It’s never a pleasant thing to be standing on the outside looking in. This is no less true of film fandom. No matter what the object of widespread cinephile affection, if the fanbase is large enough, a nonfan can feel as if there is something they are fundamentally missing. Take the Resident Evil franchise, a spate of films that began life as a videogame series before being adapted for the screen not once, five times. This is a remarkable feat when one considers how the vast majority of videogames adapted to film do not enjoy more than a single, often spectacularly underwhelming, entry.
Critical beatings notwithstanding, none of the previous four Resident Evil films failed to rake in at least $100 million worldwide; the last installment earning a formidable $296 million in total box office gross. So with Resident Evil: Retribution about to invade theaters, the lingering question remains for those who don’t count themselves fans: what is the appeal? Rather than cram in another round of viewings, once again letting personal biases color objective understanding, it seemed more logical to ask the fans themselves.
One of the most overwhelmingly recurring reasons most fans tended to voice support for this film series has to do with its lead character Alice and the actress who plays her: Milla Jovovich. Resident Evil proponent Noah Lee states that the heart his appreciation was “watching Milla kick the [stuffing] out of zombies.”
“I have a thing for hot women that kick ass,” adds fan Jen Morocco. This sentiment is likewise held by Rod Paddock, who affirms, “It’s fun watching Milla kick ass.” Apparently, Milla’s propensity for connecting boot to enemy posterior is a major draw. Even those who have begun to check out as the franchise has progressed acknowledge this. “Milla is the only reason I’m still watching,” admits Mico Low.
This is an argument that’s easy to understand, and probably represents the most legitimate root cause for the franchise’s continued financial success. The sad truth is that far too few actresses have been given the opportunity to shine in action films since the genre was created. That’s not to say there haven’t been females featured prominently, some even in formidable leads, but the frequency of something like, say, a woman headlining an action franchise was abysmally low. Enter Resident Evil. Though the films may fall well short of capturing the imaginations of scores of detractors, it is impossible to deny the new age of gender equality in action cinema it ushered in.
The action itself, not surprisingly, also appears to be a big draw for fans of the Resident Evil series. “They can be a bit cheesy at times, but the blood and guts and action is why I keep watching,” confesses Brandon Jones. There’s no doubt violence is a prominent costar in the franchise, something fans of this genre can certainly appreciate, no matter the individual film.
One fan, Matthew Marko, constructs an interesting simile for what it is that makes the action of these particular films so appealing: “It’s like a kid playing with very expensive action figures,” he says. The action figure comparison may be especially apt, as many would argue the franchise’s emphasis on spectacle over-trifling things like story plays to more juvenile sensibilities. “They are just so much fun if you are willing to check your brain smarts at the door,” offers Dan Hatton.
One evident misconception to which an outsider may be beholden is that a key element to the appeal of the Resident Evil movies is fandom of the Resident Evil games. The assumption is reasonable; the truth, however, is far less simplistic. “There are elements from the games, but that’s about it. I wouldn’t refer to them as faithful adaptations in the slightest,” says First Showing’s James Wallace, with Michael Scally adding, “They are so far removed the games.”
Is this divergence really such a bad thing, considering certain content from the games? Some would argue attempts at faithful adaptation have actually hurt the film franchise in the past. “Jill being mind-controlled by a cleavage bugbot was stupid within the game’s own universe. Why bring it over?” ponders Scally. Movies.com’s Peter Hall points out, “I’ve liked the entire series. [It] gets increasingly sillier, which puts it closer to the games.” So while a few elements have been ported over from the game, perhaps it’s a similarity in tone that appeals to both the gamers and the action fans.
There seems to be plenty within the Resident Film universe to engender fondness within a fanbase. It is also interesting to note how fans defend the entries they feel to be superior. Among the many reasons Brian Broadus enjoys the first film is his conviction that “the soundtrack is badass, the ending is killer and it’s the only Resident Evil movie that even tries to be a horror flick.” Others, however, feel the third entry is the best. “It was directed better,” claims Denis McElwaine. “It had no bad looking rubber suits and it had an almost credible The Birdsem reference.” Actor A.J. Bowen also champions third installment Resident Evil: Extinction, as he notes, “it has an actual post-apocalyptic tone and the aesthetic doesn’t work against itself.”
The fans have spoken, and their support for this franchise is far from unreasonable. The root causes of their appreciation for the Resident Evil movies echo those at the heart of so many beloved action films. Some of us may still reside on the outside, but after hearing the insights of diehard fans like these, we may be ready to kick down the barriers that preclude our affinity and give Resident Evil: Retribution a fair shake.
[Photo Credit: Screen Gems]
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