Resident Evil films 1-3: Horror or Hogwash?

September 30, 2010

Resident Evil Film Trilogy – Rant and Reviews by Isaac

As a longtime fan of the Resident Evil videogame series, the films have given me no end of grief. Writer and Director Paul W.S. Anderson seems to love nothing more than tossing out decades of successful character development and familiar plotlines for his own harebrained ideas. Thankfully, the newest release in the RE film franchise showed a return to the source material, but I’ll get to that in my post Resident Evil: Afterlife – in 3D.

For those of you who have never played the games, Resident Evil features more or less ordinary cops/field agents who end up in creepy abandoned mansions/labs/dungeons and have to fight off zombies with limited health and ammunition. The zombie outbreak is always part of some conspiracy (involving the eugenics company Umbrella) and in the end our hero fights off some huge monster and escapes with their life.

Paul W.S. Anderson started the RE film franchise with a ‘fresh approach.’ New characters, new scenarios, but more or less the same “creepy abandoned lab, zombies, mega Umbrella conspiracy,” etc. I didn’t have a problem with this storyline until his main character, “Alice” (played by Milla Jovovich,) underwent genetic experimentation and developed super-powers.

I wish I was kidding.

Alice is apparently the perfect host for the T-virus, which simply turns everyone else into zombies. But not Alice, oh no. Alice’s DNA bonds with the T-virus and turns her into a super-fast, super-strong, agile, psionic/telekinetic, war machine. (Think Trinity from the Matrix trilogy and you’ve got the idea.) But it didn’t stop there, we later discover that Umbrella made an army of Alice clones. Needless to say, this was as much a departure from the story and esthetic of the game as possible. Replacing the zombies with Ewoks could have yielded better results.

It became clear to me that Paul W.S. Anderson doesn’t really care about Resident Evil, or zombies, or plot, for that matter. No, Paul Anderson only cares about adding his own cool character to an existing story and uses the title “Resident Evil” to make money. This practice of adding your own super-powered (female) hero into an existing story and thus altering the storyline has been done for generations, and is now viewable in all its angst and shame on fanfiction websites. What Paul W.S. Anderson did is nothing clever at all, he added a “Mary Sue” to the Resident Evil franchise.
(I highly suggest reading on this topic.)

Allow me to quote the opening paragraph from the wiki:
A “Mary Sue” in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as “Mary Sues” is that they are too ostentatious for the audience’s taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the “Mary Sue” character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an “author’s pet”.


Trenchcoat, combat boots, AND dual wielding!? This is Mary-Sue overload!

In short, my teenage memories of exploring creaky mansions with only three bullets degenerated into kung-fu and bullet-time on the big screen. Relatable characters and iconic villains were cut for thick eyeliner, one-liners, and basically making “Alice” look as cool and sexy as possible. These films are still enjoyable as mindless action flicks, but there is so much more potential here. And despite featuring zombie hordes, mindless isn’t what Resident Evil is all about.

Remember this guy from Resident Evil: Apocalypse? - Vaguely? Do you remember him being scary? -No? ... my point exactly.

My summary of the first three films:

Resident Evil (2002)

This started out well. Main character Alice wakes up with amnesia (Mary-Sue trope #37), and joins a team of Umbrella commandos to investigate a deadly accident in a secret underground lab. The plot focuses on Alice slowly regaining her memory, befriending Matt, and the T-virus capable of turning humans into zombies. The story ends with the infection escaping the Umbrella lab and spreading into the city.

Overall a decent film, but mediocre storytelling and Mary-Sue tropes make it a little hard to swallow. It retells the basic Resident Evil origin plot, but without the chilling horror, character development, or iconic villains.

Rating: 2.5 / 5 Zipped Lips – disappointing.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

The infection is quickly spreading throughout Raccoon City. Jill Valentine and Carlos (characters from the games) join Umbrella teams to rescue survivors and kill zombies throughout the city. Alice discovers she’s been the subject of a T-virus experiment and is developing super-powers (Mary-Sue trope #22). Mega-zombie “Nemesis” hunts down Alice and a fist-to-fist climactic showdown reveals that Nemesis is actually Alice’s friend Matt from the first film, mutated into a monster by the T-virus. Alice asks Nemesis to look inside his heart and do the right thing (Mary-Sue trope #76). Alice and Nemesis kill some Umbrella baddies and escape the city before it’s destroyed by nuclear weapons.

The first 2/3rds of Apocalypse took some great steps, but the ending deflated the entire plot of the movie. We’re treated to a few action-packed scenes only to have the rug pulled out. – Where did the original Resident Evil plot go? Why did Paul Anderson have to give Alice super powers? It’s hard to develop horror, tension, and life-and-death circumstances when the main character is practically invincible. Not to mention the Mary-Sue’s involvement completely ruins the most iconic RE monster ever. Way to go, Paul Anderson.

Rating: 2.5 / 5 Zipped Lips – Good action can’t save a terrible plot.

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

The world has officially gone Mad Max, as the world has been consumed by the T-virus. A few survivors, led by Carlos and Claire Redfield (another game character!) trek across the Nevada desert looking for gasoline and cigarettes. Alice wanders the post-apocalyptic setting in search of survivors, eventually saving Carlos and Claire with her developing psionic powers (gag). But Umbrella is up to their old tricks, cloning thousands of “Alice’s” in search of replicating her powers (another Mary-Sue trope).

Do you like Mad Max? The Book of Eli? Then watch those instead of this crap. This movie is garbage. Once again, any terror brought on by zombies or infected monsters is quickly eviscerated by the super-powered Alice. Extinction features a truly juvenile storyline, wisely deciding to make fun of itself and beef up the cgi slow-motion shots. Truly a disappointing, meaningless, and bland addition to the film franchise. They should’ve stuck to the original plotline.


Rating: 1 / 5 Zipped Lips – Trash.


Considering the amount of Mary-Sue tropes, I have long suspected that Paul W.S. Anderson was obsessed with actress Milla Jovovich and that’s why each film has become increasingly more about Alice and less about… well, anything. A simple Wikipedia search shows that the two met and became romantically involved while working on the first RE film. They were engaged in 2003 (before the second film), had a child in 2007 (after the 3rd film), and were married in 2009. – Well that sure explains a lot!

For any of you who haven’t heard about the latest Resident Evil movie in theaters, Afterlife, you can read about it and watch the trailer here. Read my review of it here.


7 Responses to “Resident Evil films 1-3: Horror or Hogwash?”

  1. None of us got into the games, so did not know that Alice had completely nothing to do with the original franchise. Not surprising though. Hollywood often shows little regard to pre-existing foundations when they can put their own “better” stamp on it.

    Mila’s relationship with Anderson does shed light on some things. However the studio knows her name is one that can still move some ticket sales and makes for great disc covers. Alice is like a SUPER Mary-Sue if she is one. She has taken over the entire movie franchise.

    We believe the games never went post-apocalyptic. Is that right? If so that was a draconian step by the filmmakers. One that cannot easily be reversed and changes the tenor of everything. It did not sit right with us. “Extinction” was depressing.

    We agree with you regarding the potential unrealized. We wonder how often Hollywood “re-envisioning” has improved an existing franchise property versus bringing it lower.

  2. Inever play video games but I did enjoy “Afterlife” and blogged on it with more enthusiasm than I expected to feel. The 3D is terrific and it’s pretty great to watch an action-packed movie with two women playing kick-ass auper-beings. Sure makes a change!

  3. Isaac Says:

    Glad you enjoyed the review! You’re correct at the Fortress, the games never went post-apocalyptic. Most plots involve the hero *preventing* an apocalyptic outbreak. Closest it ever got was also shown in the 2nd movie, Raccoon City had to be nuked to stop the infection from spreading. (That happened at the end of RE3.)

    THANKFULLY, Afterlife resets things so they’re not quite so extreme. But more of that in my upcoming review… I really enjoyed Afterlife, and I think 3D was the main reason.

  4. Isaac Says:

    In short: Yes.
    The Resident Evil movies have always been pretty, so adding the layer of 3D really worked well in Afterlife. Does it make it a good movie? – No. Enjoyable? – Definitely yes.

  5. […] seriously, despite hating the first three Resident Evil films (read my article,) I really enjoyed Afterlife. Perhaps I gave up on the idea that these will be good movies and just […]

  6. Isaac Says:

    It is worth noting that Resident Evil 1 and 2 each had (brief) shameless nudity shots of Milla Jovovich. But Resident Evil 3 and 4, (which were filmed *after* her marriage to the director), the clothes stayed on. Interesting…

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