I've watched the Resident Evil films against my better judgment; the same sense of morbid curiosity with which I've followed the machinations of Jigsaw year on year compels me, the power of Christ or decent filmmaking be damned. Perhaps I had an excuse to show an interest in the first of Paul W. S. Anderson's quartet. I've long been a devotee of survival horror in video games: few such have had the effect on me Silent Hill 2 did, and for all that the franchises have since diverged, Resident Evil helped lay the groundwork Team Silent's masterwork built upon. Perhaps I had an excuse, that one time, to show an interest in the Resident Evil movies, but since?
Well, there's nothing quite like a train-wreck to help pass the time, is there? Twisted metal crumpled and cast about the landscape as if some sadistic giant had upended a tin of broken biscuits on the world. And there! Right there, do you see it? The hint of... could it be blood?
I should have known better than to start watching the Resident Evil movies. As one's followed the other and the other's followed another, it's proven hard to look away from them since Milla's first outing as Alice, and with each additional film, what little there was to redeem the original has been woefully diluted, watered down to the extent that we're basically drinking water now - let's all be honest about it.
Cue a lot of biting, followed shortly by shooting, exploding, dismembering and dying, all in glorious slow-motion. And three dimensions, too, if I'm to understand correctly. There's no substance at all to Afterlife: Alice breaks into what she presumes the last stronghold of Umbrella's mad scientists to kick T-Virus merchandiser Albert Wesker's ass. Instead, Wesker escapes - though for much of the movie I do believe we're supposed to think him dead - and manages to stick his de-gingered nemesis with an affable anti-viral which makes Milla mortal again.
Time passes. "Characters" happen. Alice, now on the trail of Arcadia thanks to a broadcast promising food and shelter in an environment without infection, gangs up with a choice couple of her comrades from Extinction: Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, K-Mart and - well, it simply wouldn't do to forget Prison Break's Wentworth Miller, back in lock-up as Claire's to-date MIA brother Chris. The chums fight some zombies, including infected dogs and an approximation of Pyramid Head, land Alice's self-refueling plane in a variety of exponentially less likely locales, and finally discover, surely to no-one's surprise, that Wesker still lives. What a baddie!
Afterlife, all told, is as insubstantial as hot air. But I'll be damned, Anderson can do style. I'll give the man that. From what must have been a budget in microcosm, as far as action movies go - particularly those with a genre bent - he carves a handful of set-pieces the equal of anything Resident Evil has had to offer in the past. The shower scene with Pyramid Head's stand-in, the clone army assault on Umbrella HQ, a graveyard of airplanes, the rooftop breach. Whatever the semi-automatic nonsense which strings them together, these things are themselves astonishing in their way, if not at all original or plausible.
It grates at times, but Tomandandy's soundtrack too lends an exciting sense of urgency to the proceedings, and if watching explosions explode has done it for you in the past, the combination of slick visuals, competent design and a throbbing base beat makes it easy to recommend Resident Evil: Afterlife on those terms. But probably you should put that to the back of your mind. Go in with a complete lack of expectations and you never do know... you might be pleasantly surprised.