Review: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
The first Resident Evil film was decidedly mediocre, but it wasn’t a complete waste of celluloid. It also managed to pull in a decent amount of bank at the box-office, so it’s no surprise that a sequel would hit theaters two years later. Especially one in which Milla Jovovich flashes her boobs amidst scenes of zombie murdering. Bam. You just guaranteed that every serious male geek will come to your movie. It’s no surprise, then, that not much work was put into it. None was required in order to make a profit.
In case you missed the first one, here are the basics: the Umbrella Corporation has developed a virus that can bring the dead back to life. It was unleashed in an underground lab called The Hive in the first film. Alice (Milla Jovovich), former head of security, managed to fight her way out before being captured by Umbrella for unknown reasons. It’s not exactly rocket science.
The second film in the survival horror franchise finds the T-virus having spread to the surface, infecting the residents of Raccoon City. The Umbrella Corporation establishes a security perimeter around the entire city to quarantine the area, essentially meaning that anyone trapped inside is doomed, because as an evil film corporation their job is just to mess up people’s lives. As a result of experiments performed on her by her former employers, Alice now has superhuman strength and agility. That’s going to come in handy when she has to take down wave after wave of zombies, Umbrella security teams, and Matt in order to survive.
Wait, what was that last bit? Matt? Yup, that’s right, the one dude who survived the first film is back, except instead of being Matt, he’s now called Nemesis. Project Nemesis is a program in which the virus was allowed to mutate Matt into a larger, hulking brute of a mutant who will do whatever the Umbrella brass tells him to do. I'm not sure how said large, hulking brute of a mutant learned to follow orders, but apparently it was only for his own amusement, since he can decide not to follow them at convenient moments. The Umbrella execs (and perhaps writer Paul W.S. Anderson) really didn’t think that one through, I guess. Nemesis spends most of his screen time walking around like a giant blob of silly putty with a rocket launcher and grunting. It’s thankfully a man-in-suit giant blob of silly putty rather than some cheesy CGI, but boy is it still dumb.
Alice finds some friends to team up with, including a disgraced (what for, we’ll never know) police officer named Jill Valentine played by Sienna Guillory. She is probably the best thing about the movie. Guillory’s high-energy portrayal makes her the perfect sidekick to Alice, and it doesn’t take long for her to start finding new and creative ways to kill the dead a second time. Her acting might not be spectacular, but she’s got a screen presence most struggling actors would love to possess. Despite a jumbled script and poor directing, she’s magnetic to watch. This, more than anything, is the Resident Evil franchise’s main strength: the ability to craft believable female protagonists that are actually independent and not always presented as sex objects (though there is some of that). This is also the only way in which it is a “progressive” film in any sense of the word.
Director Alexander Witt may not do a spectacular job, but it’s not like he’s working with A-grade material. That writing this bad could get greenlit is, for lack of a better pun, a sign of the Apocalypse. Like the first film, a lot of the dialogue in the second does nothing except describe exactly what the audience has already been shown. Some of my favorites include: "The infection’s spreading!"; "This wound won’t stop bleeding!"; and the immortal, "That big motherf***er got a rocket launcher!" There are even more characters this time around, and none of them approach anything remotely close to two-dimensionality. Jill has no real personality beyond “ass-kicking hottie” and the other minor characters fare even worse. There’s an ex-Umbrella solder named Carlos who gets to shoot things and wink at Alice, since what’s a zombie movie without sexual tension? There’s a scientist, portrayed by Mad Men’s Jared Harris, who gets a minor emotional subplot involving a lost daughter. There’s a news woman who does nothing except stand around and film everything that happens in the hopes of a future Emmy. And, finally, there’s L.J.
Yes, L.J. This is a character played by comedian Mike Epps. He serves no purpose except comic relief. He is the kind of character who, in the middle of an intense action scene, will stop to make a funny one-liner. Are we really not over this? Is this not the 21st century? I guess I was wrong to assume that we as a culture were over inserting African-American actors into small supporting roles simply to be the bearers of humor while all the white people go save the day. L.J. is one of the most inherently stereotypical and racist side characters in a mainstream action film since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Occasionally, Epps manages to generate a small chuckle from some pretty terrible one-liners, most of which aren’t funny but have some f-bombs in them, which apparently in theory should automatically make them comedy gold. It’s as if Anderson spent most of his time thinking, “Black people swearing is hilarious! I’ll put some of that in!” rather than actually bothering to come up with good material.
Of course, nobody comes to see these things for the script. What they do come to see is action, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse has a ton of it. This movie has action oozing out of every orifice, and if that’s not a pleasant image, don’t worry, it shouldn’t be. The action sequences are so random, so spontaneous, so convoluted, and overall just so stupid, that beyond a few decent martial arts flips and kicks there’s nothing to see. Oh, there’s a cool shot of Milla Jovovich running down a building. But other than that, nope, nothing memorable. The editing flows about as well as a toilet after Cinco de Mayo: infrequently, and even when it does work it’s full of sh*t. Plot twists feel unearned and hackneyed. All potentially interesting character development is sacrificed in the name of one more Big Kill Scene. There are plot holes big enough to drop a nuclear bomb through (ha!), and the result is that despite all the shooting and exploding and screaming and decapitating, it all feels empty and pointless. This movie is so busy throwing action scenes in left and right that it has no time to make them mean anything beyond, “Isn’t this cool?”
Resident Evil: Apocalypse embodies everything wrong with mainstream Hollywood movies. It is the kind of product I might expect to see pop up in films like Scott Pilgrim or Funny People as a fake poster or trailer; something so ridiculous that it has to be satire, right? Well, if Anderson meant it as satire, he didn’t tell Alexander Witt, and the result is something that should be played as parody but instead takes itself as seriously as a heart attack (or killer virus). There is a moment involving a motorcycle and a stained glass window that not only makes no narrative sense, but is so melodramatic I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Multiple shots during action scenes unfold in clichéd, agonizing slow motion. The women wear tight and revealing outfits even when it isn’t practical. The plot consists of nothing more than a loose series of action sequences forced together through coincidence and random happenstance. And that's just the first act.
Nothing in this film appears to have been made with an artistic, rather than capitalistic, reason as a top priority. The driving principle seems to be, “If it looks cool, do it,” but no film can survive on the cool factor alone. The zombies that attack might as well be giant dollar bills, our hard-earned cash coming back to bite us in the ass, since we bothered to pay for this garbage in the first place.