Probably the best Anderson-directed film in the Resident Evil franchise, and certainly one of the tightest action pictures ever made, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter begins after the cliffhanger battle teased at the end of the fifth film, Retribution. This may strike the unversed reader as disappointing, but ellipses are a common occurrence in this particular universe—for example, skipping seemingly important events like the apocalyptic worldwide spread of the T-Virus between chapters two and three, Apocalypse and Extinction. For those familiar with Resident Evil, Extinction is the film closest to Final Chapter in terms of setting and aesthetic, possessing the most recognizable pieces of post-apocalyptic iconography in ruins and deserts, with a washed-out, beige color palette flushed with grimy surfaces built on top of ethereal sands and winds. Both films also jump between settings above and below ground, which in Extinction is a disorientating aesthetic breather whose mysteries I’ve yet to crack—but in Final Chapter the more direct movement is calculated towards stunning thematic ends.
Alice (Milla Jovovich) must find her way to the hive. Under mysterious circumstances, she’s informed by her former enemy—the Umbrella A.I. known as the Red Queen (Ever Anderson)—about an airborne cure for the T-Virus which resides in the hive. If Alice doesn’t reach it in 48 hours the remaining humans, which number fewer than 5000, will finally die. The digital varnish of Retribution is washed away here, as returning cinematographer Glen Macpherson paints starker and even dirtier dystopian cityscapes than the relatively blurry Afterlife. Alice advances, after a confrontation with a sort of Zombie Dragon that finds her ever-resourcefully employing the dying technology of a humvee, on the highway to Raccoon City. There, she encounters another Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen), the man whose apparent clone she defeated in Extinction. In an opening bit of new backstory, Dr. Isaacs is revealed to own the Umbrella Corporation.
It’s here where we first encounter the new and most welcome thematic macro-dimension this new entry bestows on us: religiosity. In retrospect, the first five films are bone-dry atheist pictures, nihilist in their post-human stakes except for the exciting—and, perhaps only this writer’s viewer-sourced—speculation of alien artifact discovery. But here, the great flood from the story of Noah is directly referenced as inspiration for the film’s apparently deliberate apocalypse. In the tank Alice encounters, there are a few imprisoned humans who are said to believe in Umbrella’s divine cause. One must assume they’re only kept alive as pawns. We see them used as bait for the tailing zombie horde, seemingly regardless of their truly held beliefs. Alice is tied behind the tank for being an “unbeliever” in Isaacs’ words, but instead her true status is messiah. Or perhaps she’s more of an antichrist, existing in cast-out, Luciferian opposition to Umbrella’s proclaimed Godly dominion over the earth.
Alice eventually finds Extinction ally Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and her band of survivors, after a boffo building defense set-piece in which they fight against the tanks. There’s lightning-quick, thriftily verbalised battle logic here in this physical, individualist zombie horde attack, and one of the most gorgeous images of Anderson’s career in the form of a lit gasoline firefall. Our staple Cameronian group, now suspecting a traitor in their midst, finds its way to the original set of the first Resident Evil film, The Hive, now guarded by mutant zombie dogs called Cerberus. The three-headed dog is the first clue to the metaphorical nature of the reinforced hive: that our heroes are now descending from purgatory into Hell.
The suggestion of the post-humanist afterlife the franchise had eponymously introduced in the fourth installment is curiously absent in the first half of The Final Chapter, as is the subtle, mournful self-knowledge of the franchise’s purpose as a low-art cash cow which surfaced in the third film. The presence of this self-knowledge was felt most keenly in the editing of Niven Howie, editor of films three through five, and it’s now on Macpherson’s capable shoulders, along with set designer Evan Webber who returns from film five, to replicate it in Bazinian plastics. New editor Doobie White is more focused on the sheer grit of the film’s forward momentum than attempting to replicate the awkward, delicate balance of genre fidelity and breath-catching warmth Howie made his mark with. Thus the film, having shed many of its pulpier elements, feels through with the contemplative moping of prior installments and more angrily determined to prove its worth. The achieved visual scheme is like an infected painting, realized in the third dimension by breaths of smoke. This film looks appropriately like it is dying, though it moves as furiously as if it runs for life itself.
However, all of this is true only until we get into the hive. As our crew descends the circles of hell, the look of the film becomes sleeker and sleeker, recalling Retribution’s underground facility. The digital afterlife returns, but in its most skeptical form yet. Digital is here envisioned as a corporate construct, and transhumanism only realizable for the rich who currently own it. “A Noah’s Ark for the rich,” Alice sneers as an elevator descends past the icy grey cryogenic coffins containing the demonic architects of the surface’s apocalypse. The film here calls to mind Snowpiercer and High-Rise in its geometric imaging of class structure, though it imbues the shape with dark spiritual significance.
The conclusion of the film brings with it many series-recontextualizing twists I would rue spoiling, as I’ve already dipped into a major one in order to discuss the film’s addition of spirituality to the series’ plethora of thematic interests—but I will mention a few ends that the series ties up. Cloning, the franchise’s vehicle of genre and symbolic heritage, finds several of its most profound moments in league with the stunning first meeting in Extinction, the film’s most direct thematic twin. Clones kill originals and surpass them, completing the series’ critique of traditionally understood authenticity as the only valid way of being, a thread that’s always been a point of strong self-affirmation for a series based on another series. Resident Evil’s often metacinematic interest in the digitized body also takes on a very literal significance with a predicted cyborg fight scene that occurs only in mind and in data, though with its uncompromised exhilaration it may as well be real, throwing into question the truth of the real fight that ultimately does break the extremely tense tableau it takes place in. Finally, Alice’s series-spanning meta-identity crisis of being more of a symbolic figurehead and a sometimes sexual selling point for the franchise rather than a person, finally reaches an emotional climax, one that had seemed less and less probable given all of her characterization’s ventures into the abstract. In restoring Alice’s humanity, artificiality is stolen from its corporate origins and realized as the humanist construct it always was. Even as Alice finds home in herself, being an action hero is still “what she does.” A film character, though they are a robotic cog in cinema’s great empathy machine, can be just as human as you or me.