One also can’t look at the franchise as a whole without praising the fact it’s a six-film series that has put female characters front and centre without fear of ‘box office backlash’. Hollywood is an industry that has convinced themselves (as I wrote about extensively here) that female-led action movies are box office poison and they’re therefore afraid to try it. This is changing somewhat with 2017 seeing the release of Ghost in the Shell and Wonder Woman, but that’s only two movies in a sea of dozens of male-led movies. The Resident Evil series – since its inception in 2002 – has never had that fear. This is mostly because the first movie was a British-German production with no American money invested (Sony only stepped in at the end to release it, and even then they contemplated putting it straight to DVD), and this allowed the filmmakers to work outside of the Hollywood rules. “If this movie was made in America they would have had a guy and we would have been his harem or entourage,” Milla Jovovich told the BBC in 2002. “Big studios don’t trust that women will bring in that kind of audience. [Lara Croft: Tomb Raider] was really an exception to the rule. Most of the time, if you make a big action film there has to be a big action guy in it. It’s very European to trust a woman to play that kind of a role.” While re-watching the series prior to the release of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, my girlfriend (a first time viewer to the series) noted that Alice’s costumes were sexy, but not sexualised. There is such a big difference between the two that some filmmakers miss. The outcry about Karen Gillan’s costume in the Jumanji films is a good example of this, as is the ridiculous idea of giving the female Power Rangers heels in their boots in the upcoming reboot. And it’s not just Jovovich’s Alice. There’s Rain in Resident Evil, Jill Valentine in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Claire Redfield in Resident Evil: Extinction and Resident Evil: Afterlife, and Ruby Rose’s Abigail in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. In a world where many outlets praised Ghostbusters solely because it was an all-female reboot regardless of its disappointing mediocrity, why doesn’t Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich get the praise they deserve?
So, when it’s doing all this good, why don’t people like the franchise? When the first trailer was released for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Flickering Myth’s resident grump Anghus Houvouras noted, “Has there ever been a franchise as consistently terrible as Resident Evil?” adding, “For my money Resident Evil is the king of the garbage heap.” Chris Cooper felt the same saying,“ I will admit that I watch them when they come on TV, but I only ever spend it getting dizzy from eye rolling.” Film reviews have been so bad for the franchise that Anderson and Sony stopped holding advanced press screenings in the States all together because they were always going to get negative reviews regardless of their actual quality. Although, as Anderson argues, why does he need positive reviews when each film turns in a huge profit? Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise certainly doesn’t.
There are those, on the other hand, who do enjoy the film series on a certain level. Some of our other writers called the series, “bloody awful films” but admitted to enjoying them. And given how well the series has done – having recently passed the $1 billion mark as a franchise – clearly Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil has found an audience. And there is one simple reason for that, and one he deserves a huge amount of credit for.
As alluded to earlier, Anderson hasn’t created a series of video game movies, he’s made his own franchise based on ideas from a video game series and brought in his own fan base. One problem some filmmakers face when adapting a video game for the big screen is focusing too much on appeasing its fans and ignoring regular cinemagoers who don’t have a clue who these characters or adventures are. Doom doesn’t work as a movie because it spends a portion of its final act trying to emulate the style and presentation of its video game counterpart. On paper this sounds like a great idea, but as a film experience it completely fails because there is a disconnect between film and viewer. We are not in control of the actions of Doom on-screen, and therefore we don’t get the same rush of endorphins we do playing the video game Doom in the darkness late at night. I was recently interviewed by CNET about why Resident Evil was the most successful video game movie series of all-time and I simply answered: You don’t have to be a part of the Resident Evil game series fan base to enjoy the film, and in doing this Anderson created his own film fan base that turn up to see the next chapter of Alice’s adventure.
You can argue that they’re nothing like that games, and you’re well within your rights to do so. But a video game movie shouldn’t simply try and emulate the source material, just as comic book movies shouldn’t do panel-for-panel adaptations. The MCU works so much better than Zack Snyder’s Watchmen for this very reason. Super Mario Bros., for all its failings, should be praised for its boldness in creating something so vastly different from the game. It’s why Resident Evil works so much better than most other video game movie adaptations, and why it’s so successful. “Hardcore fans can disagree and say the colour of Jill Valentine’s outfit isn’t quite correct or whatever, but these movies were made with an appreciation and respect of the source material,” Anderson tells me. “I think that’s one of the reasons they work. If you’re a fan you can see that. You may not agree with all the choices, but you can see the choices were made by someone who was really into the world of Resident Evil. Just as I was into the world of Mortal Kombat or Dead or Alive. That’s why those movies work.”
Are the Resident Evil films perfect? Far from it. Do they always make sense? That’s debatable. Are they always good fun? I would argue they are. And they deserve any praise or defence they’re given.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.