Ah the 90’s. The decade that gave us Nokia mobile phones, 4 Non Blondes and a video game that would be a starting point to one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, Resident Evil.
We’re going back to 1998 to the fictional setting of Raccoon City. A derelict city in the Midwest of the U.S. that has been run by a pharmaceutical corporation known as Umbrella. Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns to her hometown to reunite with her estranged brother Chris (Robbie Amell), and seek his help with a conspiracy that there is something deadly and evil secretly hidden within the residency of Raccoon City. As the night quickly deteriorates into a hellish wasteland, the Redfield siblings, with assistance from series favourites including Leon Kennedy (Avon Jogia), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), will have to fight against hordes of the undead in a race against time to find out what they can about a virus that’s plaguing their city.
I believe that one of the best things about this latest live action adaptation is that you don’t really need prior knowledge of the source material in order to follow. Of course if you can tell your T-Virus from your G-Virus it certainly helps, and there are a slew of references to the series that’ll no doubt go right over the heads of unknowing audience members, but it’s not a wildly complex narrative that demands you to pick up the games and run your way through hours of gameplay in order to grasp even the simplest of story beats.
Director Johannes Roberts (47 Metres Down, The Strangers: Prey at Night) has clearly done his homework. As a long-term fan of the franchise I was taken aback by some of the minor details and accuracies to the games. His intentions to create something for the fans is clearly there, even if the execution comes across as muddled, occasionally flat and frustratingly rushed, especially as it approaches its final act. Nevertheless it leans more heavily on the source material as apposed to the previous live action Resident Evil franchise which saw director Paul W.S. Anderson (Monster Hunter, Event Horizon) taking a huge departure from the games.
Whilst Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is essentially its own story, it does take much of its narrative points from the first two games in the series. Whilst it successfully attempts to do some of it cohesively, the very lean 107 minute runtime doesn’t allow much breathing room between the two separate sub plots, and rather clumsily speed runs through its third act to wrap everything up.
Which also doesn’t help is the unintentionally comical script and some of the characters are written in such a manner that feels far removed from their videogame counterparts. Most frustratingly is Leon as a clumsy, dorky and incompetent rookie cop, and the bro, frat boy persona of Albert Wesker. The Redfield siblings both have great moments though, as well does Jill Valentine and Donal Logue surprises with his performance of Chief Irons.
The stunning and video game accurate set design is where Roberts’ adaptation really redeems itself. We get some well shot sequences in the R.P.D. (Raccoon Police Department) station and the Spencer Mansion, and when things really start to shake up we are gifted some moments that look as if they could be pulled straight from the games themselves. Whilst there are some issues with the CGI, the practical effects do an awful lot of the lifting and for a film that has a much smaller budget than most in the modern market, it predominantly utilizes its strengths, and crafts something that feels authentic but pays tribute to the material it is adapting.
I guess if you were expecting a more shot-for-shot adaptation that more faithfully sticks to only one of the games, then I could see where the disappointment will set in, but to that I say you’re better off just playing the games. These stories are certainly more suited to the hours you can commit to playing them through their entirety, but for the spin Roberts gives his iteration it’s a worthy substitute for the big screen. Some of the characterisations, the runtime and disappointing final third is what really lets the film down. Much like the games it constantly feels like it’s building to something big, but it all seems to be over in a flash.
For a Resident Evil movie that I’ve been dreading since I heard it was being remade, it’s still fairly entertaining which actually seems impressive, and for a video game adaptation even more so. It’s probably the best Resident Evil movie we’ve ever had, which although the bar isn’t exactly high in that department, is the best compliment I can really give it. “You want S.T.A.R.S.? I’ll give you S.T.A.R.S.”… two and a half of them.