The first Resident Evil movie wowed audiences back in 2002, revitalizing the zombie-survivor genre and paving the way for a plethora of video game adaptations (for better or worse). Fifteen years later and the sixth (and presumably final) Resident Evil movie was released to cinemas, igniting our nostalgia while wowing us again with stunning special effects.
So why has this franchise lasted so long? Sure, the zombie creatures are terrifyingly awesome and the action sequences exciting. But ultimately there's one simple reason fans still love Resident Evil — and her name is Alice.
Just A Girl In A Red Dress: Alice's Humble Beginnings
Everyone loves a good action hero. They're the ones we root for, the characters that propel us through (an often ridiculous story) with the sheer force of their badassery. Yet when Resident Evil began, the waif-like and frightened Alice was far from rubbing shoulders with other action icons.
Unsure of herself and her surroundings, Alice descended into the nightmarish Hive with no memory of her life as an Umbrella Corporation security officer, or her connection to the members of the strike team. Their mission: To investigate why the artificial intelligence known as the Red Queen sealed the Hive and killed everyone inside. The simple answer? Zombies, of course. The more complicated answer? Still zombies, but with added bioweapon experimentation, sweeping evil plans, and a game-changing retcon six movies later. But we'll get to that in a bit.
The key to Alice's evolution is her survival instinct. OK, her latent fighting skills help, too (who doesn't love seeing Milla Jovovich kicking ass in a red dress?), but there are plenty of people in the #ResidentEvil movies who have a similar skill level. Even in the very first movie, Alice's determination to just keep breathing, running, surviving is what really made her a hero and it's why she's the only one who got to fight another day.
Well that, and the experimentation that basically turned her into a superhero.
Next up: Save Raccoon City from the hordes of zombies infesting the streets. In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, we see how Alice's experience in the Hive changes her as a person. Instead of softly waking up in a skimpy dress, Alice's entrance into Apocalypse consists of her smashing into a church on a motorcycle, then killing a gigantic Licker with said motorcycle. "Who the fuck are you?" demands a disgruntled Jill Valentine. She may not know, but we do. Her name is Alice and she's come to waste every zombie in Raccoon City.
'I Remember Everything': Alice Takes On The World
The Alice in Apocalypse truly transforms into the action hero we know and love. No longer scared and confused, but still a little naive, Alice is a hardened survivor, only just scratching the surface of the plans Umbrella has laid out for her. While in the previous movie she stepped back while others bickered over the team's decisions, Alice vies with Jill for leadership in Apocalypse, eventually earning herself a vital ally — one who will be used against her later.
By the time Extinction rolls around, Alice has taken another step in her evolution. Another round of Umbrella experimentations has turned her into a telekinetic zombie-killing machine. Having lost Jill Valentine and her other allies to the chaos of Raccoon City, the now-godlike Alice wanders the desert until she comes across a gang of fellow survivors, led by another fan-favorite character, Claire Redfield.
As much as Extinction reveals Alice's terrifying and awesome powers, the third movie also examines her people skills. Isolated and jaded from losing so many friends, Alice has become the classic lone-wolf hero archetype. Through her relationship with Claire, Alice manages to regain some of her humanity, just as her physical evolution takes her further from her roots.
The interesting thing about Alice is that she is both ruthless and compassionate. Female characters in action movies are often one or the other, allowed to be badass at the cost of their emotions, or leaning heavily on their sensitive side to balance a stoic male protagonist. Resident Evil offers us a more nuanced heroine, one who manages to embody the unyielding champion we love, while humanizing her through those she holds dear.
Ultimately, that's the more interesting part of Alice's story. Her powers, although very cool, reduce her accessibility as a character — this is probably why, after several awesome sequences with Alice's superpowered clones, she was de-powered back to being your average zombie-killing hero. Though for a while, it was fantastic to see Resident Evil almost turn into a superhero franchise as Alice took on vast armies of zombies, monsters and Umbrella Corp. goons.
'This Is What I Do': Alice Finds Herself In The Apocalypse
Alice's clones, however, do allow her to confront everything that is lacking in her life. By Retribution Alice has spent years fighting in this undead wasteland. Umbrella uses Alice's emotional strain against her, taking her through the looking glass to the life she could have lived — and for the audience, it was fascinating to see the indomitable Alice running terrified, desperately trying to defend her daughter against an enemy she doesn't understand.
Pitted against her friends, Alice faces her toughest challenge yet in Retribution, manages to win the day (of course), and together with her new allies gears up for one final charge in Washington, DC. But like before, Alice is the only one who gets out alive in The Final Chapter.
She has now reached her peak. There's nothing this world can throw at her that she hasn't already seen, fought, and blasted right to hell. The Final Chapter brings us back to the beginning in the best way as Alice faces her nemeses again, finally learning the truth about the Umbrella Corporation and her own history.
After seeing Alice battle all of Umbrella's abominations, from straight-up zombies to the dragon-like Kipepeos, some of the most satisfying moments in The Final Chapter are the smallest. Strung up in an Umbrella booby trap and accosted by masked soldiers, Alice can only laugh as they punch her ineffectively. This is the woman who survived the destruction of several cities, who has eviscerated armies with her mind, who lived a thousand lives as clones. "Is that all you got?" she taunts, and we laugh with her as she effortlessly kills them all.
By the time Alice reaches her last stand, she is almost unrecognizable from the girl in the red dress that we met so many years ago. Brought back to the Hive, we can't help but marvel at how she's evolved as a character. Yet for all her strength and experience, the fight scenes are brutal and grounded enough to feel like real achievements — especially when Alice and Isaacs return to the laser corridor from the first film.
And of course, the secrets of Alice's origin finally unlock the one thing she's been lacking as a character, and a person: a sense of history, the knowledge of who she was, who she is, and who she has yet to become. So although she rides off to a still zombie-infested horizon, there's a sense of completion about Alice's story. She's saved the world from infection, but her work isn't done yet.
Evil comes home with the digital release of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Get it here and tell us in the comments section which is your favorite Resident Evil movie and why.
[Main image credit: Screen Gems]