And so it goes that Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil franchise dies with a pathetic whimper . . . if, in fact, it dies at all. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter makes a hefty promise in its title to decisively conclude what has been a wildly uneven series of futuristic zombie shoot-em-ups. Yet, this sixth installment fails to deliver on that promise of finality, leaving the door wide open for a sequel the way each of its predecessors have in the past. Worse yet, The Final Chapter eases up on the mutated giants, virtual reality scenarios, and cloning-run-wild shenanigans that have made past Resident Evil films such an odd, unexpected delight. Instead of going for broke in its over-the-top CG fantasy violence and convoluted high-concept sci-fi plots, this series “finale” makes the mistake of aiming for genuine dread (a mark it falls far short of) & providing a legitimate backstory for its barely sketched-out characters. If the exact, clearly-defined origins of its heroes & villains were a necessity for Resident Evil‘s entertainment value, the series would not have gotten six films deep without them. These films’ mild popularity (in America at least; they’re wildly popular in foreign markets) depends on the ridiculousness of their zombie-themed action spectacle, something The Final Chapter brings no passion, attention, or inventiveness for. There’s nothing new here that hasn’t been done better in previous films in the series, except for that precious backstory for its protagonist, which, who cares? If this truly is the last Resident Evil film, the franchise has concluded with its worst, least exciting entry, a lazy shrug before its final bow, followed by a winking tease for an encore.
The end of Retribution, the fifth and possibly best entry to the franchise, leaves Project Alice (Milla Jovovich) stranded at the White House with the Agent Smith motherfucker that’s been the Bugs Bunny to her Elmer Fudd for the back half of the series. Surrounded by zombie hordes & some mutated dragon beasts, Not Agent Smith stabs Alice in the neck with a serum that supposedly restores her powers. The beginning of The Final Chapter throws all of the potential entertainment value of that setup in the trash. JK, everyone. Alice doesn’t really have her telekinetic supersoldier powers back. Also, there will be no showdown at the White House, since Not Agent Smith and his zombie buddies have cleared DC by the time Alice wakes up. Instead, we get another retelling of the franchise’s entire story arc, this time with a revisionist history that explains the backstory for the Umbrella Corporation’s evil intent for instigating a zombie outbreak in the first place. Game of Thrones actor Iain Glenn returns as the wicked corporate stooge behind all of the evildoing. Nevermind the fact that in the third film in the series, Extinction, his character was frustrated with his lack of power, having to answer to higher-ups in holographic boardroom meetings. He’s apparently been the head honcho for the Umbrella Corporation all along and the versions of him Alice has destroyed in the past have all been insignificant clones of the real thing. Okay. Now Alice must race back to the place where it all began, the underground Hive facility beneath Raccoon City, to retrieve an antidote to the zombie virus “before it’s too late,” in effect saving the world (or at least the few thousand uninfected humans who still inhabit it). It’s there that she learns who she truly is and where she comes from, a revelation I would have traded for any number of CG creatures, motorcycle stunts, or virtual reality freak-outs.
The Final Chapter completely misinterprets Resident Evil‘s inherent style over substance appeal and bends over backwards to retroactively inject gravitas into a flimsy premise that can’t support it. As a newly-converted fan to the series (Extinction & Retribution are both fun at least), I can’t speak for the majority of Resident Evil‘s dedicated audience, but I can say say that no amount of reformist backstory & clearly defined character motives could raise my own esteem for the long-running video game adaptation. I’ve made it five films into the franchise, somewhat happily, without that kind of clear-headed storytelling, so why start now? Ideally, a Resident Evil franchise-ender would get even more convoluted in its ill-considered sci-fi premise and go for broke in a nonsensical spectacle that would attempt to top the ridiculous places it went in the previous entry instead of crashing the whole thing down to the grounded, generic familiarity of the series’ origins. The closest we get to that here is some weird dragon hybrids teased at the end of the last film & a couple shots of a waterfall made of fire that melts a few zombies in a brief moment of victory. That should’ve been the starting point, not the conclusion. The rest of The Final Chapter is cheap jump scares, confusingly rapid action photography, a grounding backstory the series never needed, and the threat of a sequel despite the finality blatantly promised upfront in the title. The movie even misreads the room by aiming for action cinema legitimacy in a John Carpenter-inspired synth score instead of sticking with its usual nu metal tunage. I don’t look to Resident Evil films for legitimacy. I want them to be over-the-top & tacky. By failing to embrace its own tackiness the way past entries have and in eagerly searching for a more standardized mode of action cinema competency & logical storytelling, The Final Chapter had ended the Resident Evil franchise on its least worthwhile picture to date. It doesn’t exactly sour the memory of the series’ heights in Extinction & Retribution, but it does leave you walking away with a much blander taste in your mouth, which is the ultimate bummer.