Tomorrow is the release of what promises to be the concluding installment of Paul W.S. Anderson’s poorly received Resident Evil movie franchise, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Based on the Japanese horror video game of the same name, Anderson’s strategy for dealing with the IP has been to use bits and pieces of the game’s zombie-infested, suspense-filled narrative and trade the larger chunk of it in for Milla Jovovich (now his wife) kicking things in the face. Indeed, the series main character portrayed by Jovovich, Alice, never appeared in a Resident Evil game. The game’s protagonists are shoe-horned into various chapters, seemingly for the sake of dying meaningless deaths. But perhaps because of its connection with the original IP, the film series has found a way to draw enough audiences across the world into the theaters to be profitable.
There are five installments to the franchise before tomorrow’s The Final Chapter: Resident Evil (2002), Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), and Resident Evil: Retribution (2012). The first film, despite being poorly received by critics, was what one could call a B horror film—bad but with enough value in visceral entertainment to watch from beginning to end with satisfaction. This would not be a running theme with the franchise.
With the coming of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the series entered the schlock-zone and never looked back. If you threw a dart at a board of science fiction tropes, no matter what you hit, it will have been explored by Anderson’s Resident Evil’s. Psychic powers? He’s got it. Clone armies? In spades. It’s all a dream?? Oh, it’s in there. The series even somehow fits an “alien egg sac” in it… and it’s about zombies! Anderson hasn’t directed every one of them, but he has held the writers pen for all six, so there’s no one really else to blame for this frivolous mess of a movie franchise.
And yet, a few weeks ago, I was drawn to them for some reason. This wasn’t the type of draw that watching an old B movie like Samurai Cop would have. There’s no “so bad it’s good” here. This is all bad.
Perhaps I was hypnotized by the constant flashing images and rapid movement of bullets and kicks. Perhaps, like a Rorschach Test, I was taking the mass of mindless dialogue and putting my own plots to it. Perhaps it was my obsession with the video game franchise. For whatever reason, I found myself in a marathon—A seemingly endless endeavor of film after film until all five (!!!) were completed. My loss of time and brain cells is your gain, however, because I did it and now you don’t have to.
Here are five things I learned:
- Introduce them, and They Will Die
With movie titles like Apocalypse and Extinction, it’s an easy guess that death is ubiquitous in the franchise, but, hoo boy, I’ve never seen a movie treat their characters with needless expendability quite like the Evils. In Extinction, recurring character L.J. (Mike Epps) gets a zombie bite and hides it from a crew of wily survivors, only to turn a scant time later and get shot in the face. It’s a masterpiece of nothingness. I imagine Anderson in his writing study, sniffing a glass of brandy saying, “Oy! Someone should die here,” and then rolling a die to figure out which of the bevy of useless secondary characters eats it.
- Clones: Not Just for Star Wars Anymore:
Speaking of deaths, did one of your favorite characters (hah) die off? Just wait it out for a few films and they’ll be back. Anderson is not content to leave the relatively fine first movie alone, and resurrects Michelle Rodriguez’s character for another shot at audiences in Retribution. The results are muddled. For a group of people fighting for the survival of “the human race” I was left unsure if that meant people, like you and me, vomiting into a movie theater bathroom after an Evil screening, or clones and only clones. This largely works in Anderson’s favor, because the insane plot jerks all over the spectrum and clones are a good caulk for the kind of holes that creates.
- Viruses Are Like Computer, uh, Hacks and CPUs and Stuff:
Game of Thrones regular, Iain Glenn, plays one of the architects of the virus that eventually destroys the world, and gives series lead Alice her host of super-human abilities (then takes them away, then gives them back again). He has the absolute horrid responsibility of delivering a line of dialogue in the second movie that would stink up the series for a decade to come: “Project Alice activated.” This sets a lame plot in motion where Jovovich is “hacked” (or something) and under the control of omnipresent mega-corporation Umbrella. This unexplained plotline travels throughout most of the movies in which she looses control, then gains it, then loses it again. Then she becomes the one who hacks and… look forget it, it’s a waste of your fucking time.
- Fuck the Last Movie, Here’s the New Movie:
Anderson attempts to tie each beginning and ending of the series together, but really, they all begin the same way: Milla Jovovich waking up in a lab in paper clothing. The only movie to truly tie them together meaningfully is Afterlife, or, “the 3D one.” At the end of the previous film Alice has spent her time making thousands of clones of herself and in the beginning of Afterlife, Anderson actually revisits the idea. Not content to have it mug up the rest of his movie, Anderson kills them all within five minutes, leaving the original Alice the only one still alive. No war of clones saving the world today, I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- It Was Kind of Fun:
Make no mistake: Paul W.S. Anderson’s inane grade school playground ramblings make for a series of movies that are conceptually and technically bad, but, there’s something almost charming about the whole thing. It’s a cinematic universe so hell-bent on taking itself seriously—peppered with introspective cutaways of Milla Jovovich as she contemplates her zombie-ridden future, scientists arguing science things with the faux government corporations, and action shots that are literally someone firing a gun for three minutes straight—it’s impossible not to find some of it alluring. As the series wraps up tomorrow, the world won’t exactly miss this inexplicably financially successful franchise, but perhaps it will acknowledge the gap in crass action camp that it left behind.