2 out of 5
Directed by: Alexander Witt
Well: it’s a sequel.
It’s, uh, appropriate, I guess, to note that sequels – most average sequels, anyway – tend to fit a formula. I mean, that’s what we’re asking for; that’s what we’re assuming in non-LOTR instances where a followup film isn’t, at least in part, because there’s more story to cover, but because there’s more money to be made: we’re assuming that we want whatever satisfied us the first go-round, just tweaked so we feel rewarded for watching it again. There’s nothing wrong with this. Movies are a business; Resident Evil is a video game and video games are a business; the first movie certainly had the boon of a director / writer / cast with passion for the game, but it was also a bid for consumer dollars, no doubt. So I can’t fault Resident Evil 2 – Apocalypse – for following the sequel formula of Bigger! Louder! Explosiony-er! But I can fault it for a visual-first director who shot his actors like scene fodder instead of characters, and whose editing sensibilities were definitely more in favor of what would look slick and exciting versus what necessarily made sense for a scene. The irony of the latter bit is that the polish and gimmickry ends up making the thing a big ol’ snooze at points, with scenes that feel like they should be cool, but just aren’t. You dropped Oded Fehr out of a helicopter! and you had Milla run down a freaking building! and then stick fight a bundle of guards! and yet it’s all chopped and screwed to tedium.
We also learn that Paul W.S. Anderson’s scripts are likely enlivened by his direction, as obvious one-liners and exposition mostly fall flat, although he’s once again to be credited with finding a way to fit the story to the medium, as well as retrofitting further game references that were lacking from the previous flick. In sequel town, this translates to a direct followup from Alice’s (Milla) awakening in the Umbrella facility and wandering out into a decimated Raccoon City, her memory of her time with the company coming back to her, but most importantly (and most “let’s just gloss over this” from a movie perspective), turning her into a badass security expert who, like, smokes and rides motorcycles and dual-wields uzis while jumping around rooftops. It’s… quite a leap from Alice v. 1, and some lead-in would have been nice, but Witt and Anderson are pretty keen to get this thing going – quarantine the town and outbreak the zombies already – so we are fully aware that it’s silly but are kept placated by many guns go boom boom and rock music. The dogs return; Lickers return. The T-Virus is re-explained; Umbrella Corps’ m.o. as a shady company undertaking questionable profitable field tests of their virus are enacted. Nemesis is here, and you know, that costume is goddamned amazing. Again: sequel.
Some of it holds up okay. Omar Epps’ delivery is a lot smoother than I remember, and I do like the blue skies framing elements that turn the whole thing into a coverup, with UC coming out as praised heroes instead of villains, though I feel like that charade is fully dropped in subsequent films. And structurally I like it; I like the way it stays moving forward and attempts to “grow” characters and the basic gist. But dang it is just not that good of a movie over all, and very much thanks to – I’d say – directorial oversight. Listening to Witt’s blu-ray commentary suggests as much, as it’s a very dry take on the flick (not uninteresting, just not nearly as enthused regarding the material as Anderson and crew were on film 1’s commentary), and he’s backed up by suits – producers – as opposed to cast, furthering the business-as-usual vibe of the flick. Note that his next director credit would be fifteen years after this film…