Sequels to bad or middling movies have a few inherent advantages over sequels to good or great movies. After all, follow-ups to classics like The Godfather Part II or Chinatown have nowhere to go but down, but the likes of The Princess Diaries or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider leave sequel-minded filmmakers with plenty of room for improvement. And anyone plunking down currency for, say, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 comes into the theater boasting a potent combination of low standards, low expectations, and, more often than not, affection for the film's predecessor.
A sequel to a mediocre video-game adaptation, the new science-fiction/horror-action hybrid Resident Evil: Apocalypse benefits from being graded on a generous curve. Like a savvy boxer, it bides its time, lulling its opponent into a false sense of complacency by barely remaining upright for long stretches of time, before delivering a knockout blow whose power seems to materialize out of thin air.
Borrowing heavily from George Romero, Apocalypse takes place in a world where the sinister Umbrella Corporation experiments with a horrific new kind of viral warfare, which goes horribly awry, creating a ravenous, infected army of the undead. In the first film, an underground lab was infected, while here, the infection has spread to an aboveground city, leaving returning franchise player Milla Jovovich and a few others to battle the undead hordes in their attempts to find the daughter of scientist Jared Harris.
A gamine with a gun, the charismatic Jovovich swaggers through Apocalypse like a post-punk Anna Karina gone Rambo, which makes it unfortunate that she's barely onscreen for the first 40 minutes or so. To compensate for her absence, Apocalypse includes another gun-toting heroine (Sienna Guillory) who looks and acts like a road-show Lara Croft. But the film doesn't ignite until Jovovich begins to battle a heavily armed bio-freak that looks like a cross between a Predator and the Toxic Avenger. There's something endearingly Tromatic about the main monster: He could pass for a graduate of Nuke 'Em High, and once he and Jovovich take center stage, the film delivers the B-movie goods. The filmmakers realize that it's smarter to end strong than begin strong, and Apocalypse peaks in its final minutes, with a cynical twist that cleverly builds and comments on the film's pessimistic universe. Resident Evil: Apocalypse takes too long to get going to qualify unequivocally as a good movie, but when Jovovich finally starts kicking zombified ass, it becomes good enough.