The thing I’ve always loved about the live-action Resident Evil series, which ended recently after 15 long years, is that it has always been about showing off. Paul W.S. Anderson, who has been somehow involved in every entry and has produced, written and directed all but two of them, is married to series’ lead Milla Jovovich. He wants us to know this. Milla Jovovich is an incredibly good-looking woman, probably much more so than anyone we’re likely to marry, and he wants us to know that, too. In each of the six Resident Evil movies, we have been relentlessly reminded of this. They’re ostensibly adapted from Capcom’s long-running series of survival-horror video games, but Jovovich’s character, Alice, isn’t in any of them. Her and her story were written by Anderson specifically for these movies. She’s the super-powered supermodel heroine that we all deserve.
I’m perfectly okay with this, and for two reasons. The first is that if I was married to Milla Jovovich, I’d do the same thing. The second is that the Resident Evil games are hardly sacred narrative territory. It says a lot that throughout the course of these movies, Alice has gained, lost and regained superpowers; has had her entire backstory rewritten without warning between instalments; has killed the main villain at least twice; and, in this one, has become one of the only human beings left on earth – and none of it seems weird. Resident Evil has never made sense, and it still doesn’t, in any medium. But the movie versions have the distinct advantage of star-power, even if it’s emanating from someone who, when divorced from the very specific context of these movies, isn’t a star at all.
But if we’ve learned anything from a decade-and-a-half of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Family Fun Days, it’s that Jovovich is a remarkably unique and compelling screen presence that can shoulder the weight of a movie – a franchise, no less, even a fan-servicey one like this. Another thing these Resident Evil entries do is introduce popular characters and villains in their most iconic in-game outfits, and they’re never as interesting as Alice. Sure, it’s fun to spot them (“Oh, look, there’s Claire – and she’s wearing the motorcycle jacket!”), but beyond that all you want to see is how their traditional gamey stories intersect with Alice’s. And they must, because Alice’s is the only story these movies are interested in telling.
As such, The Final Chapter opens with Alice roaming the ravaged wasteland of Washington, D.C., looking for a solution to the problem of 7 billion people being zombified, and she finds it in the form of series’ nemesis the Red Queen – an artificial intelligence that has been around since the first movie and in this one is played, perhaps unsurprisingly, by Ever Anderson – the real-life daughter of Milla and Paul. The Red Queen helpfully informs Alice that there’s an anti-virus being kept in a cupboard at the headquarters of the Umbrella Corporation – the villainous, mutagen-making pharmaceutical giant whose diverse portfolio includes a global viral outbreak, several tyrannical bioweapons, and, for deeply mysterious purposes, clones. Getting her hands on the antivirus involves Alice traipsing back through the ruins of D.C. in a very Mad Max: Fury Road-inspired chase sequence, which leads her to the bombed-out ruins of Raccoon City and, eventually, back down into the Hive. It’s the entire series running in reverse, with stops along the way for all its greatest hits.
These movies are all varying degrees of terrible, but they’re also erratically entertaining, usually either by being so riotously bad that they come full circle, or by delivering at least one or two legitimately interesting and well-shot action sequences. The Final Chapter is mostly just terrible. It frequently borders on incoherence, but nobody involved with it seems to be playing that up. It never leans against the pulp or camp hard enough for its badness to become the point; it’s rubbish through no intention of its own, and that isn’t fun. And while some of the action sequences are conceptually audacious, they’re so furiously edited that it’s often tough to tell precisely what’s happening at any given second. Someone throwing a punch should not require three or four cuts, and when you’re getting that many you start to hope the next one takes your head off.
I’m happy to report that my head remains attached, but it certainly did an awful lot of spinning during The Final Chapter. The movie opens with a story-so-far recap that doesn’t match most of the prior series; retconning several important plot points in the hopes, I assume, of streamlining a path straight to the finale. But the problem with doing that in the sixth and supposedly final movie of a series is that it renders all of your stunning plot revelations inert. The Final Chapter has a couple, including one potentially-interesting reveal about Alice’s backstory, but what even is Alice’s backstory at this point? Everything about her and the world surrounding her has been written and rewritten to suit whatever bombastic action sequence Anderson wanted to shoot at the time. And that’s fine at the time, but it doesn’t work in the long-term. If Anderson had any kind of ear for dialogue, then maybe, just maybe, this mess would be salvageable, at least to an extent that it could competently close a meandering franchise. But Anderson is only interested in using his eyes, and his eyes are always ogling his wife.
Again, I can’t blame him. But at the end of the day, Anderson gets to go home with Milla Jovovich – I don’t. He has to leave an audience with something more tangible than the leftover aura of her presence, and in The Final Chapter, he doesn’t. There’s a chance that the return of signature plot beats and set-pieces might be enough for some people. There are rabid zombie dogs and whizzing laser corridors and explosions and slow-motion. Some old pals turn up, among them Iain Glen’s ham and Ali Larter’s cheese. There’s enough here that’s distinctly Resident Evil that you’d never feel as though you walked into the wrong movie. It’s just that The Final Chapter kind of makes you wish you had.
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