In a world ravaged by a virus infection, turning its victims into the Undead, Alice (Milla Jovovich), continues on her journey to find survivors and lead them to safety. Her deadly battle with the Umbrella Corporation reaches new heights, but Alice gets some unexpected help from an old friend. A new lead that promises a safe haven from the Undead leads them to Los Angeles, but when they arrive the city is overrun by thousands of Undead ­and Alice and her comrades are about to step into a deadly trap.

Derivative concepts carry over to latest installment of sci-fi series.

This is the fourth Resident Evil movie. And make no mistake, based on the ending here, destiny (and the right numbers) will find a way to make sure there is a fifth. This may be encouraging for followers of the series; based on the awful hiding this most recent movie has received from sci-fi fan sites, it could well be the chance for director Paul W.S. Anderson to redeem himself.

I’d guess that for many a mainstream critic a movie like this – and the franchise it’s a part of – is a non-event. But for genre fans, the Resident Evil pictures, deriving from an enormously popular video game designed in Japan and launched in 1996, are a great opportunity or a terrible waste of time. Just consider: the premise here combines supernatural powers, apocalyptic science, martial arts, and a high stakes narrative where the protagonists are in constant jeopardy. More specifically, there are zombies, a master villain and a stunningly beautiful woman for a hero, who combines cat-walk elegance, with super-swift skills of sword 'n’ gun and a personal style that gives Steve McQueen 'cool’ some serious competition.

Genre critics and sci-fi fan site pundits have had a real whinge about the way the Resident Evil series seems to have a personality derived exclusively from other movies in the sci-fi action universe. Still, from the start, Anderson and co. seemed to have desired to construct the movies as one endless homage to post-Terminator action and sci-fi, with large doses of HK action riffs and George Romero thrown in (and chopped up). The series name-checks bits of business, shots, and whole sequences from Aliens to Die Hard, Dawn of the Dead to The Killer and John Carpenter's The Thing; watching it is like having your movie-memory tapped. Remember the 'fly-around’ morphing vignettes in The Matrix, with 'floating’ projectiles and suspended beats of slo-mo action? Well, this gag is repeated here (and repeated). It’s actually quite fun in a way, and genre cinema has always performed a game based on playing the convention and finding the variation. Still, I suspect what genre fans find so despicable about the way Anderson engages with this kind of stylistic trickery is that the Resident Evil franchise just hasn’t got a lot of things it can call its own.

Afterlife has Alice (Milla Jovovich) battling the creators of the T virus once more; originally designed to combat aging, the strain has turned most of the world’s population into zombies. As the new film opens Alice, and a whole lot of her clones, launch an attack on the high-tech fortress like HQ of Umbrella’s Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) – just think of the running exploding corridor gun battle bit from The Matrix. Wesker escapes, but not before injecting her with some nasty stuff that turns Alice back into a human-being. After that, Alice takes off, meets a rag-tag group of survivors, and battles a whole bunch of zombies. I suppose one of the things that gives genre buffs the irrits about this set-up is that Anderson and co. don't seem to have any interest in pursuing the narrative logic they set-up. For instance, the implications for Alice and her new found humanity aren’t even investigated (beyond what it means for her mono-a-mono moments of mortal combat of course). Indeed, a lot of the suspense in the film derives from a sort of horror movie/disaster film narrative line – who is going to eaten/killed and in what order?

In a way, this would be OK if Anderson created some intrigue around the cast; but Jovovich is such a powerful presence (and so perfect looking) that the rest of the characters struggle to register in any meaningful way. Even the 3D seems a little lame; its true 3D, using the tech that Cameron developed, but the 'duck and cover' moments are routine – it’s the more subtle city and wasted scapes that have power; and that's crushing because it’s easier to see that there was a better movie here somewhere.

Resident Evil is constructed in true fantasy style; the surface of the movie offers up the logic of movie-land (as opposed to the logic of the story). Thus, it might be the end of the world here, but that doesn't mean the women don't come styled and luscious looking!

Still, it’s the women that dominate the action. Guns, great bodies, zombies and science – it sounds like a PhD in gender studies and pop culture (I'm certain it is). But it's also action movie overload with a strange and bewildering by-product; it just makes you want to go home and watch Aliens again.

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1 hour 33 min
In Cinemas 14 October 2010,
Wed, 03/02/2011 - 11