*/**** Image B Sound B Extras C
starring Robin Dunne, Robert Knepper, Amelia Cooke, J.P. Pitoc
screenplay by Ben Ripley
directed by Brad Turner
RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE
½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann
screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson
directed by Alexander Witt
by Walter Chaw There used to be only two avenues for women in the modern, post-Black Christmas horror genre: they could be the bimbo at the end of the machete, or the virgin wielding one at the end of the movie. After rape/revenge stuff like I Spit on Your Grave and Ms. 45 (and, ultimately, Aliens), though, it became possible for women to be men from the first frame of their ordeals instead of incurring steady masculinization throughout the course of some torturous, highly structured pursuit. What made Roger Donaldson's Species (1995) so interesting is that it transformed the woman's biological urge into the sui generis of the premise: The bad guy in Species was a bad girl named Sil, and Sil wanted to mate really bad (and really badly). But just like her brothers in slasherdom (Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger), that will-to-fuck is largely unrealized--enough so that most academic reads of this horror subgenre involve the acting out of priapic males unable to reach climax through a variety of phallic substitutes. This is acknowledged in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 as Leatherface's titular dick runs out of gas between a girl's legs--and the would-be victim knowing the score strokes it anyway, soothing his bruised male ego.
Species does something (and Terminator 3 hints around at it by having its chick baddie inflate her bust) with female sexuality that's infinitely more primal and thorny in regards to issues of audience suture, voyeurism, and finally masochism. Why does a predominately young male audience identify with a gorgeous young woman hunting down and murdering predominately young men? That's a tricky one; certainly it undermines the feminist rejection of slasher pics (which almost to a one end with a girl killing a boy) as just sadism against women. The danger of masculinizing women from the start is that there will eventually be films that are just boy's pictures miscast with girls. They, Lara Croft-like, disregard the female's sexual source of power in favour of making them muscular man analogs (manalogs?) for whom sex is something to take while simultaneously positioning them as homoerotic sexual fetish objects (fantasies of the exotic dominatrix comfortable handling guns and, by extension, probably expert at handling penises). They're more damaging to an objective feminist cause than any number of Halloweens or Nightmares on Elm Street, put forward as they are as subjects to gratify the male gaze instead of subjects repeatedly punishing the same.
Examples of the polarity surface in two new sequels finding their way to the home video market within a few weeks of each other, Species III and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Species III tries unsuccessfully to mine the gold of its first instalment, while Resident Evil: Apocalypse is an awful sequel to an awful film that had as its sole claim to fame a full frontal shot of Milla Jovovich--which, though worth the price of admission, sends entirely the wrong kind of message for being so eventful. It's not the ironic beaver of Basic Instinct, just crass exploitation of the one thing the picture had going for it and of the only audience (hint: pimpled, lonesome) that desperately wanted to see a second-rate video game translated into a third-rate or worse horror flick.
Species III begins with a horribly stunted and awkward dialogue exchange to establish that mad Dr. Abbott (Robert Knepper) has disguised himself as a soldier charged with transporting the body of Eve, a.k.a. Sil 2 (from Species II, natch), to a research facility. But lo, Eve is not dead, and lo, she's on the verge of giving birth--but lo, there's a little boy alien squatting in the back of the truck with a whiplash tongue (more on this kind of creature in Resident Evil: Apocalypse) ready to midwife Sil by strangling her to death with said tongue. As there is no explanation for this series of events, the mind wanders to extra-textual Oedipal explanations and, in the deliriously goopy birth itself, back to the discussion of single-sex philosophy in the masculinzation of phallic women. See, Eve (series vet Natasha Henstridge in a too-brief cameo) drops her bun by growing a phallic protuberance from which extrudes a spawn that will, within ten minutes of screentime, become Sara (Sunny Mabrey, no prude), a bubbly co-ed, murderous nymphomaniac alien sent running amuck on a generic university's campus. (The story has it that SETI downloads info on how to graft alien DNA to human and, in the most irresponsible use of stem cells ever, proceeds to do so to the chagrin of men-kind.) It's Re-Animator without humour, smarts, or energy.
The premise has by now run its course, I fear, as Sunny is cute in a robotic and naked sort of way but fails to elicit the taboo titillation/punishment S&M vibe that Henstridge does in the first film. (She had help: The original Species assembled possibly the best supporting cast in horror-movie history (Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger, Forest Whitaker, and a young Michelle Williams).) Because Species III is bereft of any real ideas, it proceeds to spout a lot of meaningless technobabble and leer at a pair of naked beauties (Mabrey and, later, the uncommonly gorgeous Amelia Cooke) who only punish lascivious old men and, unfortunately, other women not in direct sexual conflict with Sara--rendering impotent everything that was ever interesting about the concept. If the film is no longer about the female sexual drive and how that drive is ultimately castrating to the male sexual drive (black widows, praying mantises, and that Amazon episode of "Futurama", oh my), then it becomes an exercise meant for pre-adolescents too young to rent porn conning adolescent video store clerks into letting them rent it solely for its wanking potential.
Consider the requisite Species scene where a naked bombshell gets an undeserving dude hot under the collar (thus fulfilling the first part of the rape/revenge flick where ugly men drunk on the myth of their own potency believe that hot women are "asking for it," and from them) before killing him (thus fulfilling the second part), recast in Species III as a scenario in which the girl is really the victim of an unwanted advance instead of a predator whose prospective victim is, by her standards, too deficient to be her mate. It's suddenly a traditional scene of masculine wrongdoing and female victimization turned to vigilantism--and in one candy-assed passage, everything that made Species unique and exciting becomes the standard shuck and jive. As for the rest of it: brilliant graduate students; a plan to make humans that are immune to diseases from the alien stock; a garage station bathroom bang that doesn't get paid off; and an Internet date that (shock) goes really, really bad. The special effects aren't that great, CGI or physical, though the filmmakers give it the old college try as a guy melts and shoots tentacles from his stomach (another Re-Animator ripper, recalling the classic malevolent intestines scene) and Sara regenerates her arm. It's awful--and in its awfulness, it's not even that interesting.
Somehow trumping Species III in amateurishness and vapidity is Resident Evil: Apocalypse, a film that people like to criticize by saying it looks like a video game when in truth no video game is this poorly designed and impossible to play. Every shot of the bad guys is done in a stuttering slow-motion, strobe effect that obscures not just the shoddiness of the make-up, but also critical biographical/geographical details. (Where they are in relation to the good guys, for instance; what type of threat they represent to anything, for another.) Once the fighting does start, we have no earthly way of knowing what's happening at any given moment, leading me to believe that the picture was edited with a weed whacker and, moreover, directed by a retarded epileptic. A particularly unimaginative retarded epileptic at that, what with an entire sequence--lifted whole from La Femme Nikita--that teaches the always-useful lesson that the best way to save oneself from a bazooka shell is by hiding in a laundry hamper.
The story so far has it that the evil Umbrella Corporation is experimenting with bad juju that turns people into zombies, including--more or less--poor Milla Jovovich, a good actress in the right role (The Messenger, The Fifth Element, Million Dollar Hotel, Chaplin) nevertheless stuck playing bimbos more often than not because wide-eyed alien parts are hard to come by. Milla is Alice, a kick-ass manalog in the Ripley mold who rides around on a motorcycle Dark Angel-like, is gifted with wind-machine-aided zooms whenever she picks up shotguns (sexy!), and in this continuation of our ongoing drama, appears to be infected with said bad juju in such a way as to suggest that this film is also cribbing from the fourth entry in the Alien franchise. And so it goes that a paraplegic scientist (Jared Harris) is quarantined outside the suddenly-infested Raccoon City in what looks for all the world like a tent from The Sheik, hacks into the city's surveillance grid, and guides Alice, tough cop Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, the Amelia Cooke to Jovovich's Sunny Mabrey), and a group of disposable S.W.A.T. team members (called "S.T.A.R.S." in the movie, something I think is an irony) through the zombie-infected metropolis to save his little girl lost (Sophie Vavasseur). This leads to a really excellent scene in which an Asiatic telejournalist is gang-cannibalized by a group of dead schoolchildren that serves to offset the general crumminess of the rest of the piece just by its example. It's a rough diamond in a tempest of crap.
Alice, meanwhile, gets all dope-eyed in her punk-gear, shooting slo-mo bullets at the slo-mo baddies and battling, John Woo-style, a trio of "lickers," monsters with big tongues (sexy!) in a church. She's asked to engage in a final showdown with a cast-off from the Hellraiser series called "Nemesis" (obvious to the point of funny), a WWE-sized brute with a nice smile that wields an Israeli helicopter-mounted chain gun with one hand like Jesse Ventura in Predator and moves so slowly that the entire film could have been avoided had Alice done the sensible thing and simply walked in the other direction. The hell of both Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Species III is that I love genre films as a rule and stuff like this lowers the conversation even lower than it already is. There's no artistry in this stuff, no respect for convention, no sense of a greater discourse beyond bush and gore (presidential pun intended), and no reason to belabour the only point that one could possibly be make about this shit: It ain't good.
Species III plops onto DVD like the Sci-Fi Channel effort it is in a loudly-touted "Unrated Edition" that was never submitted to the MPAA for a rating in the first place. (By that logic, my home movies are also "Unrated." It doesn't mean they're titillating or otherwise interesting, but it does guarantee that Wal-Mart would be leery of stocking them.) The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is pinged now and again by moiré problems, edge enhancement, and the kind of hot-tea shadow detail that plagues most HiDef productions, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is loud but equally indistinct. MGM has curiously added a wealth of supplementary material to the presentation, starting with a film-length yakker featuring director Brad Turner, writer Ben Ripley, and actor Robin Dunne. It's a fatuous thing, I probably don't need to say, full of no self-awareness, irony, or humour of the intentional kind.
What you get instead are "interesting little tidbits" concerning props and extras and how Turner coached nubile Sunny in the intricacies of disrobing for the camera. Expect lots of plot regurgitation that sparks laughter and jovial camaraderie, numerous exclamations about how good this thing looks, and lots of "I think"-strained praise for the horrible lines and line readings. ("Nice job, Ben, on writing this... I thought it really worked." Uh huh.) My favourite is how they pat one another on the back for cultivating baby Sara through TV-watching before she eats lobster with its shell still on without mentioning that this is almost identical to Madison the mermaid's experiences in Splash--right down to the lobster. This extends to a "fantastic" moment where Sara gets her name from a Sara Lee box that conveniently forgets Madison's christening herself after a street sign. You gotta be fucking kidding me.
Activating "Alien Odyssey" shunts you to a quartet of short docus. The first, "Evolution" (13 mins.), is a B-roll thingy wherein "Amelia" is spelled with an "e" and nobody has anything interesting to say except that they all wanted to go in a "different direction" from the prequels. (No explanation as to why.) The second, "Species DNA" (5 mins.), cursorily interviews production designer Cameron Bernie, and "Alien Technology" (5 mins.) shows a ton of clips from the flick before touching on the CGI employed in the picture. Lastly, "Intelligent Lifeforms" [sic?] (10 mins.) offers more on the special effects, this time from a bricks and mortar perspective. There's honestly nothing of interest here--move on, move on. In addition to a "Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery" that is exactly what it says it is (47 times over), a pair of trailers (for Code 46 (touting it as a futuristic action thriller, which it is not) and Wicker Park (ditto)) that cue up before the film but are not accessible through the disc's menus round out the freakishly complete presentation.
A pair of trailers, this time for Boogeyman and Steamboy, also precedes Sony's release of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, arriving in your sweaty little hands as a two-disc Special Edition to remind us, Welcome to the Dollhouse-style, that "Special" can mean retarded. That aside, there's not much to say against the DVD on a technical level: Although 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen presentations cohabit Disc 1, fan of the movie, rejoice, for there's little in the way of either compression artifacts or edge enhancement. In short, it looks fabbo--sounds it, too. Even without a DTS option to compare it to, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is booming and alarming, with the track's highlight incidentally the highlight of the film as well: a haunted schoolroom alive with rustling and moaning.
A brain-scrambling trio of feature-length yakkers supplements the movie itself, the first and worst of which by far teams veteran second-unit director Alexander Witt, producer Jeremy Bolt, and executive producer Robert Kulzer. All three of them speak with Eurotrash accents, and not a one of them has an ounce of humility or a soupçon of a clue as they spend an inordinate amount of time ascribing hilarious adjectives like "challenging" to the screenplay and "tremendous" to the video game franchise upon which it's based. I especially enjoyed the producer cackling about how much money he's making--followed by Witt discussing his thoughts on this film as what Aliens is to Alien and Terminator 2 is to Terminator. At least I think it's Witt--wouldn't it be nice if they introduced themselves prior to each of their inane comments? The track is dominated by the usual blather about casting and the actors' dedication to the material, not to mention the stunning revelation at one point that the obviously digital "lickers" are digital. I do like, too, how Witt exclaims "Here she comes!" right before Milla's character crashes onscreen. Wow--with insight like that, you can see why the Smithsonian has tabbed Resident Evil: Apocalypse.
The second commentary finds Jovovich, Oded Fehr, and Sienna Guillory providing more notes from the damned, with Milla sounding sauced, Oded sounding cool, and Guillory sounding gushy in the flirty way of British girls. Note to stalkers: Milla Jovovich is pronounced "Meeeeela YO-vavich." I started counting the number of times Jovovich says "like" and discovered with some distress that I can't actually count that high without falling into a stupor approximating death. Maybe it was something else. Guillory confides that she found her character "inspiring as a human," one of those dangling modifiers that is hilarious however you interpret it; she also obsessively enthuses about the movie, her process, playing of the game, the little skirts her character wears, and on and on. Odds are this: it's a lot easier to listen to her talk when you're actually looking at her, making her propensity to run at the mouth explicable within the context of how she's probably been tolerated by every single man she has met on this planet. Milla laughs like a longshoreman and does so fairly often--but not nearly enough as a "Thriller" video breaks out during the film, where it's most needed. Silences reign for long portions of the commentary and you won't hear me complaining about that.
Producer Bolt returns in the third and final commentary, paired this time with Son of Bay Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer of this and many other abominations, such as, yep, Resident Evil. It wouldn't have surprised me one bit if Anderson suddenly began speaking in Attic Greek--and backwards--whilst spewing pea soup in the special-est feature of them all. The lowlight of this circle-jerk is a moment towards the end where Anderson says "sorry Michael Mann" in reference to a blue establishing shot that he then clarifies he believes is better than the establishing shots Mann produces for his own pictures. If delusion were a crime, they'd be fitting this guy for a noose.
On to Disc Two--by the way, it bears mentioning that the packaging for this thing is beautiful: a clear Lucite slipcover decorated with graphics slides over background art on the keepcase itself. It's a work of art, really, a silk purse stuffed with pig dung. The platter starts with a long documentary, "Game Over: Resident Evil Reanimated" (50 mins.), split into six chapters whilst being nothing more than your standard behind-the-scenes footage and clips making-of docu. If you wanted to, you could put together your own in your head and save yourself the trouble. As the commentary participants resurface to tell the same stories in the same way (and probably in the same recording session), the level of delusion proffered here runs the gamut from genuine (Milla) to probably financially-motivated (every one of the producers)--with a ton of time given over to plot reconstruction. Minor interest could be had in seeing the film's zombie dogs standing around getting slathered up, but even as I'm saying that, I can't imagine a single person I've ever known actually giving a crap.
Click on "Featurettes" to uncover a sub-menu with three options. "Game Babes" (11 mins.)--either referring to babes from video games, or babes who are ready for anything (good either way, right?)--talks with Milla, Guillory, and Witt to the extent that they are able about women are becoming action heroes. Nothing is said with regards to their essential status as men with tits in these flicks, though it's worth it to hear "independent-minded" Guillory describe herself and Milla credit her "Yugoslavian heritage" with her evolution into a warrior. Witt says "fun" so much that you start to wonder if he means what he thinks it means, or if it's not the Witt equivalent of the Canadian "eh." Next comes "Symphony of Evil" (8 mins.), greenscreen and production art sequences from the film set to snatches of score. It's interesting, I think, largely because it's wordless: by this point in the proceedings, a little shut-up is definitely in order. It's fascinating in parts, too, to witness the marginalization of stunt people as they fill in for eventual digital replacements. Lastly, "Corporate Malfeasance" (3 mins.) covers the evil fictional Umbrella Corporation and its evil corporate tendrils. Weird filler dross? You bet.
"Deleted Scenes" (12 mins.) opens up twenty of these little cutting room floor refugees, which are, to a one, expository bits totally incoherent in or out of context. It's curious to see how the more action-heavy trims play sans music, mostly in the way that something is interesting after long, long stretches of boredom. These deleted sequences--presented in fullscreen with temp sound--are mainly odds and ends from pre-existing scenes: they'd make twenty sections of Resident Evil: Apocalypse approximately fifteen seconds longer per, meaning that the DVD's bonus material now suffers from excess padding the film once would have. "Outtakes" (3 mins.) is a gag reel proving that Milla is a lousy improvisational comic, that Guillory likes to stick out her tongue (bless her heart), and that Mike Epps has this jive-turkey thing down pat. A "Poster Gallery" houses five posters designed through an online contest solicitation (they're pretty good across the board), and a "Trailers" menu gives us the only good thing to come from this mess: the brilliant theatrical teaser that marketed Resident Evil: Apocalypse like a pharmaceutical product. The film's full-length trailer plus trailers for the first film, Underworld, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, The Grudge (the Buffy version), The Forgotten, House of Flying Daggers (more a teaser, really), and the wordless The Fifth Element (just awesome) round out the package. Originally published: December 27, 2004.