This article contains spoilers for the first six Resident Evil movies
When it was recently announced that Screen Gems and Constantine Film had greenlit a Resident Evil reboot film (with a strong possibility that more films will follow), I found myself feeling mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am a huge Resident Evil fan and I think it has the potential to be just as strong a horror movie franchise as it has already proved to be a strong horror game franchise. However, if Screen Gems and Constantine Film do manage to get a new film off the ground, they need to make sure it is indeed a reboot in as many ways as possible, and that means keeping Paul W.S. Anderson and his wife Milla Jovovich as far away from it as possible.
A Legacy of Mediocrity
For those who don’t know, the Resident Evil film franchise began way back in 2002 with a film that was aptly titled Resident Evil. While it only had very loose connections to the game franchise off which it was based (connections which didn’t really extend beyond references to the T-Virus and Raccoon City), the 2002 film was actually pretty darn good. It had a nice mixture of horror, suspense, and action, it carefully weaved together the game elements and more original plot points into a cohesive and compelling story, and it starred a cast of characters you actually wanted to root for, characters which you were actually sad to see get killed (i.e. most of them).
The original Resident Evil movie also did something that was pretty rare for the time: it starred a female lead. Milla Jovovich, a former supermodel turned actress who, before Resident Evil, was perhaps best known for her role alongside Bruce Willis in the sci-fi classic The Fifth Element, lit up the screen as the badass heroine Alice who fit in surprisingly well alongside more recognizable faces like Michelle Rodriguez and Colin Salmon.
However, since Resident Evil was clearly a movie designed for male audiences, there were several scenes in which Jovovich’s Alice wound up naked with just the barest of coverings to hide her full body, and the main outfit she wore when she wasn’t nearly nude included a short skirt, a low-hung dress, and “sexy” boots. Oh, this is probably the part where I should remind you that Jovovich’s husband, Paul W.S. Anderson, wrote and produced all of the Resident Evil movies, and directed most of them as well.
Yep, Paul W.S. Anderson knew exactly what type of movie guys would want to see, and he clearly wasn’t afraid to use his own former supermodel wife to fully realize that vision. Heck, he would go on to continue realizing that vision five more times with the subsequently released Resident Evil: Apocalypse in 2002, Resident Evil: Extinction in 2007, Resident Evil: Afterlife in 2010, Resident Evil: Retribution in 2012, and finally Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in 2016.
The films followed a loose narrative in which Alice became a sort of prize for the evil Umbrella Corporation to obtain since her exposure to the T-Virus at the end of the first movie had granted her superhuman powers and she used those powers to foil their plans and fight hordes of zombies along the way because of….reasons.
I won’t delve into the plots behind each individual film, but suffice to say that each one was usually peppered with a few throwaway references to the games, Alice would lose her powers, gain them back, lose them again, and then gain them again (no I am not kidding about that one), she’d kill a bad guy only to have them come back two films later since what she actually killed was a clone (Umbrella sure does like its clones), and at some point in virtually every film there was an obligatory scene in which Alice was nearly nude, because of course there was.
All About Alice
Late last year, back when hype for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was starting to really pick up, Paul W.S. Anderson talked about in interviews how he felt the movies were such a financial success because he and his production team respected the Resident Evil source material, and that respect showed in the movies they made. He even badmouthed other production companies that made video game movies without knowing a thing about the source material (which, granted, is a sadly common occurrence), going so far as to use the word “hubris” in his statements.
Paul W.S. Anderson, a man who shamelessly had his own wife do nearly nude scenes and who used elements from the Resident Evil games as little more than disposable props that orbited around the seemingly unstoppable greatness that was Alice, said with a straight face that he respected the source material his films were based off of. I think the reaction piece I wrote in response to those statements perfectly summarizes how much I believed Anderson’s words.
I apologize if this feels like I’m beating a dead horse, but I feel it deserves repeating nonetheless: neither Paul W.S. Anderson nor his wife Milla Jovovich respected the Resident Evil source material, and it’s honestly kind of insulting that they have been pretending they did. Not so much on a personal level, mind you, I have no skin in the game when it comes to Capcom’s relationships with movie makers, but to think that Anderson and his team played the Resident Evil games and then thought that the movies they made were what fans really wanted to see? Anderson is either incredibly bad at figuring out what makes Resident Evil so compelling to gamers, incredibly juvenile, or most likely both.
Now, I wholly acknowledge that virtually all of the Resident Evil movies made a boatload of money (why else would an additional six reboot films be greenlit?), but just because a movie did well financially doesn’t mean it isn’t still a bad movie. When you boil them down to their raw essence, all of the Anderson-made Resident Evil movies (even, sadly, the first one to a degree) are just male power-trip fantasies that star the one super-attractive woman Anderson has ready access to.
Most of the films have flimsy plots, poor pacing, predictable action scenes (Alice meets monster-Alice fights monster-monster dies in less than five minutes, every time), and groan-inducing dialogue, but it’s ok because Milla Jovovich is hot and she gets to meet throwaway versions of characters like Ada Wong and Chris Redfield.
Coming Up For Air
My hope with these newly announced reboots is that Screen Gems and Constantine Film give them some time to breathe and find an identity of their own. I’ll admit that Anderson was actually on to something with the original 2002 Resident Evil movie when he so cleverly mixed elements from the game with his own original stuff, but as the subsequent five movies prove, a promising start can quickly go south, especially when you just hand the reigns over completely to a guy who apparently has nothing better to do other than tarnish the name of a classic game franchise by using it as a springboard for showing off his hot wife.
The new reboot films could be great, but they need to stay as far from the legacy of Alice as they possibly can. I’m not saying they need to be entirely original, since what would a Resident Evil movie be without Umbrella or Raccoon City or throngs of zombies? But take Resident Evil 7 (the game) as a good example to go by. It managed to completely redefine players’ expectations of what a Resident Evil game could be while also keeping enough of the source material so that long-term fans didn’t feel alienated. If the producers behind the upcoming Resident Evil reboot films could follow that same course (and keep the scripts as far away from Paul W.S. Anderson as possible), there is a good chance that the Resident Evil film franchise can be redeemed.