Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Oded Fehr (Carlos Olivera), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Cain), Mike Epps (L.J.), Sophie Vavasseur (Angie Ashford), Jared Harris (Dr. Ashford), Iain Glen (Dr. Isaacs), Zack Ward (Nicholai Ginovaeff), Matthew G. Taylor (Nemesis)
“My name is Alice. I worked for the Umbrella Corporation, the largest and most powerful commercial entity in the world. I was head of security at a secret high-tech facility, The Hive, a giant underground laboratory developing experimental viral weaponry. But there was an incident. The virus escaped and everybody died. Trouble was… they didn’t stay dead.” – Alice
So Resident Evil was pretty terrible but video game movies were in their awkward teenage phase, zombie movies had gone out of fashion, and the cast were all pretty inexperienced (yes, I know Milla Jovovich had a leading role in The Fifth Element. Speaking pidgin English in an unnatural tone hardly counts as challenging.) Resident Evil: Apocalypse was Paul W.S. Anderson and company’s chance to hammer out all the mistakes made in the first film and turn in a great, atmospheric, zombie apocalypse movie. Instead, Resident Evil: Apocalypse amplifies all of its predecessor’s flaws and comes up with a handful of its own.
We begin just slightly before the end of the first movie when Alice and Matt were kidnapped by Umbrella scientist to be subjected to horrible experiments. They’ve decided to re-open The Hive, which just unleashes all the zombies contained within into Raccoon City where they proceed to ruin everything. Umbrella sends in special agents to pull all their top scientists out of the hot zone but Dr. Ashford’s daughter Angela’s escort is hit by a truck and she’s left behind as everything goes to hell.
Dr. Ashford contacts police officer Jill Valentine and Umbrella security specialist Carlos Olivera, who are all trapped in the hot zone, with the promise of extracting them if they can save his daughter and bring her to him. But the clock is ticking because Umbrella is going to nuke the city at dawn to cover up their mistake.
Alice pops into the film partway through (as before, there seems to be a mandate for her to enter and exit the movie with a nude scene) and there’s another contrived reason for her to put on an impractically sexy outfit. She spoils the movie in a far dumber way than kicking a dog in the face and she now has super-powers because somebody watched Underworld and said “our movie needs some of that.”
Alice’s entry into the plot is a stupid moment that’s even stupider upon reflection. She can sense the infected since she’s the mutant zombie version of Ripley in Alien: Resurrection but that doesn’t explain how she got a motorcycle onto the second floor exterior of a cathedral or how she knew that riding it through a stained glass window would yield a positive result. This is one of many instances of “nonsensical thing happens because it looks cool” that are placed strategically throughout the film.
My personal favorite instance of this silly ideology involves Alice happening to be standing nearby as Jill fails to ignite a room full of explosive gas, she flicks a cigarette through the doors just as Jill runs through them. Maybe I’m not observant but I don’t think Alice smoked at any point in the first movie, in later movies, or at even any other point in this one. This means that Alice is specifcally smoking a cigarette just so she can throw it into the gas-filled room that she, by all logic, knows nothing about whenever Jill’s lighter goes out, which she has no idea will happen.
The lack of gore was apparent and weird in the first film. You’re going to be squeamish about showing zombies eating people in an R-rated horror film but include an uninterrupted 5-second shot of Milla Jovich’s vagina? Who are you toning this down for? Because the pearl-clutching Wal-Mart audience is far more accepting of gore over “unintentional” nudity. Resident Evil: Apocalypse goes down this same path, barely showing any blood but having a weird tacked on scene where Mike Epps crashes his car because he’s ogling two large-breasted topless zombies.
On the thematically appropriate subject, let’s talk soundtrack. With the exception of the main theme, the soundtrack to the first movie was way out of place with a lot of industrial bands. Resident Evil: Apocalypse goes even further down the rabbit hole with songs by Killswitch Engage, Cradle of Filth, and Slipknot. Music inspired by and evocative of horror movies is the absolute worst music to use to actually score a horror movie, particularly when it’s early 2000’s metal.
I’m not even going to harp on the lack of scare factor here as that’s clearly not anyone’s priority at all. At this point, the Resident Evil movies are just a horror scenario set inside a big meatheaded action movie universe. The movie prioritizes big flashy stunts over any real attempt at terror. This is disappointing because the scenario of three survivors dealing with separate scenarios in a city that’s falling apart is a great set-up for a horror-action flick. It feels like somebody took a Resident Evil spec script that was more in line with what fans were wanting and awkwardly drove Alice into the center of it like a wedge.
Speaking of things awkwardly crammed into this movie, let’s not forget Nemesis. Nemesis is a joke in this movie but let’s be honest, he kind of was already. I get that it’s scary as hell when you encounter him in the third Resident Evil game but that’s down more to his unbeatable difficulty and the randomness of his appearances. His design feels like something from a shitty metal band’s album cover or a garbage mid-90s horror comic. There are far less iconic Resident Evil monsters that look far more frightening. The Frankenstein’s monster angle at the film’s end is dumb and so is the concept that he a monster that can absorb tons of bullets can become immobilized by a piece of metal through the torso. I do still greatly appreciate that the filmmakers realized the character with 100% practical effects, which is a major step above the Lickers (who look even worse in this movie than they did in the first one.)
On the acting front, everyone’s better all around but that’s hollow praise indeed. Alice has two moments in the film where she gets to show actual human emotion. That is a horrible stupid error because showing emotion is Milla Jovovich’s one great strength as an actress, her line delivery is not great and having her play the grizzled badass just doesn’t work.
Sienna Guillory is basically a Vice Alice in this film. It’s kind of bullshit because most of the this movie’s story is lifted from Resident Evil 3 where Jill is the main character. Jill is the one who has to defeat Nemesis and their antagonistic relationship works because Jill, though unquestionably tough, is a mere mortal with no superpowers who has to work like hell to even survive Nemesis, let alone kill him. I feel kind of bad for Guillory because she apparently put a good amount of work into this role, watching footage of the game to match the character’s movements. But Jill is basically just a go-nowhere piece of fan service tossed in for no good reason. There are large swaths of the movie where she just stands around and she only really gets to do anything when Alice isn’t around to upstage her. Jill, while just as poorly-written as any other character in this shitshow, is a much better protagonist than Alice. It would have worked far better to just have Jill and Carlos be the focus of the entire movie and have Alice show up at the very end like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit 3.
Mike Epps is my favorite person in this movie and I love his character of L.J. L.J. is basically the token funny black guy who says things like “aw, hell naw” and uses the word “motherfucker” as punctuation, but he’s still great. First off, I love weird side characters who are clearly canon fodder that randomly survive horror movies (examples include: LL Cool J in Deep Blue Sea, Busta Rhymes in Halloween: Resurrection, Reggie Bannister in every Phantasm movie, and Michael Gross in Tremors.) Secondly, in such an over-serious setting I love that L.J. is the only character who is capable of realizing that everything that’s happening is ridiculous.
Where Resident Evil: Apocalypse really goes off the rails is with Alice’s mutation. We find out that Alice has somehow taken the virus like a champ and it has only enhanced her. Similarly, we find out that Angela Ashford has had the virus administered to keep her from suffering the same condition of her wheelchair-bound father. Both Alice and Angela can sense when an infected being is near or when someone has become infected. Then in the film’s finale Alice gets supercharged with the virus and gains telekinetic powers, yet appears to be under the control of Umbrella in a way similar to Nemesis. It’s a weird concept to introduce, particularly when it has no real payoff. The questions introduced in this film are barely addressed in the next movie and Jill and Angela will fall off the face of the Earth, never to be mentioned again. (Jill will return but that’s another story.)
Resident Evil: Apocalypse is confoundingly terrible in pretty much every way despite having nearly every technical aspect improved over the first one. This is arguably the low point of the series, we’ll see how things develop in the next installment on Monday.
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