Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010 movie) review…

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010 movie) review after the break…

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010 movie) review…

There’s an old saying in business that you don’t have to be friendly with everyone, just the people you want money from. The same, it seems, holds true for modern-day Hollywood: You don’t need for everyone to feel that you’ve made a good movie, just the people you want money from.

Ever since the movie “Jaws” and “Star Wars” premiered, the movie industry has learned that cash is king and if the movie also happens to possess a well-crafted story, all the better. After all, a mass majority of people who actually watch movies aren’t critics and are easily impressed. Escapism is why most people drive to the movie theater, not to watch such staid offerings like two married couples wrestle with marital problems against the backdrop of a worsening economy. The majority of movie goers want thrilling chases, awkward situations that lead to embarrassment, fights of all varieties (fist, gun, etc.), the occasional unstoppable monster and enough female nudity to get the 15-year old boys (and their mental equivalents) giggling.

A cornerstone of a good movie is if the movie actually makes you care: Do you care about the characters? Do you care about the fictional world? Do you care about the type of story it is telling? The movie “E.T.” makes you care about an ugly extra-terrestrial alien wanting to go back to it’s home world. It makes you care about the alien through some ingenious methods – The alien exhibits several characteristics similar to a newborn baby: It has large eyes, it has a large head in proportion to it’s body, it can’t move appreciably well, it’s extremely dependent upon others to help it understand the world around it.

When a movie moves deeper into franchise territory, it relies more upon the prior films to establish that sense of caring. Successive films tend not to believe that they need to re-establish why a viewer should care; Those movies are just in it for the continuing story – The fights, the chases, the awkward moments… These films assume that the viewer cares because if they don’t care then why are they watching the 3rd, 4th, 5th or even 9th film in the franchise? As a result, a lot of franchises see dwindling returns on their investments with each new movie – If someone didn’t see the first movie, then they’re likely not to see the second or any successive movie. People who saw the first movie and didn’t appreciate it will be less inclined to see the next movie.

Franchise movies are difficult to review because they are almost review-proof: They aren’t made for the average viewer who has wandered in mid-series, those viewers won’t “get it” unless they’ve watched all of the prior movies. Even though those types of movies feel like they do not need to re-establish why the viewer ought to care, they really should because, otherwise, the franchise will continue to dwindle into obscurity.

“Resident Evil: Afterlife” is actually the fourth Resident Evil movie, starring Milla Jovovich as a woman bent on stopping the evil Umbrella Corporation, a corporation that has unleashed a post-apocalyptic nightmare upon the planet in the form of a virus that turns ordinary humans and animals into zombie-like monstrosities. As the movie starts, Milla squares off against Albert Wesker, the main bad guy behind the Umbrella Corporation. Wesker gets the upper-hand and reverts Milla back to being a normal human instead of the practically invincible warrior she’s become in prior installments thanks to her accidental exposure of a virus.

This latest installment depends upon watching prior movies in order to fully appreciate it, as it continues several story lines from the prior movie such as the mysterious “Arcadia” which may or may not be a safe haven for humans. Amnesia and reversion of abilities appear to be an effort to softly re-boot the series. As the movie progresses, we find ourselves in a make-shift fort that was formerly a prison. Unfortunately, the prison is close to being compromised by a horde of zombies and the only option that the survivors inside the prison have could lie in a prisoner who may or may not be who he seems. If only they can escape to a mysterious tanker ship that seems to project an aura of safety… Or does it?

I will admit that I care little about the “Resident Evil” video game story line (the movies are based upon the video games) – A lifetime of video and computer game playing has made me gain only ancillary knowledge of it’s history throughout the years, learning only the basics along the way. Therefore, I can not comment on if actor X resembles character Y in the video game. However, good movies do not depend upon franchise loyalty but if they are actually good movies. This is the standard that I will apply to “Resident Evil: Afterlife” and not how faithful it is to any particular video game setting or character depictions.

“Resident Evil: Afterlife” has one core story line – Getting survivors from the prison to a tanker ship. So, how well does this movie sell that story line? Not very well, indeed. Our heroine meets the survivors but we don’t get to know them very well; One is a former basketball player while another is a former movie producer (guess how he’ll be portrayed). There’s no time for subtlety as the zombies are practically breaking through when our heroine arrives and there’s not much time before they do successively siege the prison. Emphasis is on the typical “10 little Indians” tactic of whittling down the cast as a means for caring about the remaining ones that much more – The death of the female cook places a greater emphasis on the mechanic and the death of the mechanic places a greater emphasis on the basketball player, etc. so forth.

Anyone wanting character arcs may want to look elsewhere for there are none. The movie producer is slimy from his first appearance to his last with the rest of the survivors following suit. For a woman who has lost her superhuman capabilities, Milla still seems confident in fighting people and monstrosities alike – Wouldn’t it have been more effective for the movie to concentrate on her adaptation back to being a mere mortal? In “Afterlife,” she fights a monstrosity called “The Executioner” that would intimidate all but the foolhardy, never mind an ordinary human. Yet she fights this monster with the same gusto as she fought the faceless soldiers of the Umbrella Corporation at the beginning of this film. Not exactly a lot of range.

“Afterlife” shows the faintest glimmer of creativity when a massive transport vehicle that our survivors hoped to use turns out to be a dud. The surprising death from this is also a bit heartening as it represents an unexpected turn in a movie that never challenges the audience with character development. Imagine if this movie had allowed the Asian intern of the producer to become more confident and turn against the producer? Or if the basketball player, seemingly confident behind the confines of the prison, became more careless and selfish as the zombies closed in? What might this film had been like if the producer, forced to cooperate with people he felt was “underneath” him, was the one to come up with a plan to escape that worked? The aging prison guard who turns out to be worth more then sitting on a chair guarding a mysterious prisoner? Or what if the prisoner turned out simply to be a charming con artist saying all the right things until given the opportunity to escape?

A huge missed opportunity in this movie is the use of “The Executioner,” a mysteriously large zombie wielding an equally large makeshift axe. Why is he different from the rest? Where does he come from? The movie could have used this character in any number of interesting ways but it simply settles on the lowest common denominator as “Boss Fight.” Imagine a film with the creativity to use the Executioner against the zombies or have the zombies attack the Executioner (for instance, spreading fresh human remains on the Executioner so that the zombies would attack it?).

Even when the remaining characters find their way onto the Arcadia, the ending gives the viewer nothing to support. The main villain is defeated but since we already know how difficult he is to kill, why not annihilate him? Find something to burn him with? Chop off his head, chop up his limbs…? And who’s “K-Mart”? Yes, franchise followers know her all too well but she’s poorly introduced in this movie. Casual film goers will simply shrug and wonder what the significance would be.

Unless you follow the Resident Evil franchise, there is no reason to watch this movie. The movie already assumes that you like Milla, that you know of the other characters or appreciate that they are on the screen (as in, “OMG! That’s Chris! I can’t believe they finally portrayed him in the movies!”). With no character arcs or exciting scenarios to put the characters in, the movie feels like it is meant for one purpose – To give Jovovich a steady paycheck by watching her shoot zombies with semi-automatic weaponry. That activity may be nice for the fans but not for the rest of the movie-going public.

Cash may be king in Hollywood but reputation is pretty high up there, too. A franchise known for preaching only to it’s fans better be prepared for the day when even it’s fans can see through the paper-thin story lines and non-existent character arcs.

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