Over the course of three previous Resident Evil films, the Umbrella Corporation managed to create a flesh-eating virus and turn most of the world's population into zombies. In Resident Evil: Afterlife, Tokyo is deserted and Los Angeles lies in ruins, but the Umbrella network remains. Series heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich), no longer under Umbrella control, aims to cripple Umbrella leadership and return to her friends. Although half of Resident Evil: Afterlife is in slow motion, it is not an altogether unpleasant sit. Series fans will appreciate the appearance of important characters from the video games, and Resident Evil: Afterlife is more entertaining than the previous installment.
Alice and a band of her clones attempt to kill Umbrella antagonist Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) at an underground Tokyo base. In the process, Wesker strips Alice of her superhuman abilities by neutralizing the T-Virus in her body. After narrowly escaping a helicopter crash, Alice flies to Alaska in search of the friends she left behind in Resident Evil: Extinction, but only finds a confused Claire Redfield (Ali Larter). Alice and Claire then fly to Los Angeles and land atop a prison where a ragtag band of survivors has taken refuge against the undead while they formulate a plan to reach the safety of a nearby cargo ship.
Full disclosure: I've always had an affection for the Resident Evil series. Something about the mix of a malevolent multinational corporation, flesh-eating virus, ass-kicking Milla Jovovich and zombie dogs makes even the weakest entry in the series (Resident Evil: Extinction) enjoyable. Critics' whipping boy Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed the first film and produced the others, returns to the director's chair for Resident Evil: Afterlife. I kind of like Anderson, too. His genre directing doesn't always work (Alien vs. Predator), but when it does (Event Horizon, Death Race), his films are a lot of fun.
It may be too high a compliment, but the filmmakers behind the Resident Evil series have done a good job making each film unique in both setting and narrative. Foregoing deep character exploration, the films have always been about Umbrella and the evolution of the T-Virus. The stakes are much higher for Alice without her weapons-grade abilities, and she is no longer able to clear a room telekinetically. Resident Evil: Afterlife shifts from Tokyo to Alaska to Los Angeles, but each setting is tight and confined. The ever-present zombies are no longer unique, so the film doesn't waste time doting over them, save a few extra grotesque exceptions.
Resident Evil: Afterlife lacks the scares of the first film, and instead provides nearly nonstop action. Anderson goes overboard with the slow motion, but the technique is welcome in a waterlogged fight scene with Alice, Claire and hulking undead video game character the Executioner. I found myself about to criticize the film for ripping its style straight from a video game, but quickly stopped when I realized the fallacy of that logic. Resident Evil: Afterlife also has the distinction of being one of the very few films released in 2010 that actually looked decent in 3D. Anderson used James Cameron's Fusion Camera System to shoot in native 3D, avoiding the hit-or-miss post-conversion process. Unfortunately, some of the most stunning scenes look a little flat in 2D, and the effects don't mesh as well.
Jovovich is definitely the series' greatest asset. She is clearly game in every picture, even doing her own stunts, and her enthusiasm strengthens each film. Larter's return is also welcome, but someone should have told Wentworth Miller to lighten up a bit as Claire's brother, Chris. The rest of the survivors are pretty stock, but everyone knows they are just lining up to be zombie bait anyway. Resident Evil: Afterlife is about what you would expect: a 96-minute video game set to alternative rock. It's more of the same without being an exact replica of earlier films, and, like the film's undead, you can bet Alice will be back for more.
Sony's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for Resident Evil: Afterlife is disappointing for a 2010 big-budget release. Blacks are deep and colors solid, but the film often has a rough digital appearance. Detail is spotty; some close-ups look excellent, but wide shots could really use a bump in resolution. Alice's flight over the Alaskan glaciers looked beautiful in theaters, but here it looks muddy and unimpressive. The downgrade to 2D might have hurt some of the effects, but compression artifacts do not help either. I also noticed a fair amount of softness absent in the theatrical presentation, and some digital noise reduction may have been used. In the scene inside the prison where Alice is showing off her weapons, the characters' facial features all but turn into wax. None of these issues makes the film unwatchable, but I was expecting more from the transfer, given that Resident Evil: Apocalypse looks fantastic on DVD.
The film's rocking Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track fares much better than the picture. This track is, without a doubt, loud. Explosions, gunfire and kicks to the face come through fiercely. Although the dialogue seems a tad low in the mix, it is never unclear or distorted. The track makes good use of all the speakers, and gives the subwoofer a good rumbling. There's nothing to complain about here, as this track could wake the dead. French surround and English descriptive audio tracks are also available, as are English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Sony includes a fair number of extras for Resident Evil: Afterlife. First up is a Commentary with Director Paul W.S. Anderson, Producer Jeremy Bolt and Producer Robert Kulzer. Anderson is fairly chatty and provides some interesting information about the film. I enjoyed his comments on the repeated use of slow motion; something he feels distinguishes this film from others in the series. None of the participants is particularly critical of the film's shortcomings, but it seems they do have a lot of respect for fans of the video games. Band of Survivors: Casting Afterlife (6:40) is a short, perfunctory piece on the film's cast, and Fighting Back: The Action of Afterlife (5:33) is less interesting than I expected. Also included are a Sneak Peek of Resident Evil: Damnation (1:11), a new animated film in the series, and some bonus previews.
Slick, bloody and shallow, Resident Evil: Afterlife isn't likely to recruit many new fans to the series. That said, the film is a solid third sequel that follows the series' formula without becoming completely monotonous. Milla Jovovich and Director Paul W.S. Anderson show up ready for action, and Resident Evil: Afterlife is exactly what it was designed to be: an hour and a half of zombie-dispatching action. Sony's DVD sports an average transfer, excellent soundtrack and a few decent extras. Recommended.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.