Review: Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  September 10, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

Raccoon City, U.S. is home to the biggest corporate conglomeration, Umbrella Corp, which is the largest supplier of medical supplies, cutting edge health care technology, and weapon defense systems. Although they are a highly visible to the public, they also have many deep dark secrets, including the Hive, an underground testing facility where a few years back something went terribly wrong. A top secret genetic weapon called the T-Virus was unleashed in the system, killing and reanimating all that came into contact with it except for Alice (Milla Jovovich), who despite insurmountable odds, managed to make it out alive.

Now a short time later, the Hive is ordered to be reopened so that Umbrella can learn just what happened. After the advance team is killed and fearing the worst, the decision is made to evacuate a number of key company personnel, including Dr. Ashford (Jared Haris) and his daughter, before containment becomes impossible and the city is systematically eliminated to protect their little secret. However, mass panic ensues, and before long the city is placed under quarantine. Throughout the city, two different groups of citizens begin to form and fight off the zombies. One is led by a mysteriously reawakened Alice and the other by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), a S.T.A.R.S. team member who takes every opportunity afforded to her to kick some zombie ass. Running out of options and ways to evade their enemies, both groups are contacted by Dr. Ashford, who promises safe passage from the city to anyone who can rescue his daughter Angie (Sophie Vavaseur), who's convoy was involved in an accident and didn't make it to the safe zone. The only problem is that time is of the essence and the last chopper is set to leave in under an hour. Luckily, the two teams meet up and join forces to try and survive. However, their task is made even more difficult when the man responsible for the entire operation, Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann), and the powers that be at Umbrella make the decision to activate the Nemesis program. Nemesis, a once-friend of Alice's and the only other human to escape the Hive, is now a monster-like creature who will do whatever it takes to accomplish his objective. Will Alice and Jill and the rest of their team be able to leave Raccoon City unscathed or will they be obliterated when the city is taken off the map?

There's little doubt in the video game world that the Resident Evil franchise has been one of the most popular video game series in the past 5 years, having become successful on just about every current gaming console. It also comes as no surprise that despite the fact the first film took some heat from game players for being different than what they expected, that Sony Pictures and its genre picture arm Screen Gems have capitalized on the success of the game and are trying hard to turn it into a viable big screen property. The first movie, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson of Event Horizon fame, was a moderately spooky, violent bloodbath-type picture that had a number of cool moments and a decent sci-fi/horror premise. Although it was confusing in places, for those like me who never picked up a game, it was a decidedly fun waste of two hours. Sure, there could have been more blood and from what I read it could have followed closer to the outline of the game, but in general I felt it did more right than wrong. Now, trying to debunk the stereotype that sequels are never as good as their predecessors, we have the second chapter in the Resident Evil big screen saga, Apocalypse, a film that was originally titled after its main villain Nemesis but lost that subtitle after a Star Trek film of the same name failed to succeed at the fickle North American box office.

Apocalypse picks up where the last film left off, with a brief recap for those who are new to the world of Resident Evil. This time, however, all attempts at a coherent and thought-provoking story are thrown out the window as writer Paul W.S. Anderson crafts a straight-forward action-zombie film with absolutely nothing new to offer to audiences. Anderson, who stepped away from the director's chair to focus his efforts on the poorly received Alien vs. Predator, hands the directorial duties to Alexander Witt, a relative no name who makes his debut here. Witt doesn't really have much to work with and once the film begins, there is non-stop action until the last 5 or so minutes, where the story takes precedence over the action. Basically, for 80 or so minutes, it's an all out action assault, but due to the quick MTV-style cutting, it's really hard to figure out what's going on. Then, all of a sudden, the action dies down and the film takes a turn towards story elements, leaving this audience member confused as to just what the point of the preceding 75 or 80 minutes was.

Alexander Witt's biggest problem is inconsistency. He's not really sure what to do, although there are a handful of story elements in the first part of the film that don't really seem all that important until the end, when I found myself trying to think back to the few moments of character and plot exploration in the otherwise all-out action assault. Witt also has a problem keeping the camera on any one shot for more than a fraction of a second. The camera is moving so fast and cutting away so much that I really got tired of the barrage of images and gave up really caring about the characters. This past summer's Dawn of the Dead was more interesting in terms of zombies and the forthcoming Shaun of the Dead has more character development. I just didn't know who to root for here. Also hurting Witt and his chances of keeping the audience interested is the overly loud soundtrack, which was at times unbearable, even to this 22-year-old who likes his movies to be played loud. At times, the sound mix came close to ear-splitting levels. If you do see this movie, be sure to see it in a nice digital house. You'll be glad you did, and if you're seeing a movie at the same multiplex, you might want to see your film in the house furthest away from Resident Evil.

While I won't pretend to be an expert on the Resident Evil series and timeline, from what I can gather from researching this film, game fans will be happy to learn that a number of characters and direct scenes from the games have been recreated here. From the secondary lead of Jill Valentine, played by Sienna Guillory and looking to be a dead ringer for the CG version from the game, to sub characters and villains like Nemesis, this chapter in the Evil saga is more geared towards gamers than casual movie going fans. It also does touch upon certain thematic elements from the games, but is not a movie version of any one specific game.

From an acting standpoint, there is very little if anything to write home about. If there was only one reason to continue the franchise, it would be Milla's take on Alice. Jovovich is a walking, talking action machine, and with her balls-to-the-wall, take no prisoners attitude, gives this rather bland zombie film some much needed kick. In addition to handling the action scenes with relative ease, she also doesn't completely fumble her way through the story points and more dramatic moments. Having a video game movie with a female lead demands a presence, and Jovovich betters Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft at every turn. Adding to the action this time around is a second strong female character, ex-S.T.A.R.S. member Jill Valentine, played by The Time Machine (the 2002 version)'s Sienna Guillory. I liked Guillory in that film and I enjoyed her here in this much different role. Having to share the spotlight with Jovovich wouldn't be an easy task for anyone and Guillory manages to do better than most probably could. Shifting focus to the male actors in the film, the best known is Mike Epps, who's made a career out of playing smart-ass characters in urban comedies and action pictures. Epps is completely annoying here and I wished that he'd just get killed so I wouldn't have to listen to him. Oded Fehr is also well-known for small roles in The Mummy and Deuce Bigalow among other things, and here he plays a S.T.A.R.S. member who meets up with Jill Valentine and eventually Alice. Fehr is capable of much better and probably just took this role to earn a paycheck after appearing in two failed U.S. TV series.

In the end, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a different motion picture than its predecessor. While the original focused more on horror, science fiction, and action, this sequel loses the first two elements and turns out to be a balls-to-the-wall, fast-moving, fast-cutting action spectacular. The only problem is that the poorly written and developed script and characters are not very interesting and by the end of its nearly 90-minute running time, it leaves the viewer feeling as though a lot more time has gone by. Director Alexander Witt, who has done second unit work for many talented filmmakers, should maybe reconsider stepping behind the camera for the first unit and focus his efforts on the non-story sequences of other more capable directors' movies. Then again, one has to put some of the blame on writer Paul W.S. Anderson, who strikes out yet again after butchering the meeting of two horror movie icons in Alien vs. Predator. Anderson's story is non-existent and Witt's direction is uninspired, flat, boring, and often nauseating. Fans of the game might enjoy this movie adaptation but for the most part this is just a loud and boring zombie movie. I did like the last 5 or so minutes and the 2 or 3 minutes scattered throughout which talked about the T-Virus and its applications, but the rest of the movie left me wanting something much better than what I was watching. Although I'm sure a third film is on the way, perhaps it's better to quit before things get worse.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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