Paul W.S. Anderson, “Resident Evil” (2002) / Alexander Witt, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” (2004).

Sep 13 2010

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Right now I can’t think of a more oddly discontinuous film trilogy (now a quadrilogy / quartet, but I haven’t seen the latest one yet) than the sci-fi/horror/action Resident Evil series: characters appear and disappear, both locale and tone shift radically from movie to movie, the heroine seems to get inexplicable weapon and power upgrades in each installment (inexplicable as well to her, because her memory keeps getting conveniently erased) — all this, despite the fact that all the screenplays are written by schlock auteur Paul W.S. Anderson, not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson. (I also know close to nothing about the Resident Evil videogames, but it occurs to me that this apparent discontinuity in locales resemble game levels: the city level, the desert level, and so on.)

The trilogy starts off quite weakly: Resident Evil is all about getting from Point A to Point B as a group of soldiers try to penetrate the unimaginatively-named Hive, a vast underground research facility run by the equally unimaginatively-named Umbrella Corporation. But the Hive is under lockdown after a malfunctioning computer kills everyone inside after detecting the release of a virus that has turned everyone into ravenous zombies (including Dobermans, which are clearly recurring characters of a sort in the series). Little of this makes much sense to me, to tell you the truth, and I think I spent a good chunk of the first film asking my increasingly-annoyed movie buddy about the inscrutable character motivations.

It helps, at least, that our heroine, Alice, played by the fascinatingly dull Milla Jovovich, is afflicted by amnesia in the beginning — the product of a nerve gas released by the Red Queen (that rogue computer) — and so the audiences get a handy recap, seemingly the only reason for the amnesia in the first place. Anyhow: Resident Evil turns out to be all setup (but for what, really?); the zombies appear way too late in the film, and we have to endure a series of Saw-like traps rigged by the Red Queen first. At least there’s someone here who can act (Michelle Rodriguez), but she gets to be The-Person-Who-Gets-Bitten-But-Pretends-She’s-OK-Until-She-Starts-Biting-Her-Friends, which doesn’t bode well for her return in the next film.

Of course, she doesn’t. Instead she’s replaced by a bunch of frighteningly wooden actors in Resident Evil: Apocalypse (the woman who plays Jill Valentine is only slightly more expressive than Jovovich), and this time Alice and a group of soldiers (again) are trapped in Raccoon City after it’s overrun by zombies. They run around the place pointlessly — actually, they’re forced to rescue the little daughter of a scientist in exchange for an exit out of the city — but, I mean, who cares about plot when what the viewer really wants to see is Jovovich administering a flying kick to a zombie Doberman? We get what amounts to a cameo appearance by a level boss monster near the end of the movie (Nemesis in the second, the tentacled Dr. Isaacs in the third), and there’s a dramatic moment when Alice realizes that Nemesis is her former friend Matt from the first Resident Evil movie. She refuses to kill him. He dies anyway. Alice wakes up naked and escapes from the mansion / laboratory / hospital for the third time in the series so far. And then on to the next film, but one gets the feeling it won’t exactly pick up from where it ended. (It doesn’t.)

For movies that deal with the zombie apocalypse, the Resident Evil series is surprisingly non-allegorical — the zombies aren’t even a metaphor for anything — and despite the elaborate backstory, Alice and her cohorts aren’t animated by a larger goal (to save the world, for instance) except to evade pursuit. (Why the Umbrella Corporation even bothers isn’t clear either; how do you spend the fruits of your research grants when the world is already ending?) At one point Alice remembers the existence of an antivirus, but the subplot is quickly forgotten. My point is that both Resident Evil films — filmed mostly in darkness, and in claustrophobic settings — are remarkably anti-human; one doesn’t get the feeling that there’s even a world outside of The Hive and Raccoon City, and one gets the sense the filmmakers don’t particularly care either.

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