2017 | rated R | starring Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter | directed by Paul W. S. Anderson | 1hr 47mins |
Studio Pitch: Each entry in this franchise has made more money than the last and as a whole has grossed 1 billion dollars.
It’s normal to be skeptical of a movie series boasting it’s final entry. No doubt, it won’t be long until Resident Evil is rebooted into a slower, darker survival horror film more like the first few Resident Evil video games. But it does seem like The Final Chapter, the 7th in the successful Resident Evil series, is the final bow for director Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich playing Alice, the super-enhanced one-woman zombie bulldozer who has made her way around the ruins of an Earth wasteland for the last 6 films fighting the evil, omnipresent Umbrella Corporation. That is meaningful. Resident Evil won’t be the same without Milla Jovovich.
More than Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld films (with the latest in that franchise bowing this year too) or the Angelina Jolie action films, Jovovich has become something of a prototype for a new generation of butt-kicking female action heroes in a time when Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is a nostalgic memory. Even when the Resident Evil movies fall into B-movie trash, Jovovich has always been watchable, fully embracing the physical demands of Alice. While she lacks depth and the movie keeps an arm’s length from her true nature (for reasons that become clear at the end of this movie), she remains heroic, commanding and fun to watch because she looks like she is having a blast in the role and makes that infectious.
The Resident Evil series also works, as a whole more than the sum of each entry, because it stacks the deck thick against Alice. It takes place long after the zombie apocalypse, with Earth less populated and more decayed with each entry. She is put up against the entire world when there is nothing left to save. Each sequel consciously tries to have a different look and feel, from the steel trap of The Hive in the first film to the sandy apocalypse of Extinction to the crumbling prison of Afterlife and snowy command center of Retribution. The series embraces it’s B-movie schlock absurdity nicely. Each movie contains at least one over-the-top moment where Anderson pushes past the point a filmmaker bound by taste or continuity would to deliver a show-stopping bit. Over the years Alice has jump-kicked a zombie dog in the face, telepathically shorted out a microchip in an Earth orbiting satellite and fought alongside an army of her own clones. Nothing in The Final Chapter hits those fun highs. It is a disappointingly restrained when it should be swinging for the fences, content with hand-to-hand combat and more Hive security traps than turning Alice into the mythic one-woman army she seemed destined to be.
These movies have 2 types of plot structures. Personally, my favorite are the Fort Defense entries, where a group holds up in a new location and defends it from the oncoming hoard – Extinction and Afterlife. It’s dissapointing that for the final chapter, Anderson goes for the 2nd structure – where a team walks linearly through a series of video game-styled levels, the movie cranking from set piece to set pieces as they face one designed challenge after another. In this structure, nothing feels natural and everything feels like a cheat with the God’s eye of Umbrella sitting behind a monitor pulling the strings. It’s also a complete about-face from the exciting teaser set-up at the end of Retribution where Alice found herself back with her team and her powers surrounded by a city of zombies on the balcony of the White House. “Nah” said Anderson and threw all that out.
We again pick up with Alice weakened, travelling the country on a motorcycle, now called back to the original Hive by The Red Queen, the psychotic Umbrella AI with a child avatar, in a final bid to stop Umbrella and save the world. More traps, more grisly but scripted deaths, less zombies and monsters and more overly campy villainous performances from Iain Glen (Game of Thrones) and Sean Roberts who has always looked like an entirely CGI creation as Wesker. Your mileage may vary if you think the survivors going back through Hive traps from the first film is either a creatively bankrupt re-tread or a satisfying drawing of the series full-circle. With the movie depressing my expectations in the first 2 acts, I was surprised by how oddly thoughtful it’s 3rd act was. Anderson has come up with a satisfying and surprising explanation behind Alice’s true nature and even how the outbreak started in the first place. Tracing back to the minutes before the falling helix tube that opened the first film.
Series finale xpectations are now so low that I was surprised and engaged by this movie promised answers and actually delivered them. For that alone Final Chapter is worth seeing for any fans of this series. It’s the rest of the movie that’s the problem. Given the increased success of the film, the more freedom that had to offer and given the years between each sequel, it’s amazing that so much of Final Chapter comes off as lazy and uninspired as it does.
Also surprising, right from the start, is the way Anderson edits the action scenes with a buzz saw like he’s hopped up on Peter Berg ADHD pills. I don’t recall any of the other Resident Evil movies looking as bad as this one does. Every fight scene in this movie is over-edited and shaken to the point of nausea. Anderson probably thinks he’s being Paul Greengrass, getting people in the middle of the fight like he’s making a Jason Bourne movie; but shaken, unbroken takes is not the same as shaken, chopped-up split-second takes. One gets us in the action, the other makes it looks like none of the action ever happened and you’ve created it together in the editing bay. It puts an artificial barrier between us and Jovovich performing the action. And the absolute last thing this movie should have done was undercut Alice.