Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Opens January 27
Poor Alice! Poor Alice, and all her clones, previously seen dead in a pile at the outset of Resident Evil: Extinction, which despite the finality of its title was only the third of six Resident Evil movies. Where can you go, after all, when your second movie is subtitled Apocalypse? The X-Men took sixteen years to get to that point, which is nearly how long the Resident Evil movies, based on a different and more clearly numbered series of video games, has been turning up in movie theaters. Poor Alice, played by science fiction and thriller mainstay Milla Jovovich, has been fighting zombies for that long on screen, although The Final Chapter (only semi-final-sounding in the scheme of Resident Evil titles) reveals that a mere decade has passed in the world of the movie.
It’s not that Jovovich’s Alice is a pitiable creature in terms of abilities. She can run, jump, flip, punch, and shoot with the best of them, far better, even, than most gaming avatars. But her fate feels no different than an unfeeling game creation, doomed to repeat the same scenarios over and over. She fights her way through zombie hordes, only to encounter more zombie hordes. She charges into battle triumphantly, only to find out that it was all a set-up and she was tricked into fighting. She regains her vaguely defined superpowers, only to have them taken away, or find out that she didn’t actually regain them.
The movie series, sometimes hilariously, is fine with eschewing some of these developments all together, especially when they sound expensive. Resident Evil: Retribution, the previous movie, ended by promising an all-out last-stand humans-versus-zombies-and-assorted creatures war, on the hallowed ground of Washington, DC. The Final Chapter opens with DC a smoldering post-battle wreck, out of which Alice climbs, alone, again. Actually, it opens with an Alice-narrated recap of the basic Resident Evil storyline, streamlined to avoid mention of how fruitless Alice’s efforts can seem. There was a plague that turned a lot of people into zombies, it got out, and the world came crashing down but isn’t quite finished yet .What they don’t quite come out and say is: This woman fights tooth and nail to combat evil, only to find out in The Final Chapter that an extremely rich asshole has hastened this whole apocalypse to protect his bullshit company and personal glory. Sound familiar?
Unintentional political subtext or not, Alice has become a stronger rooting interest over time. Not necessarily because Jovovich has improved as an actor (though she has, just not necessarily in these movies; she’s great in Stone and A Perfect Getaway), and not even necessarily because the Resident Evil series has gotten better (although on average, it has! The first one is still, to my recollection, the worst of the bunch), but because of the dogged determination of these movies, once written and directed, then just written, now again written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Mr. Milla Jovovich!). They keep at it. Anderson doesn’t have the patience or the imagination of a great action director, but he throws a lot out there, especially in the opening stretch of Final Chapter. Alice has about ten dialogue-free minutes as she explores the DC wreckage and encounters a fearsome winged monster, whom she kills with a car before fleeing the scene, trying to ride a rigged motorcycle, and killing a bunch of dudes while hanging upside down before getting captured and throw into a tank. These aren’t really spoilers because it barely clears the first half hour, As it proceeds the movie ricochets from Mad Max knockoff to castle-siege movie to bastard offspring of Alien and Saw.
Let us not call Alice the poor man’s Ripley, though; let us call her the thrifty person’s Ripley. It’s her costars who seem more profoundly discounted. The movies keep outfitting her with generic bands of survivors; here, the villains have some continuity but her only recognizable ally from the previous movies is her occasionally long-lost BFF-in-battle Claire (Ali Larter). The real partnership on display is between Jovovich and Anderson, who obviously loves her grimly badass antics. For reasons I couldn’t understand and, as such, couldn’t find the heart to object to, Anderson has abandoned his penchant for luxuriating in 3D slow motion in favor of a more jittery, handheld look; several action scenes are flash-cut together as if, perhaps, to hide subpar stunt work.
It’s not the best final tribute to Jovovich and her stunt doubles, but The Final Chapter reaches the upper echelon of its series anyway, through sheer muchness. There are clones, callbacks, retcons, and several neat action sequences and fights that and grab some decent sci-fi horror imagery. A severed hand here, a screaming skeleton there; so what if most of the dialogue consists of variations on the phrases “why should I believe you?” and “behind you!”? This has never been an eloquent series. If it seems like mere January fodder, a timekiller before the real action blockbusters, look, times are tough for Alice, too; in this adventure, she only has one scene where she double-fists a pair of guns. Or is it maturity, that sees her reaching for a knife as often as a handgun? Or is maturity what allows you to admit that, you know what, the Resident Evil movies aren’t so different from any number of more expensive Forever Franchises in their cheap thrills and endless teases—except that, of course, these Sony Screen Gems seem more aware of their B-picture roots. The Final Chapter purports to be just that, and even offers some intriguing stabs at closure for its watchable cipher heroine. But it practically ends with an “… or is it?” I wouldn’t have it any other way.