In the debate over the lack of female superheroes headlining films, one name often gets left out: Milla Jovovich, star of the Resident Evil franchise. While her character may not have found its origins in comics — or even in the video games that inspired the franchise in the first place — she has headlined a series of wickedly efficient action films for nearly 15 years. All of which, by the way, are better female-fighter films than either Catwoman or Elektra. Now with the sixth installment of the RE franchise, the dubiously-titled The Final Chapter, Jovovich proves once again why she’s the reigning queen of cinematic kick-ass.
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS
Her name is Alice, in case you’ve forgotten, and this is her story. The Umbrella Corporation’s resident muscle, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), has lured Alice into a trap in the gutted-out ruins of Washington, DC. Left for dead by Wesker, Alice is contacted by the Red Queen (Ever Anderson), the artificial intelligence that runs Umbrella’s alpha base, the underground complex known as the Hive. The Red Queen tells Alice that Umbrella has developed an airborne anti-virus that will destroy the zombie-creating T-virus on contact, but Alice has only 48 hours to find it and release it before the last human settlements on the planet fall to the relentless attacks of the undead. With no other choice and time running out, Alice heads back to the Hive, seeking to end her mission in the same place where it began.
The Final Chapter is a welcome, if late return-to-form for the RE series, connecting with the kinetic, action-punctuated, button-mashing energy that helped make the first and second films so enjoyable. It’s not as stone-faced as Extinction or Afterlife, nor does it become as ridiculous as Retribution. Writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson strikes a fine balance between seriousness and camp, often to the point of being endearing. There’s honestly something attractive in the fact that the creator of a film as narratively-light as The Final Chapter treats his product with such genuine sincerity.
Which isn’t to say that the film is anything remarkable or transcendent, mind you. Anderson excels at making high-octane brain candy, but Event Horizon aside, he’s not always the best at making anything with true nutritional value. His films are almost never dull, but they’re rarely deep. A great deal of the things in the film don’t make a whole lot of sense, such as the seemingly-arbitrary time limit that the Red Queen gives Alice to complete her mission or a prologue in which the real reason for the T-virus’ creation is revealed that calls into question everything that came before it. The RE series has always felt as if its mythology was being created on the fly without regard for proper continuity, and Final Chapter does nothing to dispel that.
Even with that being said, it’s not truly a huge demerit for the film itself. Alice came to this theatre to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and she’s always been out of bubblegum. Nobody comes to the RE films looking for complex narrative, and Anderson knows this. In a way, it’s one of the few ways the films are most loyal to the games that inspired it. The plot twists of Final Chapter perfectly mimic the often-confusing and nonsensical turns that a typical video game plot takes, and Anderson does a good job at making them seem organic, even logical. His omission of the details of the trap that Alice gets caught in between Retribution and Final Chapter on the surface seems glaring, but it makes more sense when you realize that it would have too closely mimicked the openings of the last two films and works better as an off-screen event.
The binding force for the film, indeed for the entire franchise, is Milla Jovovich, who never fails to disappoint when it comes to shooting/stabbing/burning/bludgeoning zombie tail. Alice has always been a character with a purposefully-limited emotional range, but Jovovich gets to stretch that a little bit here. We even get to finally have some context as to why Alice is such a cipher. Jovovich is magnetic when she’s in action, and more so than possibly any other film save the very first, she makes Alice into a wholly human and vulnerable figure instead of the stoic superwoman she became in the middle stretch of the series.
With all the focus being on Jovovich, her supporting cast often gets pushed aside, and given that this is a film about undead monsters, we rarely get to know anyone well before they’re gobbled up but good by some beastie or another. Most notably, Alice finally gets a human antagonist with substance in the form of a sneering, delightfully cool Iain Glen, returning as Dr. Isaacs, Umbrella’s chief devious mastermind. Shawn Roberts, as Isaac’s dragon Wesker, still looks like a big, buff Ken doll, but his performance is finally in sync with the films, and he’s not nearly as annoying or campy as he was in previous installments. On the good-guy side, the only character truly of note is Claire Redfield, once again played by Ali Larter. Larter plays Redfield with the same winning confidence she had in previous films, and she’s a welcome presence as one of the very few of Alice’s support staff to make a return appearance.
One interesting thing that Anderson does is heavily focus on the character of the Red Queen. Part of that may be due to the fact that she’s played by his and Jovovich’s real-life daughter Ever Anderson, but Ever gives a surprisingly solid performance (even if her voice is likely dubbed). The Red Queen has become almost like a modern-day version of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and she honestly has some of the best lines and moments in the film (including one that exploits a subroutine that prevents her from harming employees of the Umbrella Corporation).
The Final Chapter has everything that we’ve come to expect in a Resident Evil film, both good and bad. What it lacks in narrative heft, complex drama, and metaphor it more than makes up for with thrilling vehicle chases, zombie mayhem, and some of the series’ most striking set pieces. Seeing waterfalls of flame cascading down a skyscraper onto the maddening zombie hordes below often makes you forget that very little of what you’re watching makes any logical sense. Sort of like a pop-music version of the operatic mayhem of Mad Max: Fury Road, The Final Chapter works best when it’s characters talk not with words but with guns.
And you know what? As long as Milla Jovovich is talking with those guns, that’s perfectly fine.
FBOTU Score: 6 out of 10 / B- or C+ (dependent upon your love of the series and/or Milla Jovovich)