Friday, November 2, 2012

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

With Halloween behind us [though it was postponed in some parts until this weekend] and the apocalyptic events of Hurricane Sandy just beginning [yes, I was one of the fortunate ones and I am grateful], it seemed a fitting opportunity to close out scary October with the appropriately titled Resident Evil: Apocalypse [2004], a film originally intended for release on Halloween in October 2003.

After the claustrophobic confines of the original Resident Evil [2002] relegated entirely within the Umbrella Corporation's Hive facility filmed in hues of anti-septic, basement-like blue and highlights of sterile, metallic whites and reds, Resident Evil: Apocalypse opens the action of the latest chapter within the dark enclosure of an urban nightmare a la John Carpenter's classic Escape From New York [1981].

Sadly, Resident Evil: Apocalypse enjoys the prestigious allocation of being the most underappreciated of the first four films. Is that fair and by what measure?  Was it a lack of zombies?  The film has often been discarded as the least original of the four films and despite the nods to the 1970s, a period of film Anderson readily cites as influential to his film maker's eye, no one would dare argue it to be a better film than the John Carpenter classic, but make no bones about it, there's plenty in tribute here to the days of post-apocalyptic streets and decay complete with zombies and other undead things.

Personally, I wouldn't hazard to defend Resident Evil: Apocalypse as approaching an influential classic like Carpenter's film, but I appreciate its respect for the vibe of that earlier film.  Though Carpenter's film arrived at the dawn of the 1980s, it very much captured the spirit of films made popular throughout the 1970s, a time of American decay and disrepair. Thus, I continue to defend Resident Evil: Apocalypse as a unique chapter in the franchise that also makes some efforts to create some semblance of story structure for the action unleashed.  Newer entries in the franchise would approach an even more video game-like aesthetic emphasizing action over story.  But this sophomore effort still feels like a fairly well-defined, self-contained chapter within the series.

None of the Resident Evil films are particularly strong on the narrative level, but the first two films execute more like stories based on video games rather than straight video game actioners with a first person shooter visual style. What they all share is the common thread of viral-zombie apocalypse and its heroine Alice.  So despite the lack of love or affection by many for the film [it retains the esteemed lowest splatter at 21% at Rotten Tomatoes], Resident Evil: Apocalypse is no less worthy of the franchise than any other film.

Does Resident Evil: Apocalypse deserve exclusion for paying tribute to a film made over two decades ago?  Resident Evil: Extinction unapologetically taps into the artistic flair of films like The Road Warrior and yet director Russell Mulcahey mostly succeeds for his efforts.  Why does director Alexander Witt, or better yet writer Paul W. S. Anderson, receive such scrutiny over his efforts to ape Escape From New York? Even the score by Jeff Danna makes efforts to channel the classic in its compositions.  The music tonally captures the mood of that film's war torn streets.  Admittedly, though he's partly responsible, Anderson, too, has suggested he was not a fan of Witt's handling of the second installment's execution.

With The Hive reopened, the T-virus and its many re-animated inhabitants escape into Racoon City.  With the intention of closing down the city Umbrella acts quickly to retrieve a number of high level targets for extraction.  One high level target, Dr. Charles Ashford, creator of the T-Virus, awaits his daughter's safe arrival.  She remains alive following a car crash within the city and thus the set up begins to save her life in a hostile new world in the form of the walled off Racoon City.

Thirteen hours later and Racoon City is in shambles as the dead walk, people fight, flee and die.  Jill Valentine, a now suspended S.T.A.R.S. [Special Tactics And Rescue Squad - a special arm of the Racoon City law enforcement unit] super cop, is introduced with cartoonish swagger, a tight-fitting outfit and legs that won't quit.  She quickly reveals she's a crackshot with a gun and unloads on all infected zombies.  Played by Sienna Guillory, Jill Valentine nearly shares the spotlight with Alice for the second film.

Meanwhile, Project Alice is revealed and Umbrella suspends all hospital operations on Alice bringing us precisely to the point with which the original Resident Evil film had ended.  In fact, any genuinely new Milla footage doesn't actually appear until the near thirty minute mark save for a very short scene.

Racoon City is entirely sealed off with only the Raven's Gate Bridge as an exit point, reminding us yet again of the concepts employed for Escape From New York.

Along with Jill Valentine, Carlos Oliveira, played by Oded Fehr, is introduced as a mercenary within Umbrella, both characters, unlike Alice, directly extracted from the Resident Evil video game series.

Dr. Ashford is looking for someone to help find his daughter and locates Alice alive within the city. As you'll recall, both Alice and Matt Addison were taken by Umbrella scientists at the close of Resident Evil.  Matt was mutating genetically and placed within the Nemesis Program.  Matt is the man who would be Nemesis.  Alice, too, was also used for experimentation but the virus has not impacted her physical appearance.  Milla Jovovich looks as good as ever of course.  No need for genetic mutation there, but the program has given her a new found superhuman strength.  Of course, she's going to need it.

The film boasts a fairly intense church sequence as Jill Valentine and others attempt to survive a handful of Lickers on the loose.  The CGI has improved but the mind numbing dialogue has not.  "Who the fuck are you?," inquires Valentine when Alice ["I'm Milla flippin' Jovovich"] finally arrives by motorcycle within the church to save the day with her sensationally comic book-like acrobatics.  The horror-like realities of the original are quickly slipping away in favor of action pieces.  Further, the sexy red dress look of the original film has been traded for a Lord Of The Flies, 1970s UFO-inspired fishnet look that does nothing to truly enhance the beauty of the star of the series unfortunately.  It is the least enticing or inviting outfit of the series. Could the lack of male stimuli be partially why this entry has been rejected almost purely on a level of visual gut reaction?  Nevertheless, Milla raises the bad-to-the-bone bar first set in the second portion of the original film.

Following the activation of Project Alice, Project Nemesis is executed minutes later unleashing the monstrous centerpiece of the film's mutant baddies.  Umbrella has their creature so well-designed and programmed a chopper drops in all manner of weaponry [Gatling/ rail gun and rocket launchers] for the creature to use to take out the S.T.A.R.S. members and anything that stands in its way. It's not made entirely clear why Umbrella is so determined to destroy S.T.A.R.S. other than for shits and giggles within unfortunate events.  For Umbrella, it would seem the experiment continues.  Umbrella mercenary team members arrive in the hospital to retrieve the dropped boxes only to discover the weapons were clearly meant for something else entirely.

Held up at a police station are twelve members of S.T.A.R.S. who are quickly wiped out by the unstoppable killing machine that is Nemesis.  Nemesis put simply is one seriously bad ass creature design and, at the time of the film, one of the best I had seen in some time.  The creators of Nemesis are truly underappreciated for their prosthetic and design work here.

Dr. Ashford locates Alice and Jill by camera and pay telephone.  He strikes a deal to save them if they can save his daughter who is hiding out at a school.  The group must take the deal or be the recipients of an incoming 5 kiloton precision tactical nuclear device.

Before long it's project versus project.  Alice versus Nemesis.  The action is indeed one of the highlights for those with an appetite for guns, firepower, destruction and general comic book violence with an impressively realistic vibe.

Jill Valentine locates young Angela.  The British voiced cutie and daughter of Dr. Charles Ashford is clearly the template and model for the artificial intelligence that was the Red Queen inside the Hive of the original film.  Actress Sophie Vavasseur didn't actually handle the voice of the Red Queen in the first film, but this is clearly the intent of the Angela character here.

The group of survivors makes their way to city hall [now that's not how Escape From New York ended] and their one chance to be airlifted to safety by chopper.

In a nifty sequence Alice runs down the side of city hall via cable and becomes a one-woman wrecking machine.  The team commandeers the chopper intended for the return of Nemesis, but Alice and company are apprehended by the remaining Umbrella soldiers as Nemesis awaits new orders.

Thus begins Alice and Nemesis Mortal Kombat match two.  Alice is informed she must fight Nemesis [her old friend Matt] or die.  Dr. Ashford is killed to make a point that they mean business.  Both are equally matched in strength, skill, speed and agility. Brother and sister. Beauty and the beast. Friends torn apart by corporate manipulation and power.

The battle commences and ultimately Alice pins Nemesis against a spike.  She is overcome with emotion for her old friend.  Overwhelmed by emotion, Alice is unable to finish off her old friend as flashbacks to his humanity torment her and the realization of this new reality sets in.  Of course, there is not a great deal of emotional depth or truly logical emotional depth to the series.  This cursory and shallow display is one of the series' glaring problems with most critics.  Scary to think Resident Evil: Apocalypse may be one of the less icy, more expressive and affecting in tone.

To Umbrella, the largest commercial enterprise on the planet, Alice is not a mutation but "evolution."  She has bonded with the T-virus on a cellular level.  She will not kill Nemesis though he is deemed expendable by Major Timothy Cain, in charge for Umbrella.

Matt is still somewhere inside Nemesis and even after receiving orders to kill Alice he refuses knowing she would not kill him after receiving same said orders to do so from Umbrella.  Nemesis reaches deep within to find Matt's humanity and goes rogue against Umbrella. In Richard "Jaws" Kiel, Moonraker-style Nemesis ironically proves not to be the archemeny of Alice becoming one of the good guys.  Nemesis begins killing all of the Umbrella soldiers.  Matt/ Nemesis is eventually killed but not before saving his old friend Alice. Of course they just met in Resident Evil but who is counting the hours of genuine human contact here really?  Nevermind both have been in coma stasis for most of their relationship.

With zombies incoming, Cain gets his comeuppance and is left behind to die.  Even a now zombified Dr. Ashford gets revenge on him. The helicopter escapes but the city is nuked.  The aftershock downs the helicopter too.  All are, in essence, believed to be  killed.  Even Alice appears to be deceased following the tumultuous escape.

In the end, we are led to believe Umbrella manages to spin events in their favor despite their extreme malfeasance.  The simple message is corporations are truly evil.

Epilogue:  Like a comic book, three weeks later in an Umbrella Medical Research Facility, Alice is essentially reborn.  She is alive and based on the discussion of her "recovery," she is not a clone.  Her escape reveals that Alice is a quick learner. Recollecting her past she is now stronger than ever and one scene indicates she now has immense psychic powers. She is rescued by Oliveira and Valentine with Angela Ashford suggesting that all were nursed back to health, reunited and somehow escaping. These final minutes are admittedly vague.  Upon their escape from the medical research facility it is clear that Umbrella's Dr. Sam Isaacs orders his soldiers to stand down and allow the group be free to exit.  In his mind, all is in place.  Project Alice has now become Program Alice.  Now activated it is suggested that the Umbrella Corporation is in full control of their greatest weapon. As the camera pulls back from the planet and a satellite circles with the Umbrella Corporation logo it is clear this corporate entity and the story's underlying message is that corporations are indeed evil, in charge and are ruling us all while we ignorantly live our pathetic lives.  This is clearly the harsh message of Resident Evil.

Familiarity with the set up and plot points aside, Resident Evil: Apocalypse executes well as a fun hybrid between zombie, viral quarantine and action film with no shortage of excitement.  Witt and company take a variety of sequences directly from a number of the Resident Evil video games.  Zombies, killer dobermans, mutant Lickers and the video game's infamous Nemesis generates enough of a nightmare to keep Resident Evil fans, err, licking their chops for more. Nevertheless, with a host of different characters introduced in this less confined, much more sprawling environment, the film feels a little more disjointed and not as tight as the original.  That works against it, but it feels like an entirely different story in many respects and in this Resident Evil: Apocalypse at least avoids the pitfall of repeating the original.

Please don't misunderstand, director Alexander Witt's film doesn't come close to the auteur touch of one John Carpenter.  Anderson's writing and the direction lacks the somber, grim, truly believable post-apocalyptic vibe of Carpenter's 1981 classic.  The end of the world never felt more real and comfortably uncomfortable than it did in Carpenter's visionary hands.  Resident Evil: Apocalypse is by no means a classic, however within the franchise thread of heroine Alice's tale and modern day journey through the proverbial rabbit hole of genetic mutations, it works well and presents an urban nightmare that is unique while offering an alternative chapter within the series.  Witt's sense of excitement and pacing is arguably well-staged, which may be why the Chilean filmmaker has worked as a second unit director on the Mission: Impossible film series, as well as James Bond films' Casino Royale [2006] and Skyfall [2012].  Action seems to be something that comes fairly natural to the director even if it lacks a certain artistic vision or trademark panache or flair.  So while imperfect, Resident Evil: Apocalypse delivers a hearty bit of action and changes things up remarkably from the first picture and on that level this one has its explosive moments.

As a chapter in the tale of Alice, the film works and logically [most of the time] realizes the natural evolution of the story and her character even if things get a little crazy.  But this is Resident Evil people, good old mindless zombie fun, and these are but mere quibbles between friends, which would lead me to the entirely fitting and unoriginal pronouncement to those who could possibly reject it - "What you talkin' 'bout Willis?!" *// Resident Evil: Apocalypse: B.

Coming Soon: The desert. Hot sands. Hot Ashanti. Hot Ali Carter. The scorching hot Milla.  More zombies. And The Mad Max-like homage that is Resident Evil: Extinction.


Franco Macabro said...

I didn't want to read your review until I had posted mine, I just posted my thoughts on it and I see we pretty much agree, mindless fun (same as all the other ones) yet superior to all others in the action sense. It just feels real as opposed to the CGI fests that are the rest of the films. Alexander Witt did good as far as I'm concerned.

SFF said...

Hello TFC!

Thanks for stopping. I'll be sure to head over.

We are on exactly the same page regarding the action.

There is a gritty feel to it. All latex, blood, sweat and tears. I love it. Afterlife and beyond really feel CGI heavy.

I thought Witt put a solid stamp on it.

And that building scene and the nuke is a very powerful, climactic end to the film. Very impressive.

Cheers Fran!