Apart from mercilessly ripping off The Matrix, especially its slow-motion bullet-time action sequences, even the look of Mr. Smith with the Resident Evil series’s own superhuman shades-clad baddy in a suit (Shawn Roberts), Paul W.S. Anderson just doesn’t have it in him anymore, though I’d go so far as to say that he never did; even the first Resident Evil movie was only half on-target, too hung up on action-figure poses and forgettable creature effects to be either an effective action/adventure or a zombie chiller. Which leaves poor Milla Jovovich stuck jutting out her hips in provocative poses while zombie dogs and zombies with ginormous hammer-axes attack another group of disposable victims. You know you’re in trouble when Anderson, the film’s sole-credited screenwriter, is so creatively tapped out that he has to rehash the ending of the Mortal Kombat movie, where hordes of bad guys materialize out of nowhere and surround our stalwart nobodies, to keep the backdoor open for another sucky sequel.
In Resident Evil: Afterlife, badass Alice (Jovovich) returns to save humankind from the zombie apocalypse engineered by evil pharmaceutical group the Umbrella Corporation. Thankfully, because that generic statement of purpose has become a staple of the franchise, Anderson doesn’t waste time explaining what happened before Afterlife or who’s responsible (though his characters do state the obvious an awful lot). Afterlife is mostly the same formula as the last three movies, but this time set in Los Angeles and starring a group of cipher survivors ogling the Arcadia, a moored ship broadcasting a signal promising food and shelter from the rampant zombie T-virus.
There’s sincere black man (Boris Kodjoe), feisty amnesiac girl (Ali Larter) who disappears for stretches of the picture for no good reason, Latino mechanic man (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), alluring criminal guy (Wentworth Miller), sleazy dude that will betray them all (Kim Coates), timid Asian (Norman Yeung), and sassy meat puppet (Sienna Guillory). Hardly an innovative or emotionally stirring group of guys and girls, but hey, it’s worked for the last three entries so why mess with a formula that still works? Fans of the series are the only ones still paying attention and they probably don’t expect anything from Anderson anymore except a wisp of a plot and a fresh batch of human cannon fodder to take on the ultra-deluxe Nemesis ultra-zombie, the Axeman, or any of the other steroid-enhanced zombies that haunt the Resident Evil games.
That’s probably because Anderson’s so sure he’s gotten the winning lottery ticket with the Resident Evil franchise that he’s petrified of changing or even enlivening anything with a hint of innovation or even emotional depth. Afterlife lacks tension, dread, angst, humor—you name an emotion, it’s not there. The action scenes are mostly Matrix clones that take Anderson’s serial abuse of slow motion to new lows thanks to the fact that we’re now seeing Jovovich hop around in slow-motion and 3D. One could argue that when Alice aims two pistols and later a double-barrel shotgun at the camera that Anderson’s paying a post-Woosian homage to The Great Train Robbery. One would be wrong-headed and overzealous for making that argument—but still, it’s possible. There’s just nothing there.
And there’s another black hole of a performance from Jovovich to contend with. An opening scene that reveals how Alice once had an army of clones at her disposal (this is never explained in Afterlife and is probably the only quasi-original plot point in the film) shows that it’s hard not to think of Jovovich’s performance and Anderson’s storytelling as equally robotic and assembly line-friendly. She’s got four settings: pouting (pursing her lips), fighting (hands at side, legs spread), talking (again, pursing her lips), and running (mouth agape). Anderson makes an ancillary and almost charming meta joke of Alice killing zombies with coins for buckshot, but nothing could cover for another breathy, passionless performance from Jovovich, queen of forgettable B-sci-fi flicks. In Jovovich, Anderson has unfortunately found his match.