The Resident Evil films are so unconcerned with traditional characterization and narrative that they suggest the abstract, fevered brainstorming of a child at play. Series mastermind Paul W.S. Anderson has never been shy about the debt these films owe to other properties, which he gleefully cross-pollinates. In Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, for instance, there’s an elaborate and sporadically exhilarating battle sequence that brings to mind portions of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Mad Max: Fury Road merged with the frequently quoted bible of Anderson’s oeuvre, Aliens. At its best, this blender approach to genre filmmaking can be intoxicatingly unpretentious and even poetic (as in the jewel of this series, Resident Evil: Retribution), dispensing with expository bloviating and cutting straight to the lurid manna of the material, celebrating the unbridled force of energy for its own sake.
Anderson’s best work has a blissful pulp forcefulness. As an action director, he’s driven to cubist geometry, to the weirdly commanding contrast of messily colliding bodies set against rigidly symmetrical tableaus, particularly neon-colored passageways. In The Final Chapter, Anderson gets carried away with his fealty to Fury Road, attempting to recapture its distinctive velocity. Anderson employs uncharacteristically frenetic editing, squandering the beauty of his remarkable compositions, resulting in the sort of spatial mishmash that’s common of much contemporary action filmmaking.
The film’s editing has a cumulatively subliminal power though, and many compositions justify one’s patience with Anderson’s formal excess. The opening shot of a ravaged Washington, D.C. is rife with vividly jagged edges that inform a familiar post-apocalyptic conceit with nerviness. Intense close-ups of wire and broken glass emphasize the quotidian of the end of the world. A stand-off at a bombed-out high-rise between the good guys and a battalion of zombies led by a military tank climaxes with an awesomely biblical shot of fire raining from above, engulfing marauding creatures on the ground floor.
There’s something resonant and strangely intense about the Sisyphean nonsense of the Resident Evil mythology, which is loosely taken from the video-game franchise of the same name. The protagonist of these films, Alice (Milla Jovovich), is a clone who’s convolutedly connected to the evil empire she’s trying to stop from destroying the world, because the latter knows that liberals are right about global warming, over-population, and the threats of nuclear proliferation. Rather than use its resources to save the world, this rich corporation destroys it sooner so that they’ll have more resources for itself—a notion that’s devolved from science fiction to actual news.
Because the series won’t end until it ceases to make money (the title means about as much here as it did when applied to the fourth Friday the 13th), Alice can never save the world, instead restarting her quest again and again, often waking up at the beginning of each film with little idea of where she’s been and what she’s been doing, so that she can wage war with cyphers who’re also clones of clones. This suggestion isn’t only poignant for its topicality (suggesting that every progressive action is met with a more severe reaction), but for Jovovich’s committed, adamantly un-condescending and intensely physical performances. Alice’s work becomes conjoined with Jovovich and Anderson’s, as they’re grinders who unceremoniously get the job done, doing their part to distract us from our lot as rats in a corporate cage.