Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)
Evil comes home.
I have a soft spot for the Resident Evil franchise. Although it’s changed course over the years, shifting away from the intense atmosphere of dread that’s still present in Capcom’s video games, morphing into a wild stunt-show of sorts, the series has always delivered in terms of fun, reliable trash — a decent go-to when you just wanna see a whole lot of zombie slaughtering.
Writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson, Death Race (2008), kicked the whole thing off back in 2002, continuing to contribute as producer and scribe on the first two sequels before returning to the big chair from the fourth installment onwards. While he is a very smart producer, wringing out the most from his mid-budget films (each having cost under $70 million — an amazing feat for such an action-packed saga) and an often-great stylist — the fifth entry, Retribution (2012), featured some epic design work — Anderson is without a doubt a poor writer.
Not to be confused with that other Paul Anderson of Boogie Nights (1997) fame, whose writing is often on point, Paul W. S. seems to do extremely rough sketches, which then leads to some embarrassing acting and unsatisfying narrative development. But hey, as one might quickly come to realize, if you’re committed to the Resident Evil movies, you’re really in it for the action, monsters and leading lady, Milla Jovovich, Zoolander 2 (2016). Subsequently, Jovovich met Anderson on the first entry, becoming his wife and mother to their child, Ever Anderson, who makes her debut here as the ominous hologram The Red Queen. It’s all in the family folks.
So, with Resident Evil finally coming to a close, does it, at least, end well? Um … sort of.
From the get-go, it kinda feels as though everyone went into this one pretty half-arsed, with the opening sequence completely ignoring the grand war implications of Retribution’s final shot. It says a lot then, that it’s taken about four years to resolve the series, the whole thing executed in the most conventional way possible. Read the basic plot synopsis and you’ll get what I mean …
Apocalypse survivor Alice (Milla Jovovich) is lured back from the desolation of the White House and into the Umbrella Corporation’s underground facility in Raccoon City guarded by Matrix fanboy, long-time ‘frenemy’ Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), who’s still dressed in his wannabe Neo garb. You see, Umbrella’s shifty holographic security system, The Red Queen (Ever Anderson), has promised our heroine a cure for mankind, along with an explanation behind Alice’s ominous past, finally resolving that pesky amnesia that transpired in the aftermath of the epidemic.
On her way to a now-destroyed Raccoon City, Alice reunites with badass pal and series staple Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), Claire’s new love interest Doc (Eoin Macken), mechanic Abigail (Ruby Rose), everyman Razor (Fraser James), and some other cannon fodder — I mean, survivors. Hot on their tail on the long, dusty road is religious zealot and co-chairman of Umbrella Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen), who’s steering a souped-up tank, deliberately luring a massive horde of zombies to end Alice and co. once and for all.
While there are couple of genuine surprises, particularly the strange cohabitation link between The Red Queen, Alice and Umbrella, which is deeper than expected, along with the motive behind the viral outbreak (okay, this isn’t really that surprising, I just never thought it’d actually be explained), Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is largely a join-the-dots adventure that just about anyone could plot. And in case you’re wondering, I genuinely believe that people could watch this one solo and feel as though they haven’t missed out on much, what, with the narrative simplicity and deficiency of series development.
The cumulative effect of The Final Chapter can be summed up as ‘loud and chaotic.’ The sound mix is an unrelenting wall of noise, which really gets tiresome very quickly, often drowning out what is sometimes a pretty good score by Austrian composer Paul Haslinger, Underworld: Awakening (2012). Heck, it could very well be a great score, I just couldn’t hear much of it amongst the clanging metal, screams, gunfire, explosions and roars — all of this cranked up to a Spinal Tap volume of eleven. (After this racket, I’m convinced that an eleven volume really does exist).
Besides a real lack of character motivation (an element that’s been consistently absent after Paul W. S.’ return), one’s confusion is amplified by dark, ugly visuals. Sure, cinematographer Glen MacPherson did some solid native 3D work on the last two Resident Evil outings, especially the fourth, Afterlife (2010) — which, to this day, is still one of my top 3D experiences — he’s totally let the ball drop here, shooting in 2D (and later converting to 3D). We’re talking shaky-cam a-go-go, incredibly dim color grading and terrible close-ups. With shots like these going to the shredder, sorry, I mean ‘editor,’ the hilariously named Doobie White, whose equally nauseating work on Gamer (2009) did no favors for that film, the result is absolute mayhem and a damn ringing headache — God help anyone who chooses to check this out in 3D! The most excruciating aspect of all the choppiness is that we get ‘glimpses’ of some great action sequences and cool CG beasts, but everything is ultimately rendered a horrible blur, so I can’t even recommend The Final Chapter on a ‘bang for your buck’ type of level.
Oddly enough, with technical artistry at an all time low, the performances have improved for the first time since the third chapter, Extinction (2007) — makes sense, since the fourth and fifth were more focused on technology rather than story. Does this mean that Anderson can only commit to one side of filmmaking on any given project and that perhaps, if he wasn’t such a control freak, he could actually churn out better films by trusting in other professionals? With his love of multi-tasking, we may never know.
Acting wise, Ruby Rose who we saw in xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017) is on fire, getting a solid two-up in barely a week between the said flick and this, though she’s woefully underutilized here. Shawn Roberts, Edge of Darkness (2010), and Ali Larter, Final Destination 2 (2003), are all about the paycheck, their performances on a get-by autopilot, Larter having become a mother prior to shooting, possibly the reason as to why she signed up again (I don’t blame her). Funnily enough, Roberts’ middling performance is actually better due to fewer scenes, with most playing against Jovovich and Anderson’s nine-year-old daughter Ever, who could, in time, grow into a good actress, the youngster exhibiting a precocious poise in most of her scenes.
Jovovich herself is as dependable as ever in the role of Alice — Milla required to get a bit more emotive towards the finale — the highlight, though, is Iain Glen, Eye in the Sky (2015), who portrays the icky villain Dr. Isaacs. Glen has a subtle menace about him, being one of those baddies whose demise brings about a certain degree of satisfaction. It was disappointing, however, that other key survivors from previous installments were missing — but again, the half-arsed feeling possibly pervaded this absence.
If there were one burning question that devout followers of the series would want to know it’s ‘does it finish well?’ Look, it concludes with enough closure to put a full stop on things, even if the build-up is ludicrously over-done, sorta like wading through a mud of exposition, with all the characters too afraid to take action for silly reasons.
At the end of the journey, the Resident Evil saga has become famous for its teasing last frames, hinting at the next episode. It’s no different here with a final shot working as a wink to the fans as opposed to anything deeper. I can safely say that this is indeed The Final Chapter … and it’s about bloody time.
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie