Title :Resident Evil Apocalypse
Platforms :Cinematic
Directed by :Alexander Witt
Publisher :Sony/Screen Gems
MPAA Rating :R
Review by :Ken Gagne

2002. Movies continue to be adapted from a variety of sources, such as comic books and video games, with varying degrees of success. A few months before Spider-Man webbed his way into movie history, a landmark video game series made its silver screen debut. 

Capcom, formerly responsible for the travesty that was Street Fighter: The Movie (starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Raul Julia in his last film), returned to theaters with Resident Evil, based on a series of "survival horror" video games that scared a generation of gamers with flesh-eating zombies and undead hounds. Expectations were high; satisfaction proved low. 

2004. Resident Evil: Apocalypse picks up the story where the original ended. Expectations are low: satisfaction is on par. The lack of letdown produces a more acceptable experience, as the film is no better, and possibly worse, than its predecessor. 

The setting for Apocalypse is Raccoon City, where citizens are becoming infested with the T-virus, which reanimates necrotic cells (read: kills people and turns them into zombies). Only a few souls have the means and methods to escape alive. 

In one corner, our returning champion, Alice (Milla Jovovich). Shedding her amnesia from the first film, Alice is a more powerful and confident character this time around, attacking her assailants with gusto. The motivation for this malevolence is a stranger to us, as Alice seems to care for no one and nothing — except possibly revenge on Umbrella, the evil corporation (but then, what cinematic corporation isn't evil?) responsible both for her past injuries and the T-virus itself. 

In the other corner, we have Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). Like a bad Capcom movie, Jill dresses and looks almost exactly like she does in the video game, albeit with the wrong color hair. This is not the "master of unlocking" we saw in the first RE game, who ran screaming like a girl from the first zombie she saw. But neither is the audience made privy to this cinematic character's background. All we know is that she's a disgraced member of STARS (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad) with some prior experience with the T-virus. Her sauciness serves only to fill the scenes lacking Alice; the two don't complement each other as much as they do duplicate. Normally, two such similar women would be played against each other, but these two are rarely at odds; though such animosity would have been cliche, at least it would have had the characters interacting on some meaningful level. 

We also have two returning characters now played by different actors. The artificial intelligence from the first film, portrayed in avatar as a ten-year-old girl, returns as the actual youngster off whom the A.I. was modelled. 

Though some may consider it a spoiler, anyone who knows saw the end of the first film should've already connected the dots: Matt, Alice's sole surviving partner from the first movie, returns as the mutated killing machine Nemesis. To get a feel for Nemesis' appearance, imagine Mr. Potato Head dressed for the Matrix, and in a leathery suit with less facial expression than a live-action ninja turtle. This "villain" bears similar functionality to Robocop: obeying directives from his superiors and occasionally providing the audience with a view from his perspective, complete with visual data akin to a video game display. 

Here's another missed opportunity for character interaction. The audience knows Matt is Nemesis; does Alice? If she does, we see no indication of such for most of the film. Nemesis is a minor, rarely-seen, non-threatening character — which is odd, he was important enough to earn the subtitle in the movie's source game, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Alice and Matt's encounters are further limited to fisticuffs, of which there is little in the RE games (due to the lack of thrill in such limited firepower). Does Mr. Potato Head seem like a likely candidate for a boxing match? Give us some Matrix– or Equilibrium-style gunfights! 

Firearms aren't the only things not shooting well: the cameras use the recently popular technique of short, fast cuts from one angle to another. Perhaps this style is meant to suggest the frenetic pace of a battle, but it succeeds only in making such scenes disjointed and hard to follow. Fortunately, such shooting is not as prevalent in Apocalypse as it was in Blade II or The Bourne Supremacy

Other effects include frequent flashbacks, either to the first film or to what little time separates it from the sequel. Another scene is almost shot-for-shot the opening from Resident Evil: Code Veronica, which is some creative continuity: the first film was based loosely on the second video game, and this one on the third. Veronica is the fourth game in the series. Where are they going with this? This isn't a tip of the hat to fans of the games; it's a mallet to the head. The film's ending moves quickly with several discrete occurrences and elements that seem far separated from the rest of the film. 

The best effect of the movie was to make me want to play the video games again. The Resident Evil series defined a new genre with its excellent settings and surprises. Sadly, the films have never enjoyed similar artistic success. Apocalypse is not horrifyingly bad, and may be worth a DVD rental, but let the first film be a warning for you to set your expectations appropriately.

This article is copyright (c) 2004, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Tech News, 21-Sep-04