First, the good news: this is possibly the best Resident Evil movie since the first one. Now the bad: that still makes it a fairly sub-par effects-reliant schlock-fest. I have always found the RE movies to be something of a guilty pleasure, popcorn action for adults on a Saturday afternoon. But they’ve never been what I’d call “good.” The Final Chapter does nothing to change that perception.
Beginning in a devastated Washington, DC, right after the events of Resident Evil: Retribution, the opening pitches Alice [Milla Jovovich] against several variations on relatively familiar baddies. A decent set-piece with one of the enormous bat-like creatures from Retribution (a popokarimu) sets the frenetic tone for (most of) the rest of the film. After exploring a bit, and dealing with the T-Virus infected critters, Alice is contacted by the Red Queen. Apparently, she’s grown some sort of conscience, and she tells Alice she needs to head back to the hive to stop the final annihilation of the last 4000 some-odd survivors on Earth. Oh, and she has 48 hours to get there.
The first third of the film is a road trip cross-country, with Alice facing various threats, and finding out that one of her former nemeses is not so dead as he previously appeared to be (it’s no spoiler to mention that his name appears quite high up in the credits). Here, the pacing is quite good, with several obstacles and enemies to overcome. However, the middle third of the film gets bogged down in unnecessary character development for a bunch of people that are unlikely to survive the third act, and it slows the pace a bit too much for this kind of film, which frankly relies on jump scares and adrenaline to get people through the too long 1:46 runtime. Predictably, the final third of the film has Alice and some friends assaulting The Hive itself.
Not to get into too many details (some spoilers in this paragraph – skip if you like), but this final third is horribly telegraphed. You can count the number of action sequences upcoming based on the number of people accompanying Alice, as you know that typically she’ll get to her goal either alone, or with any recurring companions that happen to be with her (here, the number is skewed by one because of the early reveal that there is at least one other important character with secret knowledge within the group). I literally sat there and ticked off the action sequences as they came. First, the under-developed characters bite it. Then, the stereotypes (the guy with a European accent who doesn’t trust Alice at first, but suddenly has an about face when he sees her in action; the strong female character obviously modeled after Aliens‘s Vasquez, but who can’t quite compare with the female lead; the Black character (who here does double-trope duty as he has an English accent)). And finally, Alice herself and her friends become imperiled. Nothing new here.
The other big problem with this film, besides the predictability and the uneven plot, is the way that Paul Anderson films action sequences. He can’t keep a camera still to save his life, and he jump cuts constantly during fights. Then there’s the strobe lights. There should seriously be a health warning before the movie for anyone who suffers from epileptic seizures, because the strobes are on high. From what I could see, the T-Virus infected are pretty cool, but I can’t tell you for sure, as they’re never in a clear shot, and never on-screen for more than a tenth of a second at a time. This choice by Anderson, to try to a) recreate the frenetic and chaotic nature of fights with frenetic and chaotic camera work/lighting, and b) to hide the fact that most of the actors in the film don’t actually know how to fight outside of well-rehearsed and well-choreographed single actions (it’s action sequence as stop-motion, really), was particularly noteworthy for me as I’d gone to see John Wick 2 earlier in the day, a film which does action so very much better, with long shots and stable camerawork.
There is some fan-service for long-term followers of the series. Not only do we see the popokarimu make a reappearance, but old favorites from the earliest days of the franchise such as zombie hounds and lickers show up as well. Several characters from previous episodes are here too (whether in the current narrative or in flashback, I won’t say – check through the credits to see who they are if you want to be spoiled), and bringing events back to Raccoon City and The Hive feels like a movement toward the Final Chapter aspect of the title. Of course, events at the end do imply the possibility of future iterations, despite Jovovich’s assertions that this will likely be her last RE film. And although I like her as an actress (especially in Fifth Element), I kind of hope she’s right.
Steve’s Rating: (4 / 10)
Uneven plotting, poorly executed action sequences, and a predictable storyline prevent this Resident Evil from elevating itself above the rest of the series. Stick to the game series of you want your jump scares to come with quality.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writer: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter, Shawn Roberts
Release Date: January 27th, 2017
Runtime: 1h, 46min
MPAA Rating: R