By Corey Birkhofer
Resident Evil: Afterlife, Germany / France / UK, 2010
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
With ticket prices in Japan being double that of the states, I have to choose the films I see very carefully. I am not at all ashamed to admit my love for zombie flicks, and the Resident Evil (or Biohazard, as it’s referred to in Japan) series is one that has proven to be especially successful. I would even venture to say that it is even more popular in Japan than it is back home. Despite my love of all things zombie, it’s never been so extreme that I couldn’t just wait until whichever film I wanted to see came out on DVD. So why, now that the Resident Evil series has reached its fourth chapter, did I decide to shell out $30 so my wife and I could see it in the theater? The answer is simple: because it’s in 3-D.
Though it’s easy for film snobs to laugh off 3-D as just another Hollywood gimmick to lure people away from their TiVos and Netflix accounts, I think 3-D deserves a bit more credit than just calling it a phase or “gimmick.” On the contrary, in this review of Resident Evil: Afterlife I will explore why I think 3-D is more than just a new weapon to lure people off their couches and back into the theater, but rather a possible new form of storytelling to bring cinema to a new stage in its development.
With the world now many years into its apocalypse, Alice (Milla Jovovich) and her countless clones saved from the previous chapter of the series now storm the Umbrella Corporation’s stronghold in the underbelly of Tokyo with one purpose: kill Wexler, the man responsible for the end of the world. This is a piece of cake for them and essentially sets up the film opening as a stage to warm up the 3-D muscles that will be heavily flexed for the next two hours. And boy, do they ever look pretty. Bullets and throwing stars whiz through the air in 3-D, freeze-framing as the camera tracks around them before they penetrate their target. Slow-motion martial arts dazzle the eyes as the Alices wreak havoc on the defenders of the Umbrella complex. Is it kind of cheesy? Yes. But it is also pretty freaking amazing, and makes the Matrix series look like something some college kid slapped together in Final Cut over the weekend. In short, Resident Evil: Afterlife sets the stage by saying: “Oh yeah, we’re gonna employ 3D, and yes, you’re going to love it!” within the first five minutes of the film. And did I ever love it.
So with Tokyo effectively checked off the list of places for Alice to destroy in her unending quest to seek revenge on Umbrella, now she can focus on finding where the last survivors in the third chapter (2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction) fled to seek refuge: an Alaskan town called Arcadia. The only problem is that when she arrives, the only thing to greet her is a ghost field of abandoned airplanes and helicopters. So what to do now? Luckily, Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), one of the leading characters from the third installment is still alive, and though bugged by some Umbrella-conceived controlling device, Alice is able to remove this bug and get Claire to her senses as the two set off down the West Coast in search of other survivors.
They soon come across a group of people who have locked themselves in a Hollywood prison, surrounded by thousands of zombies on all sides. Crash-landing their plane on the roof of the complex, Alice and Claire are now trapped with the rest of them. This then takes us into the remainder of the second act of the film, which involves them trying to find a way out of the prison and onto what they have now learned is the real Arcadia: not a refuge town in Alaska, but a huge oil tanker off the coast of L.A.
With a series of absolutely breathtaking action sequences as they try to escape from the prison, the 3-D element of the film really starts to shine. I especially loved the shower room fight scene with the Goliath zombie and the double-barreled sawed-off shotguns Alice used with stacks of quarters for ammunition. The sheer realism of the coins as they flew through the air in slow-motion really did make me appreciate that I saw this film in 3-D. Granted, slow-motion is by no means a new technique in storytelling on the screen, but when combined with 3-D it introduces a whole new level of enjoyment. For in fact, what really is the point of us going to the theater when we can just wait for the movie to come out on DVD or stream it through Netflix or iTunes? I think a new answer to this question is that, despite the new 3-D TVs coming out onto the market, they will never match the scope and massiveness of a movie theater screen, not to mention the fact that the sound experience in a home theater will never be at the level of a movie theater. And so I think Hollywood can relax a little in the knowledge that they still have a reason for moviegoers to fill those seats.
With Alice, Claire, and Claire’s newly rescued brother, Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller), safely out of the prison, they can now make their way onto the Arcadia. Upon arrival, they discover yet another Umbrella plot which will propel the series into its inevitable fifth installment. Before all is said and done, though, Paul W.S. Anderson cannot climax his film without another incredible battle to end all battles. As Alice is pinned down by two zombie dogs, newly reunited brother and sister Chris and Claire have an amazing gun and martial arts battle with Wexler, who just does not seem to ever die. This fight scene makes The Matrix (1999) look like it was made 20 years ago, instead of only ten. As much as many elements of this battle rip off The Matrix, the fact that it’s all done in 3-D just sort of makes you forget the pastiche and enjoy it for what it’s worth: a good ol’ action scene with lots of punches, kicks and bullets flying!
So to wrap this up, do I think 3-D is just another Hollywood gimmick, or do I truly believe it to be a tool that will take our filmgoing experience to the next level? I think the ultimate answer to the question has to be derived from the story and how it uses 3-D. In the case of Resident Evil: Afterlife, with such little substance to the story (and believe me, the story is pretty damn weak), 3-D helps distract us from the weakness of the plot and diverts our attention instead to the jaw-droppingly amazing action sequences. Not to mention that, without 3-D, they would have just been copy-and-paste rip-offs of The Matrix.
So, to conclude, am I glad I saw Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3-D in the theater? You bet your quarter-filled, double-barreled, sawed-off shotguns I am!
Contact the Author: CoreyBirkhofer@MoviesIDidntGet.com