This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Austin’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
2016 marked a tremendous shift in the way I view movies. I realize I was swayed far too often by consensus critical opinion and that I too quickly dismissed movies abandoned by the traditional critical community. The Letterboxd community helped me transform my critical interaction with film into something more inclusive, more willing to give every movie the analysis and respect it deserves, more of an attention to form and feeling over traditional narrative and story demands.
And so, Paul W.S. Anderson, a director I had foolishly previously regarded as a simple-minded action director (which I now see there is no problem with either, but is so rarely the case), I now understand to be one of the most gifted and brilliant filmmakers working today. He’s a filmmaker obsessed with the eradication of oppressive systems and the death of capitalism, grand adventure, and more recently, intimate romantic gesture and imagery. As a whole though, the Resident Evil series is Anderson’s masterpiece. Their exploration of the artificial and the systems that create that artificiality are unparalleled, and The Final Chapter is a fantastic conclusion. It’s a mind-bogglingly dense film about the “end” of artificiality and the emergence of reality, the subversion of religious iconography and the destruction of symbols, and ultimately, a massively anti-capitalist exclamation point.
Anderson’s Resident Evil films are probably the most formally phenomenal blockbusters humanity is capable of; their compositions so elegant, their use of slo-mo action to highlight the human form graceful, and their visuals constantly highlighting the prisons, both real and artificial (and the near inseparability of the two) encaging everything. Previous to this, Anderson’s sequences were edited and framed to showcase smooth movement, but The Final Chapter is totally wild and experimental in new ways. Crisp editing and slo-mo have been replaced by frantic and furious quick cuts.
Instead of using the action to physically choreograph the synthetic nature of the reality around the characters, the action here is feral, the images bleeding together and evoking feeling of chaos and rage. This is the end after all, so it is only fitting that that urgency is felt in the editing and framing. Artifice is being broken and reassembled as something messy, but even in that, the geography of moments are never lost, Anderson is far too talented to allow there to be visual incoherency even as sequences are chopped and zoom by.
The franchise has always been obsessed with the uncertainty of reality and the continual deconstruction of what is thought to be known. Endless clones, characters once thought dead are resurrected, the rewriting of its own mythology, etc. In Retribution, systems collapse in on themselves as memory and life are revealed to be nothing more than illusions manipulated by Umbrella and corporate greed. Here, the franchise itself is used as a tunnel to subvert everything that has come before.
Structurally, the movie journeys in reverse through its own history. The first third of the film stages a Mad Max-esque chase through the deserts of Extinction, then the cities of Apocalypse (the two installments Anderson did not direct but still pulls from), and finally, the film ends at the beginning, the Hive research facility of the first movie. By traveling through its own iconography to change their ultimate outcome, this movie is truly alive is a meta-textual piece of very self-aware cinema. Not only are locations reused, but an old ally is rediscovered and found to be just as interchangeable as the countless nameless soldiers who have long since died, just as the countless clones have been produced just to die. Everything is interchangeable, everything is created for the purpose to die.
All of this subversion and exploration of artifice leads to the film’s ultimate reveal: Alice (Milla Jovovich) is a clone. The original was stricken with an advanced-aging disease as a young girl, and so to immortalize her, she was “recreated” as the Red Queen AI program in charge of Umbrella’s security. The original Alice is a young woman in an old woman’s body, the Alice we have been following is a clone who has always believed she was the original, and the preservation of the young Alice as a computer program. All three artificial in their own way, all three beholden to Umbrella and seeming inescapability of corporate influence, all three representing a forever preserved past, the present that might have been, and the future that unfortunately is.
Ultimately, “our” Alice is the only one who survives, but not before the original Alice gives her the childhood memories she has always been deprived of. In a beautifully emotional moment, Alice is allowed to remember love and connection, things she’s never truly been given. Even though these memories are not “hers,” they are real, and for the first time ever, Alice can be completely sure of that. We see the memories represented as home video footage of the young Alice, played by Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson’s real daughter, further complicating the separation of fiction and reality.
Just as the franchise is obsessed with simulation, it equally revels in the destruction and desecration of symbols that have been corrupted. Each movie is concerned with the oppression of prisons, and Afterlife views Hollywood as its own prison, and then proceeds to annihilate it. Here, religious and American symbols are subverted and destroyed. Relatively early in the film, a spray painted American flag is seen covered in bird shit and then is promptly thrown into the dirt. Not only is America literally destroyed, but so are the empty promises of the dream.
Far more focus however is placed upon the necessary obliteration and reclamation of religious symbolism. Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) is revealed to be alive and is quite the religious zealot, covering his tank in crosses and exterminating who he believes are not “true believers.” The usage of Christian iconography to highlight corporate control is seen later in the film as it’s discovered the world’s wealthy elite have entered a cryogenic hibernation to wait out the apocalypse, which Alice promptly identifies as a, “Noah’s Ark for the rich and powerful.” Anderson is clearly critical of all systems of oppression, exterminating organized religion being a necessity to recover from global destruction.
In keeping with Resident Evil’s infatuation with subversion, religion, but specifically Christianity is morphed into something new. Dr. Isaacs calls the three Alices the “trinity of bitches,” an obvious allusion to the Holy Trinity. But gone are God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, and instead we have the past, present, and future of the ultimate badass warrior. Gone is a organization dominated by men and in its place, women have assumed the position of power at the head of ideology and church; it’s remarkably progressive. The zombies even “bow” to Alice in one of the film’s final sequences.
Ultimately though, Resident Evil is most concerned with the complete and utter eradication of capitalism and corporate control. Umbrella is the symbol of greed and fascistic power arising from corporate overreach. An amalgamation of every evil that capitalism allows to flourish, and salvation from the apocalypse can only be achieved by destroying the root of wickedness in the wasteland of the world. If Alice were real, Trump wouldn’t stand a chance.
Resident Evil is a remarkably dense franchise, full of gigantic ideas and formal excellence, and The Final Chapter is a perfect conclusion to a near-perfect series. Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich are cinematic gods and I’ll be worshipping at their church for quite some time.
Just a fun glimpse into how much my thoughts have evolved, and how much better my writing has (hopefully) become: