When the original RESIDENT EVIL was released two years ago, I was not looking forward to it. So no one was more surprised that I was that I not only enjoyed the film, I flat-out loved it. It's something I still have to defend to this day. RESIDENT EVIL had its fans, but it had a large number of detractors as well, and it's easy to see why. If you were a fan of the game, you likely admired the fact that it was a slow and involving affair where most of the emphasis was put on prolonged periods of suspense where shambling zombies could leap out of nowhere. At least, that's what I imagine. Since the Sega Genesis closed shop, it took me ten years to cave in and buy another system. That was an XBox, so as you can imagine, I have never actually played RESIDENT EVIL. Needless to say, the film didn't deliver what fans of the game were familiar with. There were no slow parts to the original. The second it began, it barely stopped to take a breath. Many were turned off by the constant bombardment of action sequences that had sunk many earlier films.
For myself, I loved it. It was a film based on a video game, never a good sign. It was also directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, from whom I had never seen a good film before or since. But here it was, the ultimate horror action film. It's a sub-genre of horror never talked about, one where combat has as much to do with the film as the supernatural elements around it. It won't garner any applause from the folks at MENSAA but for myself, RESIDENT EVIL was 102 minutes of pure adrenaline. I watched it for a third time a few nights before checking out the sequel and it still stacks up.
If you hated the first RESIDENT EVIL, you will hate the sequel RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE just as much if not moreso. If like myself, you embraced the original, the sequel offers more of the same, but with higher stakes. On the other hand, if you skipped the original altogether, you are going to be completely lost. It is so imperative that you familiarize yourself with Anderson's film that I am not even able to continue this review with any clarity unless I run through the plot for the original. It's so important, I'd better put the message in caps: I WILL NOT SPOIL THE SEQUEL, BUT IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE ORIGINAL RESIDENT EVIL, STOP READING NOW! There, that should do the trick.
The first film told us about Raccoon City and the vast underground research lab underneath it called 'the Hive." Through an elaborate plot, the entire complex became infected with the T-Virus, an airborne strain that re-animates dead tissue and causes horrible mutations in the living. In other words, the place became infested with zombies and other assorted genetic freaks. When we last left the folks in RESIDENT EVIL, Alice (Milla Jovovich - THE FIFTH ELEMENT, THE MESSENGER: JOAN OF ARC) was separated from Matt just as she was about to inject him with the anti-virus. She woke up in a lab, with various tubes and IVs hooked into her flesh and even her skull. She emerged from the seemingly abandoned facility to behold Raccoon City in a state of chaos as the zombies had made their way to the surface.
RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE picks up right where the first film left off, or more importantly, shortly before. The scientists re-open the Hive as promised and are unprepared for the 500+ workers who have now become flesh-hungry zombies. They are overpowered and the zombies emerge from the Hive. Immediately, the Umbrella Corporation is notified of the incident and does what any other evil empire would do - cover their asses and get outta Dodge. They begin to gather all of their most important scientists and informs them that the inhabitants of Raccoon City are doomed. To prevent them from breaching their gates, Umbrella shows their true evil colors by opening fire on the panicked civilians. There is no way to stop the infection that has spread faster and wider than they had anticipated. Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris - B. MONKEY, THE ETERNAL) refuses to leave until he is sure his daughter is safe. Then, and only then, does Alice begin to walk the streets. Quite an eventful first twenty minutes, don't you think?
Alice knows that those Umbrella bastards have done something to her. She is more alert and agile, which means that if she was tough in the first film, she's an ass-kicking machine here. But even this might have consequences down the road. Alice isn't the only one in the film. We familiarize ourselves with a number of other people. Two small groups of S.T.A.R.S. operatives try to make it through the city alive and are joined by a few others, including Dr. Archer's daughter, the pleasingly familiar Angie (Sophie Vavasseur - EVELYN). Surprisingly, the civilians aren't nearly as generic as you would expect, even if we think they may be going for a bland approach at first. Upon first appearance, L.J. (Mike Epps - ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, HOW HIGH) looks like a pathetic attempt to bring loudmouth comic relief to the piece, much like Eugene Byrd brought to ANACONDAS a few weeks prior. But wait, the comical dialogue isn't stereotypical, but a convincing defense mechanism of someone who has found himself in an insane situation. He even gets some serious dialogue. Ditto for Terri whom you might assume is just an Emmy-hungry reporter. But she doesn't pull any stunts that would endanger the group. She knows that survival is the most important thing and the glory can come later if it wishes.
Two other people we need to familiarize ourselves with are two of our main S.T.A.R.S. agents. Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr - the MUMMY movies, DEUCE BIGELOW) may be a heroic soldier willing to risk his life for the inhabitants of Raccoon City, but he also shows vulnerability when he realizes those same actions have caused him to be written off by his superiors. A fan favorite from the video games makes her first appearance, Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory - HELEN OF TROY). Jill is not a fan of Umbrella, or anyone else who isn't on her team to be honest.
This group tries to escape Raccoon City by sunrise. What they don't know if that a particularly odious Umbrella rep (Dave Nicchols) has figured that since the city is doomed, it's a perfect time to test out their newest project, Nemesis (Matthew G. Taylor), which is the unrecognizably mutated Matt from the first film.
Phew, long description and it doesn't touch on nearly everything. Sounds like a complex film, huh? Well, it's not and in this case, that's okay. As I said earlier, Anderson's RESIDENT EVIL was a nonstop action-packed film and RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE is the same, although on a much bigger scale. There are only a few real scares, but they are present. Mainly, you just have to sit there and admire the coolness. Like beautiful women that could beat you into a purple pudding? Consider APOCALYPSE an early Christmas present. Like seeing zombies shot through the head? There's a very rich squib manufacturer thanks to this film. Like seeing things blow up? Yes, Ted Kazinski, there is a Santa Claus.
Paul W.S. Anderson stepped down from directing RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE so he could tackle ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, which probably sounded like a good idea at the time. He did write the script however and it retains the same frenetic pace and brainless entertainment value of the first. Stepping into the director's chair is Alexander Witt. This is Witt's first film as a director but he has one of the most impressive Second Unit resumes in the biz, tackling GLADIATOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN, XXX, DAREDEVIL and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN to name a few. His direction retains the same short attention span as Anderson's. His has a real gift for action sequences, making them thrilling affairs which will cause barely stifled cheers of macho goodness. The film doesn't feel as slick as RESIDENT EVIL, but one must remember that film took place entirely in a state of the art laboratory, while the sequel inhabits a city on the brink of destruction. Also, if you have a thing for tough women in action, this film could turn your interest into a bona fide fetish. Working from Anderson's script, Witt keeps some of the previous director's style intact, making APOCALYPSE branch out almost seamlessly from its predecessor. Still, Witt doesn't just imitate. He raises the stakes to a cataclysmic level and shows enough flare of his own to peak my interest.
Certain things don't work as well this time around. The original had an electronic score that would have been a kiss of death in many other films. But Marilyn Manson's score for RESIDENT EVIL just made the screen vibrate with life. A more traditional score by Jeff Danna is decent and it might even placate some who don't want drum machines in their horror. But if there is a dulled down feeling of a few sequences in comparison, it is probably because Danna's score can't seem to compete.
Jill Valentine plays a less crucial role to the story than you might expect, and that's fortunate. I don't know what she did in video game circles, but in APOCALYPSE she isn't very conducive to the success of the film. Part of that problem lies in Anderson's script (What? You thought I had fallen in love with the guy? Please!), which fails to flesh out her character. Exposition is brief and to the point in most of APOCALYPSE, but the filmmakers manage to make that work just fine for the most part. But when it comes to Valentine, they come up short. She has possibly the coolest introduction of anyone in the film, but after that it's downhill.
Maybe I'm just not giving her a fair chance, but Sierra Guillory doesn't seem comfortable in the part. She seems far too mousy to be completely believable as the hard-edged operative we're supposed to accept her as. She's more Adrian than Rocky Balboa and it doesn't work. I hope you'll forgive my crass language, but she can also be a bit of a bitch. After Alice makes a grand entrance and saves everyone's life, Valentine glares at her and says "Who the fuck are you?" This line could have been written with a completely different approach. Dazed wonderment or awe would come to mind, or perhaps just frustrated bewilderment. But Guillory reads the line in an accusatory fashion as if she somehow resents Alice saving her life. If she did, she never brings it up for the rest of the film.
Once again I risk my tattered shreds of credibility by endorsing a film that is bound to be despised more than adored. But I'm here to give my opinion, and I am unapologetic. I can only be honest with myself. Horror films in general are looked down upon by most of the mainstream anyway, making any appreciation of them suspect in most people's eyes. Roger Ebert for instance, demonstrated a fuzzy memory when it came to the original RESIDENT EVIL (Yes, they did refer to Raccoon City, several times in fact, Rog) and his notes on the sequel made me wonder if we saw the same film. I typically respect Ebert along with many other critics but when it comes to films like this, they're in the dark. Of course, many purists hate them as well. The way I see it, someone has to lift these films up and it might as well be me.
But enough of this off-topic blather. If you liked RESIDENT EVIL, then APOCALYPSE will be right up your alley. If you didn't, don't expect any changes in your favor this time around. RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE is another chapter in what looks to be a long-running series of horror actioners. It doesn't have many more brain cells than the shambling zombies in the cast, but it makes up for all of that with pure, shameless bursts of energy. The barometer for success in this case was very easy. Leaving the apocalypse behind, I walked out of the theatre with a big grin on my face. And with a film like this, that's all that matters.