To close out my analysis and summary of the Resident Evil movies, here’s my own personal ranking of each film in the series, starting from the least enjoyable and working its way up to the most enjoyable.
It has threegoodscenes and twogreatmusical pieces, but no amount of production values, music, or cool sequences can save a generic zombie film with the Resident Evil brand slapped onto it at the last minute. This is a Resident Evil film in name only, and is the most disappointing overall.
The Final Chapter feels like the first draft of a script written by someone who wants to end the series on their terms without caring about what came before. Not only is the story filled with retcons that don’t work, it also suffers from disposable characters and awful editing that makes the movie physically painful to watch. However, the film does have some good ideas, some gorgeous post-apocalyptic scenery, and the surprisingly effective ending saves the movie from being a complete failure.
Favorite Scene: The ending, where Alice is given Alicia’s memories and sets out to continue fighting the undead.
Of all six films, Apocalypse is the one that feels like the most faithful adaptation of the games, due to following the basic story of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, complete with corresponding characters, monsters, and Nemesis himself coming to life via fantastic practical effects. Plus, LJ – while a walking stereotype – is a welcome source of comic relief. Unfortunately, Alice is at her worst here, acting like a smug high schooler who thinks she’s the toughest girl around and doesn’t give a shit about anyone but herself, going out of her way to steal everyone’s thunder for her own glory.
Favorite Scene: Nemesis attacking the STARS members and sparing LJ
Retribution is in the unenviable position of being a commercial for The Final Chapter, and rewatching it knowing that all of the plot points it sets up will never be fulfilled makes it a bittersweet experience. However, it does has a lot of funactionsequences, the greatest variety of locations from any of the films, and the ending is still the best in the series.
The most original film of the series, Extinction is a satisfying, post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-style daylight horror film set almost entirely in a desert wasteland, a setting that has never appeared in the games. Coupled with good action sequences, a fantastic third-act fight against Dr. Issacs, and agreatsoundtrack, it’s a fun film that succeeds at carving out its own identity while staying true to the Resident Evil spirit.
The best film of the series is a blast, starting with an exciting assault on Umbrella headquarters before turning into a perfectly-paced siege film with plenty of memorable action sequences, including a fight against the Axeman, who’s my favorite monster from the games, and like Nemesis, was brought to life perfectly, and finishing with a duel against Albert Wesker, the most memorable character in the series. While the cliffhanger ending does prevent the movie from being self-contained and acting as a satisfying series finale, the rest of the film is a great watch, and I always enjoy watching it again and again.
Favorite Scene: The battle between Claire and the Axeman, which is my favorite scene of the entire series. The water, that massive axe, the music, all of it is just perfect!
Imagine that the year is 2001, and you’re off to see Peter Jackson’s adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You love the books and can’t wait to see them brought to life on the big screen! You get your popcorn, take your seat, eagerly wait as the lights go down… and then watch a movie that follows a bunch of characters you’ve never heard of as they infiltrate a fortress never mentioned in the books. None of Tolkien’s characters appear, and while a few monsters do menace the heroes (orcs, uruk-hai, and a warg), the story ultimately has nothing to do with his books.
How would you feel after the movie was over? Probably infuriated that you got something that has a passing resembles its source material but is more interested in showcasing the writer’s own ideas than the story you paid to see. That’s what the Resident Evil films feel like: a series of movies that had a mountain of material to take inspiration from, but chose to go its own way for better or worse. And while the films were critical failures, they were financial successes, going on to become – for a time – the most successful live-action video game movie franchise, and the most financially successful horror film series in history.
But no matter their financial and critical success, the Resident Evil films were always destined to be B movies meant to provide lots of action and thrills with little to no philosophical musings about the human condition or discussions of morality. And by that criteria, the films largely delivered on what they set out to do, thanks to three things:
1. All the films have simple stories with clear, achievable goals for the characters.
2. They take the basic idea of the games (zombies get lose and have to be stopped before they infest the world) and expand on it (zombies get lose, take over the world, and have to be stopped before the human race is wiped out) in a way that feels true to the spirit of the series, allowing fans to see characters and monsters from said games in new and unique scenarios.
3. They have lots of unique action sequences featuring monsters and characters from the games, sometimes re-created shot for shot.
Yet, for all their success, the films don’t quite reach the height of what they could have been; they suffer from an overarching story that feels disjointed and held together with staples, duct-tape, and Elmer’s school glue when viewed back to back, due to said story being made up film-by-film as the series went along. And while all the elements for great action movies are present, the biggest obstacle holding the films back boils down to one thing: Alice, the main character.
For all the anecdotes listed above, the Resident Evil films have another, unofficial distinction: they’re the most expensive fan-fiction story of all time in that they follow an original character throughout her adventures in the Resident Evil universe. And like poorly-written fan-fiction, said character is a black hole sue whom the entire universe revolves around. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is either:
1. Trying to kill or capture her.
2. Taking orders from her or trying to save her, often at great risk to themselves.
3. Admiring how awesome she is.
Furthermore, Alice is extra-special in-universe because she’s one of only two people in the world to successfully bond with the T-virus without any side effect, the other being Angela from the second film. But then Alice gets a one-up on Angela by becoming the only person on Earth to get psychic powers, and then she gets an army of clones who also has psychic powers, and then she defeats the Umbrella corporation and saves the human race from extinction, sacrificing her life in the process, only to return to life, making her a modern-day Jesus (if Jesus went around killing zombies with guns and psychic powers, that is).
But did you notice something about that description? The established characters from the games – Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Claire Redfield, Carlos, Albert Wesker, etc. – have almost no part to play in the fight for humanity. While they may shoot guns and kill zombies, they’re reduced to supporting characters, only existing to help Alice accomplish her quest. If they get a moment to do something cool that has nothing to do with Alice, she’ll swoop in and steal that moment (see: Jill trying to save Becky, Claire trying to defeat the Axeman, etc.).
While she has her sympathetic moments, and ultimately goes from being an unlikable jerk to a heroic clone trying to save the human race, there’s no escaping the fact that Alice is the biggest problem with the Resident Evil films. If she had been replaced with, say, Jill Valentine, and not gotten any special powers, we would have gotten a series that went like this:
Jill Valentine – a cop with the Raccoon City police department – teams up with her allies to fight off a zombie apocalypse, only to learn that their employer, the Umbrella corporation, is responsible for the outbreak. Armed with nothing but guns, their wits, and their determination, Jill, Claire, Chris, Barry, Carlos, Nicholai, Sergei, Leon, Ada, and newcomers Luther, LJ, Rain, Chase, and Betty roam the apocalyptic wastelands, trying to stop Umbrella and save the human race, eventually having to team with their arch-nemesis Albert Wesker in a final, desperate assault that leaves them just narrowly managing to save the human race and destroying Umbrella once and for all, allowing Jill and her friends to begin rebuilding a ruined world.
Doesn’t that sound like a great story? If we had gotten that, it’s my belief that the series would have been better recieved by both fans and critics. But instead, it was foiled by a newcomer who shoves everyone else aside so she can be the messiah. And in that lies the one lesson the ‘Resident Evil’ films offers to writers:
When adapting a franchise from one medium to another, stay true to the spirit of the source material while keeping the focus on established characters instead of newcomers.
While things will inevitably be changed in any adaptation, writers need to still present the story fans come to see. Tell the story from the original book, show, or game, respect said story, and use new ideas and new characters to compliment and support the original, not overshadow it.
Viewing the Resident Evil films years after the series concluded was a fascinating experience for me: I can’t think of any other series adaptation that has good production values, a real sense that the filmmakers were trying hard and learning from their mistakes, but still runs the gauntlet from awful to fantastic (in a B movie way). Most frustrating is that there was always the feeling that the films were always a few inches away from reaching their full potential, and it does happen a few times! Most of the action sequences – save those from the last film – are a lot of fun, the post-apocalyptic world is well done, the monsters are mostly great, and, despite all the changes made, it really does feel like a Resident Evil story come to life… it’s just not the one we should have gotten.
In the end, despite its missteps, the Resident Evil film series mostly accomplishes what it set out to do, in my opinion. It started weak, gradually got better, reached its zenith, then fell flat on its face at the end, but managed to get to its feet and cross the finish line. If you’re a fan of action movies, zombies, horror, and video games, I believe they’re still worth a watch. But most of all, they’re an important reminder that when we, as writers, are adapting someone else’s work, we’re stewards for that story. It is up to us to faithfully adapt it as best we can and respect it, even when we have to make changes. If we deliver a faithful and respectful adaptation, we’ll not only delight long-term fans, but introduce others to a world that they’ll want to explore, guiding them towards the original books, games,and stories, ensuring that a beloved story will earn a new generation of fans and be kept alive for years to come.
It’s the evening of January 26th, 2017. Five years have passed since ‘Resident Evil: Retribution,’ and two friends and I leave the theater, where we were the only people to watch the premiere of ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.” As we enter the lobby, one of the theater employees asks us how it was. I tell him about the film’s ludicrous mistakes, continuity errors, and how it wants us to care about all the newcomers, like Bearded Man, Blue Shirt Girl, That Guy With The Skull Sword, etc., and how it so desperately wanted me to feel sad when Blue Shirt Girl is chopped into mincemeat via a giant fan, despite the fact that she had been on screen for maybe two minutes and I knew nothing about her.
The longer I talk, I realize just how absurd everything is that’s coming out of my mouth to the point where I laugh at realizing I’ve watched one of the worst films in recent memory. Now, having watched the film for the first time in six years, I’m surprised to find that the passage of time has softened my views and made me realize that ‘The Final Chapter’ isn’t bad: it’s hilariously awful.
Join me now as we take a look at the comedic masterpiece that is ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.’
What does the film do well?
It has a cool armored vehicle
Post-apocalyptic films frequently show humanity creating wicked-looking vehicles to help them survive in the wastes, and ‘The Final Chapter’ features a particularly cool mobile command tank equipped with missile launchers, miniguns, hidden compartments for storing motorcycles, nasty spikes, and the ability to communicate with Umbrella headquarters. Granted, all this firepower can’t kill someone driving away from it in a straight line, but it’s still a cool design that almost single-handily destroys the tower Claire and her fellow survivors have taken in, and is a worthy adversary for them to take on in a fight.
It has two memorable villains
Despite being sliced to bits in ‘Extinction,’ we get not one, but two Dr. Issacs in ‘The Final Chapter’: One is a clone who’s an insane religious fanatic, and the other is is the original Issacs, the calm, collected CEO of Umbrella ultimately responsible for the T-virus outbreak, making him the main villain of the entire saga… and unlike other greedy CEO’s, he’s a shockingly good fighter who can hold his own against Alice thanks to some nifty implanted computer technology that lets him dodge bullets, predict what his opponent is going to do, and even heal him after a grenade blasts out his torso, and would have killed her if she hadn’t used her wits to win.
It has the triple-barreled shotgun from the video games
The post-apocalyptic world is a great place to utilize awesome weapons, and what’s better than a sawed-off shotgun? A sawed-off shotgun with three barrels! It may not survive past the movie’s halfway point, but it’s still a cool gun that gets a decent amount of use.
It goes back to where the saga started
‘The Final Chapter’ takes place almost entirely within Raccoon City and the Hive, the locations of the first two movies. For the final film in the series, coming back to where the story began not only gives the story a chance to revisit old locations and reveal new areas within them (such as the cryogenic chamber and that sweet office located beneath the Hive), but to also let the audience reflect on how much has happened since Alice woke up in that shower stall so many years ago, and how she’s changed since her quest to destroy Umbrella began.
It brings back one of the characters from the previous films
Aside from Alice, Wesker, and Issacs, the only returning character from the previous films is Claire Redfield, who is now the leader of the survivors based in Raccoon City. She may not have much to do other than run, shoot guns, and accompany Alice into the Hive, but it’s nice that Alice gets at least one ally from the previous films to help her out, including helping her take on Issacs at the climax.
It gives the Umbrella Corporation a clever motive for everything they’ve done
The biggest revelation of ‘The Final Chapter’ is that instead of the viral outbreak being the result of corporate sabotage and greed, the outbreak was done on purpose: After realizing that Earth was heading towards global catastrophe due to climate change and societal breakdown, Issacs decided to release the virus to ‘cleanse’ the planet so that Umbrella could repopulate it afterwords.
While it may fall apart upon closer inspection (see the entry below on retcons), this revelation not only shows how cold and heartless the Umbrella corporation really is, but also reveals that Issacs is the main villain of the entire series, a man responsible for the murder of billions of people. And shockingly, the plan is… logical. While it’s a horrific, immoral plan that no sane person would dare go through with, it does make sense on a cold, logical level. The best villain plans are ones where the viewer pauses and wonders if they might have a point, and this revelation is an excellent example.
It concludes the series, yet still has an open ending
Unlike so many other franchises (especially horror) that claim to have final chapters, ‘The Final Chapter’ actually follows through on this promise in a clever way: Alice manages to release the airborne antivirus, which will cover the globe and destroy all the zombies, monsters, and undead, saving humanity. The only problem is that it will take years for this to happen, giving Alice plenty of time to continue roaming the earth and killing monsters.
This is a great example of the ‘And the Adventure Continues’ trope: It concludes the series’ story, but lets our imaginations run wild at all the adventures Alice will have as she roams the world (assuming she isn’t eaten by those three bat-things seconds after the screen cuts to black).
What could have been done better?
It could have edited the film so it didn’t look like a 2000’s music video
Here on Imperfect Glass, the focus is primarily on story and characters instead of production values and the physical aspects of filmmaking, but I’ll make an exception to say that the editing on ‘Resident Evil: The Final Chapter’ is awful.
If there was ever a film to showcase why ultra-fast editing with handheld camera shots should be permanently done away with, ‘The Final Chapter’ is it.
It could have not made so many retcons (that don’t work)
Beyond the awful editing, ‘The Final Chapter’ is most notable for featuring numerous retcons that alter the saga’s storyline all the way back to the first movie. While retcons are not a bad thing in and of themselves and can add new and exciting ideas to enhance past events, none of ‘The Final Chapter’s retcons work. At all.
1. In ‘Retribution,’ the Red Queen had taken over Umbrella, gone homicidal, and wanted to wipe out all life on Earth. But in ‘The Final Chapter,’ she still works for Umbrella and wants to help Alice save the last remaining human survivors by bringing Umbrella down.
2. The Red Queen states that she cannot harm an employee of the Umbrella Corporation, forgetting that she killed everyone in the Hive in the first movie. (maybe they were independent contractors?)
3. In ‘Retribution,’ Wesker made it clear that he broke Alice out of Umbrella Prime in order to give her back her psychic powers so she could help him defeat the Red Queen and save humanity. But in this movie, the Red Queen tells Alice that Wesker only pretended to give Alice back her powers, and that his plan was actually a trap in order to kill her and everyone else.
This plan makes no sense. If Wesker really wanted to kill Alice and everyone else who could stop him, then here’s what he needed to do:
-Go with his strike team to Umbrella Prime.
-Plant the explosives and follow team into Umbrella Prime.
-At the first opportunity, abandon the strike team and head back to the surface.
-Detonate the explosives to destroy the facility and kill everyone in it, including Alice.
-Head back to the Hive, enjoy alcoholic beverages, and play Mario Kart 64 to pass the time while waiting for the T-virus to finish wiping out all life on Earth.
4. The aforementioned retcon of Umbrella purposefully releasing the T-virus is a great idea… but the first film clearly shows that it was released in the Hive as an act of sabotage, and subsequently released into the open by idiotic Umbrella operatives. ‘Extinction’ showed that Umbrella was trying to find a way to control the zombies and stop the outbreak instead of just waiting for the virus to do its thing, ‘Afterlife’ had Umbrella kidnapping survivors to use them as test subjects to make even more powerful zombies, and ‘Retribution’ had the Red Queen-controlled corporation trying to wipe out all life on Earth (despite the Red Queen wanting to save humanity).
To be generous, it is possible that while Umbrella high command knew of the plan, their underlings and armies of clones didn’t and were trying to contain and control it, but why make all those clones in the first place? And why would Issacs make not one, but two clones of himself? And if Wesker is part of Umbrella high command, why would he stay awake for the apocalypse and run around instead of staying asleep with everyone else? Wouldn’t Issacs have wanted to keep him under instead of risking Wesker betraying him?
5. The second film established that Charles Ashford created the virus to save his little girl from dying, but this film says that it was actually a man named James Marcus who discovered it to save his daughter from dying. So who was it that ultimately created the T-Virus?
6. Alice says that the US government nuked Raccoon City when it was clearly the Umbrella Corporation that fired the nuke in an attempt to keep the virus under control (and again, if they had purposefully released the virus, why bother trying to contain it?).
7. It’s stated that the T-virus is airborne and infected the world in days after escaping Raccoon City… but at the end of the film, it’s said that it will take the antivirus years to spread to every corner of the globe via the same method. Yes, it traveled faster with jet planes, but it’s still airborne. Furthermore, it’s been established in every film so far that the T-virus is spread via bites from the undead; if the T-Virus is airborne, everyone in the series should have been infected by the end of the second movie and turned into zombies.
It could have brought back the characters from the cliffhanger ending of the last movie and removed all the new ones
Arguably the most exciting idea from the end of ‘Retribution’ was the thought that Wesker, Alice, Leon, Jill, and Ada would join forces to save humanity in ‘The Final Chapter’ after an awesome fight at the White House.
It doesn’t happen, and the battle we want to see is already over when the film starts. Like ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Terminator: Dark Fate,’ which both killed off some of their most important characters in the opening minutes, ‘The Final Chapter’ kills Leon, Jill, and Ada (and presumably, Becky) before ‘The Final Chapter’ even starts. They’re never seen, never mentioned, and Alice doesn’t even mourn Becky, who she fought so hard to save in ‘Retribution.’
Now, while killing off beloved side characters can and often is a bad idea, it can work: Focusing a story entirely on the main character and their attempts to overcome grief and loss while trying to save others is a powerful story idea and give us even more reasons for us to care for them. That could have worked with ‘The Final Chapter,’ had it focused mainly on Alice. Problem is, the film introduces a horde of new characters to work with Alice, and none of them are memorable. We have:
1. Doc, the group’s medic, Claire’s boyfriend, and a traitor who works for Umbrella
2. Post Apocalyptic Leather Guy Who Hates Everyone And Has A Goofy Skull Sword
3. Blue-Shirt Girl
4. Bearded Guy Who Never Talks
5. Guy From Issac’s Tank
6. That Other Guy
The climax of a story is not the place to introduce hordes of new characters: You don’t have time to do it well enough to get the audience to care about them, and the purpose of a climax is to see the characters who have gone on a journey reach its end. We’ve invested time following them and want to see how their story ends. Introducing one or two new characters can be pulled off (Denethor from The Return of the King, for example), but writers need to focus on resolving the journey of those who have come this far.
It could have made Wesker the main villain
As if things couldn’t be more disappointing, Wesker, the suave, smug, and oh so fun to watch villain from ‘Afterlife’ and ‘Retribution,’ is butchered in ‘The Final Chapter.’ Instead of being the ultimate bad guy who everyone has to work together to even stand a chance of defeating, he’s an incompetent adversary who spends the movie giving the Red Queen orders, preparing alcoholic drinks like a James Bond villain, and eventually resorts to waking Issacs up to stop Alice, all because Wesker failed to close a door hours before Alice got even close to Raccoon City.
It’s hard to imagine Wesker dying any more pathetically, short of choking to death on a pretzel; as a refresher, Wesker survived getting his brains blown out in ‘Afterlife,’ and then survived an explosion powerful enough to destroy a city-sized subterranean complex. Having him die in such a laughable manner is insulting to the character. To be fair, killing off such a powerful villain is always a hard task, doubly so if writers have had them survive impossible odds in the past. But while a memorable death scene can be the most satisfying moment of a story, a laughable death scene is memorable, too, but for all the wrong reasons.
It could have had a more memorable final boss fight
The finale of ‘The Final Chapter’ has Alice fighting Issacs to get the antivirus, then running to the surface to release it. While it works fine as it is, it would have been more gripping if Issacs had been replaced by Wesker, and their final fight wasn’t in the laser hallway, but something similar to how Wesker is fought and killed in Resident Evil 5. While putting a volcano underneath Raccoon City wouldn’t make sense, having it take place in an area similar to one of the final boss fights of Resident Evil 6 would work equally as well.
Plus, if the film had brought back Chris, it would have been an opportunity for him to punch a boulder into lava. Goofy, yes, but it would have been a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. But most likely for budget reasons, the final fight is a simple fistfight in the laser hallway from the first film. It works, but feels like a missed opportunity.
Even now, all these years later, it’s still shocking to see how the final chapter of Anderson’s saga fell flat on its face. While it does have some good ideas, and manages to have a good final few minutes, it’s not enough to save the film as a whole. But what about the series as a whole? Join us next time when we examine all six films at once and see what conclusions can be made about the series and the lessons it offers to writers about writing video game movies.