Starring: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Avan Jogia, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, and Neal McDonough.
Following a mixed response to Paul W. S. Anderson’s hexad franchise, Resident Evil returns to its roots with a faithful homage to the video games.
Set during the course of one night in Raccoon City 1998, Redfield siblings, Chris (Robbie Amell) and Claire (Kaya Scodelario), STARS members, Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and rookie cop, Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia), must battle it out with Umbrella Corp’s ill-fated T-Virus victims.
The Resident Evil cinematic history has been met with plenty criticism over the years and not all good to say the least. When Paul W. S. Anderson took up the director’s chair in 2002, he done so with little influence from the games. Despite there being some elements borrowed, the first live-action feature gave a whole new lease of life to Raccoon City. As the franchise progressed, the further the story steered from its source material, failing to utilise fan-favourites like Chris Redfield to their full potential. For gamers, this may have been quite dissatisfying and understandably so.
Welcome to Raccoon City does not share the same fate. The plot, many shots and set pieces are transported almost directly from Resident Evil 2 (the video game, that is). Director, Johannes Roberts, has a clear appreciation for the source and it shines through the screen. Even minor details are replicated to a tee: the infamous trucker sequence (greasy burger and all), the map used by STARS, the fixed angle camera format; then there’s the locations – the police station is phenomenally accurate; this is exactly how a live-action adaptation should look.
Roberts’ enthusiasm for his creation is superb to witness; he brings a sense of justice to the games that the previous series omitted whilst infusing originality. Merging plots from the video games, Roberts is given the freedom to explore countless possibilities and arcs that focus on beloved protagonists and villains from the source material. If he sticks with the franchise, redemption could very well be on the way for Resident Evil.
As there are multiple characters taking the lead, they can sometimes feel underdeveloped, but the film doesn’t offer much time for them to sit down and share their life stories. They are still enjoyable to watch. The potential is there to expand on in future instalments – maybe throw in a bunch of those witty one liners to lighten the tone, it’s about time someone utters the “Jill sandwich” line on-screen. One character who could have had a bigger presence is Neal McDonough’s Dr. William Birkin. Serving as the central antagonist, Birkin is revealed at the beginning to be experimenting on children at the same orphanage Chris and Claire reside. It could’ve given the movie a tad more depth if this was fleshed out.
For a horror, this reboot’s only shortcoming is the lack of suspense. Eerie? Sure, but all that made the games terrifying to play seemed to be missing. There’s rarely a moment where the characters truly feel in danger, a flaw which comes with having the iconic names attached to them. Whilst the excitement to see tyrant, Mr. X, appear is at a high, Roberts excludes him from the film due to creative reasons. During the first half, anticipation is building for his arrival, though it becomes clear he’ll be absent and it feels the characters have a free pass from any real threat – until the licker shows up that is.
Welcome to Raccoon City is an ode to the video game series and its fanbase. There are some elements that could see improvement, such as character development, tension and possibly the CGI given the budget. For the most part, Roberts’ reboot is an impressive return to the Resident Evil universe that fans would love to see more of.