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Review: Denying Death in Paul W.S. Anderson's "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter"

The follow-up to 2012's wonderful "Retribution" ends the "Resident Evil" series by returning triumphantly to its origin.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Although Paul W.S. Anderson titled himself into a corner by calling it Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, one would be little surprised if the now-six-film franchise refused to stay dead. Death has never been a given in this zombie series, and nearly every significant actor has shown up after their character’s death throughout the series as clones, memories, computer simulations, and much, much more. Motifs of setting also find similar ways to repeat themselves, such as wreck-laden desert wastelands, claustrophobic labyrinths, and crisp futuristic fortresses (all of which appear in Final Chapter.) Even plot points are salvaged and brought back to life, as we follow Alice (Milla Jovovich, infallible, unstoppable, our Digital Dietrich) into this film as we did the last five. She has proven remarkably adept at finding pockets of survivors to bring into “her story,” the refrain for each of the endearing expositions Alice delivers at the start of every Resident Evil film.
While this is Alice’s “story,” it is not wedded to her perspective, as Anderson continues to demonstrate in computerized images, adopting the perspective of the corporate technological foes that represent the greatest threat to Alice and to humanity. This is but one of the many shifting surfaces that inform and augment the propulsive action that Alice is constantly engaged in. With the full thrust of series behind him, Anderson feels free to enjoy the play of contrasting types of images—from the shocks of primary color and technology to the twisted mazes of industrial decay—and the perspectives they represent. Anderson’s palette has compounded, and in tandem the narrative stakes compound: in Final Chapter we are given an exact number of human survivors left on Earth, and a time table within which to save them. But Alice and humanity repeatedly find a way to endure, and this denouement-installment unlocks the full flourish of Anderson’s optimistic spirit.
The follow-up to 2012’s Resident Evil: Retribution ends the series by returning triumphantly to its origin. Alice emerges at the beginning of the film the improbable sole survivor of the total decimation of Washington D.C. and the human forces therein. She is contacted by the Red Queen (Anderson and Jovovich’s daughter, Ever Anderson) and instructed to make for The Hive under Raccoon City in order to release an antivirus that would destroy anything infected with the T-virus, Alice included. The last few thousand remnants of humanity, however, would survive. Flashbacks will return us to Alice’s origin as well, as she comes to discover that she was cloned just before the outbreak, and from whom she was cloned. This is a convoluted plot with a lot of loose ends to tie up.
Since this film is hurtling towards a conclusion for the entire series, it necessitates a shift in tempo from previous installments. Final Chapter, by design, has the narrative feel of a feature length third act. In Resident Evil: Afterlife and Resident Evil: Retribution, the speed of the action fluctuated throughout each film. There were slow-motion fight scenes and frenetic battles in equal measure. Final Chapter has many of the series’ familiar storytelling beats, such as Alice assembling a team of allies who are picked off one by one, but the style has shifted, and everything within the film feels more rushed. The cutting is very fast, even by the standards of a modern Hollywood action movie. The extremely cerebral Retribution (a wonderful film in its own right) pushed the crystalline compositions as far as they could go in a digitized cinematic landscape. Final Chapter in large part does away with that, or at least finds an ancillary place for it in its hodgepodge of surfaces.
Watching the film carefully will show that, though it has adopted a washed-out color scheme closer in hue to the action films of today, Final Chapter has lost none of Anderson’s capacity for beauty. The cataclysmic Washingtonian rubble shots of the first few minutes have clear, carefully composed frames that nevertheless accurately convey Alice’s disorientation and uneasy solitude. In an early fight between Alice and an undead dragon-shaped creature, Anderson never falls into the smeary handheld clichés of action fighting. Instead he proves his perennial skill for elucidating the space between Alice, the dragon, and their monochrome environment, along with how Alice is able to use elements of her environment to her advantage.
I have seen the film twice now, first in 2D and again in 3D. The first viewing exhibited many of 3D's dark arts, already woven into the look and feel of the 2D movie. The darkening and depth-inducing effects of 3D are already part and parcel for the style of this film. Combine that with the speed of Final Chapter’s cutting and the out of control number of jump scares, and this could make for a queasy viewing experience for some viewers. But the 3D always feels clear and considered, though it still harshly strums a primal chord. The disorienting agents of 3D cinema push the visual sophistication of Final Chapter to the breaking point, but Anderson has created a bulwark of mise en scène against them.
But there is also a metaphorical dimension to Anderson’s framing and editing here when considered in the broader context of the Resident Evil series. Ever the politically conscious filmmaker, Anderson includes in a declaration of principles by the main antagonist, Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen.) Isaacs rightly believes the world is hurtling towards doom from a number of environmental and man-made catastrophes. He sees wiping the slate clean as the only option for the Umbrella Corporation, so that they may ride out the storm and “remake the world in our image.” This particular biblical analogy, when applied to the characters of Alice and Dr. Isaacs, and to the styles of Retribution and Final Chapter, provides a helpful key for understanding the aesthetic morality of the Resident Evil films.
In Final Chapter, the Umbrella Corporation is revealed to be the willing perpetrators of the downfall of the world, pursuing their image of a less complicated future under their supervision. Their “image” is one born from advanced technology, and has created a world since the first film where that technology exists to foster death. In Retribution, Alice is imprisoned in their facility, and to escape she is made to complete Herculean trials in Umbrella testing grounds, a series of simulacra of the real world that they used to rehearse the outbreak of the virus. Alice, product of Umbrella, literally breaks out of Umbrella’s false reality, and returns to the world to fight for the survivors, who embody life as it really exists.
Alice’s character, a clone with no memories, is an imitation of life whose journey towards becoming human reveals the value of preserving life. Alice is an avatar of the role that so much great art embodies: not existence itself but the mirror held up to our existence. Her character’s uneasy relationship with her own self is rectified after she makes an act of ultimate self-sacrifice at Final Chapter's climax. She is rewarded with a facsimile of memory: the memories of the T-virus creator’s daughter, from whom she was cloned. Her virus-infused powers are gone too, but her desire was not for power, but rather to be human. This story began with the T-Virus, and this installment ends as it ends. The recurrent line “My name is Alice, and this is my story,” yields a virus- free Alice’s final line as she rides off to do battle with what remains of the undead: “My name is Alice.”
This affirmation of life reminded me of another film about artificial life fighting a corporation to survive. Like Blade Runner—and indeed like our own lives—Final Chapter is set in a dystopian 2010s. Both films feature artificial beings that spend the films learning how to reconcile their own fragmented sense of self against the world they see around them (a drama that both films allude to with extreme close-ups of their lead character’s eye.) The Resident Evil films are simultaneously more apocalyptic and optimistic than the anxious Blade Runner. Blade Runner lives in the ambiguity found on its futuristic surfaces, and suggests at the end that its protagonists remain trapped by forces beyond their control. Final Chapter puts mankind on the precipice of genuine collapse, and provides the viewer with encouragement and incitement to press on in spite of it. Final Chapter even finds a way to answer a rhetorical question asked at the end of Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece: “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?” She will live, and so will you. You must.

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