Halloween Endurance Test: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Basing your movie off an established, and successful, video game franchise is a risky proposition. If you stray too far from the original story, as was done with Resident Evil, and fans are likely to leave disappointed. I, for one, disliked the film for director Paul W.S. Anderson’s decision to take the focus off the zombies.

Stick too close to the source material, however, and you’re just as likely to lose the audience. Such is the case in the sequel, Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The most obvious example here is video game holdover Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). Who, despite being a cop, wears a tube top and a mini-skirt throughout the film. While acceptable when confined in the conventions of video games (I believe it was Toby Gard, creator of Lara Croft, who reasoned to Next Generation magazine that if you’re going to stare at an ass for hours, you might as well make it an attractive ass), in the film it just seems silly.

Valentine’s “uniform” (is she one of the undercover hookers in the Vice Squad?) provides no protection against the zombies’ basic weaponry, let alone the miscreants she was supposed to be handling when actually on-duty. Not to mention the lack of space for carrying supplies. Extra clips go where? Though this does provide our writers a chance to use a neat variation on the “the car won’t start” tension-building routine. Anytime an encounter needs to be made more perilous, someone will say, “I’m out of ammo.”

Surprisingly, this all works very well as a zombie movie. We’ve gone topside (Raccoon City, USA) from the first movie’s underground paramilitary base, and get to see the zombie outbreak decimate the city firsthand. Supplying plot points that George Romero would shamelessly “borrow” for years to come: there”s a reporter, Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt), who’s filming a documentary about the outbreak (later, ahem, fleshed out in Diary of the Dead), as well as a short sequence where a priest is found harboring a zombie member of his flock (an idea that would be stretched out to unsustainable proportions in Survival of the Dead).

Then Alice (Milla Jovovich) shows up and ruins everything. Doing backflips off a motorcycle after crashing it through a church’s stained glass window in slow motion. Blatant wanna be bad-assery. Right down to the messy hair that kind of looks like dread locks. (Surely it worked, as Jovovich would be ranked #69 in that year’s (2004) Maxim “Top 100 Hot List.”)

Alice’s arrival effectively capsizes the film. As was hinted at during Resident Evil’s conclusion, Alice has been genetically modified, and is now practically invincible. A kung-fu expert, master acrobatic, no-miss marks(wo)man; there’s nothing Alice can do. Thereby eliminating any chance of uncertainty when Alice faces off against the teeming multitudes of zombies.

Which brings us to Resident Evil: Apocalypse’s next (canonical) addition: Nemesis. A rocket launching, mini-gun carrying super mutant born as Resident Evil’s shock ending, Nemesis walks around blowing up the humans with abandon. Alice’s fitting counterpart; as neither character has any equal except each other.

I guess this point was too oblique for the filmmakers, who feel the need to drive it home with a fistfight between the two titans for the grand finale. Beauty vs the Beast? Model vs the lumbering, mutant hulk. They try to inject some pathos into the fight by reminding us, via flashbacks, that Nemesis was Matt, Alice’s part-time boyfriend. Which would work, if Anderson had developed any other characters the first time around besides Alice.

Luckily the movie’s tagline is: “My name’s Alice, and I remember everything.” Thus allowing Alice and her perfectly, photographic, third-person memory of past events to seamlessly fit into the narrative.

It’s not until the film starts flashing back to other films that things get interesting. Milla’s obligatory nude scene is a lovely homage to the Japanese art of “pink” filmmaking, soon followed by a ’70s Italian “eye shot.” Stylistically, Resident Evil: Apocalypse starts off with a serious nod to the penultimate “zombies run amok through town” film, Dawn of the Dead, with reporter Terri’s establishing newscast.

Finally owning up to/using genre influences, director Paul W.S. Anderson is better for it. As mentioned earlier, the zombies are kept in the front this time, with the game’s peripheral monsters thrown in to spice things up.

First we’re treated to a mob of rampaging zombie school children, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Dellamorte Dellamore’s girl scout scene. It’s this expansion of zombie-dom that really makes this film. It’s the big reason that Alice’s showdown with Nemesis is preceded with a battle against zombie dogs.

Anderson realized that watching Alice box Nemesis for six minutes is cinematic death, so he amps the crowd up early with zombie canines. And it works, because zombie dogs are the stars of the show, even though it shouldn’t.

Lesson seemingly learned, Anderson then screws everything back up by killing off our goddess protagonist with a flying piece of shrapnel while in a crashing helicopter, only to bring her corpse back to life seconds later in another medical research facility. Concluding with a steal so blatant it’s almost a “fuck you” to David Cronenberg’s Scanners as Alice blows up a guard’s head, a guard she can’t even see!, just by staring at a security camera.

A level of untouchability that’ll surely make the sequel even more unbearable…

—More Resident Evil(s)—

Resident Evil

Resident Evil: Extinction

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3 Responses to “Halloween Endurance Test: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)”

  1. I kind of see your point, but didn’t Alexander Witt direct this ultimately underwhelming sequel? Whilst Anderson may have had his say during editing, the visual style is so different to that employed by Anderson in the first film that there’s no confusing the two, surely?

  2. Ha! Good call, I, somehow totally missed that. The director change would explain why there’s actual zombies in this one. So I guess I’ll have to edit in some Witt bashing into the mix. Though I still feel Anderson’s scripts are true villains.

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