Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

PWSA's favorite filmmaker may be Lang, but the Resident Evil movies put me in mind of Hawks: the only defense against the inevitability of death, a fact of life made all the more immediate and real in the apocalyptic context, is group solidarity.

A rebuke to the modern superhero film's privileging of a few extraordinary individuals who alone hold the power to save the rest of humanity, rendered as anonymous extras, the Resident Evil films always make the survival of Alice, the series' chosen one, contingent on a collective of ordinary humans. Each sequel begins with Alice alone, but they typically end (the exceptions being Extinction and this one) with her surrounded by new friends and compatriots. (It's fascinating how each film then begins with a reset, usually achieved through an ellipsis, but that's a topic for another time.)

Let's delve a little more deeply into that rebuke. The alien abilities of Wonder Woman are a proxy to uplift all women; the fantastical advanced civilization of Wakanda is a proxy to uplift all underdeveloped African nations; the limitless (but not fantastical) resources of Batman are a proxy to uplift those affected by urban crime. They embody the ressentiment of the weak and powerless, whose desires they fulfill through strength and power.

What makes Alice a hero is not her superior nature, often referred to as a curse, but her empathy—her refusal to buy into the calculus of sacrifice which is so often the subject of the superhero film. This idea is especially central to the franchise's best entry, Retribution, but it runs through every film in the series. In this film, I was especially moved by the moment when the two former prisoners of Dr. Israel insist on joining the rest of the group on their mission to infiltrate The Hive. Without hesitation, Alice arms them and they are incorporated into the group. They don't even have time to introduce themselves (in the credits, they're listed as Scars and Thin Man), but once they join, they're trusted, and their survival is as important as that of any other member.

Many have noted that the main dichotomy in the Resident Evil franchise, as established in the first film, is of human vs machine, and it's especially prevalent in the PWSA-directed entries, all of which are narratives of people initially threatened by but then mastering a surrounding technological structure (a la Buster Keaton, a victory won for humanity against modernity or, in this case, post-modernity).

But there's another dichotomy just as central to the franchise: value for human life vs purely selfish survival instinct. These films may seem dystopic, but in some ways they are utopic, imagining a world where the hierarchical logic of rich technocrats does not trickle down to the masses, who form, seemingly by instinct, an opposing collective, humanist paradigm for defense against the end of the world. Umbrella chooses to accelerate the apocalypse so that a chosen, elite few may survive, but those left behind to die do not make the same mistake.

In order to save humanity, Alice must rid herself of her superhumanity, a privileged status given to her by Umbrella. My favorite line in the series, from Afterlife: "Thank you... For making me human again."