Paul W.S. Anderson must have learned something remaking the Roger Corman-produced 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000 as 2008’s Death Race. Anderson’s third go-round in the director’s chair as the auteur and scribe of the popular Resident Evil series benefits from a Corman-esque sense of economy: In classic B-movie form, most of the film takes place on a single set, a prison where a motley crew of survivors has taken refuge from a zombie apocalypse accidentally caused by an evil multinational corporation named Umbrella. Corman would also approve of the film’s embrace of trendy spectacle in the form of 3-D that captures the you-are-there immediacy of videogames, putting armchair warriors right in the middle of the frenetic action.
Anderson’s real-life wife Milla Jovovich returns to her star-making role as a genetically altered superwoman who has used her superior fighting skills to wage war on her former employers in the Umbrella corporation. Resident Evil: Afterlife sends Jovovich to Alaska in search of an elusive zombie paradise known as Arcadia, and then to a prison where she plots an escape to safer territory, and teams up with a slick professional basketball player (Boris Kodjoe), a mysterious soldier (Wentworth Miller), and returning series veteran Ali Larter, among others.
Resident Evil’s appeal as a series is almost exclusively rooted in Jovovich’s charisma. She combines the enigmatic magnetism of a silent-movie siren with the badass bravado of an action hero: Imagine Theda Bara as the Woman With No Name. Jovovich carries Afterlife on her slight-yet-sturdy shoulders as it alternates between flashy setpieces that make savvy, shameless use of 3-D—the most memorable involves a hulking creature that looks like the product of cross-pollination between the undead and medieval torturers—and quiet scenes of the survivors strategizing over how to stay alive. Afterlife loses some of its trashy, propulsive energy in its third act, and the climax “borrows” liberally from The Matrix. Really, the whole series would be unthinkable without the films of George Romero. In that respect, Anderson has taken another page from the Corman playbook for his superior B-movie: If you’re going to steal, at least steal well.