Looking back at Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Any genre movie that makes the kind of money the first Resident Evil film did in 2002 is going to get a sequel. So, two years later, just as zombies were really coming back into fashion, Resident Evil: Apocalypse was released. With a higher budget than the first film, it’s more ambitious, focusing on a full-scale zombie outbreak rather than a small contained one, and it’s bonkers. And it’s great, in a lightweight, silly, will-totally-rot-your-teeth-but-it’s-fun-while-it-lasts kind of a way.

Like the first film, Apocalypse starts with a lengthy explanation of what’s been going on: what the Umbrella Corporation is, where the zombies came from, and who Alice is. There’s no ambiguity about Alice’s past this time, but that’s because this film is more interested in who she’s becoming than who she used to be. And also because this film has approximately a zillion new characters it wants to introduce instead. While the first film might’ve tried to distance itself from the games by creating new characters and a new mythology, this one is determined to shoe-horn in as many references to the games as possible.

So, we pick up soon after the events of the first film, in T-virus infected Raccoon City. While Alice is busy escaping from the Hive all over again, a disgraced ex-cop is suiting up and getting stuck into the action. Jill Valentine, a playable character from many of the Resident Evil games, was originally going to be the main protagonist of the first film, but instead she shows up here as a kind of counterpoint to Alice. But because the film assumes you know who Jill Valentine is, she doesn’t get much in the way of character development.

Some newspaper clippings introduce her as a former STARS agent who’s been disgraced, but that’s about it. She just turns up and kicks ass. The first scene, in which she shoots a bunch of zombies in a police station, is so game-like you can almost feel the phantom gamepad materialising in your hands while you’re watching it.

Then there’s Carlos Oliviera, a character from Resident Evil 3, who shows up to be a military guy and not much else. Nicholai Zinoviev, another STARS character, shows up briefly (and pretty much unrecognisably.) There’s a sprinkling of non-game characters, like a TV reporter called Terri Morales, a random survivor called LJ, and a square-jawed baddie called, almost inevitably, Cain. And then there’s Dr Ashford, played by Mad Men’s Jared Harris, who’s a weird mash-up of game and film mythology. In the film, he’s a wheelchair-bound scientist, apparently suffering from some kind of degenerative disease like MS (though it’s never specified what it is, exactly). He created the T-virus in order to try to stop his daughter from suffering from the same condition, except, uh oh, it makes zombies.

Ashford’s daughter, incidentally, is instantly recognisable as the model for the Red Queen from the first movie, which makes her creepier than she really should be. Like Alice, she’s infected with the T-virus, but hasn’t turned into a zombie. She’s something else. And that something else is what makes this movie fun. Whereas the first film was mostly about the traditional walking corpse zombie, this one goes all out with the weird creatures. There are the Venom-esque lickers, there are zombie dogs, and there’s Nemesis, a hideously mutated humanoid borrowed from the game Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.

The way this film plays with and changes ideas and characters from the games probably turned a lot of non-game fans off it, while simultaneously alienating people who haven’t played the games and don’t get the references, but somehow, it’s still fun. I’m not sure I can defend this film on many grounds, but it is fun.

And although I said earlier that Apocalypse is a lightweight movie – and it is – there are some really dark ideas lurking in amongst the silliness. The most disturbing stuff doesn’t involve main characters, and the scenes aren’t lingered over, and the movie is fast paced enough that you don’t always get time to think about the implications of some of the nastier things it shows you, but they’re there nonetheless.

Remember that woman at the beginning who chooses to throw herself off the roof of a building rather than risk turning into a zombie? It’s dealt with quickly, and the film doesn’t show her falling or making impact with the ground; her corpse is only shown for a second or two, but brr, it’s a nasty moment. It’s not important to the plot, but just for a moment, the film considers how a normal resident of Raccoon City might be dealing with the zombie outbreak. And it’s chilling.

That’s not the film’s darkest moment, though. Because when Jill and her group of survivors take shelter in a church, they stumble across an even creepier example of how Raccoon City’s population is dealing with the zombie outbreak: a priest who’s keeping his zombified sister tied to a chair, and feeding her members of the congregation to keep her pacified. Seriously, that is some pitch-black creepiness right there, but blink and you’ll miss the scene, because it’s over in minutes and never referred to again.

So what you’ll remember about Resident Evil: Apocalypse isn’t its incredibly harrowing depiction of the depths human beings will sink to when faced with an unimaginable horror. What you’ll remember, probably, are the action sequences. That scene where Alice runs down the side of the building is awesome. The bit where she’s cornered by Umbrella heavies and ordered to drop her gun, and does, only to catch it before it hits the ground and shoot them? That’s pretty cool. And the final fight with Nemesis, and the helicopter showdown, and crash? And then that concluding sequence in the lab, where Alice has to escape all over again by remembering who she is? I can’t really excuse my affection for this movie, but the “my name is Alice, and I remember everything” line still gives me goosebumps.

I might blame it all on my inexplicable love for Milla Jovovich again. She’s never less than watchable, and it’s hard not to enjoy watching as the Resident Evil movies make her progressively stronger, faster, and more awesome – with ever more elaborate and eye-popping action sequences. Even if no one else in these movies gets to do much or be very interesting, at the very least you know a Resident Evil movie is going to deliver on the Milla-kicking-ass front. And who doesn’t enjoy that, at least a little bit? 

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