Friday, October 1, 2010

Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Genius

Thank goodness for Paul W.S. Anderson. Okay, yes, the films he has directed or produced have varied widely in quality, with Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Alien vs. Predator and Pandorum falling on both sides of the good/bad quality line. He's been one of the more frustrating movie makers in recent years, as for every indication he gives that he is able to make quality entertainment, the next picture he produces reeks of overly stylized, arrogant turd. Resident Evil, which he directed way back in 2002, stands as one of his better works behind the camera. Despite writing the first two sequels, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Resident Evil: Extinction, directors Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy failed to match Anderson's tone and talent, leading to sequentially mediocre films that, despite their modest intent, were ultimately found lacking, especially for those like me who are fans of the games the films are based on. Anderson, however, seems to have turned a corner, choosing - instead of simply writing and funding a fourth Resident Evil film - to once again step behind the camera and put his money where his script is.

Okay, I just wanted to download some Femme Fatale images
If you HAVE been following the movies up to this point (and give yourself a round of applause if you have for making it), you probably know that what happens in the films bears little resemblance as to what happened in the original games. Yes, there are zombies, but whereas the games contained any widespread infection via natural or man-made methods, the second and third movies pretty much resulted in worldwide infection, leaving the world with little in the way of human survivors. That's where Alice comes in. Still played by Anderson's wife Milla Jovovich, Alice is still something of a mystery. Originally just an employee of the evil Umbrella Corporation (who manufactured the T-Virus that caused all the problems), Alice has been experimented on, displaying fantastic abilities and mental powers. Now, with an army of clones (experiments discovered at the end of Extinction) as her own personal army, Alice has taken the fight to Umbrella with the intent of destroying them permanently.

Oh, my, what big... swords... you have...
At least, that's how Resident Evil: Afterlight begins. Thankfully, after being treated to an explosive and bloody opening of Alice's army overtaking and destroying a secret Umbrella facility in Japan, all that is taken away by the purposeful destruction of the base (taking all the Alice clones with it), and Umbrella chairman Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts, replacing Jason O'Mara from the original) slipping a drug into the original Alice that counteracts the virus that brought on her psychic powers in the first place. This thankfully saves the film from being a wrong-sided one-sided battle, forcing Alice to retreat and regroup. Attempting to link up with Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), who escaped to Alaska with a number of other survivors trying to find a safe haven in this hell. When she does find where the survivors escaped to however, she only finds an amnesiac Claire and no sign of any such safe location. And so the two must search for more survivors as it looks quite grim for the human race with Umbrella and billions of zombies left in charge.

Trying to look cool, Chris gets a boot in the face half a second later
Resident Evil: Afterlife was filmed using the same 3D technology James Cameron used in Avatar, and it shines more brightly here than any other 3D film released this year. Though still sometimes used for the expressed effect of the viewer feeling that something is coming right at him (not that I'm complaining, it's actually compelling here), the 3D also does a bang-up job of immersing the viewer in the environment of the movie at all times. Clouds, fog banks, running water, all are beautifully filmed to stunning effect with little to nothing looking like it doesn't belong. Five years after worldwide infection, the world has degraded, some areas worse than others. While rural Alaska is practically untouched by the zombie horde, Los Angeles is a gutted mess, with burning buildings the norm and a maximum security prison the only safe place. Anderson does a grand job of capturing the two moods, the blissful tranquility versus a dark, gloomy hole. Unlike the claustrophobic and similar-looking hallways of the original film, the director really gets a chance to play contrast, and it works out to the betterment of the film.

This image doesn't do it justice... the 3D water effects are AMAZING
The acting here is surprisingly good as well, with Jovovich all but born to play the main protagonist, Alice. As a fan of the games, it does bother me a little that a character that has no bases in the games has become the defining face of the films. Several characters from the games, from Leon Kennedy to Ada Wong have never even appeared in the films, yet Alice is probably more well known now than either. I know since the films don't share the same canon as the games, but it can still be irksome. Thankfully, Jovovich has never failed to entertain in this role, so my initial dislike can only go so far before I'm hooked. Her obnoxious voice overs aside, Alice is a force, and Jovovich carefully maintains that character well through the course of the movie, overshadowing her co-stars, though not by much. Larter puts on one of her better performances as Claire, a survivalist slowly regaining her memory over the course of the film's timeline. Prison Break's Wentworth Miller makes a great addition to the cast as Claire's brother (and RE1 original) Chris Redfield, who Alice and Claire meet in Los Angeles. In Chris, we have a soldier shocked to discover that his sister has survived the apocalypse that has swallowed the world, and Miller does a great job of conveying his strength, professionalism, and determination with little need for overly dramatic dialogue to prove the fact. Other notable additions to the cast are Boris Kodjoe as a former professional athlete and celebrity who shares some tender moments with Alice, and Kim Coates as a one-time Hollywood agent who has had a difficult time of establishing himself in this new world. Roberts is good in an over-the-top way as Albert Wesker, doing a good approximation of Wesker a la Code Veronica. Sure, he's almost hokey, but considering the character was always somewhat hokey in the games (when he wasn't deadly dangerous), it fits the character profile perfectly. This is by far the most impressive cast put together for this film franchise, and the movie comes out amazingly for it.

Whoops, now you've done it!
The game again borrows liberally from the monster gallery that inhabits the games, including two never before seen enemy types to the film. Well, moviegoers like myself might not have recognized them, but a little research does wonders. All new zombies with faces that part to show tendrils and teeth manage to dig their way into more than a few crevices, and a huge, lumbering monster with a hood over his head and a ginormous axe for a weapon are the main additions to the series, known as "majini" and the "Executioner", respectively. Both come from the Resident Evil 5 game, which of course is the only game in the main series I've yet to even play. Their addition was made welcome by the fact that they created a whole new dynamic from the typical zombie fare, and the tremendous 3D effects meant that unlike the Nemesis in Apocalypse or the Tyrant in Extinction, you never felt like Alice was just fighting a guy in a rubber suit (which, when they took a punch, the costume would depress in such a way as to actually look like a rubber suit) when taking on the Executioner. The monster effects are amazing overall, and never detract from the movie for one iota.

Yeah, I'd add "run" to the top of my "to do" list about now...
Cynics will critique Resident Evil: Afterlight for not being true canon, as prescribed by the games. I won't argue with that fact. At first, it seemed like the films in this series were trying to establish a new story based on the same continuity, but now what seems to be happening is the opposite. While still respecting the source material when relating to characters from the game, the film franchise has become something else entirely, using those same characters, monsters and relationships to tell it's OWN continuity, something I didn't think I'd see from this series. It's quite impressive what Anderson's been able to accomplish here, and I have to give him credit for not being handicapped by the original material and putting together his own interpretation of where the series wants to go.

It ended in 2009, but Miller is still trying to stage a Prison Break
Is Resident Evil: Afterlight a perfect movie? Heck, no. Like the earlier movies, it has little to no regard for it's original characters, killing off the most useless ones quickly and messily. Also, while the plot is better than those of the last two films, that's not saying much, and the quick reboot of Alice's powers and clones is a clear sign that Anderson knew he made a mistake introducing those elements in the last movie. It's still the best 3D movie I've seen this year, however, even beating out the very fun Piranha 3D, and I'm as shocked as you to announce that it's now my new #7 film of 2010. It probably won't stay there, but as the reigning king of 3D films, it earned it's spot.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got six different Resident Evil games on my living room shelf that are now begging to be picked up and replayed.


brian said...

Ok, I haven't seen this but I call bullshit!

Also, everyone knows that 'Soldier' is the best P.W. Anderson film.

elmo said...

The above comment from some dweeb who's yet to see Ali Larter's slow-mo sprinkler fight. Dweeb!

brian said...

Did they steal that guy with the weird head and the horrific weapon from 'Silent Hill'?

Gianni said...

I didn't recognize that monster, but it's actually a type of parasitic monster called the Executioner in Resident Evil 5. I just purchased that game recently and he shows up in like the first twenty minutes.

Anonymous said...

the guy has serious continuity issues, where is the explanation of how the T-Virus (normal zombies) mutates into the los plagos virus (tendrils in mouth zombies, axe guy etc)?

anderson should not be allowed to make videogames movies, how many fails does 1 director need b4 he's escorted from the studio?