Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

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For Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Paul W.S. Anderson runs audiences through a gauntlet of successive phases rather than a three-act narrative, pushed on by a ticking clock. Given 48 hours to save humanity from annihilation, Alice (Milla Jovovich) must fight her way back to Umbrella’s Hive facility–where the series and its myriad zombies, mutants, clones, deathtraps, and global corporate conspiracies began–for an airborne cure. The opening stretch is a sprint straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road, Alice contending with Umbrella security and a newly-revived Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen), who’s fashioned himself a fundamentalist Christian prophet, riding in a moving fortress leading thousands of zombies on a genocide march. The film slows down a tad in Raccoon City, where Alice meets with a group of survivors, led once again by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), in time for a siege. Then, there’s a mad, final dash through the Hive’s winding corridors of doom for requisite plot twists and mind-screwing, with Isaacs and Wesker (Shawn Roberts) waiting in the wings. As always, the only constant is Jovovich, determining her way through annihilation.

Though it mines plot details from all its predecessors, The Final Chapter most closely hews to series high-point Extinction. It’s not just the white line nightmares and rusted DIY contraptions, but an overriding sense of futility. We’re introduced to the aftermath of Retribution‘s teased final stand, utterly devastated, with Alice stumbling through the ruins looking for water.¬†Presumably, all the survivors of that film have been snuffed, Alien 3-style. A faint glimmer of salvation, offered by previously homicidal A.I. the Red Queen (Ever Anderson), is met with skepticism and hostility.¬†Even the film’s biggest stake, the fate of humanity’s remaining settlement, is left off-screen, a question mark hanging over its very existence. Five movies’ worth of fakeouts and impenetrable machinations haven’t inspired confidence; Alice and gang only go along because their only other choice is waiting around to die. Even a sub-thread which returns us to the question of Alice’s origins is summed in a single line from Jovovich: “Sometimes I feel I spent my whole life running, killing.”

Anderson never hangs on this misery, palpable as it is. It lurks around the edges of The Final Chapter, grist for Alice to pulverize enemies in jittery fight sequences–overloaded with cuts, thanks to to Neveldine-Taylor editor Doobie White. The longest we’re ever held on to a moment is an agonizing wind tunnel setpiece, Alice straining to hold onto a comrade she rescued moments ago (from the same spinning blade trap). The music swells. Jovovich grits her teeth and tightens her grip. There’s a slip. Just a little longer. Her charge loses hold, is sucked in and diced. The power dies, the fans stop too late. Alice screams, continued frustration boiling over at last. Another life she couldn’t save.

In a movie series built out of trap-laden corridors, platformer-logic architecture, and recycled candy-colored carnage, guilt is a curious recurring device. Alice in Resident Evil attempted to hold a group together through sheer force of will, and failed. It set the tone for the sequels’ war of attrition, some losses stinging more than others. It’s an obvious fascination for Anderson and Jovovich, often paired with themes of exploitation and abuse of power crushing individuals (it’s revealed Umbrella deliberately started the zombie outbreak to save the world for the rich and powerful, an endgame built around “reboot[ing] it in our image”–an unsubtle nod to the movies’ fates). Their creation, Alice, relives torment over and over as she fends off cannibals both undead and executive. She fights and endures to keep in the same place. Like all the previous entries, The Final Chapter¬†wants us hurrying along to the next trap, the next monster fight, the next labyrinthine plot twist rather than wrestling with anything like subtext. It’s only in the volume of them do the Resident Evils approach anything resembling a thesis, which is its own kind of brilliance.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

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Paul Anderson’s directorial return to the Resident Evil franchise is pure, delirious momentum. Afterlife opens with a dreamy, slow-mo sequence of Tokyo’s patient zero in their corner of the T-virus outbreak, capped with a zoom-out depicting fleeing civilians and their candy-colored umbrellas as individual cells in the death of the planetary body. Then, we’re racing through the promise of Extinction‘s finale, as Alice and her clone army assault the Umbrella Corporation’s headquarters, looking to kill (the now posh-voiced) Albert Wesker. She loses her duplicates and her powers in the process, but Alice destroys her enemies, then sets out to find the survivors she parted with.

This go-go-go mentality comes with cheaper production values. Resident Evil: Extinction brought a polished sheen to the franchise: crane and tracking shots, scale models and crisp cinematography were used to pore over surface details. Afterlife, however, has grainy, digital, green-screen backdrops, atop which CG objects are flung at the screen in 3D. The middle stretch of the film is a muddy brown wash, ugly save the occasional color saturation from a light source. Anderson seems to be stacking up all the worst tendencies of contemporary blockbusters as a challenge, and it works. The disconnect between backdrops and actors, combined with Tomandandy’s electronic score and a relentless stream of zombie variants (specifically importing Resident Evil 4 and 5‘s Las Plagas out of nowhere), stress unreality. Alice, despite lacking her God Mode abilities, still tackles the impossible with ease, swinging off rooftops guns a-blazing or obliterating skulls with shotgun blasts using quarters as ammo. Action often comes dosed with bullet-time. Spatial dimensions seem impossible, even before we get to the pearly bowels of a nightmare barge offering false salvation. Anderson has traded off the Pyun aesthetic, but he’s still operating in (and ramping up) the direct-to-video milieu which propelled his first Resident Evil.

With that, there’s also a (welcome) renewed emphasis on a bond between strong women in her reunion with Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), whose sudden amnesia mirrors Alice’s previous affliction (Wentworth Miller’s butch, growly Chris Redfield toys with being a foil to James Purefoy’s Spence, Alice’s duplicitous work-husband from the earlier film. Both are question marks that hang over the middle section of their respective films). The darker hues in Milla Jovovich’s hair and the throaty tones in her voice evoke Michelle Rodriguez as Rain. Alice is portrayed as instinctively taking a role to help Claire through her trauma. The relationship’s mutual, though: when Alice is KO’d by a big motherfucker with an axe, Claire wastes no time unloading her pistol on him, then going in for a kill.