Resident Evil: The Final Chapter has been a long time coming. When its predecessor last infected audiences with its serialized tale of zombies and the equally lifeless ciphers they consume, fan culture was reeling from a recast and rebooted Spider-Man, and the fact that genre-darling The Walking Dead had just endured a creative dry spell.
Okay, so maybe things don’t always change that much, but this goes double for Milla Jovovich’s Alice and her supposed final high-kick against the undead hordes in this weekend’s pseudo-epic. For like the virulent strand responsible for turning this film’s world into a George Romero wasteland, these Resident Evil flicks have remained defiantly and hopelessly monotonous. Fifteen years on, Alice is still wire-fu fighting the same leather clad baddies in the same laser-hallway while talking to the same ghost girl in the machine.
If taken in the right humor, there is almost something charming about Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and its utter refusal to offer anything fresh or even incidentally clever. However, it’s hard to see because the film is otherwise relentlessly boring.
The movie opens like every other sequel in the Resident Evil franchise by undoing pretty much everything that came before in the past film’s dangling cliffhanger. And The Final Chapter is no different except that, for the first time in six films, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson realized he should probably give some small explanation for the T-virus and why the evil Umbrella Corporation unleashed it onto the world in a strangely competent prologue.
But as the real story begins in Washington D.C., the tantalizing war between the living and dead, which united a newly super-powered Alice plus her usual nemesis Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) in the last movie, has now been aborted. Washington is once more a ghost town with all its monuments to power so ravaged and abused that it just might be a prophecy for what the capital will look like in six months’ time. In the film’s context, however, Alice awakens there back to square one with Wesker having apparently betrayed her (off-screen) by taking away her super-powers again (also off-screen).
Luckily, Alice is soon given a cheerful exposition dump by the Red Queen (Eve Anderson), the malevolent artificial intelligence who still prefers to look like a prepubescent Hogwarts student. She’s continuing her decades of chilling in the first Resident Evil movie’s Hive complex, which is located beneath the nuked Raccoon City. Oh, and apparently there are only 4,000 people left alive in the whole world, and if Alice doesn’t rush back to the Hive to beat an arbitrarily ticking clock, they’re all going to die.
There are some talks of instant cures and clones, and even more returning and redundant corporate baddies, but ultimately no one onscreen cares any more than the viewer. The point is there will be stunts, zombies, and nostalgic nods. In that vein, Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield is also the only returning sidekick/actual character from the video games in the film, presumably due to the organic storytelling reason that her agent and the studio agreed on a quote.
To be clear, the legions of walking corpses are not the only things rotten within Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. This is a stale, paint-by-numbers B-action affair that, if you stop to turn on your brain for half-a-second, becomes mildly offensive due to the fact that Paul W.S. Anderson had five years to come up with a story. Yet, this half-hearted retread of the series’ greatest hits might be the most narratively misbegotten of the whole bunch.
There are a few things of merit in The Final Chapter, such as the excellent stunt work and fight choreography that allows Anderson to film his real-life wife kicking all sorts of prosthetic monsters’ ass. But even these moments, lit with visual flair by cinematographer Glen MacPherson, are edited to an incoherent blob of flashing fists, suggesting either the director did not have the coverage he needed since he mistook furiously rattling the camera for photography, or he and the producers hope an optical blitzkrieg of martial arts can hide the fact that nothing exciting is in danger of occurring.
As a storyteller, Anderson continues his grab-bag of undercooked homages/rip-offs. While all of these films are still dated by their hopeless reverence for The Matrix, it’s clear the filmmaker quite enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road too. Hence the series returns to the Road Warrior aesthetic it toyed with in the third film, offering a glimpse at what Furiosa’s odyssey could’ve looked like if a 14-year-old with a sugar high and a zombie fetish had been calling the shots in the storyboard room.
Standing in for Immortan Joe here as the surprise big bad of the whole franchise is Iain Glen as a returning Dr. Isaacs. Sure, he died in an earlier movie, but Glen now has a following due to being one of the many great character actors on Game of Thrones, so he’s back, and the film is better for it. While he can’t elevate a mustache with a twirl, it’s still amusing to watch him twirl it all the same—reveling in the baffling twist that Umbrella has been a super-Christian eugenics project all along.
Less successful is Jovovich. She is always game for the stunts, and looks great doing them, but as an actor her Alice remains as infuriatingly thin as the pixels that make up the Red Queen’s complexion.
In the end, this film is probably no worse than most of the Resident Evil sequels, which in itself is still a missed opportunity. Indeed, six movies in and the video games on which this series is based have inexplicably continued to have better plotting and characterization in their filler cutscene moments than a single one of these big Hollywood spectacles. After 15 years, it’d be funny if it wasn’t also the scariest thing about these damn movies.