Like ‘em or loathe ‘em, the Milla Jovovich/Paul W.S. Anderson Resident Evil series was very successful. Each movie made a ton of money resulting in a franchise that saw 6 movies made in total. Seemingly regular cinema goers couldn’t get enough, even if everyone you spoke to about it had less then flattering things to say about them. People are weird like that.
The franchise was messy, especially if you were a fan of the game series, as these movies ended up bearing no resemblance to the horror series it was born from. That there, was often a source of frustration for many.
How many times have you said or heard something along the lines of: Just do the bloody games! The story is fine, just do that, but in movie form!
Well, someone heard and decided that they would attempt to do that very thing. Taking characters, plot points, locations and story beats from the video game franchise to create Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City. The most most video-gamey Resident Evil adaption you will ever see and likely to be the last, unless it also makes a ton of money. Which is very possible, seeing as it was made on an estimated budget of $25 million.
Written and directed by Johannes Roberts, Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City stars Kaya Scodelario, Avan Jogia, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Marina Mazepa, Nathan Dales and Josh Cruddas.
The city of Racoon City once was the hub of the pharmaceutical giant, Umbrella. Now, having moved their operations to a new location, the city is dying. No money, no jobs, no future; most have abandoned the town. Only those too poor to leave remain, as well as a skeleton crew of emergency workers.
Things are bad but things are going to get a whole lot worse as Umbrella has secretly been experimenting on children. Children taken in at the orphanage, which is run by Dr. William Birkin. This is where we first meet a young Claire and Chris Redfield. A pair of orphans, the former is visited in the night by an early experiment of Umbrella, something with a medical wristband that reads Lisa Trevor.
How exciting! She must be an integral part of the plot, right? If you count being there to hand our characters some keys later in the film, then yeah, she’s super important. Get used to this feeling. This movie is jam-packed with video game references that are nothing but fan-service. Which is fine, provided they fit in someway to the story but that rarely happens.
We then cut to an adult Claire on her way to Raccoon City to find her brother Chris. They’ve not spoken in some time as he’s a cop (STARS) and she’s a ‘free-spirit’ or something. She’s returned to Racoon City to warn him that something bad is about to happen as she has been in contact with conspiracy nut Ben. He believes Umbrella have accidentally leaked some sort of virus into the water supply and a lot of people are about to die.
He’s not wrong as when people die, they come back as the walking dead. Zombies! Isn’t that nice to see?
Claire and Chris’ reunion is short-lived though as he is called away to go to the Arklay Mountains where the Spencer Mansion is situated. Bravo team were there and aren’t responding so Alpha team,made up of Chris, Jill, Wesker, Brad and Richard (Don’t ask about Barry), are sent to investigate by Chief Irons. It’s all very mysterious and worrying for the team, except one who may have an ulterior motive for going to the mansion.
Meanwhile, Claire arrives at the police station as the town begins to become overrun by the dead. There she will meet rookie cop, Leon S. Kennedy who just arrived in town. Together, they will have to survive as the dead and things far worse break into the police station.
What caused this outbreak? Can it be stopped? How does it tie into Claire and Chris’ childhood and what does William Birkin know?
It’s a very busy movie, as you can see. Trying to jam in 2 whole games’ worth of characters and detail while also giving nods to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, the 2001 Resident Evil Remake and Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Yet, for all this content, the movie shockingly drags far more than you’d expect. It quickly establishes that it isn’t going to waste its time with characters, seemingly deciding that if you’ve played the game, that’s enough.
Which would be a lazy but fair point if these were actually that recognisable as the characters you know and love/hate. We’re not talking about the visual look (although initially both Wesker and Leon are quite jarring to look at) but rather their characteristics.
Let’s pick two. Let’s pick Jill and Leon. A character from both games. Jill could have been cut from this film and it wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Other than a handful of game-related jokes and puns, she makes no impact on the story. That’s annoying but nothing compared to what they do to Leon. A character that is butchered to the point of criminality. He’s a blithering idiot that needs to be saved constantly. You’re waiting for the point where he will step up, but he never does .Unless you’re counting the final scene of the movie, but even that’s just there for another set of puns.
Few fare better, but these two are the most notably bad. The rest are bland and/or forgettable. The less said about the likes of Sherry Birkin (she has like two lines), Annette Birkin (they don’t even say her name) and many others, the better.
As said already, fans of the game series will get a kick out of seeing so much put on the big screen but even the most ardent of fans will find themselves muttering ‘steady-on’ as the film goes on. To call it ham-fisted at times, is to overlook just how eye-rolling it is. Why include Lisa Trevor? Why include the Ashford twins? Why have Birkin become the monster he is the game but then have him talk and tease as he hunts? It’s just bad writing.
They wanted to make a film of Resident Evil that stayed true to the game but forgot that it’s got to be watchable for all audiences too. That’s often the bane of video-game movie adaptions as they try to cater to all. Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City went too far with fan-service while trying to tell a coherent story for those who know nothing of the franchise. It fails at both and can rightfully be called one of the most disappointing video-game movie adaptions in some time.
Will you be frightened? Absolutely not. Will you even get a chill? Highly unlikely. While it’s not an action-packed movie either, it flops in capturing the nightmarish horror that the franchise delivered so strongly back in the late 90s.
Is there anything of value?
Of course. While not given much to work with, some the cast do well enough. The film feels like it’s set in 1998 (which is when it’s supposed to be set) and some of the visuals around Racoon City, in the mansion and police station look great. When practical, the effects hold up and there’s some decent touches here and there. The same can’t be said for the CGI alas. Although, the mix of two and good lighting does hide some of the crappier moments.
Overall, there are times when you’ll be entertained, albeit often in brief spurts. If you want the truest adaption of the original games then you have it here. We’re unlikely to ever see something this heavily weighted towards a video-game audience ever again. It’s just a shame the end result is just so lacklustre.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City (2021)
The Final Score - 4/10