In Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter he brings his six-film franchise to a suitably nonsense end. It started back in 2002 as a humble little sci-fi horror film, loosely adapting the video game of the same name into a high-tech haunted house movie with the final girl (Milla Jovovich) dodging death traps and zombies in an underground bunker. By now, though, it has piled up a rococo tangle of double crosses, conspiracies, and surprise twists involving: the evil Umbrella corporation’s machinations, a revolving door ensemble of action ciphers, endless mutated monsters, and a host of clone bodies enabling any and every character to die horrible deaths only to pop up later as the “real” one (for the moment). It’s a heck of thing to track, but luckily the latest installment not only attempts to bring the whole unwieldy B-movie mythos to some sort of conclusion, but also once again provides a quick recap at the beginning.
Maybe it’s the pessimistic mood of being in the midst of a national breakdown, but a movie about the apocalypse that attempts to bring some order to its chaos is a welcome sight. Anderson reveals the bombed-out zombie pandemic was no mistake. It was an Umbrella corporation plot to bring about the end of the world in order to have the monopoly on whatever came after. This means Jovovich’s Alice fought her way out of their bunker all those years ago only to belatedly realize the baddies had a cure there all along. Now she must drive and shoot and kick and punch and slice her way back to where it all began, in search of the glowing green MacGuffin vial that’ll heal the world. It’s a pretty neat U-turn of plotting, and an acknowledgement that the movies’ game-inspired levels and bosses are still endlessly and self-consciously modeled after the iterative nature of working through levels. They are the same techniques and same models in recombined sets and motifs. It’s familiar and obvious, with some fresh new twists. This one has a flaming barrel of gasoline flung by trebuchet into a mass of zombies chasing a Death Race tank. That’s not nothing.
Like every Resident Evil Anderson directed (all but two), this is an exercise in nutty genre plotting only insofar as it is an excuse to create stunning spaces – he’s always at his best working out architecture and symmetrical labyrinths in which to stage his gore – and stare in awe as Jovovich flips through a series of tough tumbles and scary scrapes. She’s a cool hero befitting the icy somber silliness on display. The only real problem is the movie’s retcon contortions and late-breaking stabs for emotional character development in what’s otherwise been a self-amused vacuous pit of clones and CG beasties endlessly replicable. They drain the weightless chopping and shooting of its insubstantial panache. Why overly and overtly stress the story when the series has always been merely a treadmill of plot, perpetually moving but never seeming to get much of anywhere? This is far from Anderson’s best work, or even the best Resident Evil. It cuts too quickly to savor the striking spasms and spaces. But his consistent commitment to lightning-fast B-movie trash is admirable. Passable fun is seeing a truck outrace a mutant pterodactyl, or finding our heroine hung upside down off a crumbling overpass spinning and kicking at her assailants. Less fun is tearfully considering which clone is the real original person and how it all ties into a possible contrived panacea.