Recently I binge-watched all five (so far) Resident Evil films. I saw the first film back on its theatrical run in 2002, and wasn’t that impressed, so I didn’t keep up with the series. But after stumbling across the first three for $2 each at Frugal Muse, I thought I’d give it a shot.
You see, every time I read about the Underworld series and its hero, Selene (who I’ve written about here and here), someone always compares her to Resident Evil’s Alice (Milla Jovovich, which thanks to the commentary tracks I now know how to pronounce). It made me curious to see how similar they really were.
The answer: not much. Both are female characters who lead an action/horror franchise (that interestingly are led by a husband-and-wife director-and-star team), but the resemblance stops there.
Where Selene has a history (hundreds of years of it, in fact), Alice is a blank. Literally at first: in the initial film she wakes up naked (something that happens to her a lot) with no memory. Details are gradually filled in, but they never coalesce into an actual consistent character. It’s impossible to imagine what she’s thinking for the most part–well, except for “Run!’ and “AHH! Zombies!”–and when she shows emotion, it’s generic, never in a specific, Alice-y way.
Further, the RE movies objectify Alice in a way the Underworld films never do to Selene. Both Kate Beckinsale, who plays Selene, and Milla Jovovich are attractive women, but for the most part, the camera never leers at Selene. She is first and foremost a character, and while she does dress in skin-tight black leather, she never poses in it. Alice poses a lot (see the picture at the top of this post). And while Selene is shown naked twice in four films, Alice is five for five.
One explanation may be that the RE films are based on video games, not known for their subtlety of character. Another could be that Kate Beckinsale is simply a better actress that Milla Jovovich (Milla is much more entertaining when she’s goofing as herself on the commentary tracks). But whatever the reason, only the shallowest perusal could equate these two characters.
Still, there’s a fair bit of fun to be had in the Resident Evil movies. While the first film is pretty standard zombies-in-a-haunted-house fare, the second and third–Apocalypse and Extinction–have their own visual identities, possibly due to new directors (Paul W.S. Anderson, a.k.a. Mr. Milla Jovovich, wrote all five films but didn’t direct the second and third). Apocalypse takes place in the urban environment of Raccoon City, while Extinction occurs mostly in the open, brightly-lit desert. And Apocalypse has Sienna Guillory as Jill Valentine, who blasts Milla off the screen in the sexy-tough-girl department (she returns, to much less effect, in Retribution).
But there’s no substance to the Resident Evil films, ultimately; they’re all flash and image. Whereas I stand by my assertion that the Underworld series represents the total inversion of the hero and damsel-in-distress tropes.
What are your thoughts on either series, or both?