My biggest fear when I learned that Paul WS Anderson had returned to the director’s chair for the fourth Resident Evil film is that he would completely undo what that entry’s predecessor had accomplished. Russell Mulcahy’s Resident Evil: Extinction elevated the franchise’s production value & traded in its overgrown nu mental tone for a goofy Mad Max vibe, making for the best entry in the series to date. My fears were confirmed; Anderson did indeed slide the franchise back into its The Matrix But With Zombies creative rut, even daring to include gratuitous shots of “bullet time” effects to drive the point home. Luckily for Afterlife, I liked the goofy nu metal technofuturism of the first two Resident Evil films, so it’s not like the territory it returned to was all boredom & despair. I’d just be lying if I didn’t find the Original Recipe Resident Evil flavor a little bland after Extinction had spiced it up.
The film opens with a slow pan up a Japanese punk’s leather costume as she solemnly contemplates something mysterious before turning full zombie & igniting a breakout that consumes Tokyo. MIlla Jovovich, the franchise’s anchor, then narrates a plot summary of the first three films in the series, the first time Anderson found that kind of housekeeping necessary for his convoluted, yet video game-thin cyberpunk zombie yarn. We then join Alice (Jovovich) as she raids one of the Umbrella Corporation’s seemingly endless supply of underground bunkers, sporting her latest film-defining costume change: a sleek black ninja outfit complete with swords & throwing stars. A couple decapitations & some telepathic nonsense later and she’s immediately killed, revealing that she was a clone the whole time and that there are plenty more Alices where that came from (a repeat of Extinction’s opening, in a way). Some Agent Smith-looking motherfucker stabs her in the neck with a serum that takes away her ass-kicking superpowers and she spends the rest of the plot hunting him down while collecting any of the world’s straggling uninfected she can on the way.
This is easily the most low-energy, self-serious entry of the Resident Evil franchise so far. There are so many shots of Jovovich flying a small airplane, searching out the window for a purpose to be onscreen, when Afterlife could’ve just as easily held onto the army of Jovovich clones it blew up in the first scene instead and made a much more interesting picture. Besides a few zombies with some octopus mouths and a mutated giant swinging a CG axe, there just isn’t much Afterlife has to offer that you couldn’t get from the three franchise entries that precede it. The film seemingly has three directives: to openly riff on The Matrix, to make gratuitous use of the then-recent Avatar 3D technology, and to promote the A Perfect Circle single that plays multiple times throughout. Afterlife indulges in frequent enough goofy action sequences to feel occasionally worthwhile, but after the series heights of Extinction I had come to expect more than that. As a director, Anderson feels a little limp here, stuck in an outdated mode of nu metal cinema like a slightly more endearing (and significantly less funded) Zack Snyder. I’m still willing to afford the final two entries into the franchise an open mind, but the bland diminished returns of Afterlife has significantly dampened my expectations.