Paul W.S. Anderson returns to the director's chair since Resident Evil and once again pulls double screenwriting/producing duties like the prior three. Looking back at Anderson's last direct/write/produce feature, Death Race, is easy to see why Afterlife is so scattershot. The wafer-thin Jason Statham vehicle had structure from the story's reliance on a series of loud, deadly races of escalating intensity. This equally dumbheaded fourth RE sequel lacks anything resembling that, giving off the impression that Anderson is mostly experimenting with Avatar's cutting edge 3D camera system until the fifth outing. Each installment seems to strike an odd tiptoe between continuation and self-containment possibly out of fear of floundering at the box office. It would be nice for the franchise to get some confidence for once and at least try something truly bold. We're at the fourth film already and at the end of the day this bullshit extravaganza became the highest grossing of the bunch. There will undoubtedly be a next time for better-or-worse and it's time to stand and deliver...maybe without Anderson entirely.
The action sequences that bookend Afterlife are so horrible that you'll want to punch Anderson for being such a damn hack. Both setpieces have the kind of soulless, cynical martial arts that died with Kurt Wimmer's directorial career and blatantly bite from both the Terminator and Matrix franchises. I can't remember much from Extinction, but Shawn Roberts portrays the evil Wesker as a younger Val Kilmer copy of Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith with T-800 tendencies. Anderson doesn't help by mimicking bullet time in the third dimension, giving Wesker physics-defying speed (being T-Virus incarnate), and throwing in futuristic transport aircraft that look like Apache-modded Hunter-Killers sent by Skynet. Unfortunately, none of this feels like homage and digs the screen adaption of Resident Evil into a deeper creative hole. It's a shame considering how revisionist and refreshing Capcom's fifth video game entry is by comparison. I guess the allegations of racism that bubbled up over the game's choice of setting and enemy was too much for Anderson's stuff-go-boom ADD to deal with.
Otherwise, the lengthy middle portion is more of the same from the series. A group led by Alice trying to deal with and being unemotionally picked off by freakish baddies with loads of excessive gunfire and slo-mo kung fu--only this time in a temple-like prison. Tomandandy's score is spirited enough to help the been-there-done-that and there's a few gags punctuating the action that'll make you smirk. Milla J's new short brown hair look makes her appear a little older, which is actually nice, even with her sloppy weapon handling (Ali Larter knows how to hold a handgun). The completely unexplained Executioner Majini character that looks like a huge meat butcher version of Silent Hill's Pyramid Head is cool and Anderson manages to make him look much less cumbersome on-screen than Nemesis in Apocalypse. Most of the 3D touches aren't obvious enough to be distracting if only watching in 2D. Still, I can't particularly recommend this, Resident Evil: Afterlife is about seventy minutes worth of RE-typical mindless entertainment with the other twenty being grating to anyone who is tired of The Matrix, Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, and so on. Maybe that chunk would go down better in 3D...
Sony's 2D Blu-ray is of reference quality both in its 1080p picture and thunderous DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound (my subwoofer cleaned itself of any dust). The pace of Afterlife is constantly moving, which is advantageous for Blu-ray as we experience a gamut of shifting scenery and digitally-enhanced shots. The natural palette of Antarctica, a rotting L.A. teaming with zombies, the cavernous depths of the prison, and blinding sterile whites of the finale are all beautifully resolved by this MPEG-4 AVC transfer. If nothing else, this presentation proves Sony knows how to produce fantastic picture quality on "their" format that makes for great demo/torture test material for your HDTV. I haven't checked out the extras yet, but you can tell this is a key title for Sony's 3D hopes with the inclusion of two (skippable) commercials. There's also a mysterious inclusion of two trailers for new pieces of Billy Zane and Cuba Gooding Jr. DTV dreck.