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Fifteen years since the first film unceremoniously launched, mere months since the alleged ‘Final Chapter’ limped out of the box office and a decade since the release of the third film Extinction; the Resident Evil series has been a strange, inexplicably persistent mainstay of franchise filmmaking this century. Derided by both critics and fans of the source material in equal measure, these films have been an underdog tale of the little piece of late-capitalism that could in the face of adversity. Adversity here being the correct perception that the films were nothing but vacuous and thematically bereft stories, pandering action, childishly basic yet nightmarishly convoluted world-building and a wholescale lack of integrity. While we’re nominally here to discuss Extinction, it’d be worthwhile to look at the series on the whole and just marvel that we, as a people, let this happen.
This third film is interesting though. Not particularly in and of itself as a film (we’ll get to that) but for what it is within the franchise. See, no one expected these sequels to keep making money. This was supposed to be the third and final installment, which is why between films the apocalypse happened and seemingly overnight reduced the world to a desert. This allowed for a suitably epic and visually interesting backdrop for this concluding tale as the now super powered Alice (Jovovich) made her last attack on the nefarious Umbrella Corporation amidst the final few remnants of humanity in an already dead world. Throw in a final “oh and there’s an army of clones of her so just presume things worked out” epilogue and you’ve got a dumb but clean endpoint. Unfortunately this made too much money and the studio demanded more. And so the series blindly pushed forward with three more instalments, trying to tell stories in an already post-apocalypse world but with an antagonistic, evil super-corporation still pursuing traditionally capitalistic evil schemes as if their entire customer base hadn’t already been killed. By them.
One could easily read this as an inadvertent commentary on our late capitalist society or as an unsubtle, accidental glimpse of what our actual world is going to experience once the myriad of sociological and environmental issues catches up on us, all while Apple continues to try and sell new iPhones to corpses. But one must nonetheless commend a series and a writer/director for soldiering on in the face of a story with nowhere to go but money to be made. The fourth film spends its opening scene (which is basically trailer porn) having to make good on a promise they never intended to keep by showing us what an assault on a heavily-fortified corporate stronghold by an army of well-armed, biologically-enhanced and weaponised supermodels would look like…before wiping Tokyo off the map in order to un-write themselves out that clone-heavy corner. The fifth film is a slightly confusing placeholder where nothing much happens and a vague new status-quo is set up in order for there to be a final installment, all while a frankly absurd amount of the film takes place in 3-D friendly slow motion.
Then we arrive at the Final Chapter. When the first trailer dropped, I had a huge smile on my face. Not because it looked good – obviously this was not the case, the actual trailer’s editing is nothing short of headache inducing – but because as one of the few people self-destructive enough to actually follow the mangled assortment of cocaine-stained script pages that makes up this series’ storyline; it was truly wonderful to not be able to follow the plot implied by the sixth film’s trailer. If you can name me a writer-director-producer with a franchise that’s made over a billion dollars who gives less of a fuck, please share it with the group. The finale reads like someone watched the first film and nothing else and was then given twenty four hours to come up with a script that wraps everything up. The blatant disregard for his own continuity is so overt, his shear animosity toward the endeavour so all-encompassing that it’s plain to see he didn’t even rewatch the previous films before penning a script littered with continuity errors and massive, multi-film-breaking retcons. Every plothole which does emerge is nonchalantly hand-waved away by the characters sighing that a clone must have been responsible. And the best part? The script for The Final Chapter is very obviously just a slightly rewritten version of the script for Extinction; i.e. the previous “this is deffo the last one you guys” in the series.
Both films are set in desert locales, feature the McGuffin of a cure for the virus, lean heavily on the clone angle and feature as their villain the delightful Iain Glenn. To clarify for those who don’t care about these films: Glenn’s character is very much killed at the end of Extinction yet he returns (twice!) in the Final Chapter. The momentary confusion on Alice’s face upon seeing him is quickly forgotten when she sighs “clone” with the air of mild perturbed-ness one would have at forgetting to buy milk after just coming back from the shops. Oh and spoiler: it turns out she too has been a clone this entire time. Which explains why she has no memory (despite establishing they imprint clones with false memories) of anything prior to the events of the first film (except that she does. They showed it. In the first film).
It would be remiss not to discuss the film this article is nominally about. One of only two entries not directed – though still written – by Anderson, it’s probably the strongest individual film of the six. Lacking either the surreal, balletic violence and harshly clinical aesthetic of the latter films or the grungier, 90s action and visuals of the first two; this middle entry stands out visually within the series (until the final entry which as we’ve mentioned is just an uglier, somehow dumber remake). In a pre-Fury Road world this film felt almost fresh as a Mad Max style affair but with zombies and a telekinetic Milla Jovovich. It still has some well-staged hand-to-hand action scenes, a solid overall aesthetic and one of the coolest designed and best looking hero costumes of this century. If I ever thought I could pull it off, it would be my outfit of choice for some fashionable yet functional post-apocalypse-ing.
The shear weirdness of the underground recreation of the mansion and (begrudgingly iconic) laser hallway from the original film is amusing, Iain Glen is having fun and the aesthetic diversifies the series a little. But really the film peaks quite early with Alice answering a false distress signal and falling into a (naturally) zombie-dog-filled trap. The world-building implied by this opening section and the overall ‘tales from the wasteland’ vibe it gives is a glimpse at a more interesting and less generic film. Sadly any further exploration of this and how the remnants of humanity survives is largely ignored outside of our introduction to a bunch of cannon fodder supporting characters and before long we’re back in a dingy underground secret lab for Alice to slo-mo kick a big dumb monster in.
Let’s not fool ourselves here, this is not a film in need of any kind of retrospective or reappraisal. It’s a slightly above average action sci-fi horror that’s about as good as it was when it first came out. Fury Road has since raised the bar for desert-based, apocalyptic convey action movies and diminished some of the minor charm this had a decade ago. Yet in the wider context of the full series it exists within, there is a curiousness to the whole enterprise and a bemusement in its existence and longevity. It’s slightly criminal that Jovovich hasn’t had much of a career beyond these outside of fighting Pierce Brosnan as he attempts to 9/11 NYC for a second time, because she’s good. She has an engaging dramatic presence and can deliver witty, deadpan humour when given even remotely decent material. Legend even foretells that that costume I was fawning over earlier was designed by her. She’s an all rounder. If there’s a takeaway from this it’s that Milla is pretty great and is quite decent in that weird Joan of Arc film. And going by her Instagram, she’s a fun wine-mom in real life. Milla, if you’re reading: adopt me.