The warrior women of Resident Evil: Afterlife

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Resident Evil: Afterlife is the fourth installment of the Resident Evil franchise. I haven’t seen the first three so I can’t comment on them, but the fourth one is basically a video game, only it’s a movie. Lots of action, not exactly deep.

At this point it has been four years since the Umbrella Corporation released a virus that turns people into zombies, and survivors are scarce on the ground. The film starts with Alice (Milla Jovovich), who has been given superpowers by the virus and is the only one to still be ok after exposure, taking out the Tokyo headquarters of the Umbrella Corporation. While there, she dukes it out with a superpowered baddie who injects her with serum that neutralizes her powers. She thanks him for making her human again, escapes him, and heads to Alaska looking for other survivors, including some friends who had been headed there. In Alaska, all she finds is a field full of small planes, the chopper her friends had taken to get there, an empty beach, and Claire (Ali Larter), one of her friends, drugged by a gadget on her chest, amnesiac and a little feral. The rest of the movie consists of Alice and Claire finding other survivors in LA, then killing zombies as everyone tries to survive and reach a ship offshore.

Alice and Claire are warrior women: they are strong and heroic and put up a good fight, never really getting hurt much in the process. This is the Amazon version of what a strong woman can be. Claire pretty much sticks to guns, but Alice uses guns, swords, and shotguns loaded with coins (perfect for killing zombies once and for all). There’s one really good fight scene in the second half of the film where the women are attacked by a giant zombie (at least seven feet tall, from what I could see), and when Alice is knocked out, Claire takes over and holds off the zombie in an impressive set of manoeuvres, before Alice comes to and they finish him off together. Yay, Sisterhood!

I didn’t see much of Claire’s personality, since this is Alice’s story, but I think Claire is angrier (and ruder) while Alice has a strong sad streak, facing the future with stoicism. There’s something about Jovovich that is direct and honest that I’ve always liked. She comes across as someone who doesn’t play games. (Larter, not so much.) The movie has friendship, but no romance that I could see (no time for it). Alice is mostly stoic but is visibly upset when her group is cut off from the leader of the survivors.

Alice and Claire find a handful of survivors holed up in a prison in LA. One of these is a plucky young woman, the other six are men. (I would have liked to see at least one other woman.) One man is black, one is East Asian, and another may be Latino, but pretty much everyone else (outside of the Umbrella Corp soldiers) is white. There are women among the survivors on the ship, including K-Mart from the previous film, there’s an ice blond woman who leads an Umbrella Corp army at the end, and I think some of the zombies were female (I didn’t look closely because I don’t like gore), but I don’t remember any of the Umbrella Corp soldiers (except for the woman at the end) being female. I’m not sure how the Umbrella Corp expects to make money in the future if almost all the people in their protected compounds are male. Not too many future generations to sell products to, there! All the women are white, young, and attractive and all but Alice have long straight hair. I’m not sure what it is about model hair: does it lead to greater odds of survival, or is it just an easier cut to care for in the post-apocalyptic world?

The film passes the Bechdel/Wallace easily, with plenty of talk between Alice and Claire, plus some between Alice and the other young woman, very little of it about men.

I found myself thinking about the whole Gothic/horror genre and how it’s a genre that really suits strong women, and always has. In this case it also happens to be an action franchise, something which really suits Jovovich.

I’m also wondering if this franchise was ever a Hollywood franchise, and whether that has anything to do with content. The latest film was listed as a Canada-Germany coproduction in the credits, but IMDb lists it as UK, Germany and USA. The USA isn’t listed for the first two installments, though. Not that it matters, but I’m curious.

Comments

  1. Casey says

    Very interesting review. I was always staunchly ANTI-RE film series because it didn’t adhere to the video game plot, (I’m kind of finicky about that since it’s one of my favorite VG franchises of all time and it’s also the reason why I most NEVER venture to watch VG-inspired movies besides Mortal Kombat and the first animated Street Fighter movie) and I didn’t like the creation of Alice as the main character, essentially since she’s an OC who borders on a Mary Sue/heroic female equivalent of (former) main bad guy Wesker. I was super stoked to see the scenario of RE 2 and 3 played out in Resident Evil: Apocalypse but was disappointed by the inaccuracies/Peyton (the black guy) dying first/the problematic addition after Peyton’s death of Mike Epps playing an Uncle Tomfoolery joke character/Jill and Alice didn’t really “interact” with each other, the just “existed” next to each other…and also Nemesis looked like a cheap rubber Muppet thing…and Alice had to BOX HIM, WTF~?!?! :|

    The third installment just looked ridiculous since it veered so far off from what RE is and became a post-apocalyptic desert scenario…:(

    • Patrick McGraw says

      Good article! I wouldn’t really say that the RE film series is particularly Gothic. Unlike the games, there isn’t a strong element of uncovering buried secrets. Although they do keep the Gothic element of villains being undone by their own flaws in the films, in the form of bad guys killed by their own creations. But mainly, the RE films lack the Gothic atmosphere found in the games – well, the early games, the later ones shift to straight-up action and lose the atmosphere.

      Casey: I share your feelings in general about the film series, but I think the first one was really quite good. The sequels, as you noted, not so much.

  2. Anne says

    Hm, maybe I’ll go see this. I’ve enjoyed the series moderately so far. I never played the games, love zombie movies, and especially love post-apocalyptic films (though it’s a category sadly lacking in female characters a lot of the time). Thanks for the review! I’ll queue it on Netflix.

  3. Lindsey says

    I saw this movie and it was absolutely terrible, but I still enjoyed it for the crazy action, and yes, the strong female leads who didn’t wear skimpy costumes or need to be saved by the men.

    I also liked the black former-athlete who was ironically aware of his fallen celebrity, and managed to handle this with grace instead of arrogance.

    These movies have been successful enough to produce four, with another on the way–that’s as many as Rambo–and they still say women can’t sell as action leads.

  4. Bella_D says

    The first RE also passed the Bechdel test between Rodriguez and Jovovich. I was impresse. Two strong women and one of them is a WoC? Like, woah, dude.

    *spoiler*

    So I was really dissipointed when they killed off Rodriguez’s character, and haven’t really had one to match her since. They have had other strong women sidekicks, but no other WoC that I can remember, of course, it’s been a while since I watched the second and third movies, so I could be forgetting someone, but I don’t think I am.

    • Patrick McGraw says

      Why do Michelle Rodriguez’s characters seem to get killed off in everything?

      The second and third films also had supporting characters that were WoC (played by Sandrine Holt and Ashanti, respectively), but both were killed around the end of the first act in each film.

    • Anemone says

      I actually wanted to see the first film just because of Rodriguez and Jovovich together, but for some reason I never saw it.

      I’ve actually only ever seen Rodriguez in one film – Blue Crush. She doesn’t die in that one, at least.

  5. says

    As a hardcore fan of the games, I LOVE THESE FILMS! They have so many elments and story just like the games its awesome, and at least though Afterlife stuck to horror! My goodness, RE 4 and 5 games were such a huge disappointment. But the films are really staying true, but on a slightly different track.

    BTW, the next RE film titled Resident Evil:Retribution3D will be coming out September 14, 2012! It will be starring Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory,Michelle Rodriguez, and Li Bingbing! ITS GOING TO BE EPIC!

  6. says

    Anemone,

    Watch the first RE movie if you haven’t done so already! As for RE:Afterlife, I was blown away…almost all of the over-the-top stuff in the preview is in the first ten minutes of the film, and then suddenly *WHAM*, it is a totally different, more thoughtful film (admittedly with some strange stuff, like the uber-zombie with the hammer), with a focus on the strong, female characters.

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