by Benjamín Harguindey
The Resident Evil movie series comes to its belated end with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) – not with a bang but a whimper. This videogame movie makes Assassin’s Creed look like Lawrence of Arabia by comparison.
Six movies and almost 15 years since the original Resident Evil (2002), “Project” Alice (Milla Jovovich) continues her fight against the zombie-churning Umbrella Corporation. By now the entire world is on the brink of a Mad Max type of post-apocalypse as cities have been razed to the ground and worldwide population reduced to mere thousands. Alice wakes up alone in ruinous Washington DC and after doing some token zombie slaying receives her mission: go back to The Hive (the underground facility she escaped in the first movie) and retrieve an airborne antivirus to cleanse the zombie outbreak once and for all.
She is given a time limit of 48 hours and a watch to chronicle the countdown ala Snake Plissken. Why the time limit? In 48 hours sharp the last human settlement will be destroyed, informs her the AI running The Hive. Because we never actually see this settlement or the offending siege, this feels less like a plot point and more of a contrivance to manufacture some fake tension. Already the second movie was toting the subtitle ‘Apocalypse’; everything afterwards has been long plotless meandering – not particularly interesting or urgent.
‘The Final Chapter’ may or may not prove to be true to its name but at least it sets out to provide closure, if not for the series, then for the character of Alice. Played in every movie by Milla Jovovich, she has the rare distinction of being one of the few steady action heroines to grace the silver screen (the other being Kate Beckinsale from the Underworld franchise). If only these movies would grace them back.
Alice herself has never been particularly interesting, largely because every movie seems to retcon the character (sometimes in between movies, sometimes at the very beginning or the very ending of one). She starts out as the first movie’s Final Girl and evolves into Action Heroine by the second movie, Sarah Connor style. But because she’s also a “Project” coined by Umbrella – carrying the same virus that otherwise zombifies everybody else – she can be programmed and reprogrammed with such ease by her evil handlers to gain and lose superpowers at their convenience (as well as the movies’). There’s something adolescent about the way series ringleader Paul W. S. Anderson keeps rewriting the limits of Alice’s awesomeness.
As it stands, by the beginning of ‘The Final Chapter’ Alice has lost every upgrade she’s gained throughout the preceding five movies. In fact the last two movies – Afterlife (2010) and Retribution (2012) – might as well not even have happened. There is nary a mention of Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Leon S. Kennedy or Ada Wong, all conspicuously absent. The only returning ally is Claire Redfield (Ali Larter); Wesker (Shawn Roberts) is reduced to a henchman while Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) returns as the chief villain. Was he not dead by the end of the third movie? “A clone,” muses Alice, and that’s all the explanation you’re getting. Isaacs has become a religious nut since his last appearence (why not?), and the film adorns the inside of his tank with crosses in a comical attempt at characterization.
You will notice that the casting suggests a direct continuation of Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), which furthers the unavoidable truth that the fourth and the fith movies were time wasters. No character or plot point introduced then has survived by the sixth installment: we’re back to Alice and Claire tagging with a group of survivors trying to stop Umbrella again.
These survivors are all played by professional models, which gives you an idea of the relevance of the dramatic input of their characters. We have the mononymous Rola, Telemundo stud William Levy, Abercrombie & Fitch hunk Eoin Macken and Ruby Rose, who as of late is making a hefty curriculum in B-grade action flicks (like xXx: Return of Xander Cage and the upcoming John Wick 2). She isn’t given any more dialogue lines or screen time than her fellow babes, but in a movie where somebody dies unceremoniously every other minute, what may or may not be her death scene is weirdly, melodramatically drawn out. Not because of the character of what’s-her-name, but because she’s played by Ruby Rose.
Characters are fraught with a special kind of stupidity that draws from the worst of action and horror – the need for spectacle of the former and the penchant for poor, critical decisions of the latter. You will notice that, in the face of conflict, characters will always default to the spectacular, convoluted option and when that fails they will switch to the more sensible option, which was readily available from the get-go anyway.
Consider the villain’s strategy of releasing live prisoners as “bait” for his army of zombies, thus forcing the good guys to open up their barricade and expose themselves in a rescue attempt. When that fails, he simply blows up the barricade by firing a missile from his AFV. When the base is overrun, our heroes don’t just pour napalm on the zombies – no, they put on a show for a bit, resulting in heavy casualties and irreparable damage. When intruders storm the underground Hive, why not release the zombie hounds before shutting the one way in a minute too late? And so on.
You’d think the action would excuse these spurts of spectacular stupidity, but the handheld camera, choppy editing and dark lighting make it nigh impossible to tell what’s going on in any given action scene. The movie cuts on every punch and every shot so that everying looks vague and confusing. There isn’t even a big set-piece to speak of, except for the climactic showdown in, guess what, the laser hallway from the first movie that the third movie already ripped off. Enjoy.
What little credit this movie deserves goes for daring to wrap up what has otherwise been the highest-grossing film series based on videogames of all time and for giving a semblance of closure to its protagonist. It’s probably the best Game Over the series was going to get.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).