Review – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

I’ve been a fan of the Resident Evil franchise since the first game hit the original PlayStation back in 1998.  My friend came over and we stayed up all night playing it because I had just gotten my PlayStation and had yet to purchase a memory card, meaning we couldn’t save our progress.  At about 5:00 in the morning, a Hunter lunges at us and takes off our head in one swipe.  So, what now?  Well, my friend re-started it from the beginning, of course.  It’s been my favorite game (and game franchise) ever since.

I was super-excited when the announcement of a Resident Evil movie was initially made, as I had visions of Jill Valentine (my all-time favorite video game character), Chris Redfield, Barry Burton, Albert Wesker, the Spencer Mansion, the Arklay Mountains, and Tyrant running through my head.  I couldn’t wait to see this play out in live-action right in front of my eyes.

But I would have to.  I would have to for quite a while, actually.  As the casting announcements – and then the plot synopsis – began to roll in, it was becoming clear that we weren’t getting the movie I was hoping for.  No Jill, no Chris, no Barry, no Wesker . . . and who is Alice?!

Nonetheless, even back then, I was open-minded to other people’s ideas.  Resident Evil came out on the same weekend as Blade II.  The same friend and I got together that weekend to see both movies.  We saw Blade II first (Marvel always takes priority) and then saw Resident Evil the next day, on Saturday.

As expected, it wasn’t anything like the movie we had originally envisioned.  But neither of us could deny that we had a lot of fun with it, anyway.  The death-laser/hallway scene?  The Licker?  The no-holds-barred violence?  And even Alice?  All pretty cool.  We saw it again on that Sunday.

We eventually got Jill (in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, played by the immaculate Sienna Guillory), Chris Redfield (in Resident Evil: Afterlife, played by Wentworth Miller of “The Flash” and “Prison Break” fame), Barry Burton (in Resident Evil: Retribution, played by Kevin Durand, who I’m pretty sure I’ve never liked in any role, ever), and Albert Wesker (originally Jason O’Mara in Extinction but has since been portrayed by Shawn Roberts).  We even got Tyrant (Resident Evil: Extinction).  We also got other mainstays Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, Carlos Oliveira, Nemesis, and Leon Kennedy, along the way.  No Rebecca Chambers, though.  Poor Rebecca.

The film series certainly took on a life of its own.  Alice arguably became Milla Jovovich’s most iconic role and through the role, she was a pioneer in female-led action franchises.  And while the films’ mythology never perfectly mirrored that of the game series, it weaved in and out of it and was close enough in places that it could be looked at as a similar alternate universe.  The two most recent films really broke out overseas and both made well over $200 million worldwide on modest budgets.  The films have never been considered “high art”, but they’ve also never aimed to be.  They’re all about escapist, exciting fun, and they’ve certainly delivered that in spades over the last 15 years.  The series is the most successful video game-based movie franchise in history and, this weekend, it all comes to an end with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

Over the last week, I re-watched the previous entries in the series to refresh myself on the finer story details (and deciding that my preferences of the films fall in order of: Apocalypse, Afterlife, Resident Evil, Retribution, Extinction).  And as anxious as I was to see it, I waited until Saturday so I could enjoy the finale in glorious IMAX.  So, today, I put on my Jill Valentine shirt (inspired by Norman Rockwell’s Liberty Girl) and made the drive.  I had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings first (where the menu does not include a Jill Sandwich) and then I took my seat.

Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who has written all of the films and directed four of them), the film feels very much a part of the universe structurally, but a little different from the recent installments in terms of presentation.  Back in the early years of the new millennium, it was all the online rage to rag on Anderson.  The trolls have since moved on to plenty of other targets (or perhaps they grew up and got jobs) but I never found the hate to be warranted to the degree at which he received it.  I’m not saying he’s an auteur, but there are things at which he excels.  He certainly has a unique eye and that vision has been stamped all over this particular franchise.  A new chapter will often begin with a completely unexpected scenario in an equally-unexpected place, deliberately disorienting and misdirecting the audience until Anderson makes the reveal and it all comes together.  He has recently embraced action sequences that play out entirely in slow motion.  Some people criticize that because it’s not the norm or is considered “gimmicky”, but I liked it, myself.  I would much rather have slow-motion than scenes of frenzied action with tight angles and quick cuts that make it hard to follow.  He also ends each chapter with an unpredictable cliffhanger that promises to take the story to new places in the following installment.

The Final Chapter is presented with a much more traditional approach, for better or for worse.  The story is told in a direct, linear fashion, picking up shortly after the conclusion of Retribution.  All of Anderson’s other trademarks remain in tact, however – the good and the bad.  On the plus side, the overarching narrative comes to a logical, memorable conclusion.  The series has always respected and referenced its past and this final entry is no exception.  Unfortunately, while the story elements of days gone by are referenced, characters are missing with absolutely no mention, as if they never existed.  Important characters.  There is a storyline explanation for their absence, even if it’s not spelled out for the audience (it’s pretty obvious, though).  A mention would be nice, though, as a sign of respect to them.  It’s reminiscent of Jill Valentine’s conspicuous absence in Extinction following her crowd-pleasing turn in Apocalypse.  She would resurface, later, but there wasn’t a single reference to her in that film, and it felt wrong.

Anderson also relies on several major happy coincidences to make the pieces of the story connect, which is again something he’s relied on in the past.  I wish he would have paid more attention to this sort of thing over the years as it’s an easy criticism for folks who don’t want to acknowledge all of the positive aspects of Anderson and the RE series.  Why give people ammunition when there’s always a way to make the story flow more believably and naturally?

Still, while the little things have always been a problem for Anderson when it comes to story structure, he’s consistently strong on the big things.  The Final Chapter contains twists, turns, revelations, and even some emotion as it wraps up and we say goodbye to these particular incarnations of the characters and this world.   It’s fun, but the small inconsistencies are distracting.

The action is also more traditional, with those tight shots and quick cuts that so many directors seem to employ, these days.  I’ve seen worse and it eases up, somewhat, as the film progresses, but I miss when Anderson prioritized efficient communication to his audience over flash and sizzle.  On the other hand, as always in Resident Evil movies, the action sequences are expertly conceptualized and have a grand sense of scale to them.  I just prefer Anderson’s previous form of execution.

Just like the recent Underworld: Blood Wars, this film is really one that’s aimed at the already-converted.  If you weren’t a fan of Resident Evil before, you won’t be one, now.  And if you enjoyed the previous films, you’ll enjoy this one.  If we’re being honest, none of these films are traditionally “good”.  At least, not by all of the metrics by which film quality is typically measured.  But I still find them enjoyable, and so do many others.  It all depends on how much the flaws annoy you compared to how much the strengths reward you.  For me, the good pays off much more than the bad bothers me.

I felt a twinge of sadness when the credits rolled, knowing that this was the end (at least for now).  For a long time, I’ve always had another part to look forward to and I’ve enjoyed wondering who would pop up, what creatures they’d fight, and what twists and turns the roller coaster of a story would take us on.  Maybe, after some time, they can reboot and give us the more suspense-driven horror interpretation that most of us envisioned from the beginning (may I suggest Blake lively for a new Jill Valentine?).  But if not, my love for all things Resident Evil will live on and I’ll always be able to revisit these six films.  The Final Chapter fits in nicely with the rest, even if – as with the first one – it’s not the exact movie I would have made.  But then, if it was, there would be no surprises, and what’s the fun in that?

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