The Resident Evil films are critic proof. If you’re a fan of the series (and, judging by the solid box-office receipts for each of the four films in the franchise, there are many), you know what you’re getting each time out and, usually, there’s a little more of it. More zombies, more mutants, and, most importantly, more Milla Jovovich. While I originally wasn’t too impressed by the first Resident Evil film, I have to admit that it’s long since grown on me, and, surprisingly, I’ve found subsequent films to be better than the last. This trend continues with Afterlife, the fourth entry in the series, as the Resident Evil franchise boards the lucrative 3-D bandwagon.
Following the events of Extinction (which you really need to have seen or this film won’t make a lick of sense), we now find Alice (Jovovich) and her small army of clones in Tokyo, where she has tracked down Umbrella Corporation CEO, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts). Wesker, himself infected with the T-virus, has become as powerful as Alice, and handily defeats her clones, incapacitates her, and injects her with a chemical that negates the virus’ effects on her, leaving her powerless. Before Wesker can kill her, however, Alice narrowly escapes. Months pass and Alice decides to seek out her friend Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and the other survivors from Las Vegas in Arcadia, the Alaskan safe zone where Claire was headed. She ultimately finds Claire (although not how she expected), but not Arcadia, which then leads them to Los Angeles, where there is another rumored safe-haven, as well as a host of new potential allies and threats , including a mysterious prisoner named Chris (Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller). It is here that they learn the truth about Arcadia (it’s a giant floating barge that’s always on the move), and Chris offers them a way to all reach sanctuary so long as they take him with them. Of course, things are never that easy in Resident Evil film, so this small band of survivors must face off against hordes of traditional (and not-so-traditional) zombies, dogs, Umbrella goons, and an axe-wielding menace known only as The Executioner. Oh, and seeing as how it’s all in 3-D, pretty much everything sort of happens in your face.
Like I said, unless you’ve seen Resident Evil: Extinction (and, to have understood that, you really needed to have seen Resident Evil: Apocalypse) Afterlife will mostly infuriate and mnconfuse the hell out of you. It’s full of in-jokes and mentions of characters, places, and things that are crucial to the series mythos (and, unlike many franchises, the Resident Evil films don’t offer much by way of a refresher course to bring new viewers up to speed). Don’t feel bad, though, as even hardcore fans of the “survival horror” video games upon which the series is based don’t know what’s going on in these films as they’ve deviated so far from canon that they’ve become mutually exclusive universes (which is, perhaps, why the video game fans are the series’ most vociferous detractors). The games are gritty, scary, and downbeat while Paul W.S. Anderson’s (who returns to direct, here) films are silly, flashy, action spectacles, where monsters get their asses kicked Matrix-style by hot chicks in short skirts – it’s anime meets Russ Meyer by way of George Romero, and it’s a series that I count amongst my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. The added bonus of 3-D? Well that just makes it that much more…err…pleasurable.
Yes, I know; I’ve been a vocal opponent of 3-D, but hear me out. The 3-D I’m opposed to is the kind where it’s done as either an afterthought (Clash of the Titans) or forced upon a film that doesn’t need it just to cash in on the whole post-Avatar “craze”. Making a 3-D sequel to a Resident Evil film? That’s a different animal entirely, and Anderson approaches it with the all of the subtlety and restraint of a rabid chimpanzee in a knife store. If it can be poked, thrown, shot, splashed, or exploded into your eyes, rest assured, Anderson uses it here, and is obviously thrilled to do so. It’s not the best looking 3-D I’ve seen, and, on occasion, the overabundant CGI bits and bobs getting lobbed in your face gets to be a bit much, but at least it’s proper 3-D, and not one of these films where stuff just sort of floats there like you’re looking at it through a Viewmaster (once again, I give you Clash of the Titans). Sony’s Blu-ray presentation is exceptionally sharp, detailed, and surprisingly vibrant (especially given that much of the admittedly little 3-D content I’ve watched at home borders on the drab side), but there’s a fair amount of ghosting as well as a few instances where the image darkened considerably. There’s a very impressive sense of depth, here, and, as I moved around the room, I found the effect to be just as compelling from most angles.
Sony also includes the 2-D version of the film on the Blu-ray, and, I gotta say, it looks superb. As much as I appreciate the 3-D version, it’s tough to get around the fact that the 2-D version just looks so much brighter and more vivid. While I’ll most likely revisit the 3-D version when I entertain friends (well, three friends, seeing as that’s how many pairs of glasses I have), I’m thinking any personal viewings from here on out will be of the 2-D version.
As with previous Resident Evil films, Sony loads up this 3-D Blu-ray with a host of extras, which, in addition to both the 3-D and standard versions of the film, include;
· Sneak Peek of Resident Evil: Damnation
· “Undead Vision” Picture-in-Picture Video
· Filmmaker Commentary
· Eight Deleted Scenes
· Seven Featurettes
· Back Under the Umbrella: Directing Afterlife
· Band of Survivors: Casting Afterlife
· Undead Dimension: Resident Evil in 3D
· Fighting Back: The Action of Afterlife
· Vision of the Apocalypse: The Design of Afterlife
· New Blood: The Undead of Afterlife
· Pwning the Undead: Gamers of the Afterlife
The bottom line is this; if you’re a fan of the Resident Evil films, you’ll like this movie, if not, well… Afterlife will not convert you. It’s certainly not the best in the series (I still prefer Extinction), but it taps into more of the game’s mythos, creates some new ones, and ends on a cliffhanger note that will surely please fans of Apocalypse. The 3-D is well done, for the most part, and it’s certainly a title that owners of 3-D televisions and Blu-ray players will want to consider for their collections, but the 2-D version of the film looks damned good, as well, so those who’ve yet to make the leap to 3-D gear can opt for the standard Blu-ray edition, which features all of the same extra goodies included in this set.