a critiQal film review Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Plot: After narrowly escaping the underground Hive facility, Alice (Jovovich) is quickly thrust back into a war now raging above ground between the living and the Undead. With the city locked down under quarantine, Alice quickly joins a band of elite soldiers, enlisted to rescue the missing daughter of Dr. Ashford (Kretschmann), the creator of the mutating T-virus.

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After the shockingly impressive Resident Evil (2002), I found out they were making a sequel…and couldn’t wait for it. 2 years later, the sequel was released. Due to money constraints (surprise, surprise), I had to wait a little longer for Resident Evil: Apocalypse to hit DVD. A short 3 months later, I rushed out and bought it immediately…and was sadly disappointed. I waited 2 years for this? Yuck.

However, since Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) is hitting theaters this September, I wanted to go back and take a look at it, along with it’s predecessor, Resident Evil (2002), so I decided to make it a 2-movie marathon. Now that a couple of years have gone by – and my expectations are now lower – would I think better of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, or would another viewing prove how much the series dropped in it’s first sequel?

Milla Jovovich returns in the lead role in Resident Evil: Apocalypse – only now she’s been genetically altered by the Evil Corporation to be stronger and faster than any ordinary human. And, apparently, less emotional, as she offers the audience a rather bland look for most of the film. Maybe she thought she didn’t have to try as hard the second time around – or maybe she’s a little bored with the whole process. Either way, she doesn’t do much to pull the viewer in this time around, and leaves it up to the audience to decide whether they want to stick around or not.

Her supporting cast in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, played by Sienna Guillory, Thomas Kretschmann and Oded Fehr, aren’t much more than possible zombie-fodder, and most of them know it. They don’t try as hard as they would have normally – or, in Oded Fehr’s case, aren’t given any sort of background to work with, and make do with the little they have. While they are decent enough on-screen, the viewer never really gets attached to them, so doesn’t care much whether they live or die.

In the first film, Colin Salmon and Michelle Rodriguez were able to create characters viewers cared about. In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, no one is able to reach that level, so the viewer will largely tune out of the individual characters, letting them all blend together into one category: possible zombie fodder. Eventually, Oded and Sienna help shake this up somewhat, but by that time, the movie is almost over, and the viewer has already given up on the characters.

Gone are the enclosed spaces of the first film that helped heighten the tension. This time around, the characters are out in the open, fighting their way around a much larger box: an entire city, in fact. Apparently, the director figured he could make it work by throwing more zombies into the mix…but he’s wrong.

Okay, so the characters aren’t as impressive, and the closed-in feeling is gone…how about the zombies? Are they more horrific than ever? No. In fact, new director Alexander Witt somehow got the brilliant idea that to make zombies scarier, he should film them in slow-mo. What? Why make slow-moving zombies even slower? Thankfully, he doesn’t do that for every sequence, but those few sequences make the zombies pretty much a joke.

Instead of the zombies, in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the bigger scare is the odd genetic mutations that were mostly locked up in the first film…already a plot “oops”. After all, viewers are shown how the zombies get out of the hive (researchers re-open it and are killed almost instantly), but never how the previously locked-up mutations escape. Did they all break out of those seemingly impenetrable cages only after the first film ended, or is there some kind of freaky breeding thing happening? Viewers are never let in on this little detail – instead, we are presented with 3 of the things roaming the walls of one little church.

While it’s interesting to focus more of the horror on these “monsters”, that plot ‘oops’ leaves the viewers a little disgruntled…distancing them further from Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Even if one of the characters had even mentioned how the things got out, the viewers would have been happier. As it is, it just seems an easy way out for the filmmakers to try to make the first film bigger and badder than the first. Imagine the conversation:
“How do we make the sequel bigger than the first one?”
“I know…more mutations!”
“Okay, I like it…but how did they get out?”
“Who cares!”
Um….the viewers do. Think about that before tossing in stuff like this in any future sequels.

While the plot for Resident Evil: Apocalypse probably sounded good on paper – stick the characters in a walled off city and have them go rescue someone, preferably a kid – the filmmakers did a bad job of bringing that to reality. Rather than a fast-paced terror-heightened chase into the bad guys’ lair, we’re left with something that looks more like a cheesy rip-off of Escape from New York (1981) (and we’ve already seen Escape From L.A. (1996)).

And then there’s Nemesis. While the first film gave us a brief horrific teaser about this, seeing the mutated being that comes out of the program is, well, a huge disappointment. Supposedly, this is the same guy from the first film. But, the viewer would never recognize him in Resident Evil: Apocalypse as he looks more like one of those other mutations, except he walks upright (and doesn’t use his tongue as a weapon). It’s too bad, as they could have taken this sub-plot so much further. They could have used the second film as a base for having Milla search for him in a zombie-ravaged town, or something. Anything would have been better than this rather cliched “man into monster” shtick that they used.

While Resident Evil: Apocalypse introduces big new changes into it’s main character (she’s now Genetically Enhanced!), it does so while losing a lot of what made the first movie so good. With a new super-human main character, the film takes on a more of a The Terminator (1984) feel – especially when they throw in the Nemesis character (who could have been directly taken from The Terminator (1984) if not for his ugly appearance). While those films were fun to watch for the most part, they weren’t why most viewers are going to see the Resident Evil film series.

Stripping away most of what was good in the original leaves Resident Evil: Apocalypse as one of the biggest first sequel disappointments in a long time. No wonder I was so upset the first time I saw this.

So, is there any hope for Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)? Because of the great first film, fans will probably tough it out through one more sequel, but the filmmakers will probably have to go back to the feel of the original film (by at least down-playing Milla’s new super abilities, and giving viewers a plot they can really sink their teeth into) if they want viewers to actually enjoy it.

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