Director Paul W. S. Anderson takes the reins one last time on the tired action-horror franchise.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is the alleged grand finale to the films based on Capcom’s massive popular videogames series. Shambling on to its sixth instalment since 2002, we catch back up with human weapon Alice (Milla Jovovich) in a devastated Washington DC, following the ambiguous fade-out at the end of Resident Evil: Retribution. Alice finds the villainous Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen) hot on her tail, seeking to wipe out the last remnants of humanity. To put a stop to the madness once and for all, Alice must head back to Raccoon City, ground zero of the zombie-engineering T-Virus and home to the infamous Umbrella Corporation.
Shiny, washed-out, colourless and morose, the post-apocalyptic world of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter looks like Evanescence’s collective nightmares. The zombies and genetically-modified demons which now cover the world are underwhelmingly designed, with nothing as frighteningly cool as Nemesis, and no cadavers that stick around long enough to make you care. There’s a call-back to the first Resident Evil game when the hounds of hell are literally unleashed in the form of Cerberus, a pack of zombified dogs, though the threat level never elevates beyond ‘mild peril’.
It’s unfortunate that the Resident Evil series has never allowed itself to jump head-first into the horror genre, as there are occasional tantalising glimpses at what could be if the films incorporated the smaller scale, survival horror elements of the videogames. A couple of scenes stand out in this regard, one which sees Alice navigating a dark and abandoned control centre in Washington dominated by the HAL-like AI interface The Red Queen, and another where she hunts an elusive fanged monstrosity in the bowels of Umbrella. The worldwide-scale of the story, and the done-to-death nature of anything that may once have been the stuff of nightmares undermines these aspirations.
Amidst the madness as she tumbles deeper into the rabbit hole, Alice finally gets some answers about her past and her purpose.
As The Final Chapter struggles to find its feet in the first half, cheap jump scares come in abundance and are employed frequently. Lacking any sort of creative punch, they quickly become tiresome and annoying. It’s also quite hard to follow what’s going on sometimes, as there are more quick cuts than on a papercraft Death Star, especially in the claustrophobic fight scenes. The film eventually picks up steam when Alice finds old friend Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) holed up in a tower with a ragtag resistance of survivors, and Dr. Isaacs brings military tanks and an army of teeth-gnashing terrors to raze it to the ground. Though the undead tend to lack bite when they’re presented in large groups, Alice dispatching them with makeshift ballistas and rivers of blazing gasoline is an awesome spectacle.
The story remains completely baffling, however, and doesn’t seem to follow on from 2012’s Retribution. Flat and shiny videogame caricature Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) returns, and his allegiance has once again changed from ‘disillusioned antihero’ to ‘full-blown bastard’, with not much in the way of explanation. Haunting Alice and friends from behind an Umbrella Corporation monitor and springing death traps to pick off the survivors like a genocidal Willy Wonka, it’s not a great send-off for a character who’s widely considered to be one of gaming’s greatest villains. The subtle-as-a-sledgehammer revelation that Umbrella have a traitor in Alice’s midst make Wesker’s indiscriminately murderous Home Alone shenanigans even more unfathomable.
It’s comforting to know there’s some solid hairdressers still knocking around post-apocalypse.
Iain Glen’s Dr. Isaacs is much more entertaining. Chewing more scenery than an undead Nicolas Cage, Isaacs is a maniacal, fundamentalist Christian who would definitely twirl his moustache if he had one. He wishes to solve global warming and overpopulation problems with an ‘orchestrated apocalypse’, citing the biblical flood in the Book of Genesis as historical proof of this being A Good Idea™. I’m not sure why he’s got superpowers seemingly assimilated from The Terminator, Agent Smith, and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, but Glen makes a great cackling scoundrel.
All its components serve their purpose and keep the film chugging away – it’s lean, there’s nothing too extraneous, the dialogue is cheesy and perfunctory yet taut, continuity issues are heavy-handedly retconned with ‘clones’, while an obligatory end of the world countdown keeps everything in check and prevents meandering. Milla Jovovich is wonderful to watch and remains a perfectly decent action hero, even if co-star Ali Larter doesn’t have much to do, and series newcomer Ruby Rose is unfortunately wasted as the expendable Abigail.
Resident Evil is very much watchable and somewhat enjoyable, especially for keen followers of the games and films. The major set pieces are exciting, if sometimes a little hollow, and many story threads that have been running since the first film receive a fulfilling sense of closure. The ultimatum suggested by subtitle ‘The Final Chapter’ is dampened by a final act cop-out, suggesting another sequel (Resident Evil: Epilogue?) or a total reboot, but for now it’s an acceptable end to a burnt-out franchise.