‘Resident Evil’ Doesn’t Give a Damn and I’ll Miss That (Commentary)

For the “Resident Evil” franchise, plot points, story continuity and character disappearances never mattered as much as putting something awesome on the screen

At the end of “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the fifth movie in the franchise, all the principal characters who are still alive gather at the White House for a final, desperate stand against undead monsters. At this point, the world has been over for three whole movies, but the bad guys are still sending soldiers and military vehicles after the good guys because, I don’t know, it’s hilarious or something.

Arriving at the barricaded, a military-swamped White House transitions to the series’ signature final shot. The camera pans back and back further to reveal the scope of what the heroes will face. For five years, we thought “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” would pick up right there, at that battle. It’d be the same move “Retribution” made with the final shot from its predecessor, “Resident Evil: Afterlife.”

You can almost hear writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson shouting “Nope!” as “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” gets going. Instead of returning to that huge fight, the battle happens off-screen. Everyone but the franchise protagonist, Alice (Milla Jovovich), apparently dies in it.

But that’s “Resident Evil.” There may never have been a franchise that worried less about continuity. Characters vanish from the series, die off-screen or are never mentioned again. Characters return out of nowhere, as clones, for no good reason other than the fact that clones are awesome. “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” retcons the previous movies so thoroughly, that the second in the franchise, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse,” basically becomes a footnote. Everything changes on a whim to fuel the film you’re currently watching. Nothing that came before matters.

“Resident Evil” brazenly, hilariously, does not give a damn. I’m going to miss that.

In my younger days of being a humorless nerd, I disliked the “Resident Evil” movie franchise intensely. A fan of the games, I was irritated at the ridiculous, often barely cogent direction the films took. The original movie skipped the haunted house idea that made the game it was adapted from so spooky, going straight to a weird lab full of zombies. (The weird lab, to be fair, was also in the game, but a much smaller part.) The third film featured zombies who could do martial arts because, by that point, regular zombies weren’t scary enough. The fourth and fifth films are the evil Umbrella Corporation conducting giant cloning experiments. The surface of Earth is, basically, uninhabitable by this point, but evil corporations gotta do something to keep busy, right?

The movies didn’t just change the game’s source material, they let zombies tear it apart. Not that the “Resident Evil” games are any smarter — they’re often just as schizophrenic about story and escalate in the same goofy way as the films. But there are enjoyable things, like the first game’s claustrophobic house of horrors that the movie altogether abandons.

A few years ago, I started doing some research on the “Resident Evil” films, and I really started to pay attention to them. I stopped demanding brilliant and deep adaptations of the equally insane games. I started appreciating the ridiculous, impressive spectacle.

The trouble, I realized, was that I’d been watching “Resident Evil” wrong.

The “Resident Evil” films aren’t about continuity; they’re about letting you spend a few minutes liking a character before they get their throat torn out, preferably in service to a jump scare. They’re about Jovovich drop-kicking zombie dogs and running down the sides of buildings. For a franchise that’s run for 15 years, “Resident Evil” is pretty gutsy. It’s based on a video game franchise that has a fairly large, devoted following. Yet it doesn’t care at all about introducing fan favorite characters and then just killing them off. In fact, “Resident Evil” doesn’t care about killing (or cloning) any characters at all.

And beyond just watching awesome stuff happen on screen, the series has a few things for which it deserves to be lauded. The fourth and fifth movies are impressive technological achievements in the realm of 3D film techniques. Listen to the commentary tracks on “Resident Evil: Afterlife” sometime. Anderson’s descriptions of the technical lengths he and his crew went to in order to capture the gorgeous 3D shots they wanted for the film are completely fascinating.

“Resident Evil” has also showcased Jovovich (and her stunt team) kicking serious butt for six movies, and she’s always great at it. This is a rare woman-led action series that consistently delivers on that action. Jovovich rocks as hard or harder than anybody currently working on Marvel, DC or Michael Bay projects. That alone is enough to make “Resident Evil” a blast.

What I’ve learned to love about “Resident Evil” is that it has a singular goal in mind: Ludicrous, over-the-top monster-fighting action scenes. Literally everything else is the pavement on the road to that destination. Now that the series is (supposedly) ending, I’ll miss that reckless abandon in service of disgusting monsters having fist fights with Milla. In its way, it was something special.

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