[17 September 2004]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Back for another go-round with the Umbrella Corporation, Alice (Milla Jovovich) is leaner and lots meaner. She has good reason: the company has not only decided to revisit the T-virus program, but also to elaborate and is worth revisiting, partly because it hasn’t been eradicated anyway, and partly because sequels tend to replicate the original film’s formula. The first Resident Evil, based on a video game, concerns Alice and company’s escape a terrible place, namely, the Hive, Umbrella’s underground virus-making facility. The second film repeats, only changing the location to above ground, namely, Raccoon City. Now Alice now leads another hardy crew, less military, more motley, and inclined to be, like, totally awed by her brutal talents.
Alice, as she reminds us, was once head of security in the Hive, and so she has some training and serious understanding of how the system works (essentially: all humans are “expendable assets,” as one of her new friends puts it). Though she asserts, “I learnt the error of my ways,” she also retains a grudging association with the corporation, which has genetically mutated her into a super kick-ass soldier. And so, much like Ripley (of Alien Resurrection) and Max (of Dark Angel), and a little like Jovovich’s own Leeloo (The Fifth Element), Alice wakes here inside a lab where she’s watched over by wicked malevolent-seeming folks in white coats.
At first, it appears that she’s weakened and incoherent, but no. Alice is only regathering herself, having been infected with the very virus she so abhors. Though the doctor-types expect her to perform again in the interests of Umbrella, as you might imagine, Alice isn’t so keen to comply. And so she heads to suburban Raccoon City to save humans locked in when the giant gates are locked, in an effort to contain the virus, per order of the Germanic-accented Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann).
Among those locked in the city is Angie (Sophie Vavasseur), daughter of Umbrella’s most usefully brilliant Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris), the very man who thought up the virus, as a way to speed little Angie’s recovery from a dread ailment (you’ll recall that the virus is regenerative, only it works too well, bringing dead people back to life and igniting in them a craving for live flesh.) He spends most of his onscreen time with notebook computer in his lap (he’s in a wheelchair), smoking furiously. Though he’s ordered to leave the military camp just outside the city, he stays put, using his machine to locate little Angie and then direct the actions of Alice and assorted other potential saviors, chosen because they’re in the vicinity and he’ll try anything. The reward he proposes is a chopper to lift them out of the city. It’s the oldest trick in the book: a promised chopper, a barricaded city overrun by cannibalistic insurgents, and a wholly untrustworthy set of military and civilian authorities: it’s clear this will end badly.
These would-be rescuers form the sort of rag-tag team that allows for serial deaths and increasingly vengeful, if not exactly emotional, responses from survivors (it’s worth noting here that Jeff Danna’s score is strangely disconnected from most of the action, as if it’s been cut and pasted from another action movie altogether, making “emotional” connections with characters even less likely). A couple of cops form the nucleus, slamming and very short-skirted Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), apparently on the department’s shit-list at the moment of the zombie outbreak, but very good at her job (she’s sort of reprising Alice from the first film), and her already-bitten buddy Wells (Raz Adoti). Together, they’re sort of protecting Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt), a tv reporter inadvertently crewed with them, who brings her video camera everywhere, imagining it’s her ticket to a Pulitzer. (Such blatant ambition, in addition to her lack of humor, makes Terri likely dead-meat, though the means of her demise, a squad of zombified uniformed schoolchildren, quite ravenous, is notably revolting.)
Also included among the living are super-soldier Carlos Oliviera (Oded Fehr, who plainly deserves a real movie role, please), a couple of his fellows (soon dispatched) and a street hustler called L.J. (Mike Epps). Providing the sort of commentary that the scared-unto-giddy black guy usually offers in slasher films (noting the absurdity of specific situations, articulating the abject fear that everyone else is feeling), L.J. is a mostly welcome commentator on the action, especially as it’s so predictable (“You shoulda told me you got bit, motherfucker!” he advises one of their doomed compatriots).
As the zombies appear to target the white guys first (Carlos’s friends, in particular), it’s not long before the group of survivors is comprised of only of non-white-guys. An increasingly common strategy in action movies, this race-gender assortment paints the Umbrella Corporation reps as altogether ghastly villains. As much as this might visualize a current, general resentment against corporate entities, the fact that Alice is at once that resentment’s instrument and embodies its target is the film’s cleverest conceit, lifted directly from the first film, of course.
Alice’s sense of dislocation drove the plot ofResident Evil, as her desperate search for her “identity,” or at least some way to piece together the fragments of memory that seemed to assault her at every turn. Here she disappears for long minutes at a time, leaving you with the much less engaging others, often split up, often in spaces that have no clear relation to others, so that Alice or some other rescuer might show up at the last second, to whip some zombie’s butt.
Most of Resident Evil: Apocalypse‘s repetitions aren’t imaginative, including another set of zombie Dobermans and a different sort of Big Bad, named Nemesis, and wielding weapons born of first-person-shooter games. But its best reiteration, Alice’s identity crisis, is refitted here to extend the game (yet another sequel seems likely), as well as to complicate the very idea of identity. Before, she sought to recover her memory as a means to “know” who she was. Now, that doesn’t help, as what she comes to remember only leaves her at a loss for words and even matching pronouns. “I thought we survived the horror,” she says, “but we were wrong.”