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|Resident Evil: Apocalypse
by Peter Sobczynski
This is a review that I wrote for another website back when ďResident Evil: ApocalypseĒ was released back in 2004. Since there were no advanced screenings of ďResident Evil: ExtinctionĒ for review purposes, my take on the film will not be up until I make it back from tonightís midnight screening. To tide you over until then, I thought that I would reprint this piece to get everyone in the mood for what is certain to be the cinematic event of 2007. (My take on the original film is on another computer but I will endeavor to post it at some point as well.)There is an occasional feature in Film Comment magazine entitled "Guilty Pleasures" in which noted critics or filmmakers wax ecstatic about films that are impossible to justify on even the slackest artistic level and yet are too damn entertaining to overlook; Roger Ebert mentioned "Invasion of the Bee Girls", Robert Zemeckis praised the filmography of William Castle (years before he helped desecrate those works with a string of bloody, boring remakes) and Martin Scorsese listed enough half-forgotten B-movies to choke a cable schedule for six months. Perhaps as a result of my background as a lapsed Lutheran (harder than it sounds when you consider that being a Lutheran technically makes you a heretic in the first place), I have never quite gotten behind the guilty pleasure concept-if I see a movie I enjoy, I can do so and praise it-no matter how silly or trashy it may be-without feeling even the slightest pang of guilt.
"Raising The Dead The Milla Jovovich Way"
That said, I must say that if I was ever asked to provide such a list of film (Iím talking to you, Gavin Smith), the 2002 zombie film/video-game adaptation "Resident Evil" would have a place pretty close to the top. Yes, I am fully aware that the film was one of the dumbest things ever made-a plotless conglomeration of cheap shock effects, sub-"Matrix" action scenes and ideas stolen wholesale from George Romero (who, at one time, was supposed to make the film himself)-but there was something about its desire to do nothing more than provide momentary sensation to 14-year-old boys with its formula of hot babes + tiny dresses + big guns + zombies getting shot in the head that was so transparent that brought it close to a weird sort of genius. Perhaps it was the shameless purity of form of the material or maybe, he grudgingly admits, it was the purity of form of Milla Jovovich, the extraordinarily gorgeous gal charged with killing the most zombies while wearing the tiniest dresses (and less)-whatever it was, I named "Resident Evil" as one of the 10 Best films of 2002 and I havenít lost a moment of sleep over that decision to this date.
In general, I am not someone who looks forward to sequels-they tend to be little more than artificial attempts to replicate the success of an earlier film for no other reason than the desire to make a few easy bucks-but the notion of a sequel to "Resident Evil" filled my heart with giddiness; the only thing better than Milla vs. Zombies, in my view, would be more Milla vs. Zombies and you canít really complain that a movie is nothing more than an exploitative cash-in follow-up when the original was an exploitative cash-in of its own. Happily, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" lives up (or down) to every possible expectation and is possibly the best trashy movie since...well, since the original "Resident Evil". Of course, this shouldnít come as much of a surprise since it is pretty much the exact same movie, only somehow bigger, louder and dumber.
The first film, you will recall, dealt with the repercussions of a biochemical accident in a top-secret underground research facility operated by the malevolent Umbrella Corporation; said repercussions being the resurrection of the dead into shambling, flesh-eating zombies. By the end, the accident was contained and the two survivors-Umbrella employees Alice (Jovovich) and Matt (Eric Mabius)-were spirited away to other secret facilities for tests. In the last scene, Alice woke up in an abandoned hospital (wearing a paper gown short enough to reveal that while her journeys in life may have led her to regions such as London and France, they evidently did not include a trip to her underwear drawer-a revelation that inspired outright groans of delight in the audience I saw it with) only to discover that while she was out, the contagion somehow got out and infected the population of the inexplicably-named Raccoon City. If you somehow missed the first film, donít worry-at least two-thirds of the dialogue in this film, not exactly long on prose, consists of Alice explaining everything that happened to anyone who comes along. Even better, the opening scenes recap it as well-right down to a brief, though obviously necessary, reprise of the crotch shot.
Anyway, while the film is getting up to speed, the streets of Raccoon City are erupting into violence, the evil Umbrella Corp reps are desperately trying to cover up their tracks and Alice is discovering that while in the lab, she was infected with the dreaded T-virus in such a way that it transformed her into a flat-chested version of Lara Croft. Hooking up with a rag-tag group of survivors, including military squad officers Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillroy) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and a reporter (Sandrine Holt) who videotapes everything in the hopes of winning an Emmy, Alice is contacted by Dr. Charles Ashford (Jared Harris), the doofus responsible for creating the virus in the first place. (Of course, he designed it for noble purposes until the evil corporation got their mitts on it-this is a zombie movie that even Michael Moore could love.) His young daughter (Sophie Vavasseur), who naturally holds the secret to combating the virus, is lost in the city and if Alice and the group find and rescue her, Ashford will help them escape before they are killed by the nuclear strike ordered by the Umbrella Corp. as a final solution goes off.
Of course, to describe "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" in such a way is to suggest that it contains more of a story structure than it actually does. Like the video game that it is based on, the film is essentially structured as a series of levels in which our heroes have to blow away hundreds of enemies before advancing to the next-the final level is a one-on-one brawl between Alice and another mutant-this one slightly less attractive than her. (It more closely resembles a low-rent version of the Toxic Avenger, if such a concept is possible.) When Alice has the monster on the ropes, the evil Umbrella guy yells out "Finish Him!"-which actually comes from "Mortal Kombat", another video game that was transformed into a film by Paul W.S. Anderson (who did the first "Resident Evil" but only wrote the script for this one as he was too busy trashing "Alien vs. Predator"-the directing chores here go to former second-unit man Alexander Witt); I canít quite decide whether this line represents self-homage or sheer confusion.
Never mind the plot, with exercises like the "Resident Evil" films, their relative worth is measured in the number of "good parts"-certain ideas or images or moments of such sheer, unadulterated lunacy that they are impossible to resist. The first film, for example, had such goofs as a deadly high-tech security system so finely calibrated that it knew only to kill the lower-billed cast members, a decapitation-via-elevator, zombie dogs a-plenty, the fashions chosen by Jovovich to wear while vanquishing evil (which ranged from nothing to a tiny cocktail dress to a tiny wet cocktail dress), a final shot of Alice, shotgun in hand, in the ruins of Raccoon City and, okay, that previously-alluded moment of her waking up in the hospital and feeling a draft. If anything, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" (you know, that title is just fun to say) ups the number of "good parts" with a series of items so surreally goofy that you canít help but embrace them.
-Like many films today, it takes place in a certain place-the fictional burgh of Raccoon City-but was filmed in Toronto in order to keep costs down. However, most filmmakers usually make at least a half-hearted attempt to disguise that fact; here, the establishing shot places one of the cities key identifying landmarks front and center.
-After shots establish the city as a peaceful, bucolic community, the camera travels beneath the city to the secret underground lab to show all the horrible things going on underneath their noses. Apparently, this transition was thought to be too confusing and so the helpful title card "Beneath Raccoon City" has been added-the most unnecessary subtitle since the terrified screams of the immigrants in "Heavenís Gate" were translated as "Help! Help!".
-When we first see our second heroine, Jill Valentine (who, you will recall, is a military officer of some sort), she rushes home to prepare for battle. Her outfit of choice-a tiny miniskirt and a tube top that make her look more like she is going undercover as a hooker than battling the undead.
-Ten seconds later, before it has been established what is going on, she bursts into a police station and shoots all of the infected people in the head. This doesnít really seem to surprise anyone or take them aback-either random shootings by Pat Benatar clones are a common thing in Raccoon City or those Canadians are just really polite.
-Jill and some others being trapped in a church by some creatures, only to be saved when Alice jumps a motorcycle into the building and blows them into icky little pieces. This, despite the fact that there is no possible way that she could have known that there were people inside in the first place.
-The presence of a wacky black guy (Mike Epps), who gets to do everything you would expect a wacky black guy to do in such a film, for no other reason than the fact that someone evidently decreed that the film required a wacky black guy to attract an "urban" audience.
-The virus, you will recall, re-animates the dead and turns them into flesh-eating monsters. This is a fact that you would think would be hard to forget, yet it seems to have slipped the minds of heroes long enough for them to decide that taking a walk through a graveyard would be a smart move.
-Three words: Naked Zombie Hookers!
-The fact that all of the above elements all occur within the first thirty minutes of the film.
The most sublime moment-the bit that I know I will be quoting for as long as I sit around and pontificate about unforgettable movie scenes-comes a bit later on. It is the moment when Alice explains that the evil corporation is going to be "sterilizing" the city. When asked what that means, she explains that they will be launching a nuclear missile to destroy the town so that they can pass it off as a power plant disaster. The immediate response by Jill? "What yield?" This may not be the greatest moment in film history, but it sure comes close.
I will grudgingly admit to two flaws in the film-and yes, I was able to write that sentence with a straight face. First, it lacks the absolute purity of the first film; for example, by trotting out a bunch of mutant monsters, it all but forgets that it is supposed to be a zombie movie for most of the second half. The second involves the expansion of Alice from the amnesiac rumble doll of the original to the all-knowing sage this time around. The problem is that while I am an enormous fan of Milla Jovovich, her strengths as an actress come more from her physicality-I suspect that she would have made a great silent-movie performer (two of her most memorable roles, in "The Fifth Element" and "The Million Dollar Hotel" perfectly illustrate this)-and it was that presence (and not just her beauty) that made her performance in the first film work. She gets to do a lot of that here, of course, but she also gets saddled with the burden of spouting off nearly all of the expository dialogue-the kind of stuff that would challenge even the deftest performer. (Nevertheless, you canít take your eyes off of her and, for those keeping score, she does get a bit towards the end where she once again wakes up naked in a strange environment and escapes wearing little more that a towel-there is always something to be said for tradition.)Look, I am fully aware that the only thing sillier than "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" is the fact that I have devoted over 2200 words to discuss it. Not only is it not the best zombie movie of the year, it isnít even the best zombie movie of the month (that would be the upcoming "Shaun of the Dead") and most right-thinking people will avoid this film like the plague while decrying it as some sort of abdication of whatever ideals the art of cinema may have once held; Iím not so sure that I donít feel that way myself. However, like the first film, its unrestrained lunacy and sheer need to please viewers by whatever mean necessary is achieved in such an upfront manner that it comes pretty close to becoming a work of art. The casual movie fan will look at a film like this and dismiss it with nary a thought. The true film fan, the kind who realizes that even the trashiest junk can yield more treasures than most "important" films, will no doubt relish it as some kind of guilt-free masterpiece.
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originally posted: 09/20/07 19:03:40