I know this is going to sound like a backhanded compliment, but the biggest point in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’s favor is that it isn’t a Paul W.S. Anderson movie. After enduring six of those god-awful films last year, I dreaded seeing the phrase “Resident Evil movie” again. I mean, can you blame me? Some of those movies are legitimate contenders for the worst films of the past two decades. I have more insults I can sling at those movies than an infinite ammo rocket launcher, but let’s not dig up bad memories.
But weirdly enough, it was those horrible movies that reignited my interest in the franchise. Not because I wanted to see the source material that the films were based on, but to remind myself that the series is actually good. There are solid horror elements, memorable characters, even more memorable locations, and great action beats in the video games that just simply aren’t present in that biological weapon of a film franchise. I went and played most of the new Resident Evil games like Village afterwards and volunteered to see Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City since it seemed to address a huge amount of the criticisms of the Paul W.S. Anderson series. It was more authentic to the games, featured more accurate and faithful retellings of the plot of the first two games, and had fan-favorite monsters making appearances.
And for a mid-tier action-horror movie, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, actually delivers, though there are some major caveats attached to that recommendation.
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Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
Director: Johannes Roberts
Release Date: November 22, 2021
Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell) and Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) are estranged siblings. Chris lives in Raccoon City, a town that used to be operated by the Umbrella Corporation, and now is a member of the police department’s STARS unit. Meanwhile, Claire left the city to investigate Umbrella and finds information that the pharmaceutical company may be up to no good. And as it turns out, a viral outbreak occurs when Claire reunites with her brother, yet the two are separated when Chris is assigned to investigate the Spencer Mansion where the police assume something is amiss and Claire goes to the police station to… actually I’m not sure why she decides to travel to the police station. Nevertheless, zombies pop up due to the virus and both siblings need to survive and find a way out of the city by 6:00 a.m. or else risk being blown up when Umbrella decides to wipe away their own accident.
If you’ve ever heard of or played the first two Resident Evil games, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City isn’t going to surprise you. It is, ostensibly, a beat for beat adaptation of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2. Before the film released, I heard concerns from fans that trying to cram both games plots into one movie may be a bit much and that most certainly is the case here. Until the last ten minutes of the movie, both Chris and Claire’s plots are kept separated in every sense of the world, making the film fairly choppy to watch. Like one of Umbrella’s experiments, it functions, but it’s not pretty to look at and makes you question who greenlit that idea in the first place.
The locations are authentic to the game however and that is a point in the film’s favor. While it’s perfectly accessible for newcomers, long-time fans will find little nods and references to other games in the series. There’s a lot of love for Code: Veronica here and even games like Resident Evil 7 get a brief mention or two. Personally, I loved the focus on the fan-favorite monster Lisa Trevor despite how little she’s actually utilized in the final film. This is the kind of fan-service that I think works best. It’s not entirely reliant on placating nostalgia but instead enhancing the world with little bits of lore from a director who clearly is a fan of the series.
Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of nothing going on with these characters and they all feel very homogenous. Chris, Claire, Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia), and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) are all the same type of jerk. They don’t trust each other, they’re snarky towards one another, curse a ton, and are bitter towards most people they encounter. Having one character like that is fine, but when your main cast are all the same shade of ass, they can become just plain unpleasant. You wanna know how bad it gets? Brian Irons (Donal Logue), who in the games is an absolute monster, is probably the most charming character in the film. That says a lot.
But it all kind of helps to serve the tone of the film. Unlike the Paul W.S. Anderson films, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is all about tone and atmosphere with hardly any major action scenes. The film spends the first half of its runtime setting up an environment that is filled to the brim with dread. There’s an overbearing sense that something bad is going to happen and it’s only going to get worse as the film progresses. I wouldn’t call the movie scary by any stretch of the word, but it actually nails some of that early Resident Evil tension.
Which is all the more impressive given how comparatively small the budget for this movie is. The film cost about $25 million to make and at times I thought that the budget was higher, but most of the time you can tell how constrained they were with what they had to work with. The police station looks particularly impressive and despite how cool the Spencer Mansion may look, it feels cheap and small by comparison. The cast is kept tiny, which can work, but there are remarkably few zombies and the few special creatures that require unique CGI like the Lickers and dogs all underwhelm.
But the film isn’t a complete disaster. Again, I know that this is a low bar thanks to the previous series, but you have to understand; mere competency is a blessing for this franchise. The films have been varying shades of awful so to see a movie that is, you know… an actual movie, is good. I’m actually surprised that the film got a theatrical release, especially during Thanksgiving weekend. Given the low budget and the insignificant marketing, Sony probably just wanted to shove this one out and see if they can get any money off of it since it’s going to be completely swallowed by every other major release.
I can’t really say that’s a shame though since there are obvious flaws here. Portions of the film feel underdeveloped, most likely a victim of the truncated combination of two scripts and the structural separation of each part, as well as the unpleasant characters. The actors are all fine and do well in their roles, but the movie makes them all so serious and resentful of each other to the point where it actively hurts the movie whenever it focuses on character drama. But I can’t deny that it hits the moments from longtime fans, executes a fairly decent mood, and has some remarkable sets. If you’re a fan of the series, you should have a good time with it and I would even encourage newcomers to give it a watch. If you like what you see, give the games a try, since this film feels a lot like an advertisement for the games that for its own little film series.