First noticeable thing in movie Resident Evil 2 is the budget boost. No longer confined to impersonal corridors, the series opens up to a city under siege. A breathless montage gives a snapshot of pre-outbreak Raccoon City (including a suburb eerily similar to the one used for another contemporary zombie flick: Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake) before seguing to a throng of civvies attempting to leave through a walled-off checkpoint. Alexander Witt subs for Paul W.S. Anderson in the director’s chair, and while he lacks Anderson’s visual panache–Witt’s framing is more traditional, while action’s left to an editor who jumbles it all about–he manages to maintain the same interest in lighting and surface (particularly, Witt is fond of actors in silhouette).
Anderson, meanwhile, provides a script which plays like fan fiction. He threads his sequel into the broad outline of Capcom’s Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, an emphasis on original creation Alice (Milla Jovovich). Now superpowered, courtesy Umbrella Corporation’s insistence on tinkering with viral bio-weaponry, she unbalances the zombie narrative with God Mode combat skills. Hordes get their skulls kicked in or ventilated. Lickers, the previous film’s Final Boss, are dispatched with some shotgun blasts and a motorcycle to the face. Her only physical threat is Nemesis, a brutish, leather-clad rubber monster who thuds around in heavy boots and lugs a minigun and a rocket launcher. She’s backed by a couple normals and game imports Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr). Aside from some whiz bang introduction–Jill casually strolling into a police precinct wearing a tube top and skirt, headshotting the undead before telling cops what’s what; Carlos attempting a rooftop rescue of a civilian, firing his gun as he jumps out of a helicopter–the pair exist to marvel at Alice.
This becomes the film’s biggest setback. Structurally, Apocalypse redoes its predecessor on a bigger scale. As before, it’s bookended with scenes of Alice waking up, nude, unsure of what’s going on, suggesting some ongoing cycle of victimization and retribution. Her red dress-black shorts combo is replaced with a cropped top, black jeans, and olive string vest, outfitted with various holsters. Later, the pants get ripped on one leg, giving a punk-like asymmetry to her design. The choice seems deliberate, Alice responding to her violation with defiant sexuality. She even flirts with Carlos (“Don’t worry, I’m not contagious”). Anderson very obviously wants to make this a vehicle for future wife Jovovich, while the game characters come across like a mandate.
Not that there isn’t a modicum of effort: early, obtuse references suggest the first film may have happened parallel to the source material, but it’s an intertextual detail robbed of meaning (for instance: Nemesis sent after members of STARS, Jill’s former unit, makes sense in the game’s storyline, but has nothing to do with his purpose in Apocalypse). Jill, herself, has little agency, an odd choice given Resident Evil 1’s wonderful depiction of the relationship between strong women. Guillory is no substitute for Michelle Rodriguez (she never characterizes Jill beyond a bratty pout), but it is strange to watch her passively go along with Jovovich’s prowling, mad science-powered superwoman. A more considered take could have developed tension between a veteran Jill and the suspicious outsider knocking her down the pecking order. Perhaps some distrust sown by Alice’s Umbrella connection. A misunderstanding here or there when Carlos and his partners arrive. Even a double cross? Nah, can’t allow anything like intra-group conflict in a zombie movie.