Hey nerders, Zach here. I just got out of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and I’ve been thinking about why I so thoroughly enjoyed what is not, in any “objective” sense, a good film.
Resident Evil, as a film series, exists in this weird pseudo-genre of film we collectively call “B-Movies.” Now what defines a B-movie is not the content itself, but the quality of the content. B-Movies tend to be low-budget, they tend to have bad special effects, the scripts always need at least three to four more drafts before they make any sense, and they’re almost always really intriguing on a conceptual level, but consistently fall short of their ambitions.
Case in point: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Now, this is the sixth movie in this franchise, and all five movies before this one are simultaneously critical to understanding what is going on yet at the same time entirely superfluous. Does a previous film explain why a zombie virus has created a mutant dragon? Probably. Does the presence of mutant dragons at any point in time become relevant in this movie? Not really. Nonetheless, there are several mutant dragons in this movie. There are also mutant dogs, clones with superpowers, clones without superpowers, clones who are maybe not clones, at least one cyborg, a Catholic religious fanatic, and… whatever this thing was.
Characters are introduced and given character arcs that end in exactly one scene, and promptly forgotten about or killed. In fact, I’m positive our heroes arrive at the Umbrella Co. hideout with one less person than they left with and it is never addressed. The fact I can’t even remember speaks enough for itself. The twists are obvious, the drama is DRAMATIC, and the pacing appears to speed up every time someone says the phrase “T-Virus.” All the component parts of this film fail, with the exception of a handful of action set-pieces that succeed entirely based on the insanity of what goes on and how little since it actually makes. At no point do you even understand what the stakes are except apparently humanity? But there’s like enough people underground to repopulate Earth? But they’re bad so we’re just gonna kill everyone?
None of it matters. Not a lick of it, and yet. AND YET. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I thought it was a blast. I’d go so far as to recommend it. Why am I so forgiving of a film that exists so Mila Jovovich can do kung-fu flips in tight leather and just beat the ever loving shit out of Jorah Mormont when I cannot stand Suicide Squad, which is much better made and (dare I say) written?
Tone is the answer. For as high concept as Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is, the movie lacks any pretensions at being more than the sum of its parts. It’s honestly refreshing. A film like Suicide Squad wants to demand a certain respect from their audience. Everything about its presentation begs me to take seriously this group of colorful assholes beating up CGI monsters while constantly telling me how “bad” they are.
Resident Evil though? Resident Evil could care less if I “respect” it. I don’t mean to say that the film somehow disrespects or devalues the audience’s opinion; I just think that the film does not demand my praise. It cultivates an environment that invites the audience to watch not because the action is good, or because we care about the characters, but simply to enjoy the next nonsensical set-piece they came up with. Entertainment for entertainment’s sake.
Suicide Squad on the other hand, takes itself so dreadfully serious. Deadshot, the man who dresses in a gimp-outfit and shoots people, has a DAUGHTER. And Harley Quinn is Joker’s QUEEN. She BELONGS to him. (That particular mess is a WHOLE OTHER issue). We, the audience, are not invited to enjoy–we are commanded to respect these well-shot, ultimately boring action sequences and equally boring characters. In contrast, Resident Evil tries to earn that investment (however cheaply) by throwing false jump scares–so many that we’re actively waiting to see which improbable death-trap actually manages to kill someone. Is Alice gonna make it through the weird mutant Predator fight?
Yeah probably, but what kind of death scene will we get for her friend? What kind of creative ploy will she use to somehow kill it? How will she devise another strategy when it doesn’t die the first time? Or the second time? Tonally the film is totally neutral on whether or not we should care for any reason other than those other dudes are like, super crazy and clearly evil. More than that it’s because the longer our heroes last the more awesome stunts we get to see.
But let’s get more specific. I’m gonna talk about two scenes, equally poorly done, about mistrust. In Resident Evil we are hastily introduced to a group of survivors in the bombed out shell of Raccoon city. Their names are not important. One of them is a gear head, one of them is the leader, one of them is the sensible one, and then there’s this guy:
I’m gonna call him Jim. Jim is distrustful of Alice. He is distrustful because this is the apocalypse and that is what you do. We further establish that he has a problem with Leader, because as the distrustful one he must challenge authority when it comes to trusting strangers. He eventually trusts Alice because that is how these character arcs end. It barely qualifies as a character arc. The “sequence” in which Alice earns his trust involves her ziplining down a horde of zombies, while the ground is on fire, outrunning said zombies, killing exactly 3 human beings, and then somehow leading the zombie horde away even though we haven’t seen the horde in several minutes.
Now for Suicide Squad. Rick Flagg is the army sergeant in charge of the Squad that is bent on Suicide, because his woman (therefore property) has been possessed by an as-yet unnamed Evil Spirit. He is distrustful of Deadshot because he is a man who kills people for money; Deadshot is also a coward because he kills from a distance. Yet, because he uses different guns and shoots people at a slightly closer range, by his logic he is not a coward. Deadshot proves himself by jumping on top of a car and shooting a bunch of CGI monsters, outside of cover, even though we’ve established the accuracy of the CGI squad, and killing a bunch of them in what I imagine was supposed to be his “badass” moment.
Now between the two, Suicide Squad is almost certainly more coherent. But this “conflict” between two manly men is equally as artificial and stupid as the Resident Evil one, Suicide Squad just expects me to take it seriously– as serious as if this were a legitimate conflict between two men who were not part of a group including a giant alligator man a woman with a sword who steals souls. Resident Evil establishes the barest frame of a character to use for the purposes of setting up a spectacular action sequence. The audience is not expected to take the events anywhere near as serious as the characters, and this is reflected in the tone of the scenes, namely in how incredibly short they are.
That is what Resident Evil gets that Suicide Squad doesn’t. You can’t ask me to take seriously a man with boomerangs drinking beer with an international assassin and a talking alligator with the kind of severity I would a scene from the Godfather. While it is important for films to be internally consistent, a good director must ask the audience for exactly the right kind of investment. Wes Anderson asks for exactly the right amount, David Ayer asked for far too much. Tone matters.
Also just look at this outfit:
That is the outfit of someone who KNOWS he’s a B-Movie villain. You don’t design an outfit like this if you’re going for anything other than camp.