Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)
Paul W.S. Anderson
MIlla Jovovich (Alice), Iain Glen (Dr. Isaacs), Ali Larter (Claire Redfield), Shawn Roberts (Wesker), Eoin Macken (Doc), Ruby Rose (Abigail), Ever Anderson (Red Queen)
Zombie Virus/Ecological Disaster/Plotholes
“They say that history is written by the victors. This, then, is the history of the Umbrella Corporation, formed by crusading scientist Professor James Marcus. Marcus had a young daughter, Alicia, afflicted with progeria, a progressive, fatal, wasting disease. Progeria caused premature aging. By the time she was 25, Alicia would have the body of a 90-year-old. Marcus was driven to save her, but the odds seemed impossible. And even as he worked desperately to create a cure, the young girl’s father would record his daughter, her voice, her likeness, saving her for posterity. But then the breakthrough came. Marcus discovered the T-virus. Once injected, it would detect and repair damaged cells within the body. It was a miracle. The life of Alicia Marcus was saved. The T-virus had a myriad of applications, treating 1,000 different diseases. Overnight, it seemed a new era was dawning, a world without the fear of infection, sickness or decay. But it was not to be, for the T-virus had certain unforeseen side effects. The first of the undead was born. The incident was quickly covered up. In the aftermath, James Marcus argued furiously with his business partner Dr. Alexander Isaacs. Dr. Isaacs become the guardian of his dead partner’s child and her half of the company. The corporation that had begun with such lofty ideals had been seduced completely by greed and power. To help him control the now vast interests of the Umbrella corporation, Dr. Isaacs created a powerful artificial intelligence. Isaacs used the likeness of Alicia Marcus with the computer’s interface; Isaacs called the computer ‘The Red Queen.’ Then, ten years ago in Raccoon City there was an outbreak. The T-Virus escaped from an underground laboratory called “The Hive”, the American government attempted to contain the outbreak by detonating a bomb. It devastated Raccoon City but it couldn’t stop the airborne infection. The viral outbreak spread across the world in days, humankind was brought to its knees. Finally, the last and best hope of humanity gathered and took a last stand in Washington D.C. But we didn’t realize that what we had walked into was a trap. My name is Alice and this is my story. The end of my story.” – Alice, opening narration
For those who don’t recall, back when Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was coming out in theaters I did my customary tradition of running through the whole series in three sleep-deprived weeks. Each individual entry in this series was its own kind of crazy but when laid from end to end as a 6-part saga, well… to quote The Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Here’s the cliff notes.
Resident Evil was a well-meaning but horribly constructed effort at bringing a landmark horror game series to the big screen, but it was secretly just a way for director Paul W.S. Anderson to show off his sexy model/actress then-girlfriend Milla Jovovich. The movie is like a time capsule to an awful time of washed out color grading, terrible computer generated effects, and shitty industrial music mixed with all the worst tropes of early 2000s genre films. In it, series star Alice (Jovovich) wakes up in a palatial mansion with no memory of who she is and is then whisked away by a military unit along with a Raccoon City police officer named Matt who is there under mysterious circumstances into an underground lab facility deep beneath the mansion. Most of the unit are killed off by a laser-grid hallway operated by the facility’s artificial intelligence, the Red Queen. The Red Queen has killed all the lab staff because they have been infected with the T-Virus which was released by Alice’s husband Spence into the facility’s air conditioning so that he can escape the facility with some stolen secrets. The dead lab workers come back to life and eat most everyone else until Alice and Matt escape only to be then taken by soldiers of the Umbrella Corporation and experimented on.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse went out of its way to prove that the first one could’ve been worse by being pants-shittingly awful. It starts out with a good premise of three survivors (Cop Jill Valentine, Umbrella Special Forces member Carlos Olivera, and small-time crook L.J.) dealing with a large scale outbreak in a quarantined city. Unfortunately the aftermath of the last film have left Alice having become a super-powered zombie virus version of Ripley from Alien: Resurrection and Matt as a big doofy heavy-weapon toting rubbersuit monster called Nemesis. Aside from a few early story moments and Mike Epp’s performance as L.J., there’s nothing to love here. In this movie, Umbrella’s attempt to open The Hive and find out what happened in the first movie results in a release of the T-Virus into nearby Raccoon City. The virus takes over before company scientist Dr. Ashford’s daughter can be extracted so he co-opts the help of Carlos, Jill, and a now super-powered Alice to save her and get her to a rendevouz point before the city is nuked at sunrise. Unfortunately a new bioweapon called Nemesis is after Alice and the two are forced to duke it out, everyone escapes in time but Alice is captured and taken to a facility where she escapes using her new telekinetic powers but it turns out she is implanted with some sort of surveillance device. The movie ends with Alice riding away with L.J., Carlos, and young Angela Ashford.
Resident Evil: Extinction is the closest the series has come to real credibility. Hiring Russell Mulcahy (of Highlander and Razorback fame) manages to produce a rather satisfying zombie movie with interesting characters. Alice and her dumb story hinder the movie in its third act but Milla Jovovich is growing as an actress and a lead and some great production values and practical effects go a long way toward making the movie into something better. In this film it’s revealed that the T-Virus spread beyond Raccoon City and inexplicably caused the plants to die and the oceans to dry up. Alice is a lone road-warrior traveling the wastes looking for survivors, she comes upon a group led by Claire Redfield who she joins and finds her old friends L.J. and Carlos (Jill Valentine and Angela Ashford are not mentioned nor alluded to.) Unfortunately, in helping the survivors using her telekinetic abilities, Alice draws the attention of a nearby Umbrella facility where Dr. Alexander Isaacs is running clones of Alice through a series of elaborate simulations in an attempt to make a super soldier army of his own. Alice tracks down Isaacs, who has infected himself with the T-Virus and become a version of the game series’ enemy The Tyrant. She kills Isaacs in a recreation of the first film’s lazer hallway whilst Claire, a teenage girl who goes by K-Mart and the few remaining of her group of survivors escape by helicopter to a safe haven in Alaska.
Resident Evil: Afterlife marked W.S. Anderson’s return to the director’s chair. Anderson dispatches the army of clones and Alice’s superpowers in the movie’s intro yet still manages to make a movie that’s more over-the-top than anything in the series thus far. The movie nearly gives up on any horror element but makes up for it with unabashed fun, mostly coming in the form of the film’s villain Albert Wesker. The plot involves Alice catching up with Claire’s group of survivors from the previous film only to find no safe haven in Alaska and all but Claire missing, she is mind-controlled by some sort of robot spider attached to her chest. Alice un-spiders Claire and they fly to LA where they land on the roof of a prison and help a group of survivors make it to a container ship which turns out to be the safe haven mentioned in the previous film even though Alice made a point of mentioning that the oceans had dried up. They find Claire’s brother Chris in the basement of the prison and barely escape to the ship in time only to find that it’s actually an Umbrella facility that’s kidnapping people and experimenting on them. A T-virus infected Albert Wesker faces off against Claire, Chris, and Alice only to be atomized when Alice puts the ship’s self-destruct mechanism in his escape plane. The film ends as Alice, Claire, Chris, and K-Mart face down an army of Umbrella attack planes led by a mind-controlled Jill Valentine advancing on the ship.
Resident Evil: Retribution destroys just about any of the the good will that Paul W.S. Anderson built with Resident Evil: Afterlife. It finally delves deeper into Alice’s story but it feels like a big spin of the wheels for the trajectory of the story at large. More than anything it’s a massive conveyor belt of overdone action beats that incorporate characters from every entry in the franchise so heavily that it feels like nothing is happening at all. It’s a greatest hits album for a band that nobody liked much to begin with. In this entry, Alice is taken by Jill and the Umbrella soldiers to a new Umbrella facility in Russia where there are giant replicas of Moscow, Tokyo, and New York City upon which Umbrella ran tests with clones to show how quickly the T-Virus would overtake a dense human settlement as a demonstration to prospective buyers. Alice is found by Ada Wong, Albert Wesker’s assistant. Wesker and Ada have left the Umbrella corporation because The Red Queen, despite being a security A.I. for one Umbrella facility who had her hard drives fried at the end of the first movie had now taken over the entire company’s infrastructure and is trying to kill humanity with zombies and bioweapons. Alice and Ada, along with an extraction team manage to escape the facility with a clone child named Becky who has imprinted on Alice because her mother was an Alice clone. They travel to the White House where Wesker injects Alice with the T-virus, restoring her powers. Alice, Wesker, Ada, Leon Kennedy, Jill Valentine stand on the roof in an iconic stance as all of the dead in the world advance on the building as the last remaining humans in the world make a final stand.
And that brings us to now. We find out that Wesker’s plan was a trap, Alice did get re-infected but she doesn’t have her powers back, and everybody’s apparently dead except for her her. It’s not explained how she survived or how everyone else died, we just know that she’s the lone survivor coming out of the rubble of The White House. Mostly this makes no difference: she didn’t care for Wesker, and she barely knew Ada and Leon. Jill was a loss but she probably accepted that death. The big death that is never addressed and needs to be is Becky. Becky is the third surrogate daughter Alice has had in the trilogy and the third to disappear and be presumed dead with nary a mention. But Becky is more significant than Angela Ashford or K-Mart, literally the only story beat that worked in Resident Evil: Retribution was Alice’s love for that little girl and the concept that she’s not even going to take a moment and cry about it is horrible storytelling. I know harping on continuity in a series that is barely interested in it on a good day (more on that in a moment) is a fool’s errand but if you keep ignoring story beats then nothing means anything.
Alice is contacted by The Red Queen who, it turns out, is not evil and wants to save mankind. She tells Alice that she wants to protect human life but she can’t harm any Umbrella employees. She tells Alice that she has 48 hours to make it to the ruins of Raccoon City and get an airborne anit-virus from The Hive before Umbrella operatives bring armies of zombies to the last few remaining human settlements and make them extinct. So Alice sets out on the road and is captured by Dr. Isaacs who explains away his inexplicable resurrection by revealing that the Dr. Isaacs from the second and third movies was a clone. Nu-Isaacs is a Bible-thumper who believes that the only way to save the world from global warming and overpopulation is to kill everyone outside of the Umbrella payroll and repopulate the Earth after everything has blown over. Isaacs has Wesker, who it turns out did not defect from the company, waiting at The Hive to intercept any trouble that might come. Alice escapes from Isaacs and goes into The Hive with a group of canon-fodder survivors and Claire Redfield to stop the T-Virus and save the world once and for all.
So let’s go through all the things that don’t matter any more. Spence’s grand plan to release the T-virus in The Hive and The Red Queen’s measures of killing on-site staff to contain it were pointless because the Umbrella Corporation had already released the T-Virus into the world prior and all of the company’s higher-ups had been safely frozen in cryogenic stasis chambers prior to the first movie and The Red Queen already knew about it because the chambers were contained within The Hive. Similarly were all the staff of The Hive and the team of soldiers from the first movie fired prior to Spence releasing the virus? Because The Red Queen kills nothing but Umbrella employees in that movie. Furthermore there was no good reason for Dr. Isaacs to open The Hive or for umbrella to evacuate Dr. Ashford and his daughter from Raccoon City since Isaacs intentionally released the virus to stop global warming and overpopulation so anyone not already frozen would not be anyway. Similarly it’s unclear why Umbrella wants to tinker with Alice or Nemesis since they do very little to expedite the process of eliminating humankind. It’s certainly unclear why they want to clone an unpredictable telekinetic super-soldier that they can’t control. Similarly why is Umbrella putting all the plebeians on ice to run experiments on when the goal is to kill all non-Umbrella staff and they can apparently clone as many test subjects as they might need? For that matter, what it the purpose of Wesker’s plan to send in a strike force and get Alice out of the Russia facility when he’s on The Red Queen’s side and he could just simply leave her trapped there to die?
The answer to all these questions is and always has been that Paul W.S. Anderson has never had a plan for this series and the only reason he decided to wrap things up is that there have probably been talks of a reboot floating around the Sony offices for years. He wanted to put a cap on Alice’s story now while he still had a chance. There is a finality to this movie, it’s true but it still leaves the world wide-open for more sequels in this particular universe and adventures with some version of Alice, this franchise is so malleable that another movie could come out and reveal that none of what happened in this movie was real or mattered and it would fit. That won’t happen, because it’s already been revealed that they’re rebooting the series without Anderson and Jovovich, but the door was certainly left open as a back-up plan. Make no mistake, calling this movie “The Final Chapter” was about 99% marketing.
Milla Jovovich has really grown in the 15 years that this franchise has been running. She’s long since proved she can act in movies directed by other people who aren’t her husband or Kurt Wimmer but it’s good to see Alice finally feel like a character. For once, Alice actually feels like she belongs in a Resident Evil movie and that isn’t detrimental to its quality. For the first time Alice gets to remain fully clothed for the entire movie and wear clothing that’s halfway believable and not another catsuit or skirt. Whether this was Anderson realizing how dumb these beats are in the series or Milla feeling more self-conscious about her body 15 years and one baby later is unknown, but it’s a nice change of pace. I’ll get to more about Alice in the spoilers section. Jovovich clearly has a ball with these movies and she has a pretty good sense of humor about them if supplemental features are to be believed and if I may be shallow for a moment, she looks even better 42 than she did at 27 in Resident Evil.
It’s good to see Ali Larter back, she has been the most enjoyable actress to play second fiddle to Milla in this series and with this being her third appearance in the series she’s earned billing just below Jovovich and the laser hallway. As usual there’s no good reason for Claire to be along for the ride. Claire has no connection to Raccoon City and it’s certainly nonsensical to squat with a group of survivors in the ruins of a building right next to a radioactive crater. Claire’s just here because the studio didn’t want to shell out the money to bring the other surviving characters of the Resident Evil franchise into the mix even though their deaths in place of another group of disposable randos would have a lot more emotional impact. Ali Larter is, as always, doing her best and even though the franchise has finally caught up with her in the terms of acting quality it’s good to see her back around. We should probably hear why her brother is missing and what she thinks about that, though.
There’s no good reason to bring Iain Glen back into the series at this point beyond the fact that he’s the best actor to ever play a villain in this franchise and because he’s enjoyed recent popularity due to his role on A Game of Thrones. To his credit, the man chews scenery with the best of them which is good because Shawn Roberts fails to reach the goofy heights he did as Wesker for in Resident Evil: Afterlife for the second time in a row. It’s some bold retconning to have Dr. Isaacs be the leader of Umbrella and the cause of this whole mess but it is a neat idea that all the outside Umbrella operatives we’ve seen up to this point have just been clones.
Here’s a dumb question. Why is media trying to make Ruby Rose happen? I get it, she’s very attractive and her gender fluidity is very inspirational for people of various non-binary identifications but why have we decided that that’s enough to let her act? I saw her on Orange is the New Black and I saw her on this and why we’re putting this much effort into such a shrug of a screen presence is beyond me. I’m sure she’ll grow in time as most models-turned-actors do but maybe stunt-cast after she’s built up some personality in other, smaller projects.
With all the ragging I just did on the network of plot-holes one has to navigate to watch this movie I ‘m surprised to say that I really like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. If Retribution was a montage of the all of Resident Evil’s worst qualities then The Final Chapter is a montage of all of its best. The film has its share of problems with the same hokey heightened action that the franchise has come to depend on (gasoline doesn’t work like Paul W.S. Anderson thinks it does) and while Anderson is still great at shooting clear and dynamic action he falls victim to the tendency to shoot fight scenes in frenetic snippets that are then haphazardly edited together. It’s not as bad as it was in Death Race but it did bum me out to see him doing that again, I suppose that’s the one downside of this movie not being in 3D. I also daresay that the few instances of CG in this movie (the film is light on both zombies and bio-weapons, though they do have some good moments) are as bad as they have ever been in this series.
While we don’t get the climactic battle promised at the end of the previous film, I found myself loving every single action beat. Maybe I’m just on these movies’ wavelength at this point but I was genuinely impressed by the tower siege scene and the hand-to-hand fights have a visceral quality they lacked in the past two films.
I am disappointed that we don’t see a lot of familiar ground. We’re going back to the setting of the first movie, would it be too much to ask that any of the The Hive even vaguely resemble itself from 15 years ago? Even the series co-star, the laser hallway, seems too long and like it’s connected to different rooms. The only callback is to a bag of guns I’m reasonably certain no one left behind in the first movie.
Spoiler time, folks. Skip below the creepy red girl if you don’t want to know more. This series has never been terribly interested in explaining what the fuck is up with Alice, but I’m glad Anderson and company decided to tie off her story this time around. It’s been pretty apparent since at least part 3 that Alice was likely a clone, the question has been a clone of who? Retribution seemed to hint that Alice might not even be a real person, just a template made by Umbrella. The Final Chapter finally explains thing and though I know for a fact that it was not the plan all along it does create a nice bookend to things.
We know that The Red Queen was designed to resemble the daughter of the man who created the T-virus but now we learn a bit more about her. She was suffering from Progeria and the T-virus was created to combat her disease as well as many others. The girl (played by Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich’s daughter Ever) is named Alicia. We finally see what became of Alicia toward the film’s end when Milla wheels out in old lady make-up (that’s not how Progeria works, but I’ll let it slide) to reveal that she has been the driving force behind helping Alice this whole time. Since Ever looks so noticeably like her mother we get a nice shot of Alice, Alicia, and The Red Queen as what amounts to the same character as a child, an adult, and an old woman. Things take a weird turn after that though because despite the fact that this series has been dense with Alice in Wonderland references from day one (the giant flying monster she fights at the beginning of this movie is meant to evoke the Jabberwocky), the movie decides to go full Christ allegory with the three phases of Alicia serving as a Mother, Daughter, Holy Spirit analogues. The film’s finale even involves Alice dying when she releases the airborne antivirus only to be reborn again moments later free of the the T-virus and imparted with the memories of her real self. It’s all very hokey but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it made me feel a feeling.
Resident Evil never gels as a series and I would argue that only Extinction, Afterlife, and The Final Chapter are worth watching. The movies never course-corrected into a good version of what the first was trying to be and they never managed to re-invent themselves as big budget popcorn fare the way the latter Fast and Furious movies did. Anderson and Jovovich have cleraly had a blast but with the series having spanned 15 years and with the release of Resident Evil 7 taking the games in a brave new direction, it’s time to give somebody else a turn in the chair. Still, I don’t regret watching these as much as I did and while it has a terrible beginning and an only mildly satisfying middle, Resident Evil does have a pretty good end.
NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“Let go of me. Why don’t you face it. There’s no place for us to go. There we too will be killed. I don’t want us to die I don’t want us to but there’s nothing we can do. They’re everywhere…”
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Alright folks, I just wanted to let you know that this will most probably be the last Doomsday Reels column on CHUD.com. This column is not ending but this website is on its last legs and Nick Nunziata and a murderers row of ex-CHUD people are busy working on a new website: trouble.city which should be unveiled very soon. I’ll be sure to come here and remind everyone when things have migrated if somebody else doesn’t beat me to it but just rest assured I haven’t found anything better to do and I have no intention of stopping. I’ve still got hundreds, perhaps even thousands of movies to cover and hopefully you’ll be around to read about them. Catch you later, Chewers.