- Monthly Theme: Blockbusters
- The Film: Resident Evil
- Country of origin: U.S.A.
- Date of U.S. release: March 15, 2002
- Studio: Constantin Film Produktion, et al.
- Distributer: Screen Gems
- Domestic Gross: $40 million
- Budget: $33 million (estimated)
- Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
- Producers: Jeremy Bolt, et al.
- Screenwriter: Paul W.S. Anderson
- Adaptation? Yes, based on the 1996 video game Resident Evil and the 1998 video game Resident Evil 2.
- Cinematographer: David Johnson
- Make-Up/FX: Marcus Geiger
- Music: Marco Beltrami & Marilyn Manson
- Part of a series? Yes. This was the first film in the Resident Evil film franchise, which followed with 2004’s Apocalypse, 2007’s Extinction, 2010’s Afterlife and 2012’s Retribution.
- Remakes? No.
- Genre Icons in the cast? No.
- Other notables?: Yes. Hollywood stars Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez. TV stars James Purefoy, Eric Mabius and Colin Salmon.
- Awards?: n/a
- Tagline: “Survive the horror.”
- The Lowdown: Resident Evil is based upon Capcom’s long-running series of survival horror video games. The first Resident Evil game debuted on the Playstation 2 in 1996, combining action/shooter elements with puzzle-solving. The plot of the game concerned the characters of Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, two police officers, who fight their way through a zombie-infested mansion, ultimately discovering a secret underground lab that belongs to the Umbrella Corporation, the group responsible for the zombie outbreak. They also battle a gigantic mutant monster created by the zombie virus. George A. Romero, the auteur behind the “Living Dead” trilogy – Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) – was originally hired to write and direct the film adaptation of the game, but his script – which featured the game’s main characters Redfield and Valentine – was rejected by Sony/Capcom and Romero was fired (this, incidentally, put Romero on the path to making his second trilogy of zombie films in the mid-2000s). Paul W.S. Anderson, the British director of the cult space horror film Event Horizon and the big-screen adaptation of the game Mortal Kombat, wrote his own script in which he threw out most of the characters and plot devices from the original Resident Evil video game, including the characters of Redfield and Valentine. Sony/Capcom approved Anderson’s script and hired him on as director. Milla Jovovich (best known at the time for her role as Leeloo in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element) and Michelle Rodriguez (hot off her turn in the immensely popular carsploitation film The Fast and the Furious) were hired as the stars, playing characters created especially for the film: respectively an amnesiac private security agent named Alice (a character meant to provide thematic connections to Lewis Carroll’s Victorian children’s fantasy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) and Rain, a commando who works for the Umbrella Corporation. The movie adaptation and its four sequels have made close to $900 million in worldwide box office.
If you haven’t seen Resident Evil our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.
Sean: So were you more bored by this movie or by Saw?
Kristine: This movie.
Sean: I am dying.
Kristine: It was so boring and grating. I really disliked it.
Sean: Can you put your finger on why? What grated so?
Kristine: Well, for starters, it was a total rip-off of Alien. I’d say the only positive thing I got out of watching this movie is that it made me appreciate Alien so much more. Remember when we watched Alien and I was ‘meh’ on it? Now that I’ve seen this shitshow I think it is amazing. The actors and performances in Alien are, in hindsight, top-notch. Whereas the acting in Resident Evil sucks, and I usually like at least Michelle Rodriguez and her mumblemouth delivery. Resident Evil also has lots of the metal-and-dripping-water aesthetics of generic science fiction that I loathe. But seeing them so shoddily and derivatively done here made me appreciate how well Alien pulled that off. All the clanging and banging of the setting in Resident Evil was grating and did not contribute to the scare factor or the atmosphere at all. It was just a ridiculous mess with no point, Sean. This movie does not deserve to exist.
Sean: Well, it IS an adaptation of a video game…. Does that cut it any slack with you at all?
Kristine: Hell no. Why would it?
Sean: I guess, just by setting the bar of expectations lower…. By forecasting that it will be a bunch of recycled tropes (which it totally is).
Kristine: I don’t play that. There was exactly one cool part in this whole movie.
Sean: Tell me.
Kristine: I thought the slicey laser thing was cool and gross. I loved the disgusting sticky meat sound when the bodies fall apart. That’s the only cool part. I hated everything else. Did you like the meat slicer laser?
Sean: I did. I thought it was a fun visual joke when it turned into a grid that would be impossible to avoid.
Kristine: Well, on that note, I’m done. I have nothing else to say about this dumdum of a movie.
Sean: Then I guess I should go ahead and get my big “This movie is a feminist triumph” argument out of the way then?
Sean: I want to first say that I sort of like this movie…
Sean: Well, “like” is too strong a word. I find it to be a “very rich text,” if you will.
Sean: I guess the main argument I want to make for this movie is that it is, despite being a very slick and commercial piece of crap, actually a huge step forward in the legitimization of the Western female action hero. Obviously, we’ve had female action heroes for decades in Asian cinema – martial arts, kung fu, wuxia, etc. But I mean, the action hero that provides the center to a successful and ongoing Western franchise (á la Stallone in the Rambo movies, Willis in the Die Hard movies, etc.). I always thought it was a huge deal when the action movie Salt was retooled as a vehicle for Angelina Jolie after Tom Cruise dropped out of the project. The idea that someone like Cruise and someone like Jolie could now ostensibly play the same role in a (possible) franchise film seemed really revolutionary to me.
Kristine: Sure, but how do you link that to this movie?
Sean: One more point. Salt was a marker that the female-led action movie was no longer a fluke. This is something that’s been a long time coming. Sigourney Weaver, as we’ve discussed, was a great proto-action hero in the Alien franchise, though she had to be made “maternal” in order to do it. As we’ve also discussed, Geena Davis tried but failed several times to reinvent herself as a legitimate action star, leading to one of the biggest flops of all time, Cutthroat Island, and one cult classic, The Long Kiss Goodnight (which did decently, but not great, at the box office). Recently we’ve seen a couple of stuntwomen start to break through as action stars – Zoë Bell in Death Proof and the webseries Angel of Death and Gina Carano in Haywire – but they’re still relegated to indie or offbeat projects. They’re not mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, which the Resident Evil films are. In 2002, this movie grossed about $103 million; its sequel made $130 million, Part 3 made $148 million, Part 4 made $296 million, and Part 5 made $222 million. Salt made about $310 million worldwide – so we can see how these female-drive action movies have slowly crept up to blockbuster-level financial success. I mean, The Expendables, that all-star action movie that had Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and everyone else grossed about $274 million, so both Jolie and Jovovich are in the same league. Milla Jovovich is a bigger action star than Jason Statham – none of his solo vehicles, including the Transporter movies, have ever broken $100 million in gross box office. The Rock’s first big solo outing as an action movie star – Doom, which was also an adaptation of a popular video game – only grossed about $55 million. So Jovovich’s Resident Evil movies blow both Statham and The Rock’s movies out of the water financially. I mean, we still don’t have our female Tom Cruise yet… but we’re getting there.
Kristine: Okay, that is legit. You can’t argue with box office. And while that speaks to the feminist in me, it doesn’t even begin to make the filmgoer in me care one whit. The movie still sucked, even if it grossed a lot of money.
Sean: But doesn’t it make you want to give Jovovich some propers? She succeeded where Geena Davis failed…
Kristine: She clearly has some appeal I am missing. You mentioned Zoë Bell and Gina Carano. When I see those ladies in action movies I am really impressed, and not just because they are in indie movies that I actually enjoyed. I wasn’t impressed by any of the “feats” Milla Jovovich pulls off in this movie – IF she indeed pulls them off. Both Bell and Carano are famous for doing their own stunts. Please don’t even try and tell me Jovovich is doing her own shit.
Sean: No, but Bell and Carano are stuntwomen. Jovovich is doing as much as Geena Davis, Sigourney Weaver or Angelina Jolie have ever done… Or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill for that matter (Zoë Bell was her stunt double).
Kristine: I’m just saying. Also Uma Thurman isn’t known as an action star. And you mentioned that we’re working towards a day when we have female action star as bankable as Tom Cruise… Well, Cruise does a lot of his own stunt work, too.
Sean: True (though I can see Jolie being Cruisian in that respect).
Kristine: I am sorry, but I am not impressed with Jovovich other than, like I said, the cultural shift represented by the box office for these movies.
Sean: I also want to make the point that these video game adaptations are the main way that women have broken into the action movie racket in Hollywood. Angelina Jolie got her start as an action star in the Tomb Raider movies. Jovovich has the Resident Evil franchise. So video games – which are a hugely sexist industry – have actually paved the way for women in action cinema. Which seems sort of ironically awesome to me.
Kristine: Okay, I like that… I’ve only seen this movie (I’ve never seen a Tomb Raider film) but my impression is that these movie adaptations feature the same incredibly shallow, one-dimensional female characters from the video games. I would say Jovovich is even less than one-dimensional. The movie even has her character, Alice, suffer memory loss to further the fact that she has no back story or motivation other than that Big Brother is “bad.” Is that really a triumph? Maybe these video game adaptations are how these actresses succeed in mainstream action movies because they feature female characters who are just eroticized ciphers. I mean, isn’t the lead character from the Tomb Raider games known for her ridiculously large breasts and skimpy outfits? It seems to me that these movies succeed because these are the only kinds of “strong” women that sexist audiences can deal with – totally unrealistic, totally one-dimensional, totally fetishized, totally unchallenging.
Sean: You’re absolutely right. But I would argue that these (highly problematic) adaptations served their purpose – as vehicles to kick the door down for women. Now Jolie can make almost any movie she wants… The difference between Lara Croft and Evelyn Salt as images of female strength are pretty stark. I would never claim that the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil movies are anything more than insipid… But they have a sociocultural significance that I find fascinating.
Kristine: I have a question. I agree with you that Angelina Jolie is at a point in her career where she can make any movie she wants. But do you think audiences will stick with her?
Sean: In the action genre? Hell yes. Both Wanted and Salt were gigantic successes. She’s proven her chops.
Kristine: Is that really a triumph for women in cinema, or just a personal triumph for her? And also, what if she strays from action? Does she still have the same clout?
Sean: I can think of at least a dozen action movie vehicles for women that have happened since Jolie established herself in the genre. I also want to point out that Zoe Saldana starred in an action movie called Colombiana in 2011. A major action movie starring a Dominican/Puerto Rican – who also “reads” as African-American – female action hero? That is something. And I’d actually argue that Angelina Jolie can stray from action movie parts with greater freedom than the average male action hero. People like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham and The Rock are usually trapped in the action genre and their only way out is comedy (Kindergarten Cop, Tooth Fairy, et al.). Jolie can front a major action movie and also an Oscar-awards pedigree “serious” drama like Changeling. Very few male action movie stars have that kind of flexibility in their careers. Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise are the only real examples I can think of.
Kristine: Hmmm. I’m still on the fence.
Sean: Are you ready for my second argument for the feminist significance of Resident Evil?
Sean: My second major point about this movie being a kind of feminist triumph is that Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez’ characters are really at the center of this movie, and they’re depicted as colleagues, friends and equals, not enemies. There’s no climactic “cat fight.” The most commonly disseminated poster for this movie features them and none of the male stars. Two women hold the center of this huge, effects-laden action-horror franchise movie and that seems revolutionary to me. Also one of them has brown skin.
Kristine: Okay, I was waiting for the moment when the two of them bonded and showed real camaraderie and it never fucking happened. That “I could kiss you, bitch” line does not cut it, though it is a good line. The utter lack of camaraderie and rapport between any of the characters is one of the many, many ways this movie falls so miserably short of Alien. So, yes, Jovovich and Rodriguez might be the main characters, but who are they competing against, charisma-wise, in this shitshow? That ugly ginger and the generic dude who was Alice’s “husband? The only one with an ounce of charisma was the black guy who gets sliced up.
Sean: The “black guy” was played by Colin Salmon, who is amazing as Helen Mirren’s colleague and love interest in Prime Suspect 2, just fyi. And he deserves to be a bigger star, for sure. But I think Jovovich and Rodriguez are totally collegial with one another the whole time… There are other gestures too, that strike me as noteworthy. The way that one of the main climaxes for Jovovich’s Alice is to throw her “wedding ring” at the feet of her dead “husband.” The movie’s message to girls at that moment seems to be “fuck that ring,” which I thought was pretty cool. The whole idea of the heteronormative marriage is constructed by the movie as a “cover,” a convenient lie that is told in order to fit in and go unnoticed. I thought the movie imbued more erotic tension between Rodriguez and Jovovich than between Jovovich and Eric Mabius (i.e. Jenny’s ex-fiancé from The L Word). You all ready mentioned that moment when Alice thinks that Rain has died, but then when she revives Alice says, “I could kiss you, you bitch.” And that was another emotional climax for Alice – her distress over the idea of having to “kill” her zombified gal pal. Though I will note that Mabius’ character is standing there as a spectator to that moment, arms crossed, smiling, enjoying the homoerotic subtext between the two women. He’s almost a proxy for the target audience, no? But I did think the movie mostly avoided directing lesbian titillation at an imagined straight male audience.
Kristine: I will grudgingly admit that I was pleasantly surprised that the movie didn’t take advantage of the water-soaked chambers to have some softcore lesbo moments… I thought for sure that Rain’s revival would involve Alice having to strip her down to her panties (á la Deep Blue Sea). And even though Alice is in that ridiculous asymmetrical red slip for the entire movie, she really isn’t overtly sexualized. So, fine. Good on the movie for having some restraint.
Sean: Isn’t throwing the wedding ring away in disgust sort of awesome too?
Kristine: It’s fine. I mean, if I was 10 I would think it was feminist and awesome. But I am 37. I need a little more.
Sean: “If I was 10,” she says.
Kristine: Truth talk.
Sean: Well why do you think Jovovich has managed this feat of being the first female action franchise star? How does she go from model to that?
Kristine: She’s a cipher.
Sean: Is she though?
Kristine: Yes. I don’t think it’s an accident she has been/is currently married to two of the directors directly responsible for making her a star (Luc Besson from The Fifth Element, and Paul W.S. Anderson, who directed this). I would like to embrace your feminist argument, but I think Jovovich is a poor candidate for advancing women in cinema. Sorry.
Sean: You have not made any real case for why she’s a poor feminist icon. Geena Davis was married to Renny Harlin, who directed both of her big attempts to break into action movies. And Jovovich met Anderson doing this movie – she’d all ready gotten the part and then they fell in love.
Kristine: Meh. Geena Davis’ action roles weren’t about being a personality-free robot lady, which goes back to my argument about why Jovovich is more successful as an action star than Geena Davis was. Because Jovovich gives the people want they want and nothing more. She is not challenging at all.
Sean: I think you’re misremembering her performance in Resident Evil. She like, has cryfaces and is emotional a lot. If anything, they make her somewhat maternal by making her the one who doesn’t “leave anyone behind!”
Kristine: That is not personality. That is just, she is “a girl.” Sean, I would rather watch Saw Parts 2 through 6 then watch Resident Evil 2. Deal with it.
Sean: You mean Saw Parts 2 through 7.
Sean: I am just struck by how you literally cannot come up with a real reason why Jovovich is not a good icon for feministas.
Kristine: I did, you just rejected it.
Sean: Is it maybe that you secretly identify with her? Polish/Ukrainian… Not such a leap, right?
Kristine: You are so ridiculous right now. Me and the cats are rolling our eyeballs at you.
Sean: Who is more goth? Jill from Hardware? Or Alice from Resident Evil?
Kristine: Jill, but only by one vintage kimono sash. Can we move on from Jovovich and talk about how the rest of this move sucks?
Sean: Totes. You want to know what made me uncomfortable? How the movie has some kind of obsession with/relationship to the aesthetics of fascism. The Dobermans who get zombified, the militaristic uniforms. And those opening sequences of masses of terrified people finding themselves in “gas chamber” deathtraps. Turning the middle-class white-collar world of the American business sector into these mechanized deathtraps feels…. Weird. And grotesque, right? But those opening moments contain probably the most effective “scary” parts of the movie. That’s where I felt the most dread… with the woman trying to wriggle her way out of the elevator doors.
Kristine: Agreed. Oh, and I specifically made a note – “zombie FX suck, especially on the dogs.” Terrible.
Sean: They were puppies covered in red Jell-O.
Kristine: I know.
Sean: Those poor dogs must have been so confused. So, did this movie scare you even once?
Sean: Not even the “wriggling out of the elevator” moment?
Kristine: It was stressful and awful but not scary. This is not a scary movie.
Sean: That monster at the end.
Kristine: Nope. Fuck you, Alien rip-off movie.
Sean: The monster was the most phallic thing – which goes back to my point about the feminist messages in the movie. It was a wet dick that kept trying to grab the women.
Kristine: Sean, I don’t care. This movie is not compelling. Throwing in a wet dick monster does not make me care.
Sean: The only reason I care is because of the immense popularity of the movie. It makes all the little touches feel…. anthropological.
Kristine: Is the video game very popular? I am so out of touch with gaming culture, I know nothing.
Sean: YES. That’s like, an understatement.
Kristine: Okay, so, this movie obviously has a built-in audience, which might account for how totally unchallenging this movie is… We addressed how the movie avoids being overtly sexist with the character of Alice (though I think instead she is just a nothing) but I did find that there are still tons of misogyny floating around in the movie. Mostly with the supercomputer that runs the underground complex, called “Red Queen,” being referred to as an evil bitch constantly. I know “Mother” in Alien was also referred to as a “bitch,” but it seemed like the tone in this movie was much more hateful and less nuanced. Do you know what I mean?
Sean: Right… The Red Queen, and the idea of “the Hive” – an underground techno-city/workplace ruled over by a matriarchal and deadly entity – totally struck me as well. Though she was characterized as a little girl, which I thought was more interesting, and she was sort of “good” in the sense that she wasn’t going to let the contagion get out.
Kristine: Right, another rip-off from Alien.
Sean: But yes, that idea of the “bitch” mother-figure was sort of disturbing and felt like it was tapping into some basic misogyny at the heart of the target audience, which – as we discussed during our Saw piece – consists mostly of 13-year-old boys. Can I say that I love how you’re all “I heart Alien” now. I am going to draw a picture of you and the alien from Alien making love and send it to you.
Kristine: Can’t wait. It’s been years since you drew me some sexually explicit comics.
Sean: I want to make a few more points, but I can sense that your reaction to all of them is going to be “I don’t care, I hate this movie.”
Kristine: Probably. I am not trying to be difficult, but this is my honest and true reaction to the movie. But please make your points and I will hear them with an open heart.
Sean: I do think it is noteworthy how this movie tackles two very specific aesthetic universes – the techno-corporate space and the paramilitary. I found it odd that the corporate sector seems to be demonized while the paramilitary is figured as heroic. This sort of goes back to the militarism of the video games, and of the idea of the shooting game in general. People with guns as heroes. But it also feels very of the Iraq War era that young men and women with guns and “orders” are imagined as heroic, while slimy bureaucrats and corporate stooges are rendered as monsters and automatons. Corporations doing “illegal genetic research” and such. I mean, obviously the irony of pitting soldiers against zombies is that they’re both iterations of characters who can’t “think for themselves.” I think its important that all the military figures are killed off or zombified themselves. Even Rain.
Kristine: I have no quarrel with that reading. I can’t remember: Do we ever see any of the corporate types who are pulling the strings or are they faceless? I did feel like the soldiers, despite their guns and uniforms, were portrayed as doomed sacrificial lambs who didn’t know why they were doing what they were doing, They were “just following orders.” Totes Iraq War.
Sean: Yeah, I mean the grossest part of the movie in my mind is just the slick, overproduced nihilism it trucks in.
Kristine: It’s mildly noteworthy that when Alice breaks out of the Hive, into the world, she arms herself with an ax, old school style – low tech instead of meat slicer lasers and paramiltitary stylings.
Sean: That downer ending – which basically ends where 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead begin. Part of that apocalyptic ending is that she unwittingly invents the Skrillex haircut.
Sean: Well, I guess I’m out of ideas. Is this movie worse than Phantasm?
Kristine: Phantasm is way better. It at least was full of bizarre, interesting moments, and it was N.A.M.B.L.A. approved. Let me ask you something, and I want you to be honest. Do you really think that some women have watched this movie and felt empowered to kick ass in the same way as watching Thelma & Louise or seeing Zoë Bell and the gang kick Kurt Russell’s ass at the end of Death Proof?
Sean: Hmmm. I do think that girls watching this will absorb the idea that women can be action stars, yes…. Though I do hate the way the movie opens and closes on Alice naked, vulnerable and shivering covered in wounds.
Kristine: Good point.
Sean: But yeah I think young ‘uns watching this will get the drift that women can kick ass and believe it and are just like, living it. Women in the military are approved for combat now, also. The world is changing. But Thelma & Louise is a really bad example, I think. That’s a rape/revenge movie and the women kill themselves in the end.
Kristine: You brought up Geena Davis like 10,000 times.
Sean: Um, I said Cutthroat Island and The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Kristine: Well, I say you can’t talk about feminist action movies and not bring up Thelma & Louise. So.
Sean: You think Thelma & Louise is an action movie?
Kristine: I think it shows women in action.
Sean: Um, so does a cooking show. So does American Idol.
Kristine: They shoot guns and drive a car. And, umm, Ridley Scott. Therefore… action.
Sean: Your logic is full of bloody holes. That need to be plugged up.
Kristine: I’m not going down this road with you, Sean.
Sean: And you can call him “Poppa Ridley.”
Kristine: Like you do?
Sean: Like girls do.
Kristine: Sorry I hated Resident Evil.
Sean: I expected you to hate it. I think it sucks, but is interesting. I would rather you hate this than… oh, Evil Dead II.
Sean: Or as you call it, Evil Dead… Ew.
Kristine: Hmmm. I feel like you are constructing me as an old school battle ax feminazi, and yourself as some contemporary “Girls Gone Wild”-style feminista.
Sean: You are Andrea Dworkin and I am… Olivia Munn.
Sean: Let it be known.
The Girl’s Rating: This is a horror movie classic because… why exactly? AND I want to travel back in time to stop myself from watching it.
The Freak’s Rating: More feminist that you’d think AND Provocative and problematic.