In 1984, “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” was released in theaters; 33 years and eight movies later, the slasher saga refuses to stay dead. One suspects that might also be the case for “Resident Evil,” whose own “Final Chapter” marks a surprisingly satisfying conclusion to this based-on-a-video-game franchise — assuming writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson actually makes good on the title, that is.
“A lot of people died,” Alice (Milla Jovovich) says in the explanatory monologue that opens most of the prior five films. “Trouble was, they didn’t stay dead.” Ditto the series as a whole, though this latest entry replaces that earlier pronouncement bit with a promising new line: “My name is Alice,” our heroine intones, “and this is my story — the end of my story.”
As it turns out, the main reason to hope she’s telling the truth is because “The Final Chapter” may actually be the best of the bunch. It begins where 2012’s “Retribution” left off, amid the rubble and ruins of Washington D.C. Humanity is down to its last remnants — just a few thousand people — which might explain why there are so few compelling characters not named “Alice” to be found. Watching the world deteriorate down to its bare bones has been among these films’ highlights all the same, though more reason to mourn the people who didn’t survive would have helped.
This time the narrative revolves around the supposed existence of an airborne antivirus that, if properly administered, will end this undead pandemic once and for all. For whatever reason, the A.I. supercomputer of the soulless company responsible for this world-ending outbreak chooses to share this delicate information with our heroine.
Each new “Resident Evil” has drawn back the curtain on Umbrella Corporation a little further, not that there’s much of note behind it. Umbrella is as generic as evil multinationals in the movies come, and like much else in the series — the supporting characters, the narrative arc — it sometimes feels like a first-draft stand-in to be filled in later.
Jovovich has always been an exception: a seaworthy captain even when the ship she’s helming isn’t. Balletic in her fight scenes and convincing in her post-apocalyptic musings, the actress has kept these movies afloat for a decade and a half.
Like the t-Virus that causes “Resident Evil”‘s brand of zombiedom, the series itself has mutated into something quite different from its original form over the last 15 years. Growth and change are good, but it’s been difficult, from one film to the next, to see the connective tissue linking each chapter. Each story feels too self-contained, too episodic, for the franchise to amount to more than the sum of its parts.
That’s part of why “The Final Chapter” works as well as it does: It dovetails with the original movie more elegantly than any of the four sequels that precede it. To that end, Alice of course ends up back at the Hive where “Resident Evil” first began in 2002 — a familiar trope in series-concluding installments, but one that feels right in this case. For the first time, the story supports and adds to the action rather than distract from it; it’s almost as though Anderson was holding back in the earlier films because he wanted to save the best for last.
To the extent that knowing exactly what a movie holds in store for you in advance is a virtue, “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” is almost saintlike. Still, there are some pleasant enough surprises: the “Mad Max”-inflected aesthetic, the imaginative set pieces (watch for a knife fight on top of a tank that’s being followed by hordes of undead), the clear sense of purpose in ending the story.
“Sometimes I feel like this has been my whole life,” Alice says, echoing Ripley from “Alien” in her world-weary declaration. For the first time, the comparison almost feels earned.