Resident Evil: Afterlife is the best video game movie ever made. That's a surprising conclusion considering that, as the fourth entry in the film franchise, Afterlife is farther removed from the generations of Capcom games it owes its existence to than any of the prior films. Plot wise, Paul W.S. Anderson's latest has almost nothing to do with any of the games, the only commonality between the two being a few of the supporting characters (not even Milla Jovovich's Alice is based on a character from the games). So, in actuality, as far as adapting the specific qualities of the renowned survival horror games goes, Afterlife is straight fubar.
Where Afterlife does succeed, however, is in capturing the essence of mindless third-person action games. Its plot is a vacant playground in which characters can run and gun, jump and gun, dive and gun, fly and gun, gun and gun in ways that just aren't humanly possible. Logic has no place in its world. Continuity is a wholly unreliable commodity. The script is only competent enough to move the player from one action extravaganza to the next without them falling asleep. And if you happen to be the kind of person that can play mindless shooters on end and who doesn't care if action movies have the decency to make sense, then Resident Evil: Afterlife is a soul mate.
That's not said in jest, either. There's a lot to legitimately like about Anderson's film. For example, its middle stretch, which finds Alice meeting up with survivors who have taken over a prison feels like a high concept, old school zombie flick, is a career highlight for the director. Unfortunately that chunk of the film is sandwiched between wraparound segments so relentlessly ludicrous they will cause anyone who isn't already tolerant of this particular film series to intellectually implode.
There's no worry of plot getting in the way of the gunfire. Alice hates the Umbrella Corporation. The Umbrella Corporation hates Alice. The (mutant) zombies who have laid cannibalistic waste to the entire world want to eat everyone. Alice doesn't want to get eaten. End of plot.
We do get a few new characters this time around, though, which should be of particular interest to fans who want to see some of the game's content in the actual game's movie. Wentworth Miller is the stoic Chris Redfield, and he's good enough in the role to make you wish the films had introduced him to the franchise sooner (and given him more to do). Shawn Roberts is the villainous Wesker this time around, a character that is likely to seem too surreal to audience members who don't appreciate him as sort of running joke in the series; the kind of villain who is the inexplicable mastermind behind outrageous plans for world domination and who is never quite as dead as he looks.
In the movie, Roberts captures Wesker brilliantly, but the character is so outlandish (he's like if a coked up '80s power broker fell into the Matrix; a combination of Patrick Bateman, Agent Smith and Inspector Gadget's Dr. Claw) that it's hard to tell if he's supposed to be laughed with or at. The other major character from the games is Resident Evil 5's "Executioner", whose towering presence, creepy costume design, and massive weapon inspires enough awe to completely make up for the goofy, rubbery Nemesis found in Resident Evil: Apocalypse (paired with Silent Hill's Pyramid Head, Executioner makes for the second most impressive video game character adapted to film to date).
A fondness for the games isn't required to enjoy the film, though. The aforementioned prison-set stretch is full of cool moments and really shows off the one thing Paul W.S. Anderson does better than many of his peers: production design. There's a number of reasons he's become a punching bag for fanboys (his screenwriting, for one, comes up short), but he has a clear love for placing his actors in real sets where they interact with real explosions and real creature and gore effects. The sad truth is that unlike a lot of commercial directors these days, Anderson doesn't just do everything in post-production, and that's more than admirable, it's impressive.
There is still a ton of post-production work in Afterlife, of course, but the spotlight is on the practical (it's 2010 and Anderson still favors slow moving zombies that spend hours upon hours in a make-up trailer, for example). Except in the abhorrent bookends to the film, which feature enough slow motion to make The Matrix and Max Payne blush. Its extreme reverence to an action style that peaked half a decade ago aside, the movie just flat out looks dynamite. In fact, it may be a bit too dynamite. Perhaps it was a side effect of 3D shooting requiring the camera to be far closer to the actors than normal, but everyone's make-up looks abnormally plastered on, as though the entire cast were being prepped for a stage musical or an open casket viewing, but definitely not a motion picture.
Yet even with problems minor (the distracting make-up) and major (an unambitious, repetitive score) piling up left and right,Resident Evil: Afterlife still squeaks out enough to be entertaining. It tries to be the slickest, coolest rated-R zombie shooting gallery around and it mostly works. That may not be something everyone is looking for, but those who are will find enough enjoyable things about the film to make it worthwhile.