Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter - review

2016 (UK / France / Germany / South Africa / Canada / Japan / Australia / USA)

Contains mild spoilers.
Well it's been a long ride for Alice (Milla Jovovich). Resuscitated with memory loss, attacked without mercy by the scourge of the undead and their corporate overlords, then over the decade hunted and beset by all the increasingly monstrous and depraved super mutants that director Paul W. S. Anderson could conceive. She's been shot, stabbed, sliced, diced and blown from the sky. She's been cloned, watched good friends die, learnt the dark secrets of her past and witnessed the world she knew torn a sunder. To say she's due a break is an understatement but with this instalment, it would appear Anderson might just be finally letting us, and her, enjoy some kind of rest to the madness.

Over the ten years and six chapters we've slowly but surely witnessed a profound cinematic transition to style over narrative, characters, or any real attempt at substance. It's as if someone gave control of the crazy dial to a young excitable boy and then kept ploughing him with coke long after he'd definitely had enough. From a gritty, claustrophobic and earnest debut, success turned into cash, then into budget, and finally unfettered approval to bring life to the most fantastical scenes and effects, and thus did story, congruence and any concerns for character arcs, in turn, fall to the way side. Part five was the epitome of action surplus; a cacophony of battles and over the top and never-ending lunacy that failed utterly to actually be engaging or rewarding precisely because of this deficit accrued. With The Final Chapter I'd argue that while the giddy young fella seems relieved from his sugar purgatory, this is for all intents and purposes the grand finale, and as such, why is there a want to temper things now. Whilst one can see a whisper of desire to return with Alice and the entourage to Racoon City, and to the intimacy and cinematic authenticity of where and when it all began, there's too much water under the bridge; too much superficial silliness to ever really think they could.

By now we understand that it's not the gold star action and cinematic wizardry that will let a Resident Evil film down but the downtime, the moments of peace between the double back flip, the Matrix style kung-fu, or the triple barrelled shot gun into the giant toothy flying mutant of doom (I think a Kipepeo). Yet I've seen The Final Chapter come in for a lot of criticism about how it's all been cut and spliced together. Ultimately I think it comes down to personal taste, as I didn't mind the frantic and chaotic shaky cam approach; in many ways recognising it as a nod to the perils and confusion of war. The fact that so much of it was shot in near darkness however, I did, especially as Anderson to his credit does manage to return the simple un-mutated zombie back to the forefront for a large swathe of the film, and it would have been nice if we could have really seen them in all their glory.

Another recurring problem I have by now, is Alice's invulnerability. I'm all for the epic hero, the Thor or Beowulf blessed by the Gods with incredible fortune as well as strength, but as all about her fall and as buildings tumble, one never get the feeling, not for one second, that's she's actually in any real danger. The problem with winning the no-win scenario, is how do you follow it but with an equally implausible one. It's the magicians conundrum. Day one it's escaping from a box, Day 100, it's escaping from a box suspended over the Grand Canyon, on fire with a rat in your underpants. Watching Alice, yet again dancing with the big Resident Evil brute +1, or the next CGI enhanced video game inspired super boss, there's nothing really new, never any real tension and no tangible threat. Yet again, dare I say, it's all a tad stale and insipid, and no, adding another rat or maybe a cat to the pants won't ever really fix the fundamental problem.

The Final Chapter isn't as bad Retribution but that would have been a hard thing to have accomplished. At least here there is a semblance of a narrative to make sense of the carnage, even it deviates on what we've been told before, and makes a mockery of all the heroes and villains that have come together to give her a final send-off, with what in effect are short meaningless cameos. Through in truth, if anyone is really watching Resident Evil for any semblance of a coherent narrative or intelligent by this point, they're way off the mark. With action this undeniably good I'd be hard pressed to say there isn't something of merit watching Milla's perfect death bringing choreography, or any of the big picture perfect explosions; and I did find some nostalgia in the final scenes despite them ending up an insulting mockery. So as I said, better than the last, but I had very low expectations - 4/10.


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