It’s no secret that I adore the Resident Evil films. Paul W.S. Anderson’s sprawling multi-million dollar adaptation of the classic Capcom video games has been a rollercoaster of joyous inconsistency and big-budget thrills since its inception back in 2003. Anderson’s franchise full-stop The Final Chapter elicits as buoyant a response as you might expect. First things first, Anderson’s Resident Evil saga has long since departed from its horror roots. These movies have never been about scaring the audience. Instead they’ve translated the game franchise’s escalating survivalism and sci-fi horror lore into a similarly spiralling blockbuster extravaganza centred around action and adventure.
Basically, these are science fiction action films dressed up as horror. And many of us have been cool with that since the games lost the plot, mutating far from the original mansion-bound survival horror source. So if you’re gonna whinge about the lack of spooks, maybe this isn’t the article for you.
Though The Final Chapter may not offer up the very literal game-esque grandeur of Retribution, it’s entirely it’s own beast. Each of the Resi films has played out as its own unique, era-sensitive, adventure; cherry picking cool concepts and visuals from whatever films Anderson thinks will fit. Retribution lifted moments from Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and the popular Nazi Zombie sub-genre to mention just a couple.
The Final Chapter, ever faithful to Anderson’s winning (yes, winning) formula, is as much a magpie experience as you could hope. There’s the Mad Max vibes of Dr Isaacs’ (Iain Glen is back and better than ever) armoured transport crammed with prisoners-cum-religious hysterics. When Anderson gets bored of that he seems to retackle Afterlife’s holed-up-in-a-tower format for a snappier, and significantly more cathartic, mid-film horde standoff. Then it’s back to Racoon City for some franchise-ending symbolism and a boss fight which rips off Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes‘ fights. On paper that sounds a mess, but all together those elements are a potent cocktail.
I guess it comes down to whether or not you can enjoy monkey-brained brazen-faced film making or if you feel cheated by it. If this kind of thing angers you, if inconsistency offends, if sheer blatant stupid fun and self-love goes over your head, then don’t bother. The folks out there who take umbridge with these films’ success are usually still clinging to the vain hopes that Anderson would eventually deliver a “true” Capcom-faithful adaptation. My question is, why would you want that?
The problem is that that already exists and has done for years. Resident Evil has always been an extension of Romero’s zombie films (Romero was poised to direct the first one, and even wrote a script you can read here) , fused with outré Japanese sensibilities. If you want a true Resident Evil adaptation, what you want is already out there in a hundred other films.
Anderson knows what he’s shown us before and always strives for fresh ground. Even the nostalgia-trip back to the hive can’t escape a “postmodern” remodelling. That glossiness which dates Anderson’s first entries so badly is long gone: literally degraded and decayed by years of abandonment. The result is a dark Gothic warren of dusty corridors where once there was clean white high-tech optimism of the early 2000s. Anderson has long been a fan of sci-fi Gothic (if his 1998 film Event Horizon is anything to go off) and he brings it to The Final Chapter in abundance, nicely merging the films’ sci-fi cleanliness with the games’ Gothic origins. It’s a more loaded film than you probably expected. But you have to be in on the journey to fully appreciate the destination.
Trinity of Bitches
In a dopey but nevertheless entertaining turn, Anderson loops things back to the first film with a Frankensteinian power struggle. Clones meet clones, originals are brought, farcically, face to face with the mess that’s spread whilst they slept, and to save the world Alice has to venture back to the cocoon from which this film franchise burst from. It’s a symbolically articulate story which cements the Resident Evil saga as its own self-contained, but unique, adaptation, whilst commenting on the nature of originality, origin, and adaptation itself. Heading back to the defunct Hive from the first film is a nice touch and supplies plenty of neat visual metaphors embodying this old vs new dialogue.
Basically Anderson adores the world of Resi but he wants to sign off firmly from everything’s he’s built, including the franchise’s heroine. Alice, a custom built avatar for those first audiences back in 2003, has served her purpose.
She was a character made for the film world of Resi, but she captured hearts and proved an integral part of the franchise’s success. Basically put, Alice is a renegade clone, a puppet who cut her own strings and wandered off for a decade of bad-assery in Anderson’s sandbox. She captured our hearts but with the end of this era comes the end of Alice. Which is gutting because Jovovich has proved time and time again to be a key component of the films’ success. Her enthusiasm is infectious, her dedication abundant. In her final outing she gets some great stuff to do, playing a geriatric version of herself whilst her real-life daughter appears as The Red Queen from the first film. By the end we get the message: this is a family thing, not just for Anderson and Jovovich, but for all the fans who’ve grown up with 15 years of kick-ass clone. Not just that but it nicely encapsulates the various components of the franchise.
Alice, it turns out, has been a clone this whole time. Her infant self was immortalised as the Red Queen whilst her ailing body was held in stasis. The Alice we know and love is, as Isaacs puts it: a facsimile; Alice as she would have been without the rare disease which rapidly aged the real Alice. Alice in this film represents a particular deviation from the original “natural” Alice. In this way, The Red Queen and old Alice can be seen to symbolise the Resident Evil franchise as it was or could have been. The films’ actively step outside of the “natural” Resident Evil world. But if we accept that then Umbrella begins to look like a stand in for game-fans, producers, and Hollywood at large; decimating everything in their path for a clean start. And in a way they get just that. Except, on Anderson and Jovovich’s terms.
So yes, The Final Chapter is a noisy, triumphant fireworks display at the end of a long record-breaking figure-stomping franchise. Some people will find the lack of realism, dopey dialogue, narrative ADHD, choppy editing, and lack of horror acutely irritating. Those same people might even call the film, and saga at large, a train wreck.
But what an ambitious and entertaining train wreck.