Is the ‘Resident Evil’ Series an Innocent Child Worth Saving?

The Resident Evil film series has always been a directly self-aware and reflexive property, an aspect that became all the more obvious with the fourth installment, which featured the most knowingly gratuitous 3D spectacle since the format’s digital resurgence began. Part five, the newly released Resident Evil: Retribution, is similarly in your face, both with its use of screen-popping 3D and with Paul W.S. Anderson’s typical straightforward exposition and an action style that’s so clear it’s cocky. Yet there also appears to be a subtext we tend not to expect from these movies, one involving a little girl who metaphorically represents the film itself.

This child, Becky (played by 11-year-old Aryana Engineer), is found by series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) in a suburbia simulation within an undersea Umbrella Corp. complex used for trial exercises in mass T-virus infection. Mistaken for the girl’s mother (who was a blonder clone of Alice), the heroine feels a need to protect and save the kid, even if this holds her and the rest of the mission back. And even if it would also seem the girl is barely a legitimate human being.

On a superficial level, Becky simply seems to be Anderson’s latest homage to the Alien movies, specifically to the Newt character in Aliens. But unlike Newt, Becky has no significance to any movie centered on themes of motherhood. And why is she deaf? That’s a question I don’t think can be answered solely by the fact that the actress herself is partially deaf. Initially I thought she was to represent the movie audience, which the filmmaker sees as a handicapped child in need of having its hand held through this fantastically artificial world, which might be dangerous for us without such condescending assistance.

There is a certain amount of recycling going on with Retribution in that the plot involves staged, recreated settings including an exact repeat of the Tokyo outbreak scenario that opens Resident Evil: Afterlife. And there isn’t a whole lot, monster-wise, that we haven’t already seen before. Is Anderson being lazy? Showing his boredom with the franchise? Playing on the video game concept of a gameplay level near the end that brings back enemies and locations we’ve previously beaten? Or, is it a reminder to us that these are just movies, fabricated portrayals of plot and place, with time limits not unlike those used in the simulation exercises?

Many of the characters in the movie are clones or duplicates. Michelle Rodriguez, who appears in the first film, returns as other versions of her role of Rain Ocampo. At least one is good and at least one is bad, reflexive suggestion of what basic movie characters are, just new slots for actors to fill and serve the story in. Oded Fehr is also back as a bad clone of a character from previous installments. In a clone factory we see numerous duplicates of Alice. There, Becky comes to the realization that Alice isn’t her mother and nothing else is what it seems.

But Becky can’t be a stand in for the film’s viewer. That’s already Alice. From the beginning of the series, she has done as many protagonists do: represent the line between the movie and the audience. She’s not a character from the video game source material because she’s the player, or us. And with Retribution, she’s kind of racing through the world of this series itself, trying to escape the Resident Evil installments within the Resident Evil sequel. There’s a bit of Inception in here (not to mention Cabin in the Woods), and producer Robert Bolt has acknowledged that as an influence.

Never shy about what they’re copying, the people behind the Resident Evil movies are just fine with the series being a blatant clone, as it were, and a rather innocent, child-like one at that. Becky is actually the Resident Evil franchise, deaf to any criticisms and continuing to survive as long as we/Alice thinks she’s worth it, even if she might just be a little, insignificant construct manufactured for the purposes of being watched and providing a temporary engagement of emotional response.

How far we go along with it is up to us. Just as Alice doesn’t really feel an emotional attachment to Becky, none of us, even big fans of the series, can honestly say we feel something for the young character, or any of the characters. Nor do we have such strong feelings for the Resident Evil movies. They’re just there, and we think we should coddle it in part because it looks like something we already love and have an instinct to be a part of. So long as it doesn’t get us killed, or even hold us back from reaching real world matters, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this innocent entity.

Of course, a lot of you out there would probably just let “the girl” die.

Rather than a reject, Christopher Campbell is a film school dropout. But he has since gotten a master’s degree in cinema studies and has been blogging about movies since 2005. Earlier, he reviewed films for a zine (a what?) that you could buy at Tower Records (a what?). He is married with two children.

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