JANUARY 27, 2017
In case it never dawned on you, projected film is nothing more than a series of still images played in succession, fast enough to create the illusion of movement that you'd witness in real life, with your brain kind of filling in the missing chunks in between those frames. That same kind of idea applies to how I saw the action sequences in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter - I (usually) could tell you what happened from point A to B, but only because my brain was sorting it out through context clues. Milla Jovovich and some monster rush toward each other, and then ????? (STUFF!), and then the monster is dead, so I can safely assume Milla killed it. However, I couldn't usually tell you HOW, because Paul WS Anderson and his editor (named Doobie, and - trigger warning - a frequent collaborator of Neveldine/Taylor) often cut five or six times per second during the action scenes, and often in closeups, so my brain couldn't quite process who was hitting who and where - I just had to wait until the encounter had concluded and then use context clues to determine what happened.
It's a shame, because on a script level this is one of the better entries in the series. The story isn't too complicated, the villains are fun (Iain Glen, you have been missed, sir), and there's a pretty great final showdown between the major players that not only pays off the things set up in this movie, but the series as a whole. The action scenes, poorly edited as they may be, are varied and frequent, and the movie series has finally embraced the giant monster element from the games, pitting Alice against a giant bat for the first big sequence and some Cerebrus (basically GIANT dogs) later. It even brings back the horror element that's been largely scaled down in favor of action; there are at least three legit scare moments in the movie, plus a lot of creeping around and "I think something's watching us" kind of moments. The budget was scaled down from previous entries (with inflation factored in, it's actually the cheapest, by my math), so Anderson and crew were forced to rely on such things and save the big-scale action for highlight sections instead of throughout the movie. In a general sense, it pays off.
Plus, the aforementioned Iain Glen is a total hoot, and the best reason to see the movie. Even if you're not a fan of the series, it might be worth a look just to enjoy the sight of a gifted, theater-trained (and award-winning) actor making his way through a B-movie like this. As with the Underworld films, these UK theatre guys not only lend the proceedings a touch of class, but make the gibberish plot believable by committing 100% instead of smirking their way through it like American actors in his peer group might. He's clearly enjoying himself, and he even gets to play two roles - or, two variations of the same role. By now you should be used to the use of clones in this series, so it's not really a spoiler to say he plays both the original Isaacs and a clone who is unaware of his clone status. One is in charge of Umbrella and spends his time in a nice suit and delivering exposition, the other is out in the wild and seemingly on his way to becoming a Mad Max villain of sorts. It's the best of both worlds, and both of them get to fight Alice and spout a few applause-worthy lines (one, involving the word "trinity", is so glorious it might be the main reason I watch the movie again if I ever have the option).
But the editing! Along with that reduced budget came the fact that they shot with traditional cameras and converted it to 3D later, and apparently Anderson didn't seem to care much about people seeing it in that format (I saw it in 2D, thankfully). Whereas on the previous two films he knew to keep the action fluid and with long edits (in fact, perhaps TOO long in Afterlife's case - he nailed it with Retribution), here he dishes out the most over-edited and choppy action scenes this side of Olivier Megaton. There is a scene about halfway or so through the movie where the heroes are making their way through a giant turbine fan that's been turned off, and naturally the thing turns on before everyone is safe. But it's "warming up", making the blades turn slow enough that people can still get their way through (like they would in *a* video game, though this kind of platforming thing has never been present in a Resident Evil as far as I can recall). All well and good, but I swear to Christ, I had no idea what was happening as the sequence neared its conclusion. I couldn't even tell which character got stuck, let alone how they were eventually freed, and this wasn't the only example of such editing atrocities in the film. I mean, it's one thing to pull the "hero moves so fast the villains never know what hit them so lets disorient the audience in turn" stuff every now and then, I don't even mind that - it's another to keep us in the dark of who we're even looking at and what needs to be done for them to be safe (I THINK the girl got her bag of gear stuck on a blade, but I honestly don't know). I've seen trailers with smoother, more complete action beats.
And while I'm used to it by now, the series' penchant for abandoning its characters really hurts this time around, in that it kind of leaves the movie feeling like we missed a giant sequence. When the last one ended, Wesker and Alice stood side by side along with the latter's friends, ready to save humanity together using their combined resources. When this one starts, Alice is just under a pile of rubble, and she immediately goes off on her own looking for supplies/shelter/etc. Much later, we learn that Wesker betrayed them (again) and only brought her there to kill her, a scene that we probably should have seen, not just heard about (by the time we've probably forgotten the gap anyway). As for Jill, Ada, etc. - we just have to assume they're dead, as they're completely omitted from the film beyond the obligatory opening recap footage - no in-film mention whatsoever. Later, Alice finds (spoiler for those who didn't see the trailer) Claire, who got the same treatment along with Chris in between Afterlife and Retribution, and she gives a half-assed explanation for her survival, but doesn't mention Chris nor does Alice inquire about him. Then there's the minor issue of her surrogate daughter from the previous film, who is also never mentioned even when Alice's past and current humanity comes into question. For a series of films that are all written by the same man, it's remarkable how little he ever seems to care about the characters he created (and yes, he created them, as they rarely have anything to do with their game counterparts beyond their name). Granted, cast availability might throw a wrench into the plans, but would recasting really be an issue? Especially for this film, when it's so dark and over-edited that I couldn't tell you who I was looking at half the time anyway?
That all said, I really did enjoy it overall, at least as much as I can for these things. As I rewatched them all this past week (save for the original, which I got through a couple weeks ago - it took me this long to get to 2-5, sigh), I realized that I couldn't even rank them in any definitive way - they're all just varying shades of "OK". I know people really hate Apocalypse, but I can't see why it gets singled out - there's no discernible difference in the CGI (it's not great), the cast (Milla and... some others!), the way it translates stuff from the game (loosely!), etc. It's got some truly awful slo-mo stuff, but I can't imagine that'd be enough to sink it below the others, especially when compared to this (slo-mo > incoherent-mo). They're never great, but never terrible either - they're just kind of enjoyable in their own low-key way. I own all the Blu-rays but can't imagine a scenario I'd ever sit down and listen to the commentaries (at this juncture, I mean - back in 2005 when I had little else to do I recall going through the features on Apocalypse DVD), because I just don't get INTO them like I do for things like Halloween and Friday the 13th, where I'll devour the bonus features for even the entries I hate. It's a decent series that got a decent send-off, far as I'm concerned; if you hated the others this won't change your mind, and if you loved them... well I'm not sure what you love about them, so I couldn't tell you how you'd feel about this one.
I do know this though (minor spoiler ahead): for all the talk about this being the "Final Chapter", they don't exactly close the book on the series in any meaningful way. The last shot is literally of a monster chasing one of the heroes, so if this makes a zillion dollars you can expect Resident Evil: A New Beginning in ten months, if history repeats itself. The one bonus to Anderson introducing cloning and also leaving so many characters' fates ambiguous is that the series can conceivably run forever if they continue to be profitable, simply by rotating out the players - a concept that would be more believable if he ever gave anyone even half as much weight as Milla/Alice. It baffles me that in this MCU/Fast & Furious-heavy world that Anderson wouldn't use "The Final Chapter" to bring back as many characters as possible instead of paring it down (Alice, Claire, Isaacs, and Wesker are the only returning characters - there are no surprise appearances) and give them legitimate closure, because even if they're not exactly iconic it'd mean more when say, Leon died instead of one of the random people we just met. And maybe that's part of why I can't really get into these as much as say, the Saw series - there's an air of indifference to them. There's been a decent attempt at continuity at least in broad strokes (though they've completely abandoned Extinction's idea of the entire world being a wasteland), but no one to really get attached to besides Alice - who is a blank slate. Had this one been better directed/edited, it might have managed to be my favorite just for the sheer variety of action scenes and legitimately great final reel (well, great for this series), but thanks to Anderson's hyper-active nonsense it ends up being just another entry in this entertaining but forgettable series.
What say you?
P.S. I know I said I'd review Apocalypse and maybe do a real one for Retribution, but I'm so behind on work I can't really justify it. Long story short, Apocalypse is the least boring entry and seems to have the games at heart more than any other film in the series, but the slo-mo stuff is terrible and Mike Epps' character is annoying as all hell. As for Retribution, I kind of regret making my review a gimmick, because it's actually pretty good and a big step up from the previous one. But I still can't forgive it for finally introducing Barry and giving him so little to do (great death scene though). P.S.S. I really want to play Resident Evil 7 on PS VR but I swore not to buy any more games until I got through a good chunk of my backlog. So someone buy it FOR me. Thanks in advance!