Paul and Milla deliver what may very well be the best Resident Evil film yet. It's constantly moving and operating with immaculate density and on a variety of levels crisscrossing between meta-cinema, religion, and its traditional anti-capitalist values, but never ceasing to engage in an arc that Anderson has been building since Afterlife. What will make or break the film for many fans will be the pacing. At 107 minutes, it's the longest RE film to date and it's never as tightly wound as Retribution, despite moving faster than a speeding bullet throughout its screentime. It's constantly trying to compress itself into under two hours, speeding up entire character arcs to play out in under fifteen minutes in order to kill them off immediately. An element meshing well with Alice's literal time limit to achieve her ultimate goal in saving the human race. Nevertheless, The Final Chapter is close to an indisputable masterpiece, and manages to be the densest, heaviest Resident Evil film to date.
I guess in retrospect watching the film finally makes me okay with the previously lame title of The Final Chapter. Because this isn't about "late-stage capitalism" but the final days of it, and everyone has a hand in bringing its final flight. Bodies are commodified, government is exorcised out of necessity while corporation takes its place, religion either fizzles away or self-destructs in a metal haze rolling furiously and in flames down a decrepit highway dragging non-believers behind. In the midst of all of this, Alice becomes not a messianic figure but doubles down on her commonness when it's revealed Alice really was 10 years old the entire time, a clone made of an Umbrella higher-up. An icon onto which humanity projects the traits that make us definitively human; a final remaining safeguard of empathy and love. In this regard, The Final Chapter is about the inevitability of class conflict, perhaps optimistic in its assumption of eventual success for the sub-proletariat. This reading does afford a plothole, however. If the apocalypse was truly orchestrated by the bourgeoisie than they failed to take into account that capitalism would be the downfall for many of them. For capitalism to survive, poverty must exist. Wealth must be drained from somewhere.
The Final Chapter's most radical change from Anderson's previous two outings is the use of editing and perspective. Gone are the clean, articulately composed slow-motion shots from Retribution that capture Alice from a distance, reeking of artificiality. The Final Chapter shows us Alice as our human center, littered with more traditionally realist flourishes including increased emphasis on handheld photography and frantic pacing. The editing is a lot less clean than in Retribution, and what feels like incompetence at first quickly reveals itself to be an act of poetry. Everything is obscured by the sing-song pace of cross-cutting during fight scenes that, as the film goes on, slowly start to distort time as well as space. Here Anderson represents his seven-year long deconstruction of cinematic tendencies. He was happy to destroy Hollywood in Afterlife, quick to dismantle cinema in Retribution, and finally, Anderson is desecrating the idea of image itself. Not only the cinematic image but the concept of image as we understand it. He does so by making the image unimportant and common in the most fascinating ways.
The concept of "Character is born, character dies, and character is reborn as agency no longer exists in this world" is not unfamiliar to the series, but The Final Chapter brings it to new heights, where everything is a copy of a copy.
Anderson's formal tendencies reveal something exciting up his sleeve. I've previously identified two "eras" within his filmography split roughly down the middle with Alien vs Predator but The Final Chapter, now backed with the thematic and formal corroboration of Pompeii, reveals that we may be on the cusp of Third-Era Anderson. The scale of The Final Chapter adamantly resists the claustrophobic tendencies of Anderson's previous work and feels more like a ballet of destruction a la Pompeii and perhaps even hints at the prospects of Monster Hunter. The hyperkinetic digital go-pro aesthetic often recalls something like a lost late Neveldine/Taylor piece where the deconstruction of masculinity is instead hijacked with Fury Road feminist communism.
Of its flaws, The Final Chapter sports far more story than a Resident Evil fan should be comfortable with and it struggles to hold its massive, cathartic, multiple endings into what's still the longest RE film to date. What many will find iffy is how quickly and unimportantly key character interactions are treated under the weight of its sheer thematic density. Despite all of this, it's still working on a multitude of levels that a single essay cannot denote and analyze them. If 2016 was the year of the craziest blockbusters, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter along with Split promises one of the smartest.
Haydn DePriest is a student at the University of Texas at Austin.