Written and Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, and Ali Larter
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"My name is Alice, and this is the end of my story..."
If thereís any franchise that proves I have trouble just quitting on a series, it has to be Resident Evil. Dating all the way back to the 2002 original, I've never quite loved it, mostly because its action-oriented direction hasn't been my speed. You have to remember, back in 2002, itíd been years since the release of a major zombie movie, so you could forgive me if I never quite got over the fact that, well, Resident Evil somehow wasnít much of a zombie movie at all. And yet, I dutifully showed up for every sequel, each time holding out hope that this franchise would manage to distinguish itself, only to see Paul W.S. Anderson snuff out the glimmers of hope provided by Apocalypse and Extinction. Forget distinguishing themselves from other franchises: I just wish the last two outings, Afterlife and Retribution, had distinguished themselves from each other (I mostly just remember one involving a gun that shoots quarters instead of bullets).
As such, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter arrives more with a sense of morbid curiosity than of anticipation: despite having seen all of these films, I can barely recall enough of them to even be genuinely excited by whatever revelations this last (itís okay if youíre stifling a chuckle right now) entry. Itís fitting, then, that the franchise goes out not with a bang or even a whimperóitís just another half-hearted shrug of a movie. Somehow, a six-movie franchise headlined by Milla Jovovich just kind of exists, all the way until the end. Itís nothing if not consistent, I guess.
Where the previous two entries were about Alice (Jovovich) and company blasting the shit out of various complexes to escape, The Final Chapter has her blasting her way into in an effort to end a decade of torment at the hands of the Umbrella Corporation. At the urging of the Red Queen, sheís sent back to the corporationís hive still resting beneath whatís left of Raccoon City, where a band of survivors (led by Ali Larterís Claire Redfield) has set up one of the last remaining outposts of humanity. Together, the survivors and Alice seek to wrest a newly-discovered antivirus from the clutches of Wesker (Shawn Roberts) and Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen).
Look, itís not like I donít see the appeal of this shitóobviously, on paper, any franchise that essentially thrives on Jovovich blowing away hordes of undead monsters and zombies seems like it should rank among one of our greatest cinematic achievements. That half the films havenít even been all that enjoyable speaks to how widely Anderson missed the mark, and, with The Final Chapter, he apparently set out to fucking bludgeon and bury this already very dead horse. Youíd think he might have at least developed some kind of fondness for a series heís presided over for fifteen years, but youíd never know it from The Final Chapter, which is total and complete hackwork.
I say this not to sound hyperbolic but only to communicate the gravity of the situation: The Final Chapter is not only an affront to an already mediocre series but also to competant cinema itself. Obviously, Iím not referring to the contentófar be it from me to condemn any movie exclusively concerned with staging constant carnage; rather, Iím more concerned about how you can barely see any of it. Obviously, most American action movies have trended towards the herky-jerky style popularized by Paul Greengrass, but this is a bastardized take on it. The action here isnít impressionistic so much as itís been riddled with bullet holes. Despite having been assaulted by this particular style to the point of virtual immunity, Iím still shocked by how poorly shot and edited this movie is.
Seriously, every artist, production designer, and stunt worker should be aghast at how Anderson and editor Doobie White have rendered their work incomprehensible here. Between the constant cutting and murky lighting, itís often nearly impossible for a scene to play out coherently. Potentially awesome set-piecesósuch as the opener that finds Alice battling a giant, mutant pterodactylórequire your imagination to basically fill in the blanks. Lesser onesólike the one involving a giant turbine fanóleave you wondering just whatís going on exactly (I could only figure out said turbine bladeís victim later on when that character had vanished). Honestly, the only time this film generates actual tension is when you realize most of the climax is going to be shrouded by a murky haze. I can only wonder what a nightmare it would be to watch this in 3D.
Itís entirely possible that you could toss a camera into a washing machine and come away with footage thatís just as effective as anything in The Final Chapter. This is less a film and more a messily stitched together cacophony of random jolts, endless gunfire, and thudding fisticuffs. Sure, it means the runtime practically breezes by, but itís also exhausting, especially when itís not underpinned by anything resembling logic (at one point, a character absurdly survives an explosion, and itís almost comical). Even if most of the franchise hasnít operated under any other type of pretense, this final outing is ruthlessly committed to reducing the audienceís brain to a pulp.
In some respects, though, it does perfectly capture the feeling of playing a video game. Long stretches of action where characters might utter an entire sentence at most are punctuated by long, expository sequences that stop the film coldónot unlike how cut-scenes often function in games (at least for this writer). All told, there are maybe three scenes of exposition that are actually important or functional to the story here, which perhaps tells you all you need to know about the plot here (a throwaway line quickly explains why most of the supporting cast from the previous film is gone before the film charges ahead*). Donít expect too many shocking revelations hereóit turns out that the evil corporation from the previous five films is even more evil, plus Aliceís own story finds some resolution (though it, too, is hardly monumental from a story perspective).
Admittedly, this franchise has been consistent in its obvious fondness for Alice herself, and Jovovich has more than admirably shouldered it for fifteen years. At no point has this ever felt like an opportunity for to just collect a paycheck, and The Final Chapter is no differentóitís kind of ironic that Alice went from a somewhat blank avatar to the heart and soul of this series. If this finale works at all, itís because thereís a genuine sense of accomplishment and relief for Alice, a battered, weary warrior now willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to topple the Umbrella Organization. So many people (myself included at times) lament that we donít really have action stars anymore, yet Jovovich has quietly carried Resident Evil to international success at the box office. Not bad considering sheís playing a character that didnít originate in the games.
What is bad is that she couldnít have been carrying a better franchise this entire time. I wish The Final Chapter could have at least mustered up a decent send-off, yet itís plagued by the same old problems as previous entries: every fun aspect (for example, Glen is obviously relishing his turn as multiple clones of the scenery-chewing Dr. Isaacs) is snuffed out by Andersonís reckless direction (or lack thereof). One conceptóa roving tank with an undead horde in towóis shamelessly riffing on Mad Max, which is not a criticism so much as evidence that its heart is in the right place. This and other ideasósuch as the various creature designs and even the return of the Hiveís killer laser room (aka the only fucking thing anyone remembers from the original film)ówould be killer in the service of a filmmaker who saw them as a means to an end rather than the other way around.
Obviously, I am not coming at The Final Chapter from the position of a massive fan. I canít presume to speak for anyone who is heavily invested in this series. However, I find it hard to imagine that anyone would consider this a worthwhile or satisfying ending to a fifteen-year saga; hell, it barely functioned as a decent distraction for myself. Going in, I assumed itíd be refreshing to watch a fictional hellscape instead of the very real one unfolding before us, but then it turns out that even the scheming, evil maniac here believes in global warming, very much unlike the one currently residing in the Oval Office.
Anyway, I also canít imagine that this is actually The Final Chapter (I mean, come on), especially when the final line of dialogue suggests otherwiseónor can I imagine not showing up when Resident Evil inevitably returns sooner or later. Is this what Stockholm Syndrome feels like?
*Remember that cool cliffhanger shot from the end of Retribution with the heroes standing atop the ravaged White House? Itís barely expounded upon here, as many of the events of that film have been reversed and many of the characters discarded between movies, essentially undoing the previous sequel. Yep.
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