Owning The Pleasures of Resident Evil: Apocalypse

By  · Published on January 11th, 2017

We continue our tour through the Resident Evil franchise with a sequel that just doesn’t care.

I don’t believe in the guilty pleasure. Why should I be ashamed by my unbridled enthusiasm for Dom and the Family Toretto? Why hold your nose up to me if I think Jason Voorhees’ greatest nature hike was the expedition he took beyond the stars? Own your love. Don’t sheepishly admit to your preference for JAWS 3D over the universally recognizable brilliance of Steven Spielberg’s original…ok, that seems like an insane stretch, but you do you! The idea that we should somehow suffer a twisted form of self-loathing because our tastes venture outside the norm is atrociously patronizing, and should fly in the face of fandom. Yet, we eagerly leap on the bandwagon of twitter to condemn the numskulls that dared to love Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

We are film freaks; let’s celebrate the freaks of the freaks instead of condemning them to the darker dungeons of reddit subthreads. I am all about passion. If you only desire to swede Cannon Film trailers, I will subscribe to your YouTube channel. If you crave cats in super hero themed sweaters, I will obsess over your tumblr. If all you want to talk about is Filipino exploitation cinema, then we can spend the afternoon together applauding Machete Maidens Unleashed. We need to stand as one, raise our hands, and shout in unison, “I AM SPARTACUS! I AM JASON X! I AM BVS!”

Admittedly, this is only a longwinded introduction begging the reader to accept my deep passion for Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Have I lost you, already? Please don’t go. Hear me out. Take a page from Yoda’s book, step away from hate, and join me in the beautiful bath of warm light that is B-Movie devotion. Dumb and silly cinema can offer as much nutrition as the weightiest of Oscar bait, especially if they deliver on previously unseen sights of absurdity. You just can’t believe what you’re watching. That’s a win.

Last week, we explored the launch of the Resident Evil franchise, and how it helped (along with 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead) usher in this new wave of zombie cinema that currently refuses to flee from our weekly television programming. The first film was an utterly genuine attempt by director Paul W.S. Anderson to use the popularity of the Capcom survival horror games as a springboard for his own wannabe Romero terror. The result was mixed, but won the box office thanks to a compelling lead heroine in Milla Jovovich, and a tightly managed budget from Screen Gems.

Swept away by 20th Century Fox to helm Alien vs. Predator, Anderson had to release the reigns on the series, but still managed to crank out the script for the follow-up. Having proved himself as a go-to 2nd Unit Director on an endless stream of successful action pictures (The Bourne Identity, Lethal Weapon 3, The Hunt For The Red October, Leonard Part 6), Alexander Witt was selected to shepherd humanity’s collapse as promised during the first film’s cliffhanger. Resident Evil: Apocalypse attempts to expand the mythology by taking Milla’s Alice above ground, and dropping her into the center of a rioting Raccoon City. The Channel 7 newscaster cheers on a record low pollen count, but the air is primed for a T-Virus outbreak.

The filmmakers saw the original as a prequel to the video games, and while this offered them the freedom to shoehorn their Lewis Carroll references wherever they liked, their goal for the sequel was to incorporate the more familiar elements that fans had gleefully admonished them for in the chat rooms and back pages of Fangoria magazine. While Alice is pricked and prodded in the basement of the Umbrella Corporation, ex-S.T.A.R.S. soldier Jill Valentine squeezes herself into that impossible tube top, and straps on the blades, the side holster, and the heels that would make John Rambo blush. She storms into the Police Station that’s either reminiscent of Robocop’s Old Detroit or the bustling backlot façade of Last Action Hero. Actress Sienna Guillory gives Jill the best Clint Eastwood she can muster, and pronounces herself as Resident Evil’s true blue (tube topped) heroine with a rapid fire of zombie headshots. Somehow, she knows that victory waits in the brainpan.

The script does quick work to introduce a buffet of zombie snausages for Alice & Jill to rescue. Early on, Mike Epps is freed from the jaws of an undead prostitute, and propelled into awkward comic relief (he enjoys quips, custom painted handguns, and GTA Cadillacs). Sandrine Holt is that desperate Channel 7 weather girl determined to snatch her Emmy from tragedy and the barrel of a camcorder. Oded Fehr and Zack Ward bring the heavy artillery as helicopter hopping disavowed Umbrella Corps mercenaries. As Dr. Ashford, the father of the T-Virus, The Red Queen, and an actual adorably perilous little British girl, Jared Harris strangles as much class from the proceedings as possible. It’s a wacky collection of stereotypes, but their cellophane characters manage more charm than the grim, bloodless soldiers on the periphery of the prior flick, and are backed by earnest, rarely winking performances.

However, as is the case with the first film and every film after it, Apocalypse is at peak entertainment when Milla Jovovich is allowed to flex her preposterously strong and tiny muscles. No longer the wilting amnesiac, Alice is in full comic book, super hero mode. The red dress has been shredded and left on the Umbrella compound floor. Instead we have a much more sensible cropped tank top, a mesh shirt, a one legged pair of pants, cowboy boots, and buckles, buckles, buckles. As stated on the dvd commentary track, Milla imagined her wardrobe to be this “Mad Max/pagan thing” and requested the heat wave subplot to explain away the healthy amounts of exposed skin. And here I was hoping it was just a sly Do The Right Thing nod?

After a little flashbacky retread, Alice blasts into Apocalypse atop a stain glass shattering motorcycle. Saving Jill and her snausages from a trilogy of cg lickers, Alice pulls pistols, shotguns, and machine guns off of every part of her body to dispatch these noticeably improved iconic beasties. We’re not talking Grand Moff Tarkin here, but in only a short matter of two years, the digital lickers seen hopping about in Apocalypse are vastly superior to the previous paint shop pro disasters. They certainly inspire a desire to own them in plastic, and I’m happy to report that a variety of molded action lickers are available wherever respectable toys are sold…i.e. ebay.

Milla’s Alice is total confidence. Most of the joy in these movies is never fearing for her life. When Milla walks on screen, you know that whatever grotesque she faces is going to meet the sharp end of a bullet. This is the type of role that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean Claude Van Damme dominated in the 1980s. The suspense is not in if she will survive, but how she will survive. And, of course, what kind of atrocity she will face?

The true gem of Resident Evil: Apocalypse is Project: Nemesis. The titular main villain from the third video game, the Nemesis creature seen in this film is the genetic mutation hinted at during the previous climax. Too bad, so sad for Eric Mabius who was not asked back to reprise his role in the sequel, his character instead beefs up into the titanic stuntman, Matthew G. Taylor. Director Alexander Witt was determined to keep this creation practical, and fought off the producers from allowing just another forgettable computer animated cartoon. Matt Taylor’s Nemesis is a lumbering Frankenstein monstrosity that looks like a steroid infused cenobite ready for his close-up, Mr. McTiernan. Tooled up with a chain gun and a rocket launcher, everything desirable about the Resident Evil horror/action film mashup is personified in this ridiculous invention.

The final boss battle pits the Umbrella Corporation’s “parallel strands of research” against each other. The victor could prove to be humankind’s inevitable evolution, but Apocalypse has one last tiny, pleasant surprise for its audience. When mustache twirling euro villain, Thomas Kretschman screams for a Mortal Kombat styled “FINISH HIM!” Alexander Witt pushes the camera in for the most saccharine close-up of the Nemesis’ bright, baby blue eye. I swear, it’s easy to imagine a single teardrop rolling down his latex cheek. The S&M altered beast doesn’t want to be bad. He remembers the good times down the rabbit hole with Alice. He selects Team Up over Versus Match, and the T-Virus dynamic duo leave Kretschman’s huddled bones to be gnawed on by the soon-to-be vaporized zombie residents of Raccoon City.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse has no delusions of grandeur. It knows exactly what it is, and revels in unrestrained enthusiasm for its material. Even if Alice is often required to remain stone faced, Milla Jovovich is obviously having the time of her life while plummeting from skyscrapers and swashbuckling SWAT team thugs. The film offers you zombies, dog zombies, kiddie zombies, as well as my favorite lickers, Frankenstein monsters, and dastardly corporate scientists. After the success of the original film, the sequel exclaims that this franchise can and will do whatever it wants. From here on out, I was a fan for life.

Next week, we leave Raccoon City to its mushroom cloud, and thunder down The Road Warrior aspirations of Resident Evil: Extinction. Paul W.S. Anderson is still too busy mucking about with classic properties to direct, but Highlander’s Russell Mulcahy endeavors to deliver on the end times.

Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)