[Note: This post contains spoilers.]
The release of a fifth Underworld film and sixth Resident Evil film within a month of one another raises a vital question: Which of these joyless, unpleasant, and evidently immortal action-horror franchises is worse? They are both inveterately bad, but Underworld’s crappiness feels more egregious, somehow: It’s an utter waste of a juicy horror premise, and the filmmakers are obnoxiously self-assured that their series’ somber, lackluster aesthetic makes it “visionary.” Resident Evil has no illusions that its ultra-violent, post-zombocalyptic hoopla is in any way innovative. It might be chuckle-headed and monotonous, but at least it’s not pretentious. The series is the cinematic equivalent of a gas station “meal” of cheesy nachos and an energy drink—and the filmmakers know it. Its worst sin might be its failure to be more gaudy and playful about its awfulness.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is virtually indistinguishable from its predecessors. Super-powered badass Alice (Milla Jovovich), a former security officer for the global conglomerate known as the Umbrella Corporation, fights her way through the ruins of human civilization, slaying zombies and other bio-engineered monstrosities that have been unleashed on the world by her former employer. Along the way she runs into and joins up with a band of survivors, who are eventually killed off, quite messily, one by one. Alice struggles with her fragmentary, unreliable memory, but somehow survives repeated brushes with death, habitually dispatching her foes with elaborate, Hail Mary gambits. The film features a dizzying amount of double-crossing and side-switching between the franchise’s two factions: the Umbrella Corporation and, well, everyone else left on Earth.
This is essentially the plot of all of the Resident Evil features ever since zombies infected with the T-virus first escaped Umbrella’s subterranean research facility, called the Hive, at the conclusion of the first film. Given that the series practically prides itself on the interchangeability of its individual entries, The Final Chapter is a fitting conclusion, as uniformly frenetic and mind-numbing as every other outing. Resident Evil’s dubious auteur, Paul W.S. Anderson—returning to the director’s chair for the fourth time in the franchise’s history—is just shrewd enough to bookend the series, after a fashion. The sixth film mostly takes place in the radioactive crater that was once Raccoon City, where Alice aims to break back into the Hive and retrieve a vial of airborne anti-virus which, naturally enough, will instantly destroy all the infected zombies in the world, saving what remains of humanity. This she does at the request of the Red Queen, the Umbrella-created artificial intelligence that had previously been one of Alice’s more devious nemeses.
Quite apart from being the sort of thing a 12-year-old creative writing student would dismiss as too ridiculous, The Final Chapter's story is emblematic of the Resident Evil series’ almost awe-inspiring disregard for continuity. There’s a kind of shitty screenwriting purity in pulling such a game-changing McGuffin out of thin air just as the series is about to wrap up. It reveals a faintly contemptuous attitude towards the poor souls who have stuck with the franchise for some 15 years, but it’s also presented with such cavalier breathlessness that the effect is almost a giddily absurd. (“The Red Queen is suddenly a good guy now? And there’s been an anti-virus that could solve everything this whole time? Sure. Why not? Do we still get to see Milla stab and shoot things?”)
Of course, an anti-virus has repeatedly appeared in the series prior to The Final Chapter, but that was apparently a different anti-virus. Or something. It’s not entirely clear. Regardless, Alice seems oddly nonplussed that such a thing exists, despite the fact that she has encountered an anti-viral agent that can counteract the T-virus on multiple occasions, including at the outset of Resident Evil: Afterlife, when she herself was injected with it. The prelude to The Final Chapter also dramatically retcons the origin of the T-virus, rendering most of what occurs in Resident Evil: Apocalypse null and void. However, the villain from Apocalypse, Dr. Issaacs (Iain Glen, now Game of Thrones famous) is also the primary villain of The Final Chapter. So how does that work? This reckless attitude towards the prior films is not only baffling, given that Anderson has scripted the entire series himself, but also monumentally foolish, in that it doesn’t go far enough. The Final Chapter throws out continuity with a shrug, but also can’t resist calling attention to how seriously its story contradicts everything that has gone before. It would perhaps have been preferable—and certainly more entertaining—to simply have some undead diabolus ex machina appear out of left field for a final, gloriously ludicrous battle with Alice.
For a film that savors the hoariest tropes of action, horror, and science fiction cinema with such gluttonous eagerness, The Final Chapter is a remarkably boring feature. There are lots of guns, knives, explosives, military vehicles, and inexplicably elaborate death traps reminiscent of one of those inane, punishingly difficult late 80s Nintendo games. None of this hardware-fetishism leaves any impression, however. There are allegedly shocking twists that barely register as twists at all, and some rather cynical pilfering of imagery and scenes from infinitely better films. (The lifting of Robocop’s “You’re fired!” moment is particularly galling.) There is an aggravating quantity of senseless corporate and technological skulduggery for a film that is ostensibly about slaying zombies with machine pistols.
Admittedly, the boredom that The Final Chapter induces is of an especially hysterical, stupefying sort. Anderson and editor Doobie White double down on the frantic cutting that has characterized most of the series, slicing and dicing the film's action until it is completely incomprehensible, to the point of unintentional parody. It is as if the filmmakers watched Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and concluded, “Nope. Too coherent.” The editing in The Final Chapter isn’t just confusing. It’s assaultive, provoking suspicions that pummeling the viewer with visual unintelligibility is a source of sadistic amusement to the filmmakers. Alas, it is nothing so colorful: There are simply too many rapid cuts to nearly identical shots with a slightly different angle, focus, or field size, a sure sign that outright cinematic ineptitude is at play.
Jovovich performs as well as she ever has in the Resident Evil series, meaning that she somehow escapes with her dignity intact. To belabor the Underworld comparison, Kate Beckinsale is a superior actress capable of summoning biting magnetism, but in her headlining action-horror role she’s a dreary charisma vacuum, with a palpable distaste for every terrible line she is forced to utter. Underneath the misplaced gravity that the Resident Evil series obliges her to convey, Jovovich at least seems to be having a good time making dumb movies with her husband Anderson. Age has only added to the authority of her physical performance; ironically, just as the series draws to a close, Alice is finally starting to feel like a genuinely dangerous woman. Perhaps now Jovovich can finally apply her seasoned action star chops to a less dismal, less tedious project.