Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Director : Alexander Witt
Screenplay : Paul W.S. Anderson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Oded Fehr (Carlos Olivera), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Cain), Sophie Vavasseur (Angie Ashford), Raz Adoti (Peyton Wells), Jared Harris (Dr. Ashford), Mike Epps (L.J.), Sandrine Holt (Terri Morales), Matthew G. Taylor (Nemesis), Zack Ward (Nicholai Sokolov), Iain Glen (Dr. Isaacs)
The best thing about Resident Evil (2002), an overcooked video game of a movie, was its final image: an outlandish, visceral vision of an apocalypse into which the movie's heroine stumbled after thinking she had gotten through the worst of it. It was a crackerjack finale, one whose vision of hell on earth was so perfectly contained in that single image that any attempt to follow through on it could only be a let-down.
Of course, that didn't stop them from making Resident Evil: Apocalypse, which continues the story with increasingly diminishing results. For those not familiar, Apocalypse picks up right where the first movie left off. The T-Virus, a corporate-engineered viral strain, had gotten loose in an underground research facility known as The Hive. Everyone was killed, but the T-Virus reanimates dead cells, thus turning them into flesh-eating zombies. Now, the T-Virus has broken out of The Hive and has begun to infect the entire population of the fictional Raccoon City (I suppose followers of the popular video game series know why the city has such a silly name, but it's never explained in the movie).
The T-Virus and the mayhem that follows in its wake is a product of the Umbrella Corporation, a nightmare of an all-encompassing conglomerate that is so utterly powerful it can nuke an entire city and then build a cover-up wide enough to hide the implications. If there is anything interesting at all beneath the surface of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, it is the science fiction genre's continuing fascination/fear of corporate power. It's as if we have internalized the notion that technology-the basis of science fiction-is a corporate product, thus all its potentials for both good and evil spring from the business class. Corporate politics are the true "resident evil" here, and the lumbering zombies and mutant creations that tear people from limb from limb are just their twisted offspring.
Of course, that's makes Resident Evil: Apocalypse sound like an interesting movie, but it's really not. There are some intriguing ideas floating around between the hyperkinetic action sequences, but it's pretty much just all surface, and not a very good surface at that. Milla Jovovich, lithe and scowling, returns as Alice, the heroine from the first movie. A former head of security for Umbrella, she has since become one of their guinea pigs. They have shot her up with the T-Virus, which has resulted in a form of evolution that has made her both physically and mentally superior. As the zombies take over Raccoon City and the Umbrella Corporation seals off the city, she hooks up with a renegade police officer (Sienna Guillory) and a few others to track down a missing girl whose father is an Umbrella Corp. scientist who has promised them escape from the city in exchange. It's all pretty dour going, which is why Mike Epps provides such effective comic relief as a gun-toting street hustler named L.J.
Since the first movie featured zombies and mutant Dobermans, who make a repeat appearance here, the sequel had to add in something new, so we get a hulking, mutated soldier who is apparently under the control of the Umbrella Corporation, although exactly what they want it to do is never quite clear. Nicknamed Nemesis, this seemingly indestructible behemoth was once a human being with whom Alice was involved, so when it comes down to the inevitable one-on-one standoff between them, she is torn because she is essentially being forced to try to kill her mutated lover. This "beauty and the beast" ethos could potentially have added an emotional kick to the otherwise routine proceedings, if only Alice were more than a monosyllabic action figure. I guess this is Hollywood's way of balancing gender inequities. Women need to be able to play leaden, one-note action heroes, too.
The industry's favorite video-game-to-movie director Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote and directed the first Resident Evil, penned the script for Apocalypse, but was apparently too busy helming Alien vs. Predator, so the reigns have been handed to first-time feature director Alexander Witt, who has worked as a second unit director on scores of Hollywood blockbusters like Gladiator (2000) and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). Witt is competent enough, but he insists on more technical and stylistic flourishes than the material needs. No scene is complete without at least one jarring canted angle, and he overdoes the zombies with streaky slow motion that calls much too much attention to itself. In today's overflowing market of action movies, Witt is clearly trying to make his film stand out, but some of the choice bits backfire terribly, including a scene where Alice literally runs down the side of a building. It's meant to be one of those scenes that elicits "oohs" and "ahhs" from the audience, but it really just looks kind of silly, which is an apt description of the movie as a whole.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 Sony Pictures Entertainment