Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Resident Evil – Apocalypse

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

RESIDENT EVIL – APOCALYPSE

4/10

Canada (UK-Can) 2004 : Alexander WITT : 94 mins

‘Whoops Apocalypse’, more like… Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later – though somewhat overrated – have nevertheless now raised the bar for zombie pictures in terms of wit and originality. North American entries are struggling to keep up: Resident Evil – Apocalypse is as pointless and opportunistic a

by-the-numbers cash-in as last year’s deadly-dull Dawn of the Dead remake. (Like 28 Days Later, Apocalypse coyly avoids ever using the term “zombie” in its script. Even in the end titles the reanimated corpses which comprise its cannon-fodder [kill-zombie films being kill-human films in mufti] are referred to as ‘Undead’ with one sloppy exception: “Zombie Dad.”)

This is Witt’s directorial debut after years of second-unit director-cum-cinematographer work on the likes of Twister, Speed and Speed 2 (for Jan De Bont); Gladiator, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down (for Ridley Scott); xXx, DareDevil, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Italian Job, Hidalgo, The Bourne Identity, etc. As these are almost all projects which lean heavily on second-unit footage, one might expect Witt to have honed his talents to an impressive level. Not so. Visuals during the numerous action set-pieces are distractingly incoherent, with a tell-tale fondness for the jaded old juddery stop-motion effect for moments of particular extremis.

Resident Evil : Apocalypse, though a sequel to Resident Evil (2002), is in fact based on the third videogame in the series, Resident Evil : Nemesis. The title was changed to avoid confusion with the Star Trek flop of the same name (and will presumably provide Michael Moore with a juicily punning pop-culture pun-title if Bush is re-elected: President Evil, anyone?). As with RE1, considerable liberties have been taken with the video-game narrative – once again, the lead character is kick-ass Alice (Milla Jovovich), who does not appear in the games. But the chief baddie-monster is present and correct: a hulking beastie known as Nemesis, who looks like what might happen if Alien vs Predator ended with those two species settling their differences and, ahem, getting it on.

He also bears an unfortunate resemblance to both Troma’s Toxic Avenger and Iron Maiden’s Eddie, and features in several asinine sub-Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up scenes that may conceivably satisfy adolescent boys – that the film is explicitly aimed at this market is indicated by a priceless brief sequence featuring topless zombie hookers staggering down a Skid Row-type street. Anyone older will cringe at the laughably perfunctory plot, which gleefully rips off John Carpenter’s Escape From New York by stranding Alice and various well-armed hangers-on in a locked down urban metropolis, Raccoon City (an amusingly recognisable Toronto), which is infested by hordes of zomb-, sorry, hordes of undead. The city is run by an ubercompany so powerful it can blithely get away with covering up a downtown nuclear explosion – the more paranoid suspect “Hollywood” is softening us up for the real thing by repeatedly exposing our imaginations to fictional versions.

Here the chief corporate fascist is, surprisingly, an actual Teuton (Thomas Kretschmann in Anton Diffring mode) – in the Bush Restoration, it’s seemingly OK to hate Germans again. But plucky “Brits” are an on hand to lend moral support and firepower to the “Americans”. Except in the wonderful world of international coproduction, nobody is quite what they seem. The “British” characters are actually Irish – Jared Harris (an eerie cross between his dad Richard and Philip Seymour Hoffman) as a paraplegic boffin; Sophie Vavasseur (a long way from Evelyn) as his moppet daughter (who occupies the same plot-device role as Donald Pleasance’s President in Escape From New York). Blonde Londoner Sienna Guillory turns in a howlingly wooden performance as brunette US “cop” Jill Valentine (the actual focus of the video-game), while Israeli Arab Oded Fehr is “Olivera”, a Hispanic-American SWAT bloke.

All of these are very much second and third bananas behind Jovovich, however – currently the partner of Paul W S Anderson, who directed the first Resident Evil picture, and produced and wrote the (poor) script for this second entry. Ukraine-born, compellingly Slavic-featured Jovovich is easily the best thing about the picture, and her Alice is a charismatic, no-nonsense ass-kicker with minimal dialogue (clever girl). The messy coda sets Alice up as an ambiguous heroine for any future Resident Evil 3, which – based on this second part’s spotty box-office performance – will presumably be a straight-to-video affair with a different actress in the lead role. And Witt will presumably slink back to the second unit where he belongs – amazing to think that 25 years ago he obtained his first feature credit as “assistant camera” on Fassbinder’s Third Generation. As he might have suspected at the time, it really was all downhill from there…

19th October, 2004
[seen 5th October : UGC Middlesbrough : press show]

by Neil Young