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Resident Evil: A Female Centric Film Series

Was Resident Evil: After Life worth the $27.00 3D ticket price (for 2)? Oh, and tack on another $5 for a large bottled water. Must have been cause we happily paid it. Well, not THAT happily. But we did.

I’m not gonna say the movie itself was worth dropping nearly 30 bones to view. It was the action tag-team of Ali Larter and Milla Jovovich that more than made up for the craptastical CGI and less than compelling plot.

For a summer DOMINATED by male-centric action flicks…for this modestly budgeted film to take the #1 Box Office towards the end of summer tasted a bit like justice. There was something almost serene and telling in the final scenes of this flick when Alice, Claire and K-Mart all seem to exchange a knowing glance saying- yes – we are the heroines of this horror/action series, so what’re you gonna do about it?

The female centric nature of the film series really solidified for me at SDCC when the RE: After Life panel was equally divided by gender, but Milla and adorably pregnant Ali Larter dominated the conversation. The fan questions were directed at them. The 3D movie clip shown was their scene battling one of the big bosses – in the final moments they stand together, strong and powerful while Milla fires a gun straight into the camera.

As mentioned above, what’s so wonderful about this film franchise is not necessarily the films. For a series, there is no over-arching theme or grand plot device moving them along  or making them gel together as a cohesive  unit, like a great season of your favorite TV show would.  They are plot-lite and often-times the special effects are nothing to excite the adrenaline. The action is always super solid and in general there is some sweet zombie action or post-apocalyptic scenario which will delight those excited by those genres (that would be me).

But they are consistently appealing to the masses and garnering large numbers of fans in foreign markets like Japan, Russia and Spain who are attracted to the material for various reasons – at least two of those being their connection to the supermodel and actress playing the title role of Alice.

What intrigued me most in reading articles to prepare for this blog post is the consistent reference to the Resident Evil film success (not widespread insane success, but consistent and increasing box office take) as being male driven. Sure, the dudes around me are interested in seeing the movies but in my slice of the world, it was the females who pushed to make it happen. Myself and my sister-in-law, who doesn’t watch too much horror/scifi/etc actually made a point to see the movie this weekend.

When we stood in line behind the mother/daughter combo to purchase our ticket, I blindly assumed they were going to re-release of Twilight. I dunno why. I make assumptions. But when we spotted them in our theatre, I felt a nice little toe tingle thinking that there are at least two other ladies in the world anxious to see Alice kick ass.

The gender of the theatre-goers in our auditorium was pretty evenly divided – and it was far more packed than with either of our recent viewings (Scott Pilgrim and Machete).

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that at least in it’s original conception – the Resident Evil videogame series offered up both a male and female playable character. Most first person shooters of similar ilk are not so giving. Two of my favorite video games of late which focus on heavy plot have been totally male dominated (Assassin’s Creed and The Force Unleashed) and while for me that doesn’t heavily influence my enjoyment, it’s still sometimes nice to have an excellent story AND a character whose gender I can identify with. You know.

That might be one of the reasons people are plunking down money in reasonable numbers to watch this action extravaganza.

And the other could simply be that Milla Jovovich is a fucking action star.

Not the pouty lipped, big breasted and skinny limbed variety you’ll find in the Angelina Jolie fans. But the icy blue stare, feral teeth gnashing and the slinky acrobatics type paired with stabbing and gun shooting that defines Milla for me as an action hero I will absolutely put money down to see.

As further preparation  for this entry, I watched the first installment in the film series yesterday to compare the two, since both were written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who is also married to Milla). I noticed there was some overt sexualization of Alice in the initial series – with the weird angular cut red dress and at least two scenes where she appears nearly nude except for thin straps of material. Even in those instances, it was hard to mentally register has as being sexy in a conventional sense of the word, and therefore exploited as women often are in action flicks.

Is it odd to me that while I find Milla’s body attractive, it’s never seemed like anything more than a delightfully coiled muscle ready to spring into action. Perhaps it’s the litheness, the long lines and absence of large breasts that makes any attempt to amp up her femininity wasted.

The rest of the films have been far better at giving her functional action-hero clothing and downplaying the need to expose massive amounts of her flesh. So now, when I see her on-screen, she is just pure power and at times, raw fury. And aren’t those some of the defining traits of any good action hero?

There aren’t too many female action heroes out there. It’s a tough transition from regular acting gigs in romantic comedies and dramatic roles to such physical material. And it’s also quite rare to find an action role which serves an actress as well it does her male counter-part. Megan Fox and Jessica Alba are the brand of actress who have fallen victim to being the perpetual sexy side kick, with no real hope of branching out as legitimate action stars.

I’ve been wracking my brain to unearth another film actress (besides Angelina Jolie *shudder*) who pulls in a steady audience for her genre action roles. Perhaps Michelle Rodriguez, who I am delighted to see has returned to her movie roots (after several years on and off Lost). Intriguingly enough – it was Milla and Michelle who headlined the first entry in the Resident Evil series.

There have been some fantastic ladies who’ve dabbled in the art of action – Uma Thurman, Rosario Dawson, Halle Berry, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, Zhang Zi-Yi and Michelle Yeoh to name a few. Alright – I suppose we have to throw Keira Knightley up there somewhere as a general nod. But very few are able to effectively star in an action vehicle and bring box office power without some male director or franchise or genre firmly behind them.

So, what I am trying to say here. I’m invigorated by this box office effort. Sure, it could be better. More explosions. More of a cohesive narrative between the films (ie – a sense of what the end game is, a more clearly defined big bad) – but I truly like what I see. Dudes are equally represented. Minorities are present in every film in sometimes quite pivotal roles even if they sometimes devolve into stereotypes and live up to that cringe-worthy cliche of killing off all the people of color before the final reel.

But there are moments of clarity and insight and a generally appealing self-knowledge. When the ladies exchange their glance of kick-assery. When the closing scenes of the film reveal our black male hero did not succumb to the Night of the Living Dead fate we all thought was in store for him.

It’s a series that manages to include these elements effortlessly, as if is truly that easy to be inclusive without sacrificing some elements of quality.

Cause it is.

Bechdel Test: Resident Evil: After Life features several female characters and PASSES the women test, PASSES the men test and features more than two minority characters with names and interactions about non-white characters so it PASSES the race test.

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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 33 year old woman with a degree in English and Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has accumulated three+ years experience in the Marketing and Communications field - with an emphasis on creating digital media content. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson, her baby girl, and their dog - Jabba the pug. She spends her free time devouring books, crafting cosplay, video gaming, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

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