I actually saw Resident Evil: Afterlife when it was released, but for whatever reason did not review it at the time. I suspect it was because I was so far behind in my reviewing duties that I decided to flush everything in my backlist and start all over again. I do that periodically.
It’s also the case that I didn’t care for the movie that much, so reviewing was not a high priority. Believe it or not, I tend to prefer reviews that are positive and it’s only when I can’t ignore the shortcomings of a movie/TV show/book that I say something negative. Even then I try to be gentle because I don’t believe that anyone sets out to deliberately create something terrible. Unless, of course, you’re Rob Zombie and the movie is Halloween II.
Being that this is the case, I’ll tell you right up front that I cannot recommend Resident Evil: Afterlife to anyone who is not already heavily invested in the Resident Evil series of films. What you have here is the first major misstep in the (so far) four-film cycle and even if you are predisposed toward liking it based on your positive experience with the previous three movies, you’re going to be at least disappointed, if not more disenchanted. Still, the movie did manage to make almost $300 million and has spawned yet another sequel, so somebody out there thought it was the bee’s knees. I’m just not one of them.
In a series that has become increasingly episodic, Resident Evil: Afterlife does away with anything approaching expository set-up and simply drops the moviegoer right into the thick of the action. If you have never seen a Resident Evil movie before, this is not the one to start with, because there is precisely zero hand-holding going on. Don’t know the heroine, Alice (Milla Jovovich)? Don’t know exactly what was happening in the final minutes of Resident Evil: Extinction? You are totally out of luck. Unfortunately for those of us who do know the films intimately (don’t judge me!), Resident Evil: Afterlife makes a huge blunder directly out of the gate, squandering all the potential of Resident Evil: Extinction‘s climax.
You may recall that at the end of the third film, Alice had uncovered a secret laboratory run by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. In this laboratory were dozens, if not hundreds, of Alice clones, all with the basic memories and skills of the original Alice. Supported by this army of Alices, the original Alice was poised to wipe out the last remaining vestiges of the evil corporation and… well, we’re never quite sure what was going to happen next, because as Resident Evil: Extinction makes abundantly clear, the planet is irrevocably damaged by the propagation of the T-virus into the biosphere. It seems like a victory against the Umbrella Corporation would inevitably be a hollow one.
Whatever the case, the many Alices travel all the way from the former United States to the zombie-ridden hellscape of Japan to take out Albert Wesker, the head of Umbrella, and the remaining Umbrella minions. There’s an absolutely terrific action sequence involving the Alice clones kicking butt and taking names, but the movie makes its major mistake by more or less resetting the status quo at the end of it all, erasing not only the progress of Resident Evil: Extinction, but also everything going back to Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Not good.
The movie tries to get its feet again by having Alice seek out the survivors of the third film, a quest that leads to more puzzles and still more involvement by the Umbrella Corporation, but not before an extended detour in a smoldering Los Angeles. Alice and her new/old companion, Claire (Ali Larter), find themselves trapped in a prison (or is it a jail?) in the heart of the city with untold numbers of flesh-craving zombies clamoring for blood at the gates. This allows the movie to introduce a slate of mostly disposable characters and thereby tread water for most of its running time while dealing with these characters’ various crises.
Here’s where the nerd in me comes spilling out. In Resident Evil: Extinction, we are told that the planet has essentially died, with much of it turned into a dusty wasteland. It’s clearly been quite a while since civilization collapsed and I’m perfectly fine with that. In Resident Evil: Afterlife, on the other hand, we have some people who have supposedly been holed up inside their fortress since the zombie apocalypse began and they are not only well supplied with food all of this time later, but they even have running water! Using only basic math proposed by the third film, these people have been trapped for months, if not years. I cannot suspend my disbelief long enough to buy that they would have been able to survive in such relative comfort for so long.
Resident Evil: Afterlife attempts to gloss over this by just bulling forward and ignoring all the obvious questions and, truth to tell, most of what happens in the prison is modestly engaging, though familiar to anyone who’s watched enough zombie movies. There are, as mentioned, disposable characters and there are hero characters and the disposable characters get knocked off one by one even as they squabble amongst themselves.
Eventually, though, the movie has to return to the Umbrella Corporation because everything boils down to the Umbrella Corporation in the end. Our surviving heroes take on the bad guys and there is much bullet-time and CGI animation and frankly I didn’t find it particularly exciting, largely because the movie spent all its time in the prison/jail and sort of picks up the Umbrella thread after all the other storytelling avenues have been exhausted. It’s okay, but it’s nowhere near as well thought-out as the climax of Resident Evil: Extinction, which proceeded nicely from events in the film.
Perhaps inevitably, Resident Evil: Afterlife ends with a cliffhanger that will apparently be addressed in the next film, Resident Evil: Retribution. I’ll probably see that one, too. At this point I’ve spent too many hours with these movies to back out.