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Sunday, May 12, 2019

VIDEO GAME MOVIE MONTH: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Capcom's “Resident Evil” launched a long-running video game series that – if you include the spin-offs, the handheld titles, and remakes – currently numbers twenty-four entries. It's among the best-selling video game franchises. So, it's not surprising that the movie version of “Resident Evil” would plan for sequels. The first film ended by setting up a sequel, unleashing Alice into a zombie-infested Raccoon City. Usually, sequel hooks in video game movies are overly optimistic but it worked this time. “Resident Evil” was a box office success and a sequel, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” would follow in 2004. Paul W. S. Anderson wouldn't return to direct but, feeling sour about how bad “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” turned out, he did stay on as a writer and producer. The sequel would out-gross the original, marking “Resident Evil” as a series that was going to stick around a while.

“Apocalypse” does not immediately pick up where the last film left off. Instead, it shows life in Raccoon City leading up to the outbreak, the local police department slowly being overwhelmed by zombie-related incidents. The story centers in on Jill Valentine, the protagonist of the original game. A cop, Jill teams up with a band of other tough customers to survive the zombie-filled night. They soon meet Alice, who has been further mutated by the Umbrella Corporation into an even bigger bad-ass. The other survivor of the first film has been transformed into Nemesis, a heavily armed cyborg super-zombie. After meeting up with the daughter of Umbrella's head scientist, Alice and the others become a primary target of Nemesis. The corporation is going to nuke the city in a few hours, covering up their zombie-unleashing crime, so time is tight.

Paul W. S. Anderson passed directorial duties on “Resident Evil 2” over to Alexander Witt, an experienced second unit man. Witt clearly doesn't have much of a style of his own yet, aping Anderson's visual approach. This is not a good thing. There are plenty of flashbacks, presented in the same wash-out fashion as the first one, proceeded by flashing white light. The action scenes are cut quickly, camera angles switching around oddly. Weirdly, and most distracting, the zombie attack scenes are shot very strangely. Almost every time a zombie attacks someone, the scene goes into slow motion and the sound effects become garbled and overdone. And, naturally, there's a ton of cheap jump scares. It's about as far away from being effectively scary as you can imagine.

“Apocalypse” does have one advantage over the first “Resident Evil” though. At times, it actually feels like what you'd expect a “Resident Evil” movie to feel like. The film is never suspenseful or scary, its horrors always overdone and inert. However, some scenes come close to working. Such as Jill trying to safely lead a little girl through a kitchen while being chased by some zombie dogs, forced to improvise weapons because she's out of bullets. Or when the S.T.A.R.S. team fight a trio of Lickers in an empty church. People grasping around for their guns in a tight location, while monstrous creatures lash out at them from the darkness, is what a “Resident Evil” movie should feel like. And it doesn't hurt that these scenes are actually about Jill Valentine. Similarly, Nemesis is a close match for his game counterpart and, at the very least, provides a decent primary antagonist for most of the film. (Even if his H.U.D. Terminator-vision P.O.V. shots are goofy.)

Yet whenever “Apocalypse” gets an almost decent moment going, Alice quite literally comes crashing into the scene, destroying even the thinnest wisps of subtly. The church scene, mildly effective as it is, ends with Alice ramping a motorcycle through a stain glass window, which then explodes. Jill attempts to destroy the zombie dogs by igniting gas in the kitchen with a match but it doesn't work... So here comes Alice, exploding the canines with a casually flicked cigarette. Since the Umbrella Corporation has experimented on her, Alice is even more of a ridiculous bad-ass now. She's cracking zombie heads on tombstones, whipping faceless goons with extending batons, and goes toe-to-toe with Nemesis more than once. (Ignoring his status as the villain nobody can face down by themselves.) Milla Jovovich's performance is just as wooden as last time.

While Alice and Jill often feel like they belong to two different movies, it's not like the new protagonist is that big of a set-up. Sienna Guillory is perfectly serviceable as Jill. She's a more appealing heroine than Alice largely because she's not an unstoppable killing machine that can actually fail at things. The rest of the new cast is similarly uneven. Oded Fehr is perfectly suited to this stupid bullshit, being gravely serious while playing action hero. Zach Ward is cast as his Russian sidekick for some reason. The worst new character is Mike Epps as L.J., a broad black comic relief character that cracks racially questionable quips. He seems to have wander into the movie from one of Michael Bay's less sensitive motion pictures.

If the first “Resident Evil's” ending left room open for a sequel, “Apocalypse” essentially devotes its last twenty minutes to setting up the next film. The story basically concludes and we are then presented with an extended epilogue, further nailing home how important Alice is, how powerful Alice is. I am only two movies into this series and I'm already fucking sick of Alice. While it slightly improves on the first film, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” is still garbage. Isolated moments in the film are acceptable. If the rest of the movie around them was better, we might have had a semi-decent film. But, no, the rest of the movie is awful action scenes, limp performances, and badly directed horror sequences. [4/10]

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