Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil: Afterlife” takes place after the events of Russell Mulcahy’s “Resident Evil: Extinction” (which Anderson also wrote). The film opens with Alice and her clones (from the last movie) invading the evil Umbrella Corporation’s Tokyo headquarters. They succeed, but fail to kill Umbrella’s current head honcho, Wesker (Shawn Roberts). And oh yeah, in the attack, all the Alice clones are killed, leaving the real Alice to stumble away from what was essentially a suicide attack created, one can assume, entirely to tie up loose ends from the last movie. (Yes, it’s a pretty shoddy way to get rid of the clone problem, but there you have it.) Plus, during her brief fight with a superpowered Wesker, Alice gets jabbed with a needle and is now no longer superhuman. Or, actually, no longer uber superhuman, cause the girl still seems to be pretty damn superhuman-ish for the rest of the movie as far as I can tell.
The remainder of “Afterlife” follows Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she heads to Alaska, where Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and K-Mart (Spencer Locke), her survivor friends from “Extinction”, had been headed at the end of the last movie. Alice locates Claire, but she’s no longer her old self, and is suffering from memory loss thanks to those evildoers at Umbrella. Together, the ladies head back to Los Angeles, where they meet up with other survivors holing up inside a massive city prison called The Citadel. (Apparently in the not so distant future, L.A. has so many prisoners that it houses them in a monolithic structure the size of a small African country. I don’t even want to think about the budget needed to keep that thing running!)
Among the new survivors of the zombie infestation are: former sports star Luther (Boris Kodjoe, soon to be a household name when J.J. Abrams’ “Undercovers” premieres later this year), former movie producer Bennett (Kim Coates, chewing scenery like a pro), and aspiring actress Crystal (Kacey Barnfield). There are others, but really, they’re mostly just spam fodder for the eventual zombie break-in. Also locked away in the Citadel is Chris (Wentworth Miller, once again back behind bars!), who claims to be a soldier, but since Luther and the others found him locked up in the prison’s maximum security area, they assume he’s dangerous, so has him literally locked up within the prison. As it turns out, Chris has a history with Claire, though of course she doesn’t remember him from Adam.
There’s a whole lot going on with “Resident Evil: Afterlife” in terms of character set-up, but honestly, there’s not a whole lot going on in the film itself. Anderson’s script for “Afterlife” is burdened by the need to incorporate the past three movies in the franchise, which he easily enough references and builds on, though newcomers to the undead series may be a tad lost as to who everyone is. Certainly, Anderson himself seems uncertain about the state of the world post-first “Resident Evil”. In “Extinction”, it seemed as if the entire planet had been turned bone-dry and was now little more than a desert wasteland overrun with the occasional undead. In “Afterlife”, fires are still burning all over L.A. (years after the zombie break-out, natch), and it looks nothing like the desert wasteland of “Extinction”.
It was assumed after “Extinction” that Ali Larter’s Claire would take over the franchise from Milla Jovovich, but with Jovovich returning, the studio has enthusiastically continued on with her story. And you can see the awkward results of the dropped “passing of the torch”, because Claire is rendered superfluous, and for much of the film is little more than Alice’s shadow. Nothing makes the point more than a prison shower fight with a humongous zombie called the Axeman (pictured above), a gigantic creature that looks like a cross between a butcher and a fisherman with the Hulk’s genes. At one point, Alice is knocked out, leaving Claire to face the Axeman alone. Mind you, not that Claire is not up to the task; she assumes the role of Alice, doing all the impossible moves that Alice would have done if there was no Claire around. Or, to be more blunt, if Anderson had not needed to keep Claire around post-“Extinction”. Even Claire’s relationship with Chris is badly bungled, and the two never look or act like anything other than two strangers trapped in a movie together.
As zombie movies go, “Afterlife” is more action-adventure than horror. The zombies are never especially frightening, and indeed, they’ve become more monsters than zombies, with gaping mouths, mutated dogs, and ax-wielding giants. Anderson has certainly never showed any real interest in crafting a scary horror movie, and “Afterlife” continues the trend. All the characters we expect to get eaten by zombies get eaten by zombies at the designated intervals, and of course, none of the main leads ever come close to getting chewed on, even if there’s an army of zombies in the same room with them. And oh please, Alice in trouble? Perish the thought. Despite supposedly losing her superhuman abilities, Alice still looks pretty invincible to me; the lady can literally leap off tall buildings without a scratch. The only time Alice ever comes close to not being able to easily overcome any obstacle is the aforementioned Claire scene with the Axeman.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing “Resident Evil: Afterlife” one bit. This is the fourth entry in a zombie franchise, so what’s there to complain about? The movie has all the necessary ingredients to be a successful genre film, and Anderson never really tries to make it any more than that. The film’s 3D elements are obvious, with bullets, debris, and body parts flying at the viewer in extreme slow motion throughout the movie. If you love that kind of stuff, I suppose you’ll love it here. I didn’t think they added anything significant to the film myself, but you kids will probably feel differently. At the end of the day, though, “Afterlife” is a good, solid popcorn movie. It’s not the best “Resident Evil” movie in the bunch, but it’s certainly not the worst, either.
Paul W.S. Anderson (director) / Paul W.S. Anderson (screenplay)
CAST: Milla Jovovich … Alice
Ali Larter … Claire Redfield
Kim Coates … Bennett
Shawn Roberts … Albert Wesker
Sergio Peris-Mencheta … Angel Ortiz
Spencer Locke … K-Mart
Boris Kodjoe … Luther West
Wentworth Miller … Chris Redfield
Kacey Barnfield … Crystal