The Evil Ends Its Residence

After writing and directing the first Resident Evil movie, Paul W.S. Anderson restricted himself to writing the first two sequels whilst allowing other hands to direct; for the last half of the six-movie sequence, Anderson would handle the direction himself as well as doing the writing. By this point, he and series lead Milla Jovovich had married, making it a sort of horror-action power couple franchise like Underworld ended up being. (In fact, by the end it was a family affair: due to the passage of time aging previous child actresses out of the role of the Red Queen AI, their daughter Ever got the Red Queen role in The Final Chapter.)

Over the course of the first three movies, the story had covered most of the ground of the first three games – with the original movie doing the “bad shit in a lab under a lonely mansion” angle of the first game and Apocalypse incorporating the “zombie apocalypse in a city with a big bad zombie stomping around” of 2 and 3. With Extinction, the plot of the movies pushed on into original material, which the next three films would also follow. Would The Final Chapter find this zombie saga shambling to a halt, or go out with one final headshot?

Resident Evil: Afterlife

At the end of Extinction, it seemed like Anderson had written himself into a corner – with Milla Jovovich’s character Alice not only having absurd superpowers, but also an army of clones of herself who all also had the same T-virus-invoked superpowers. It’s only natural that he starts the next movie by neutralising most of these advantages – but nicely, rather than simply retconning them away he instead allows Alice to play the hand she’s dealt and make use of these resources in a devastating attack on the Umbrella Corporation headquarters. (There’s a nice shot of a security map indicating the spread of Alice-clone incursions into the base that subtly parallels an earlier shot showing the progress of the T-virus plague around the world.)

This actually succeeds, to a limited extent – archvillain Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) is forced to blow up the entire headquarters, with the clone army inside it, and flees on a helicopter which the original Alice has infiltrated. In their confrontation, Wesker injects Alice with a cure to the T-virus, which on the one hand does give her the comfort of being human again but on the other hand does eliminate her superpowers – still, when the chopper crashes, it’s only Alice that walks away.

This early portion of the movie gives Anderson and Jovovich one last chance to have fun with SuperAlice, and they don’t waste the opportunity, exploiting nicely the possibilities of an armed assault mounted by clones. It also establishes the general tone of the movie – namely, Alice is badass, Milla has refined the portrayal of that badassness to a fine polish, you are going to watch her go through a series of awesome action sequences to demonstrate that badassness. A few small concessions to Underworld-esque prurience are included – you know which Alice is the real one by the fact that her clones wear heels on their boots (chunky heels but heels nonetheless) whereas hers are flat-soled, and there’s a top-notch butt shot on the helicopter – but by and large the movie works on a basis of “Alice is a badass who happens to be attractive” more than “Alice is hot and we will also allow her to be badass”.

Said badassness is not cured by the T-virus antidote, fortunately; we next catch up with Alice as she makes her way to Alaska, where the survivors of Extinction were supposedly heading to Arcadia, an alleged safe haven. However, she finds nothing at the co-ordinates except a load of abandoned vehicles and Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), who is amnesiac and has had some sort of horrible mind control device attached to her. After the device is removed, Alice and Claire make their way down the west coast of North America and eventually reach Los Angeles, where they join a group of survivors led by designated male eye candy Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) holed up in a maximum security prison.

From these survivors they discover that rather than being a town or fortified encampment as previously assumed, the Arcadia is a large cargo ship – one which has abandoned its previous position in Alaska in favour of sailing south, and is currently moored just in sight of the prison. Can Alice and West lead the survivors to freedom? Is the mystery man (Wentworth Miller) that the prison party discovered all alone in the complex locked in a maximum security cell really, as he claims, Claire’s brother Chris Redfield who was locked in the cell by mistake? Will Claire be able to recover her memories and recall what happened to the other survivors from Extinction? And what will the team eventually find on the Arcadia?

Although he hadn’t directed a Resident Evil movie since the original, Anderson hadn’t been idle as a director either, adding Death Race and the first Alien vs. Predator to his CV; whilst neither movie was exactly a shining classic, it still provided more scope for him to improve his chops, and I’d say that this film is actually better than the original Resident Evil both in terms of direction and script.

At this stage in his career, Anderson’s become an expert at exploiting all the practical effects and CGI toys available to him to produce really absurdly fun action sequences. This is not a movie which you can really take at all seriously, and the horror in the action-horror mashup is mostly reserved for jump scares, but this is largely a result of Anderson recognising what does and doesn’t work about the series and embracing it unabashedly. Some of the CGI seems to get a little cheap towards the end – the interiors of the Arcadia have this all-white aesthetic which I vaguely suspect was intended to make the CGI budget cheaper – but on the whole the movie is a lot of fun.

One thing Anderson seems to really get is that the whole “T-virus mutation” plot point allows him to get really creative with the types of zombies he throws at the characters, and he doesn’t slack up on this. The squidface zombies and the giant one with the makeshift axe-hammer are neat signs that the mutations have only been getting weirder and weirder as time goes on – neatly setting up the really weird thing that’s happened to Wesker and is revealed at the end of the film. On balance, I’d actually say Afterlife might be my favourite one of the movies.

Resident Evil: Retribution

The previous film ended with a horde of military vehicles approaching the Arcadia, with our intrepid survivors wondering how they are going to face this latest Umbrella Corporation attack. This time around we get to see how that panned out twice – the first time slowly and in reverse during the opening credits, and then the second time at normal speed and forwards after a quick recap of the story so far delivered by Alice.

So, the Umbrella forces blow up the big boat, and Alice falls in the water. She eventually wakes up in a vast Umbrella-controlled testing facility, deep in the bottom of the ocean off Kamchatka, in which various vast simulated environments have been assembled for testing of Umbrella biowarfare weapons in different situations – the areas in question populated by numerous clones, including clones of Alice herself, with implanted memories for extra realism. (Before the real Alice wakes up, we get a fakeout awakening in which we see the death of an Alice clone during a simulation run in the “Suburbia” environment).

Naturally, keeping Alice imprisoned is easier said than done – especially when master manipulator Albert Wesker, apparently killed in the previous movie, has decided that preventing global human extinction trumps his former loyalties to Umbrella. Realising that Alice is necessary for his plans, Wesker mounts a rescue operation, implanting his elite agent Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) to disrupt the facility and spring Alice from her cell whilst sending a secondary team (including Luther West from Afterlife) to retrieve them.

Matters are complicated by the fact that the Red Queen (Megan Charpentier) – the AI that had been in control of the original Raccoon City base – has now propagated herself to take control of the entire Umbrella Corporation. In addition, partway through the escape the gang encounter Becky (Aryana Engineer), the deaf daughter assigned to the Alice clone in suburbia, who Alice insists on attempting to rescue. (In a nice move, they actually cast a deaf actor in a deaf character’s role – should be standard, but in Hollywood very much is not.)

To a large extent, this is an exercise in going back to basics for the franchise – “Alice is trapped in an Umbrella facility, some commandos are helping her escape, the Red Queen is trying to stop them” – but making it weird, stuffing it with callbacks to earlier movies and returning characters and making the whole scope of Umbrella’s operations even more absurd than before.

It’s not a clip show, but the multiple environments allow Anderson to stuff the movie with nods to previous episodes – so the Tokyo environment restates the Tokyo road crossing set-piece from the beginning of Afterlife and the New York environment includes the big clunking Nemesis-type enemies from Apocalypse. Other environments seem to be an excuse for Anderson to throw in action in ideas he might have initially brainstormed as concepts for the series but where the direction of the story didn’t allow him to realise otherwise – for instance,  the Moscow environment incorporates a zombie Red Army, whilst the Suburbia environment is based in the outskirts of Raccoon City and the fakeout opening there is structured like the start of a traditional zombie outbreak movie, and so on.

Anderson also realises that the cloning plot point also allows him to bring back characters from previous instalments who got an unceremonious write-off (like Michelle Rodiguez’ Rain) – in fact, he can bring them back in various forms, friendly or otherwise, which is quite fun.

The Becky angle provides a fun complication for this movie but goes nowhere in the long term; it seems to exist here solely as a sort of tribute/homage/ripoff of the Ripley/Newt dynamic in Aliens. (There’s even a bit where Becky gets put in a Licker cocoon completely pointlessly, save for the extra Aliens riff.) As I’ll get into, it went nowhere in the long run – not only did Anderson apparently decide to retcon away the ending of this movie as a big fake-out, but he also decided to kill off a good chunk of the protagonists from this time around in a trap. (In the novelisation of The Final Chapter, it’s revealed that Becky survived the trap in a safe room and was retrieved by Alice after the end of that story, so it’s at least not as egregious as Newt getting fridged at the start of Alien 3.)

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

So lolariously, the entire previous movie all culminated in Wesker restoring to Alice the superpowers he took away from her at the beginning of Afterlife anyway, since she’s the only person whose reaction to the T-virus has been “get superpowers” as opposed to ”become zombie, maybe also get superpowers”. Then, in perhaps the series’ most egregious instance of “lol just kidding” writing ever, the beginning of this film establishes that all that was bullshit – the embattled White House was a trap intended to bring together all Wesker’s enemies together so that they could then get eaten by the zombie army besieging the place.

Anyway, between the two movies the White House fell. (In a moment of utter cowardice, Anderson opts not to depict this.) Alice barely survived, and it turned out that the restoration of her powers wasn’t real. In other words, Anderson changed his mind about what this movie was going to be after finishing Retribution and decided to retcon clumsily. Ridiculous.

So, you call a movie The Final Chapter, you create a certain amount of expectations. For one thing, it’s high time that Anderson and crew finally actually gave a definitive answer to niggling questions like “Who the fuck actually are the Umbrella Corporation?” and “What could they possibly want?” We get a rationale for the entire thing in a flashback at the beginning: Dr. James Marcus (Mark Simpson), cofounder of the corporation, was a medical researcher whose daughter had progeria. Seeking a cure, he developed the T-virus, which was supposed to roam around the body repairing damaged cells, and in the context of someone with progeria worked just fine; in others, it had all the wacky effects we’ve become familiar with over the course of the last five films.

Marcus wanted to shut down the whole project, but his partner Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen) refused to let that happen and had his hitman Wesker kill Marcus, taking control of the company for himself and going on to become the big bad in Extinction (or rather, his clone would). Later, when creating the Red Queen AI to control the corporation’s incredibly complex affairs, Isaacs used the likeness of Alicia Marcus (depicted this time by Ever Gabo Anderson, daughter of Paul W.S. and Milla Jovovich), Dr. Marcus’ daughter, seeing how Dr. Marcus had done all the work of scanning in her likeness for posterity anyway.

Flash forward to the present, and after Washington D.C. has been left a burnt-out husk by whatever Wesker did between the previous movie and this one our hero Alice finds herself in contact with the Red Queen. The Queen informs her that there’s less than 5000 human beings left alive on the Earth’s surface – and in 48 hours, there will be zero unless Alice intervenes. The Red Queen reveals the existence of an airborne antivirus which kills on contact any T-virus carrier it makes contact with; naturally, it’s kept in the reactivated Hive, the original underground base from the original movie, from which Wesker and Dr. Isaacs (the one who died in Extinction apparently only being a clone of his) intend to oversee the final cleansing of the Earth so that it can be repopulated by the Umbrella elite. Once she gets to Raccoon City, Alice falls in with a rag-tag band incorporating Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) – the only surviving ally from previous movies whose actor got to come back – along with a group of former prison inmates and a badass group of hardened survivors. Together, they make a desperate attempt at infiltration – if not to save humanity, then at least to avenge it.

So another day, another round of action setpieces. There’s a quite nice Mad Max-meets-Dawn of the Dead siege sequence once Alice gets to Raccoon City, allowing for the introduction to her new buddies for this movie, many of whom seem to be stand-ins for similarly badass individuals from previous movies who either refused to come back or were not invited back. (The ex-prisoners, for instance, perhaps are meant to be the survivors from the prison in Afterlife.)

Whilst it makes sense to do a “back to the beginning to conclude the cycle” movie to finish off a long-running series like this, it’s still pretty evident that Anderson has just been making this shit up without a plan as he went along; he does a good enough job here at drawing the threads together, but only because he’s set a pretty low bar for the series so far, and some aspects of his storytelling are infuriating – particularly his total inability over the span of the series to firmly decide whether or not he wants Alice to have full-blown superpowers (as opposed to merely just being super-good at combat and stunts). I can see the point of having those powers taken away for this final chapter, so that she has to resort to her learned skills rather than the gifts of the T-virus, but the vacillating on the point at the end of the previous movie is silly.

Speaking of the “back to the beginning” theme, the general arc of the movie once the Hive is entered is much the same as the original – one by one characters get killed off by boobytraps of various levels of absurdity, with cold disregard for how much we as the audience actually care about them. For instance, badass engineer Abigail (Ruby Rose) gets offed comparatively early on, whereas numerous interchangeable dudes who we know little to nothing about survive beyond that point. (They even do a set piece based around the iconic laser corridor trap from the original.)

True to form for the series, the connection between Alicia Marsh and Alice is on the one hand predictable (in that it’s blatantly obvious that there is one and it’s the explanation of the long-unanswered questions of Alice’s origins, and why the T-virus doesn’t turn her into a kill zombie) and the same time needlessly convoluted. (“Why have Alice be a grown-up Alicia when you can make her a grown-up Alicia clone for extra character redundancy?” Anderson seems to ask himself.)

Equally true to form, the plot is kind of nonsense. The 48 hour countdown isn’t assigned to anything concrete – it’s just the Red Queen’s best estimate for the last point the antivirus could be unleashed into the atmosphere and still save the last human holdouts. Given how the Red Queen’s intelligence sources on surviving outposts are surely woefully incomplete, and a lot depends on weather patterns which by their very nature become massively difficult to predict the further forward you extend your prediction, this seems mildly ridiculous – as does the absurdly rapid effect of the antivirus, for that matter.

The Final Chapter is also true to the rest of the series in terms of having the acting be a bit variable. Multiple team members are outright forgettable. Furthermore… look, Paul, Milla, I’m sorry to say this, but the Red Queen’s role was prominent enough here that it really needed a high-quality child actor to pull off, and your kid just doesn’t quite make the cut.

Ultimately, The Final Chapter has the Resident Evil movies end about as satisfying as a rather inconsistent action movie series can end, but it’s not going to provide as much closure as it could have. It’s a real shame that more friends from previous movies didn’t come back. And there’s one pressing question I’ve had since early in the series which they never, ever answer: what’s the deal with Wesker’s face looking like bad CGI instead of a real face?

One thought on “The Evil Ends Its Residence

  1. Pingback: Mad Mitra: Beyond Hadrian’s Wall – The Thoughts and Fancies of a Fake Geek Boy

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