The fourth installment of this video-game-inspired series offers more of the same, but on a bigger canvas and with in-your-face 3D effects. Fan Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote all the previous entries but left the helming to others in the second and third episodes, returns to the directing duties with this effort, demonstrating that he hasn’t learned much in either capacity since 2002. But fans of the franchise will probably show up for “Resident Evil: Afterlife” regardless, and a sequence inserted in the closing credits suggests that another chapter is already underway.
The movie begins with heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich, looking good in her skin-tight black outfit) using her superpowers to invade and destroy the Tokyo headquarters of the Umbrella Corporation, which started the whole doomsday problem by releasing the virus that turned most of humanity into zombies. She trashes the place, but in a confrontation with escaping villain Wesker (Shawn Roberts) loses her special abilities and barely survives. She then reteams with Claire (Ali Larter), unhappily afflicted with amnesia, to requisition a small plane and fly to Los Angeles, where they find a small group of uninfected humans trapped inside an abandoned prison surrounded by the ravenous undead. Joining the survivors, they then try to escape to a ship docked off the coast when asylum and help supposedly are to be found.
That sets up the chase that always forms the kernel of a “Resident Evil” movie. In addition to Alice and Claire, the runners include erstwhile basketball star Luther West (Boris Kodjoe), street-smart Angel Ortiz (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), a sleazy Hollywood producer (Kim Coates) and his callow assistant (Norman Yeung), a handsome guy (Wentworth Miller) who may be either a soldier or a convict, and a couple of others obviously added to the mix to serve as early victims. The group fights off zombies who burrow through the floors to attack them—one of which, confusingly enough, is a giant with a burlap sack over its head who brandishes a huge scythe, looking for all the world like the big creature Mad Max fought in Thunderdome. No explanation is given for this fellow’s existence, or his nature; but his appearance does allow for a big set-piece in which Alice and Claire do battle with him—which would to be sufficient justification.
Unfortunately, Anderson chose to shoot a good deal of that sequence, as well as much of the rest of the action, in slow-motion as well as 3D. That increases our ability actually to perceive what’s going on (thus avoiding the murkiness that afflicted the earlier pictures, especially since the lighting here is appreciably better as well), but it severely dampens whatever excitement the episodes might have generated. The energy is dissipated further by the picture going all “Matrix” in the early scenes of Alice attacking Umbrella and the final face-off with Wesker, which mimics the Wachowski template slavishly. That sort of stuff is really old-hat by now, Paul.
A picture like this doesn’t depend on acting, of course, but Jovovich certainly continues to hold up her end of the operation, looking svelte and sexy while managing the athletic aspects of the part convincingly (with the help of CGI and stunt doubles, of course). Everyone else is bland—including Miller, Larter and returnee Sienna Guillory, who shows up briefly at the close—except for Roberts, who does the cool, mechanical villainous bit, and Coates, who’s responsible for the snide, sniveling villainous one. But “Afterlife” is technically an improvement on its predecessors, and if you’re anxious to see heads exploding in 3D and gushes of blood and gore spurting in your face, the behind-the-scenes crew pull them off with aplomb.
But ultimately the improved sheen of “Afterlife” doesn’t compensate for the feeling that the franchise has really run out of the little steam it ever had. Under these circumstances the fact that yet another entry in the series is intended is more threat than promise.