RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER, or: Death By Retconning

First off, I want to give fair warning that this review will contain spoilers for the first five RESIDENT EVIL films. This is because I’m about to discuss the sixth and allegedly final RESIDENT EVIL film and I know of no other way to do that than to mention all the ways it contradicts every prior film in the franchise. In fact, now that I think of it, that one might not be off limits either.

I will also state for the record that a lot of the following review will read crazy. The series is bonkers anyway, which is one of the reasons it has worked for long. The review you are about to dig into will likely be a labyrinthine diagram pinpointing all the ridiculous plot points and frustrating contradictions occurring between this and earlier entries. Yes, it would appear Alice (Milla Jovovich) has finally met her match, but it isn’t a zombie or some ridiculous bioweapon concocted by the Umbrella Corporation. Instead, her greatest enemy turns out to be wanton and senseless retconning. This is a film that changes everything we were told before, and not in a manner that is satisfying in the least. Funny thing about final chapters is they fail to have much emotional significance when you toss out everything that built up to them.

First off, we have the traditional opening narration which once again does a good job of drawing the audience in. “They say history is written by the victors,” Alice says, “So, this is the story of the Umbrella Corporation.” We are told that the t-virus was engineered by the benevolent Dr. James Marcus in order to save his ailing daughter, Alicia. This sounds kind of familiar if you remember the events of the second film, 2004’s RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE, but it becomes clear that some drastic changes have been made. In that film, the t-virus was engineered by the benevolent Dr. Ashford in order to save his ailing daughter, Angela. The names have been changed to bring in a character from the games, but it’s really only a cameo and it doesn’t make much sense to change the rules this late in the series, does it?

Nevertheless, it continues on from there. There is an effective scene that shows the t-virus mutating, causing the deaths of several people. This would however mean that the t-virus is already out there in the world being administered for various ailments, a direct contradiction of the first film which featured the still confidential, experimental virus being released in an underground laboratory in an act of sabotage. We are led to believe this previously unheard of outbreak was somehow contained before it could spread, but we are not told how. The remorseful Dr. Marcus wants to cease production of the virus, even if it means the end of Umbrella but is executed before he can do so. All of this takes place prior to the events of the first film, which is a problem. Because as we mentioned, the t-virus inventor and his daughter are major characters in the second film. In addition to changing their names, THE FINAL CHAPTER would like us to pretend we have never seen them before. Buckle up, because things just get crazier from here.

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By now, we are just about caught up. The series has a tendency to end on cliffhangers and then slightly change our perceptions when the next film picks up later on. In the unsatisfying fifth film, 2012’s RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION, Alice was being held prisoner in an impenetrable and ridiculously elaborate facility run by the Red Queen. She was rescued by her former nemesis, Andrew Wesker (Shawn Roberts), and brought to a stronghold at the capital in Washington D.C. She was told that the group gathered there represented the last of humanity and he needed her to lead them as they made their final stand. To prove he was on the level, Wesker gave Alice her superpowers back.

Yeah, things didn’t quite work out that way. In fact, we don’t even get to see the big battle for which we’ve been waiting nearly five years. Instead, we eventually learn that Wesker only pretended to give Alice her powers back, that scamp. He betrayed all of them and left them to die. But then, why bother with the events of the fifth film? Why not just leave Alice where she was, instead of committing resources to destroying your own, most technologically advanced fortress, along with thousands of your own soldiers? If there is an answer, this film doesn’t care to tell us

Nor does it care that all the people we were supposed to root for are now dead and Alice herself seems to show no emotion over the matter. This is a problem I’ve sort of turned a blind to for most of the series, but here it gets ridiculous. There are a great many important characters we have been introduced to. Given the apocalyptic nature of the series, we can assume these people have all died between films, but no one seems to acknowledge them. Angela Ashford died between parts two and three. Nobody mentions it. Practically all of the group from part 3, including the teenage K-Mart is likely dead. No one mentions this either. The little girl Alice swore to treat as her own daughter in the fifth film, which you will recall was one of that film’s game-changing plot points? Doesn’t warrant a name drop here. Jill Valentine, Ada Wong, Leon Kennedy and even Claire Redfield’s brother Chris are all probably gone. None of this was important enough to spare precious screen time in which our heroes might mourn their loss.

Against all odds, Alice has survived. While searching for supplies, she is summoned by the Red Queen and told to return to the Hive, the underground facility from the first film where the t-virus was not first released. There is an airborne antivirus (hey, the first film referenced that too) that Alice can release and finally destroy Umbrella’s creations the world over. She only has 48 hours to save the last human settlements – oops, guess DC wasn’t the end after all – from their final destruction, although it is never mentioned what this destruction consists of. Is it a new weapon? Is it an army? We never know what Umbrella has in store for these camps located around the world or how they know of their existence in the first place. Alice is merely shown blips on a map and given a deadline. She needs to return to where it all began and fix this mess and have a final showdown with Wesker. So if you’re keeping track, the bad guy from the fifth film is now the good guy and the good guy is the bad guy again. I have a headache.

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She makes her way back to Raccoon City but is soon captured by Dr. Issacs (Iain Glen). You might remember that Alice already killed Issacs after he turned into a monster in the third film, 2007’s RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION. But Alice quickly realizes that she merely killed his clone. Okay, I might let that one pass; it’s no crazier than the stuff that has been going on already. But hold on, now Dr. Issacs is leading motorized caravans throughout the streets, flanked by an army of the undead. And why, exactly? If humanity really is down to a few thousand people scattered around the globe, what could anyone accomplish by driving down empty streets in a Deathmobile? Maybe it has something to do with Issacs’ religious convictions. “His what,” you say? Yes, you might want to sit down for this one. Even though it has never been mentioned before, Issacs is now written as an extreme right-wing fundamentalist zealot with an eye towards End of Days prophecy. Religious iconography surrounds him and he loves to preach his twisted gospel. It’s not just him either. The entire Umbrella corporation is repainted as an apocalypse cult in a move that yet again contradicts the explanation for how this whole mess started in the first place. Does anyone else smell burnt toast?

Alice breaks free but is soon captured yet again. What the hell, Alice? Fortunately, this is merely another group of survivors that just happen to be holed up in Zombie Central. These survivors are led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), who we haven’t seen since the fourth film, 2010’s RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE. One of this film’s problems is that it tries to cram so much into a limited running time. The series was never big on character development, but here we get even less time to know our plucky group than usual. It’s very easy to lose your place and forget who these people are. Which one just got killed? Was it the guy with the beard or the other guy with the beard?

Knowing that Issacs is on his way, Alice helps them defend their stronghold. This siege is absolutely the high point of the film. It is a wonderfully constructed action sequence. It’s loud and kinetic. Alice is able to bring people together and come up with inventive ways to deal with a seemingly unstoppable threat. It cements her place as an iconic hero.

But with time running out, Alice knows she has to reenter the Hive, where she will face both Issacs and Wesker and all the secrets of Umbrella will be revealed. The twist isn’t such a shocker provided you keep your ears open. It also helps if you don’t acknowledge that this also puts on big question mark as to the reasons Umbrella has been pursuing Alice so relentlessly over the past five movies.

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It has taken me this long to point out the rearranged continuity and illogical plot contrivances. But this is not to say the film is all bad. Even with all this, RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER is able to retain some of the original thrills earlier installments gave us. Early on, the tone is much darker than previous films. You really get a sense that Alice is coming to terms with the idea that she may have lost her war against the evil empire that has tainted everything in her life.

Though his character has been rewritten, Iain Glen is still a great villain. His Dr. Issacs was one of Alice’s more memorable foes, so seeing an even darker, more malevolent version of that character is not something I would ever discount.

In fact, the film is mostly enjoyable throughout and only falls apart completely when they re-enter the Hive. That’s when it becomes a “set ’em up, knock ’em down” film, but before that there is plenty to get excited about. Even as I grew more and more frustrated with Paul W.S. Anderson rewriting so many of the rules two minutes before the buzzer, I could still see traces of the greatness that had graced the series.

That’s not a facetious comment. At one point, this was a great series. Before it opened, I was extremely skeptical there could be a decent RESIDENT EVIL film. I have revisited that film with regularity ever since and I’m always amazed at what a tight film it is. It’s like a brilliantly put together puzzle as innovative visuals take us through a thoroughly entertaining horror action film. The series had its hits and misses, but it was usually entertaining. The third and fourth entries are also worth celebrating. Then came the cliffhanger that closed out the fourth film and I began to get a bit antsy Whereas the endings were always high points, this one felt forced. It seemed like things should have been wrapped up by now, or at least that the process should have begun. The fifth film confirmed this by giving us little in terms of new threats or information. That the newest film completely ignores the events of this entry seems to confirm this.

It’s not like Anderson doesn’t care about what’s going on. He and his wife have been shepherding this series for fifteen years and they obviously wanted to end it on a high point, if it has in fact ended at all (Horror fans know to take proclamations of a “final” anything with a grain of salt.). But Anderson doesn’t want to finish the same story. It’s as if he got bored with the material and instead of finishing this epic, brought in all the “would’ve could’ve should’ve” material he never explored prior, at the expense of the emotional investments the audience had made so far.

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER is a frustrating movie, and it’s frustrating precisely because in spite of it all, so much of it still works. But you can feel burned by it and it turns out to be a mostly unsatisfying experience. It seems like a film made by a group of visionaries who changed their minds. It caps off a series that simply overstayed its welcome.  Disappointing.


RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA

  • What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals? 
  • In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?

The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.

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