This is about as good as a movie like this can possibly be. Over the last decade and a half, writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson has overseen the Resident Evil franchise – six films in total – all of which he has written, and four he has directed, and while I cannot say I’ve been a diehard fan throughout, a recent catch-up has won me over completely to the sheer breadth of mythology explored, which include attempts to deconstruct the very notion of cinema itself, culminating in what is now the greatest video game adaptation ever made. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is 110 minutes of nonstop adrenaline, nearly one gigantic action movie sequence, that continues, even after eight hours of material, to push its main character Alice further into revelations about herself, resolving her arc in a wholly satisfying and entertaining way. Anderson appreciates the unique position he is in, as sole author of this story, answerable to the game’s fans, and his fans, and arguably his wife Milla Jovovich, who has been the center of this world since its creation, and its lone beating heart, and he simply slays, directing this film as if his life depended on it, and leaving his audience speechless in the process.
I have to admit, I got a little teary before the film began. Anderson and Jovovich have a brief spot introducing the film together, thanking fans for watching, and in general, for just going to the movies. It’s a personal touch that I’ve never seen before, but it fits considering their longtime attachment to this project and each other. It goes a very long way towards showing how much of this is a labor of love, and not born merely out of box office receipts or studio interference. As if that wasn’t obvious from the last installment, Resident Evil: Retribution, which dismantled the story from whole cloth, retconned everything, and reassembled the parts into something indistinguishable from an actual video game. It was nothing short of miraculous to behold if you were on board, and if you weren’t it was surely an abysmal experience. But the observed distance traversed over the decade since the original, in terms of story, Anderson’s aesthetic, and the emerging digital video technology, reflected an ambitious, almost experimental attitude towards their execution, and a desire to give audiences something familiar, yet completely different within the context of the medium. In other words, Film As Art never saw Paul W. S. Anderson coming.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter‘s story engine is nothing new. Lone survivor Alice is tasked with returning to the hive, the source of the viral outbreak that destroyed the entire population, and turned them into horrific, flesh-eating zombies, and other monsters, by the Red Queen, the computer security system and original antagonist. It seems there’s an airborne anti-virus there that can save what few remaining human beings are left on the planet, and releasing it holds the promise of Alice finally being released from her own existence as the product of genetic engineering, since her cells have fused with the virus and evolved her into something superhuman. She has been cloned every which way from Sunday, detailed in previous installments, and such is Anderson’s way of suggesting nothing seen can be believed, nothing that happened before should be remembered, and anything can happen at any time. Dr. Isaacs and Wesker are also back (I forget how many times each of them have died) with a new plan for the Umbrella Corporation’s domination over what’s left of the world, and to make things as hard as possible for Alice. It’s messy for sure, but highly functional, and everything ties together in its own way, providing an adequate gamer milieu for Anderson’s eye for visceral, explosive action.
And let’s talk about that action. Critics will bemoan the darkness and low light in every shot, as these desert locations have lost their shining luster of the brand new apocalypse shown three installments ago with Extinction, and the hyperactive editing (by Hollywood standards) that cuts the action up into a million pieces. But through The Final Chapter‘s perspective, focusing on the evolution, or final becoming of Alice, each cut becomes its own isolated scar on her well-earned journey through Anderson’s landscape of rampant destruction, where everything that ever was, even any notion of God above, has been torn asunder in the scorched Earth. What may have been dictated by budget constraints supports a far-reaching story that has always been told in moments, building to a truth for Alice that can only be experienced in total, greater than the sum of its many parts.
If this isn’t, ultimately, the last time we see a Resident Evil film, or even the last time we see Alice, The Final Chapter will stand as the fitting end to Alice’s journey to find herself, that brought her face to face with armies of herself, not unlike a video game’s nascent ability to forever reset the experience, not unlike Paul W. S. Anderson’s many different creative approaches throughout this series, not unlike villains who die only to live again, and not unlike the relationship each of us creates with the moving image every time those house lights dim, allowing endless reinventions and recreations. Things either reach their end, or continue forever. Thanks to the Resident Evil franchise, they can do both.
The Verdict: Rave