Typically, as the calendar rolls over into a new year, moviegoers look at January as a proverbial dumping ground. Films that studios lack trust and confidence in are dropped in the January doldrums, the weather outside biting cold and executives hoping audiences will seek shelter in theaters for comfort from the winter. Across the last several years, January has been a month of optimism rather than disappointment, with high caliber and original releases bucking the trend. In fact, some of the more cult-following movies dropped in January since I was a kid. Silence Of The Lambs, From Duck Till Dawn, Orange County, Hostel, Smokin’ Aces, Cloverfield, The Book Of Eli, and Cabin In The Woods – all hit in January past.
Sony, for some reason, opted to release Paul W.S. Anderson’s finale to the Resident Evil franchise smack dab at the tail end of January. Anderson has had some winners in his career – the heavily edited Event Horizon (a hidden gem and a delight to watch with the director’s cut), the massively underappreciated Soldier (itself a pseudo-sequel to Blade Runner but again mightily edited down), and even Death Race. His work on the Resident Evil movies has been somewhat hit or miss. With a deep love for the horror game franchise, one expected him to stay on track with Capcom’s work. Instead, he veered into a whole different direction. Though some installments have been forgettable (the 2002 original, 2009’s Afterlife), 2012’s Retribution was indeed reflective of its title. The film was more entertaining than I’d ever admit and left fans wanting more. Of course, Milla Jovovich grew pregnant so the finale was delayed a year but hey – here we are. It’s January 27th and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter has finally landed.
I’ve waited for three and a half years to see the series wrap up. Though I’m not prepared to see the end of Alice’s journey just yet, I’ll say this – it’s rare I leave the theater forgetting most of a 105 minute movie. This happened to be one of those occasions. The story of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is a narrative that should have unfolded across two films, not just one film’s sake to clean up the clutter astray around the room and finally put this monster to bed. No one is going to nominate Anderson’s writing for any sort of award. (In fact, I’m pretty sure the entire run of Z-Nation is far more entertaining than this franchise.) While Jovovich solidifies her Alice as easily one of the most well-rounded female protagonists to grace the screen, I can’t help but feel immensely let down that we waited this long for something that feels so…well, feels so generic.
I recall that last parting shot from Resident Evil: Retribution. Albert Wesker, Jill Valentine, Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, and Alice are all standing at the ready and defiant atop the roof of the White House. Hordes of the undead and other freakish T-Virus mutations are descending for what would be humanity’s last stand. The parting shot was a solid cliffhanger and actually had me stoked to see this battle commence. Here we are, three and a half years removed from Retribution, and – well – we don’t get that battle. As The Final Chapter begins, we see the aftermath of the battle. Washington is nearly leveled to rubble. No bodies dot the streets. And we meet up with Alice, climbing from underneath a retaining wall and trying to get her wits about her.
Wait – so, why even pose such a teaser of a battle just to not even talk about the fight? We never do learn what happened fully the ravage of this last stand. Whatever happened to Ada Wong and Leon Kennedy is never addressed. What, are we supposed to just assume that they lose their lives? Valentine just ups and vanishes, a character who was vital for half of the series, no reasoning for her absence other than her character was never in the shooting script. Yet, Alice is the only person left standing from all of this nonsense?
Hell, that’s just the start of the poorly plotted script by Anderson (who, again, writes solo without anyone to tell him there’s a plot necessary). The basic gist is what the trailers have highlighted thus far, fueled by 80’s hair band rock and glimmers of the action that could have been. Alice, staggering through the remains of a leveled Washington D.C., by chances locates an Umbrella outpost where the Red Queen delivers her a grave message – in 48 hours’ time, the last of humanity will fall and Umbrella have won. She’s sent back to Raccoon City, where the franchise all began, to locate Doctor Issacs (Iain Glen) and Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts). Oh, and, surprise – issacs has an antivirus that’ll neutralize the T-Virus once and for all. Oh, and we finally learn the full story of Alice.
That’s about it. As the credits rolled and I slid out of the reclining theater chair, I first thought of the plot itself. Granted, there’s more plot in any given Uwe Boll feature film than The Final Chapter but the ideas Anderson wants to run with are more than enough to occupy two films. Had Anderson scripted the last two films back-to-back, he could have ended the franchise on a high note. Instead, the first half of this finale rushes from action sequence to action sequence, packed with all the worst science-fiction do’s-and-don’ts that are taught in Screenwriting 101. Cliché after cliché is bombarded upon you – the hero and the villain talking to each other (though nowhere in talking distance), fisticuffs just to demonstrate how tough our heroine is, shaky camera angles and unintelligible editing, villains who appear out of thin air, moving to the scenes miles a minute without explanation, and (the biggest offender) the villain’s obsession with religion. I’ve seen enough B-movies in my lifetime to spot a polished turd in a script. If Canon Films were still in existence, this is the kind of irrational Mad-Max wannabe script they’d hope would turn a profit.
Once the action does settle down back in Raccoon City, at least the pace does slow down. No, there’s no characterization in sight. Sure, you’ve got the charismatic leader of a group of survivors, The distrustful grunt who questions every decision the fearless leader makes. The token African American character who basically asking why the group must complete their quest. The gadget guru who uses her father’s know-how to make gear to stop the endless waves of foes. And…wait, sorry, no, I can’t get over this. Just what are chances exactly Claire Redfield is a) on the same helicopter with all of these people and b) they crash land In Raccoon City? Come on now, is our intelligence really that of a non-playable character in an open-world video game?
The set pieces that follow as the group traverses deeper into The Hive (looking miles different from what I recall in 2002’s Resident Evil) actually aren’t at all bad. There’s some good mayhem to be had here, even if the chintzy CGI does become more evident. Some practical special effects are used in certain sequences but, in others, the over-reliance on green screen tactics is more an eyesore and a painful reminder of The Final Chapter’s $90 million budget. Okay, I need to go astray again. If Sony granted Anderson that kind of money, you’d think he’d at least disperse the funds evenly. The landscapes look gorgeous (the sight of an obliterated Washington looks photo realistic at points), yet other times the effects are laughable. (Raccoon City looks good from the city limits but, as we grow closer to the city’s center, the buildings look like copy-and-paste jobs.) The make-up effects are pretty good for the undead (though nowhere close to the same caliber Greg Nicotero produces for The Walking Dead), but the CG-created monstrosities really shine brighter. Even the set design, especially for The Hive, has a very nifty vibe, a glitzy gamut that can spin you around on your head as you get lost at each corner.
If Anderson maybe spent more time on the script as opposed to the pre-and-post production of The Final Chapter, maybe I wouldn’t feel so damn disappointed. The uneven script can’t decide if the tone is horror, science fiction, or cutting edge actioneer. The horror elements don’t work well in the slightest. The cheap boo scares are bush league (I actually was creeped out more by the trailer for Jordan Peele’s Get Out – let that sink in) and the kills are hollow, leaving us shrugging since we’ve no connection with any of the characters except Alice (more on that later). The science fiction portions are a bit reminiscent of Anderson’s previous work in Event Horizon (itself a more polished horror movie than The Final Chapter strives to be). At least the action, always a stand-out for the other films in the franchise, isn’t half bad, though the quick-cuts in editing and weakly executed fisticuffs seem stiff and flat on arrival.
Having said all of the above – if there’s one important element that has only improved with each installment, that element is easily Milla Jovovich’s Alice. When we first met Alice, she was as much in the dark as we were. With each passing movie, Jovovich has managed to make Alice one of the most badass female protagonists to ever grace the big screen. Tough, resilient, and determined, Alice doesn’t shy away from the task at hand. The risk of death looms around every corner, yet Alice never displays cowardice. She handles her own, she protects those she loves and trusts, and she doesn’t quit. Anyone can seek revenge but even Alice makes Beatrice Kiddo, armed with her Hattari Hanzo blade, quiver in her leather boots. Jovovich will always be best remembered for managing to take what could have been a very one-dimensional character and crafting said heroine into one of the most daring badass females to guide a movie franchise. If anything, I’m overly sad we have to say goodbye to Alice so soon.
I will give Anderson some credit, on two fronts. Firstly, one has to have guts to never waver from a narrative that’s unfolded across six movies. At any given moment Anderson could have totally chickened out but the determination he has displayed to tell his story, from beginning to end, is quite admirable. Even if I don’t fully agree on how the story’s been told, he still deserves some credit. (Now, go back to an original sci-fi/horror tale. Please.) Secondly, and I never saw this nugget coming, but the machinations of Umbrella’s plan are a bit more…grounded than I could have foreseen. The motivations of Doctor Issacs in creating the destructive T-Virus are quite real world and actually are feasible. I won’t go into detail but they are reasons that scientists continue to warn our world of, stakes of such global importance we strive to make a better tomorrow. Issacs’ aim is a bit chilling and, for a brief moment, actually took me out of the theater and into reality.
In redemption of the lackluster first two-thirds, Anderson does at least save the best for last. When the curtain is finally revealed and all of the answers are lined up before her, the truths that Alice has sought is a smidge much for her to comprehend. They make the most sense in hindsight and, if I were you, I would at least study up on what’s happened since this franchise began so you’re not totally lost. The final action sequence we’ll see starring Alice is a whirlwind in itself, but is only bettered by the ten minutes that precede the action. Even as the end loomed, I was at least somewhat thankful Anderson didn’t totally lose sight on what Alice’s motivations have been since day one – seek the truth, remember the past, and carry on. Oh, and don’t carry a big stick – carry a can of adrenaline-fueled bravery and ass kicking. Now, if the rest of The Final Chapter could have matched the pacing of the last third, then I would have less dismay about the hackneyed script. Well, at least Anderson doesn’t disappoint in finishing what he started.
In the end, Anderson has told his story. It has taken 14 years and six films to complete but we finally know the full story of Alice. I may not fully be ready to let her character ride off into the vast horizon but, despite The Final Chapter’s numerous pacing and script problems, we’ve got a finale that answers the more important questions but ultimately makes us yearn of just one more adventure of Alice in the fractured Earth. The dénouement is over just as quick as the reveal is thrust upon the crowd but that last act sure makes up for the first 45 minutes that feel more like chores that need doing. I went in with tempered expectations. I expected an okay movie – not a great or a good movie, but something that was passable. If that’s what you expect of The Final Chapter, you’ll be alright with this in theaters. Otherwise, I’ve done my duty in seeing this once. I think I’ll safely await the eventually franchise Blu-Ray set to binge Alice’s travels all over again. I may be okay with seeing this franchise end but Alice? I wish you weren’t going away just yet.
(Oh, and geez, totally forgot about Claire Redfield. Why didn’t we have more with Ali Larter, damnit?!)
Reber’s Rating – 74/100 (watch it for Alice, forget the rest)
Editor’s Note – Paul, do us a favor. Go back to original movies like you were doing twenty years ago. Please. But be sure to make another strong female hero. And make Milla be that hero, damnit!