’s chair for the first time since the original film, Paul W.S. Anderson may be running out of steam with this series. There are several indicators that lead me to this conclusion.
For starters, several elements within the movie are unapologetically borrowed from other successful films. Granted, this series has taken from many a movie or event along the way, but none so blatant and borderline lazy as those found in this film.
The most obvious sign of laziness lies with the film’s primary villain (not the zombies as one may think), but a new genetically enhanced individual controlled by Umbrella. This character is so unoriginal that he appears to have been plucked directly from the mold of the Agents used for “The Matrix”. From his speech pattern, movements, fighting style, and attire (right down to the sunglasses), everything about the character screams “Rip-off!” I know movies borrow from previous releases all the time, it’s impossible not to; however, when it reaches a point that plays more like plagiarism rather than homage, then it’s downright shameful.
Also, the energy and excitement that used to permeate this series seems to have been erased from existence, much like most of humanity. The franchise first began showing signs of a much slower, somewhat meandering pace with the previous installment. It appears that Paul W.S. Anderson was unable to shake this potential problem, and with this newest chapter we are given a film that seems to be just going through the motions with very little momentum propelling it onward.
Then there is the issue with the zombies themselves. Because this is a zombie series, it doesn’t take too long for the proceedings to become stale. After all, there are only so many ways one can kill a zombie. Not to mention, the majority of the world is infected. Meaning, a way out for humanity seems more and more implausible with each passing entry.
So, my question is this, “When is enough “Enough!”? Maybe we’ve already reached that point with the previous film and this one is merely another attempt at delaying the inevitable? Based on the story issues I addressed here and others potentially on the horizon, if this series’ issues are not rectified, I would say that it has gone on long enough. I figure it’s maybe one more movie away from becoming just another horror franchise past its prime that doesn’t know when to quit.
An area that up to now hadn’t grown quite as stale, but was definitely showing signs of wear, is the visual effects work. The first film suffered a little from moments of sub-par CGI, but the previous two installments made definite improvements in this area, despite the continually lacking financial support from the studio. Yet with this entry the visuals seemed to take a step back as some shoddy CGI work was employed. Some of the visuals were mediocre to the point of being as pathetic in some instances as they were in the original film.
Now, there are two possible causes for this waning visuals issue, and both may be correct, but I leave that for you to decide. First, Paul W.S. Anderson wrote and directed the first film and this film, and both suffered from lacking visual effects quality. Whereas, he only served as writer for the other two installments and their visuals were noticeably improved.
Second, Paul W.S. Anderson filmed this entry using 3D cameras (which undoubtedly came with a heftier price tag) and was forced to spend more time and effort staging shots accordingly. Of course, while I’m sure the camera technology added a bigger price tag to whatever was allotted for cameras on this film, the time spent crafting scenes could have been far less involved if Anderson had chosen to not be annoying with the use of 3D.
What I’m referring to is this; he went with the “throw things at the viewer’s head” approach that crappy 3D movies in the 80’s employed. If he had simply done what James Cameron had done with “Avatar” by making the 3D non-obtrusive, then perhaps more of the budget could have gone towards CGI effects. Plus, the use of 3D will magnify flaws in a movie’s CGI (if there are any to be found), so when your budget is insufficient for your effects from the get-go, using 3D seems to be a poor decision at that point.
By now you have no doubt noticed that the series as a whole is wearing down, and keeping that theme going is the film’s cast. While the performances were decent, there was really nothing new or fresh in this department, and in particular, the two female leads are looking a bit bored with themselves.
Series star Milla Jovovich has been with the franchise since the beginning and has claimed in interviews that she knows Alice inside and out (somewhat paraphrased). Having such a familiarity with a character isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can help keep a performance on track and natural. However, in this instance, I believe that due to Alice being Milla’s comfort zone as a character, she is no longer finding any challenge in the role. Therefore, she comes off as uninterested in the character, despite her comments to the contrary, and the performance suffers in the process.
In the other lead role is actress Ali Larter, who joined the franchise in the previous installment and injected new life and eye candy into the proceedings. Yet, just like Milla her performance is beginning to run thin. This is most likely due to the lack of significant character development for her character Claire since the last movie. Ali has proven in previous works that she is a capable actress, but even the most qualified of actor or actress needs a role that will continue to develop and interest them. Otherwise you wind up with the uninspired performances we found here.
Several actors and actresses joined the cast this time around, but the most notable newcomer to the series, at least in name, definitely not in performance, is actor Wentworth Miller (TV’s “Prison Break”). Wentworth portrays the role of Chris Redfield, the long-lost brother of Ali Larter’s Claire. His character was poorly handled as he is nothing more than an action hero cliché. To be specific, he’s the prototypical strong, silent, no-nonsense type. Granted Chris was apparently in the military prior to his current situation we find him in, this based on what little backstory we are granted for the character, but his asinine tough-guy routine felt played out and lame from the get-go.
To sum things up, as I’m sure it’s quite obvious at this point, this entry left a lot more to be desired than its predecessors and could easily signal doom for the future of this franchise. If another sequel is to be made, then there needs to be some substantial changes implemented to get the series back on track. Do whatever it takes to bring back the entertainment value this franchise once had in spades. If nothing changes, then the “Resident Evil” series will become just another laughing stock in the already long list of horror franchises that outstayed their welcome.
“Resident Evil: Afterlife is rated R for violence and language.