Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a rarity in video game movie adaptations.
It gets so much correct that it’s clear the effort was made to do right by the fans of the source material. If it weren’t for two pretty significant questionable decisions it could have been the best video game movie adaptation yet.
The first mistake is easier to forgive. After Milla Jovovich exhausted all of the goodwill out of the fanbase with six films of varying quality, distributor Constantin Film probably wasn’t sure how viable the franchise was and let director/writer Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down) essentially cram two films into one.
Roberts and Constantin both greatly underestimated his ability to properly adapt the Capcom zombie series, however. Early on, it’s evident Roberts gets the series in a way that Paul W. S. Anderson never did in directing four of the six Jovovich films.
Resident Evil games typically feature a pair of protagonists with some combination of Leon S. Kennedy, Jill Valentine and siblings Chris and Claire Redfield. That’s been the accepted standard for the franchise since its inception back in 1996.
Perhaps seeking to avoid criticisms of just revamping the first Jovovich/Anderson film, Roberts opts to combine the game storylines into one film. This quickly becomes overwhelming as Roberts can’t properly develop any of the four main characters, various key supporting players or subplots without it feeling so rushed.
Claire (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner) is back in her childhood home, Raccoon City, to alert Chris (Robbie Amell, Heels) of a potential catastrophe that’s being covered up by The Umbrella Corporation. Chris is skeptical and still stinging from Claire leaving years ago.
After encountering some rabid-like residents, Claire heads to the police station and finds the chief (Donal Logue, Gotham) working on his escape and rookie cop Leon (Avan Jogia) trying to make sense of the chaos as Raccoon City enters a lockdown.
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There were the cliche complaints about John-Kamen and Jogia being cast as Jill and Leon for “not looking like the characters.” See also “not being white.” Roberts could have incorporated more classic elements with regards to outfit colors and Jill’s beret to nail the visuals better, but the bigger issue is the portrayal of Leon.
In the games, Leon has overtaken Chris as the fan favorite. He’s a steady, confident and brave fighter who’s rarely rattled in the face of all this zombie chaos. Roberts decides to have Jogia play Leon as kind of a joke character that’s constantly being bullied by his peers and dismissed for his lack of any useful skills. While it was immensely commendable to bring diversity to the franchise, it’s meaningless if the characters are poorly written.
Truthfully, no character really has a chance to shine thanks to barebones development. And that’s not even accounting for William Birkin (Neal McDonough, The Flash) trying to flee the city with his family.
Most of the script deficiencies come simply from packing two full film worthy plots into one movie. If Roberts just focused on one game, he would have crafted two excellent, top tier video game adaptations. Everything is in place.
The sets faithfully replicate locales and Roberts directly lifts scenes from the game. This is a situation where just following the game’s blueprint ensures a successful translation to the big screen. Roberts does a step better by building the horror elements to properly build the tension. A hallway scene with Chris fighting off zombies embodies the thrills and terrors of the game.
When it’s time for the action, Roberts also has that covered without any trouble. Fight scenes are clean and easy to follow. CGI and traditional makeup for the creatures and zombies are also solid.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is far more of the source material adaptation fans have been demanding. With a better take on Leon and more focused script it could have been the video game measuring stick. Instead, it settles for being just good enough while teasing how good this series reboot could have been.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: Screen Gems
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