Why Paul WS Anderson’s Film Series Fails Its Leading Lady

Paul W.S. Andersonit is resident Evil The film series is based on the decades-long horror video game franchise of the same name. The movies and games feature characters who must battle against zombies and other mutated creatures created by the Umbrella Corporation and their bioweapon T-Virus. Anderson’s films are led by female protagonist and heroine, Alice (Milla Jovovich), a completely original character created for his series. On the surface, Alice is a strong and capable badass. She continually survives the unwinnable scenarios and horrors she is forced into by the Umbrella Corporation, often outlasting her male teammates due to her skill in fighting. However, the series ultimately undermines her heroic feats by not giving Alice full control of her own body.


Throughout the series, Umbrella performs experiments on Alice without her consent. At the end of resident Evil, after narrowly escaping a zombie-infested research facility called The Hive, Alice is abducted by scientists. When she wakes up in an abandoned hospital at the beginning of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, she discovers that they experimented on her and gave her superhuman abilities. Not only does Alice have to grapple with what Umbrella did to her and how they changed her, but she’s also expected to help a team of survivors escape from the overrun Raccoon City. She’s not able to really process the trauma of having changed her body on a cellular level before being forced back into action. And to make matters worse, Alice finds herself in another Umbrella facility at the end of the film, forced to undergo yet more experiments in Umbrella’s crusade to make her the perfect weapon.

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The next two movies Resident, Evil, Extinction and Resident Evil: Afterlife, see Alice learn to use her powers for herself. She accepts that they are now part of who she is and a useful tool in bringing down the Umbrella Corporation. This gives Alice a thought-provoking arc in an otherwise disempowering story. But when she begins to grow too powerful and potentially dangerous in the eyes of the Umbrella Corporation, her powers are stripped from her with a single injection at the start of Life after death by their leader Albert Wesker (Shawn Robert). It would be one thing if the rest of the series then focused on Alice learning to be human again and finding strength in it, but Wesker changes his mind in the penultimate film, Resident Evil: Retribution, and again injects Alice with the T-Virus. It’s not because she wants her powers back, but rather because he needs his powers for humanity’s last stand against the growing legions of the undead. In Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, it’s even revealed that Wesker’s injection didn’t restore Alice’s powers. The whole charade was just a tool for Wesker and Umbrella to re-assert their control over his body.

Experimentation isn’t the only way Umbrella controls Alice on the show. The company and its employees have various technological tools that help them maintain a physical and mental hold on Alice. In Resident Evil, the artificial intelligence controlling The Hive releases nerve gas that leaves Alice suffering from amnesia for the majority of the film. When the Umbrella mercenaries arrive to infiltrate The Hive, they force Alice to join them, unarmed, as leaving behind a memoryless security guard could be a liability. This positions her more as an uninvolved bystander than the action hero and protagonist she is meant to be.

Alice becomes more involved in future films, but only because Umbrella keeps throwing her into storylines to test her abilities in the apocalyptic hellscape they’ve created. Resident, Evil, Extinction focuses on Umbrella’s desire to have full control of Alice and her powers again, even though they allowed her to escape at the end of apocalypse. They use their satellite system to track the waves emitted when Alice uses her telepathic abilities, ambushing her and a group of survivors en route to a suspected safe haven. During a battle between the survivors and zombies enriched with Alice’s blood, Umbrella uses the satellite again to trigger the “conditioning” they included in their last set of experiments. This gives Umbrella control of Alice’s bodily functions and effectively freezes her in place in the middle of combat, leaving her friends to fend for themselves. Alice is eventually able to break free, but not before losing most of the people she risked exposing to save moments earlier.

Umbrella’s control over Alice’s body extends even further – they have clone farms which they use to experiment more on her when they don’t have access to the “real” version. Alice discovers for the first time one of these farms in Extinction. She not only finds the thousands of versions of herself that Umbrella has stored in suspended animation, but also a trench filled with the bodies of clones who failed their experiments. Angry and ready to see Umbrella pay for their actions, Alice revives the clones to create her own army worthy of defeating Umbrella once and for all. At the beginning of Life after death, Alice and her clone army infiltrate Umbrella’s Tokyo base in one of the most badass sequences in the entire franchise.

This moment has the potential to change the trajectory of the series. Alice is able to both embrace the powers thrust upon her and use the clones that represent Umbrella’s obsession with her body against them. It’s the first time she’s had complete control over her body, which makes it such an empowering sequence. However, this moment ends up falling flat as his powers are stripped from him during the confrontation with Wesker and his clone army is destroyed by a bomb. She is once again a victim of Umbrella’s whims and their plans for her. In Alice’s final fight against Umbrella in The last chapter, she finds out that she has been a clone of a woman named Alicia Marcus the entire time. Marcus is part of Umbrella but, like Alice, wants to see them destroyed. She uses Alice to stop the power-hungry rulers of Umbrella by unleashing the antivirus and saving humanity. As a “reward”, Marcus gives Alice his childhood memories before he dies in an explosion.

Even though Alice technically defeats Umbrella and releases a cure into the world, this ending isn’t the triumphant victory that it appears to be. Revealing that Alice was just a clone the whole time – someone who only absorbed someone else’s life and memories – only confirms her place as a pawn and a weapon in the franchise. Instead of letting this version of Alice grow into a self-sufficient person ultimately free to make her own choices, she now has to live with the influence of a childhood and memories that weren’t her own. Throughout the series, Alice has had to not only fight growing hordes of the undead, but also for the right to control her own body. When she finally begins to regain control at the end of Extinction and the start of Life after death, it’s taken away from him so quickly it feels like a cheap attempt at empowerment. The trauma she endures at the hands of Umbrella is constant, relentless, and grossly inconsistent. They experiment on her and give her supernatural abilities only to take them away from her when she finally learns to use them for herself. They can’t decide if they want to hold her hostage or let her roam free. Alice could have been a legendary zombie-slaying horror hero, but instead of offering her a journey of acceptance and growth after trauma, the series insists on keeping her in a cycle of manipulation from which she never truly escapes. .


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Andrea G. Henderson