RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (2004)
Director: Alexander Witt

The survival horror genre of video games has given the gaming world some landmark titles since the genre came into prominence in the mid-1990s. But few survival horror games can say they're as influential as Resident Evil. The original game and its sequels have become seminal titles for fans of the genre, and I doubt it came as a big surprise when a Resident Evil movie was released in 2002. And although the reactions from fans and critics were decidedly mixed, the movie's box office returns were enough to warrant Sony Pictures sending a sequel into production. Retaining elements of the first movie while adding a heaping helping of elements from the game franchise to soothe upset fanboys, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is at least an improvement over its predecessor.

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE (2004)The movie begins shortly before the end of its predecessor. A team of scientists from the Umbrella Corporation opens up its Hive laboratory below the Midwestern town of Raccoon City following the release of the T-Virus, but like most things in sci-fi/horror movies, things just go straight to Hell and the T-Virus escapes. Umbrella begins evacuating its executives from Raccoon City, leaving the rest of the city to rot. Thirteen hours later, Raccoon City has been contaminated with a widespread outbreak of the T-Virus. The town has become overrun with packs of zombies attacking any citizens they come across, and police actually arresting some zombies.

Around that time, we're reintroduced to Alice (Milla Jovovich), the survivor of the first Resident Evil. Like we saw at the end of the previous movie, she awakens in an Umbrella-owned hospital and wanders out into an abandoned street, making sure to snatch a shotgun from a police cruiser. However, she might not need it, as it turns out a round of Umbrella experiments has given her superhuman fighting abilities.

Come nightfall, Raccoon City has descended into chaos. The zombie infestation has reached massive proportions, forcing Umbrella to quarantine the city and quell a mass exodus to prevent their little accident from making national news. A team of Umbrella commandos sent in to clean up the mess has been wiped out, leaving just Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and Nicholai Sekolov (Zach Ward) to fend for themselves. They discover and team up with another band of survivors, comprised of Alice, local pimp L.J. (Mike Epps), news meteorologist Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt), and video game heroine Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), a suspended member of the Raccoon Police Department's elite STARS division.

The motley crew is soon contacted via payphone by Dr. Charles Ashford (Jared Harris), a high-ranking Umbrella scientist outside the city gates who's been following their actions via Raccoon City's street cameras. And folks, Ashford has some crappy news for them. It turns out that Umbrella's gonna use their military connections to drop a nuke on Raccoon City at dawn, but Ashford will guarantee them safe passage out of town before then if they can find his daughter Angie (Sophie Vavasseur), who disappeared following a car accident during the evacuation of Umbrella's crew. They don't really have a choice (unless they'd really like to have a missile dropped on them), so they fight through a horde of undead humans and packs of zombie dogs to rescue Angie. However, even after finding Angie, they still have to make it to their rendezvous point intact. But it turns out that zombies and dogs aren't the only things they have to worry about; there are also the Lickers that return from the first movie, and a massive bio-engineered hunter named "Nemesis" (Matthew G. Taylor) that intends to kill them all.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a big violent action roller coaster ride, and it knows it. It has no qualms with substituting thrills in lieu of things like plot advancement and character development. The movie isn't for moviegoers who like well-written stories and Oscar-caliber acting. It's for those who like watching people shoot at monsters with high-powered weapons. Director Alexander Witt uses his feature film debut to show off years of tricks learned working as a second unit director on flicks like Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and The Bourne Identity, and other than a few moments, the film is visually astounding. Unfortunately, many of the best action scenes are buried underneath quick cuts and shaky camera moves.

And though I said the movie wasn't about plot, the script by Paul W.S. Anderson (who passed the director's chair to Witt so he could make Alien vs. Predator) could have used some work. The plot proper (an amalgamation of the the second and third Resident Evil games with a dash of the original movie for flavor) didn't begin until almost a third of the way through the movie, and the buildup to the climactic Alice-Nemesis fight scene was actually very anticlimactic when it's all said and done. We did get some fun scenes, though; namely a Licker's siege on a church and the survivors fighting their way out of a zombie-infested graveyard. Something is always happening on screen, however, and it's never boring. Unfortunately, it seems as if Anderson didn't really care about the side characters, just wanting to cram Alice down our throats. If you're going to disrespect the game's characters by making them sidekicks to some new character that comes across as the female John Rambo, the fans are really going to resent you. That's probably why that the Resident Evil movies aren't all that popular with the fans of the franchise that I personally know.

The movie's acting was also give or take, depending on which actor we're talking about. Sienna Guillory was great as Jill, emulating her video game counterpart right down to the way she walked. Too bad she was second banana to Alice, but what can you do? Meanwhile, Milla Jovovich seemed to be half-assing it at times. It's like she said, "Okay, folks, my boyfriend wrote the movie, so the rest of you goons are gonna work while I sit here and look all awesome. Somebody get me a martini." I also liked Oded Fehr as Carlos, but he was severely underused. Why bother promoting Carlos from the games to the movie if you're barely gonna put him in there? I really enjoyed Mike Epps as well, even if he was just one-dimensional comic relief. He got a lot of mileage out of it, and provided many funny moments. Another thing I liked was Jeff Danna's industrial-metal score. It's far from memorable, but it worked for what the movie needed. And whoever was working the sound effects needs to be beaten. A lot of the scares are accompanied by a loud sound effect, making it seem like they wanted to scare the audience by making them deaf.

While Resident Evil: Apocalypse is certainly a better film than its predecessor, it still struggles to reach higher than mediocrity. It teeters wobbily on the line between good and bad, coming across as fun at certain times while banal at others. It's really that inconsistency that brings about the movie's downfall. There are some entertaining moments, especially for fans of the games, but ultimately, the movie is average at best. I'll give it a thumbs-in-the-middle with three and a half stars, and dub the movie simply "okay."

Final Rating: ***


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