Truthful Thoughts from Someone Who Has Waited Over Two Decades for Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

*****SPOILER FREE DISCUSSION*****

“Have you ever loved somebody so much
It makes you cry?
Have you ever needed somethin’ so bad
You can’t sleep at night?
Have you ever tried to find the words
But they don’t come out right?
Have you ever? Have you ever?”

Brandy, “Have You Ever?”

Like Brandy, I too have wanted something so bad. For over two decades, I’ve wanted a more faithful, horror focused adaptation of my favorite video game series Resident Evil. And like the infamous short story “The Monkey’s Paw”, I got what I wanted. In a way.

I went into this movie with a fair dose of skepticism based on some of the story & character rumors as well as the bizarrely long delay in any efforts to promote it. We didn’t even get the first trailer till October 7th for a movie that was released on November 24th. I don’t know much about the movie industry, but I do know that is a bad sign.

For the record I went into this movie ready to give it any and all benefit of the doubt. I went in wanting to love it no matter what. Unlike a lot of Resident Evil fans, I’m not here to instantly hate something because it doesn’t align exactly with my vision for it. I hate to generalize a fan base, but I’m not the only fan who has noted that the fanbase almost insists on being unhappy with anything as our default. I still love us, I’m just saying I saw a lot of comments from people who seemed predetermined to hate this movie.

We tend to want to be polarized on movies and see them as terrible or amazing while resisting meaningful discussion dissecting the good parts and bad parts. Movies like Halloween Kills need to be terrible/ripped to shreds or revered as great slashers that are above any valid criticisms people have of it. You have to pick a side and stick to it by talking over one another and never acknowledging any nuance or middle ground. People crave “loved it” or “hated it”, but the fact is many movies are just okay. I liked Halloween Kills, but I didn’t love it. It had flaws, but I didn’t think it had more flaws than Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers or Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

I guess this is all building up to say I liked Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. I didn’t unequivocally love it. I didn’t tear up from nostalgia overload like when I beat the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes. I don’t think it is a good movie by any means. In fact, some of what I like about it is the way it sort of leans into the cheese of the games.

I knew this movie was going to be…something when the cast & crew constantly talked up how much fans of the games would appreciate it. Once promotional material was released, I think I only heard the director say the movie would be a good movie for general audiences once. Instead, the marketing team seemed to know it wasn’t a great movie, and focused their efforts on the core fanbase they knew they were going to catch anyway.

In the biggest concession I will possibly ever give in my life, I think Paul W.S. Anderson’s first Resident Evil movie is better as a film with a narrative people who have not played the games can follow. And if you know how much I dislike that adaptation, you know that is hard for me to say.

Despite thinking that movie is superior as a film in terms of adhering to the basic structure of a film, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a superior Resident Evil adaptation. I prefer Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City as a fan of the games.

That is about as spoiler free as this post will be, so be forewarned spoilers lie ahead.

*****SPOILERS AHEAD*****

The best way I can describe how this new movie makes me feel is the feeling that I get when I read badly written fanfiction about something I really care about. It’s like it took some of the lore of the games and tried to develop its own unique spin for the first half of the movie, and then did a heavy mod/arrange mode on the first two games for the second half of the movie. It’s not perfect, but I’m glad it exists and gives me a bit more of the universe I like spending time in. I imagine this is the way I would feel if I was a hardcore Silent Hill fan, and all I got for a movie adaptation was Silent Hill: Revelation 3D.

The movie’s editing and inability to stick to developing any one particular subplot makes it feel like a really excited 5-year-old boy is telling a rambling story using action figures, and his mom is trying to help him develop the narrative by going, “now what happened to this action figure? You just trailed off on his story.” And the boy is like “oh yeah that’s RIGHT…uhhhh…he is DRIVING REALLY FAST and almost HITS this CHARACTER!” But then that subplot also doesn’t really go anywhere.

This movie has some great fan service, but trips itself up on trying to be its own thing at the same time. I wish it would have doubled down on fan service. Admittedly, I am one of the fans who would vastly prefer as faithful of a 1:1 adaptation as possible. If science fiction/action movies like Aliens and Predator exist, there’s no good reason a faithful Resident Evil game can’t be successful on the big screen with some obvious tweaking and condensing.

If it were up to me, I would condense the first game down to an extended series of flashbacks or maybe a prolonged first act, and focus majority of the movie on the plot of Resident Evil 2 which the developers themselves approached as a more cinematic experience. There’s corporate conspiracy intrigue, a femme fatale, character arcs, and a coherent narrative. You could even have Claire find Chris in the STARS office to instigate the flashback (e.g. “Chris what happened here?” “It started over the summer when we were called to investigate the disappearance of the Bravo Team…”). He could mention the STARS were trying to flee town, but he had lost contact with Jill, setting up a sequel to focus on the events of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.

Hollywood if you are reading this WordPress, call me!

8 Things I Liked:

8. The 90s Nostalgia

This is small, but I loved the 90s nostalgia and needle drops. This movie has the best use of Jennifer Paige’s “Crush” in a film ever, and that’s a hill I’m ready to die on.

7. Centering Claire Redfield

On the left: Claire & Sherry in the Resident Evil 2 Remake/On the right: Kaya Scodelario as Claire in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

I love Claire Redfield, and I like that she served as the primary protagonist in the film. Seeing her ride a motorcycle and give Birkin the “I see you” eyes alone was excellent. I like that we see her sarcastic yet serious side in this movie, and that she lives up to how badass her video game counterpart is. Her first interaction with Chris is also excellent.

6. The Casting of Leon

On the left: Avan Jogia as Leon in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City/On the right: Leon in the Resident Evil 2 remake

I love Resident Evil 2 Leon. He is the character I identify with the most, and was the first character I ever played in the series. I loved that he wasn’t sure of himself, was sort of a stickler for rules as a rookie, and grew into an increasingly confident, sarcastic hero. One of my favorite little things in the Resident Evil 2 remake is how he mutters “you got this!” to himself to try and boost his confidence in tense situations. Let alone his naivety when it comes to women.

All this is to say I have a vested interest in Leon, and I feel Avan Jogia perfectly embodies the character and was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Yes his outfit may scream cheap cosplay but he rocks the uniform, hair style, and character arc. Some viewers complain that he is used as comedic relief too much but I’m focusing on the barrage of racist “NoT mY lEoN/hE lOoKs MoRe LiKe CaRlOs” comments about the casting for months leading up to the release.

I understand some people really like when live adaptations hire someone who looks as much as the character as possible, but I fully believe the director Johannes Roberts that Jogia was the right fit versus the Leon copycats who came in to audition. Leon being white is not essential to his character just like being male is not essential to being a Ghostbuster. If you didn’t like the more comedic version of Leon – fine. I didn’t mind it but I can see where you are coming from. But if the only reason you dislike this adaptation of Leon is his skin color…well…I’d ask you to interrogate those feelings to put it lightly.

5. Chris’s Character Arc

Unlike Leon and Claire, I’ve never been a huge Chris fan because he’s kind of boring to be honest. But I loved him in this. Fleshing him out as this orphan who latches on to Dr. Birkin as a paternal figure and joined the police force to try and be the golden boy, only to have him realize Dr. Birkin and Umbrella were evil is a great arc. In the moments after Chris shoots Birkin, you can see the cold resolve wash over him as he realizes that his climb to some semblance of upward mobility was built on being manipulated. I feel like that coldness sets his character up to become the hardened Chris Redfield we see in later games. I also like that they still included his tenderness towards his sister, and his romantic interest in Jill.

4. The Umbrella Conspiracy/Ben’s Video to Claire

This is probably one of my favorite variations on the game plot. Ben’s video is effective at building the feeling that something very bad is about to happen, and really drives home the tragedy of what Umbrella has done to this unsuspecting town and its residents.

3. Easter Eggs

This movie may not linger on the game plots as much as I would like, but they are full of delightful Easter Eggs for fans. One of my favorites is the incredibly faithful recreation of the Ashford Twins video of them ripping off a dragonfly’s wings only to feed it to ants.

2. Practical Effects/Cinematography

People really went off about the bad CGI in the trailer, but I love the practical effects work on many of the zombies and the 1st mutation of William Birkin. This movie feels cheap, but it seems like it at least tried to spread the budget as evenly as it could. I think some of the zombie effects, and Lisa Trevor, really stood out as great examples of make up and practical effects.

1. Chris’s Experience in the Spencer Mansion

When the movie first shows the STARS team approaching and entering the front hall of the Spencer Mansion, it was everything I wanted it to be and more. This was one of the moments in the movie when I suddenly turned into something akin to a benevolent paternal figure, literally nodding at the movie screen in a deep moment of unbridled approval of what I was seeing.

This particular segment of watching Richard & Chris find the iconic “head turner” zombie, getting overwhelmed, and then Chris navigating the claustrophobic, dark halls with dwindling light and ammunition is exactly what I wanted from this movie. Too bad I only got about 10 minutes of it.

9 Things I Didn’t Like:

9. Squandered Use of Lisa Trevor

In a great example about why casting/looks aren’t the end all, Lisa Trevor was an issue for me. They did an incredible job at the casting and effects on Lisa, but her storyline feels like a squandered opportunity (get ready to read that description for a lot of things in what I didn’t like).

Although I liked that Claire normalizes not being scared of someone because they are disfigured, Claire’s reaction informs the audiences’ reaction. Because Claire is not scared of Lisa, we are not scared of Lisa. And this renders an incredibly frightening albeit tragic character into a randomly nice monster.

We don’t get Lisa’s incredibly tragic backstory beyond she was experimented on by Umbrella. And then she fights a licker. And then, after she helps Claire and Leon find the passage to the Spencer Mansion, Claire basically just waves bye and leaves her in the orphanage? Like, I didn’t want Lisa to come with them, but it was really weird Claire didn’t even ask and Lisa just sadly says “Claire” as her and Leon just peace out.

8. Changes to Jill’s Personality

As I predicted, Jill’s personality was pretty much completely altered into a generic reckless cool girl trope. I’ll admit I’m a Claire girl at heart so I’m not as invested as Jill as other fans, but Jill is as far from a reckless, weird hot head as I feel you can get. If anything, she seems sincere and quiet in the games. I get that this is just an adaptation, and at least we got a decent Jill in the other movie series, but I just didn’t care for this characterization. This to me did not feel like Jill’s personality, and all three other main protagonists felt like their video game counterparts. Also her STARS uniform being altered to have cleavage was…a choice.

7. Annette and Sherry Birkin

I never loved Annette and Sherry, but it was pretty sad to see them just show up as a housewife (instead of a driven scientist and villain in her own right) and a meek girl who pretty much does not talk (instead of a tragic character we feel compelled to try and protect). Also interesting that Annette and Sherry don’t look like their video game counterparts in terms of appearance and clothing yet no one seems to care about their appearances not matching the games. Almost like there’s something else going on with the complaints people have about the casting of Jill and Leon.

6. Narrative Word Salad

This movie drops so many bits of narrative only to leave them on the floor with the zombies. Claire has come into town to investigate Umbrella? Great! She finds a scrapbook and film reels that could be used as evidence to reveal what Umbrella did and she…rips up the pages in frustration and leaves the evidence behind. Okay.

The beginning has some brief written exposition that describes Raccoon City as small, dying town where the residents are left are only there because they are too poor [sic] to leave. It drops this post-Umbrella rustbelt subplot into the story…and it just sort of disappears. This could have been interesting to explore and I really liked this creative choice, but nothing is really done with it beyond that.

Ben mentions that the police aren’t sick because Umbrella probably shot them up with an injection to prevent them from getting sick, and this is also never explored or elaborated on further.

Likewise, Wesker’s betrayal and reasoning is too quick. I like the decision to make Wesker more human and to show him being torn about betraying STARS, but I wanted more about how Ada approached him.

Because these threads feel like word salad, it makes the buildup to the Spencer Mansion sequence feel that much more frustrating. If these threads paid off in a satisfying way, I could respect the decision to build up this part of the lore more. But a lot of things just fizzle out.

5. “We Faithfully Recreate Iconic Places from the Games”*

*We faithfully recreate the EXTERIORS and FRONT HALLS of iconic places from the game. Spencer Mansion at least alludes to the piano room & dining hall, but the rest of the RPD beyond the STARS office and garage looks like generic concrete hallways:

You want the RPD? I’ll GIVE you the…generic concrete hallway!

4. The Shooter/”Dear Sister” Scene

There is a shoot off in this movie that is so ridiculous it should have been set to Imogen Heap. When you see it you will know.

3. Mistaking Generic Comedy/Cheese for Resident Evil Comedy/Cheese

Resident Evil is undoubtedly a ridiculous and cheesy series despite how terrifying it can be, but this movie mistakes generic cheese for Resident Evil cheese. Part of what makes Resident Evil funny is how serious it is taking itself despite the bizarre voice acting. The dialogue in this movie doesn’t come close to capturing the game dialogue, and it would have been very easy to throw in more game dialogue.

A specific example of the generic comedy this movie goes for is Chief Irons. He is converted completely from a slimey, self-serving sex predator/necrophiliac to comedic relief. Don’t get me wrong – he’s funny in this movie. But Chief Irons is a character I absolutely hated in the games, and he adds a lot of creepiness to the atmosphere. And in this movie he’s just funny.

2. Lack of Building Tension/Atmosphere

This definitely has some good scares/jumps, and the zombies look good. But there isn’t nearly enough building tension and suspense to truly capture the horror of the games. Instead it seems to rush through the buildup to the scares, leading to decent jump scares but not good Resident Evil scares. To me, Resident Evil is all about hearing an enemy before you see them, or grabbing a key item and hearing an ominous noise that you might be setting yourself up for an attack. In this movie the buildup to the Spencer Mansion lasts so long the movie speeds through the scares.

Ultimately, it feels more like an adventure movie that is trying to throw in generic horror to make it feel like a horror film in particular scenes. There are some great bits, like the waitress’s eye suddenly bleeding and zombies just jumping out of the dark or silently sneaking up on Chris, but there should have been far more time spent in those buildups in order to truly capture the sense of creeping dread in the games.

1. Squandered Opportunity

I outright hate the amount of squandered opportunity in this film. As I mentioned in my wishlist for this movie, I really hoped they would use flashbacks to flesh out the events of the Spencer Mansion, and focus on the second game. Instead, they jam pack the main four playable characters from the first two games and some of the two games in the movie. The first part of the movie is just building the background and context needed in order to have the first two games take place at the same time. But just like delaying the appearance of the first zombie in the 2002 film, this drags its feet on introducing the scenes that recreate the game which is the biggest disappoint for me.

Moreover, Raccoon City is decimated by the end. So even if they ever make a sequel they cut off any opportunity to make a good faith attempt at all the plot elements that didn’t make it into this movie including Barry, Rebecca, Marvin, Mr. X, and the events of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis to name a few. Umbrella even states all the civilians died so it even destroys doing an adaptation of Outbreak (unless they retcon that element since they don’t realize Chris, Claire, Leon, Jill, and Sherry all survived).

Instead, they would have to presumably shoehorn in all the surviving characters into Code Veronica or Resident Evil 4. Which is okay – I’d rather see more glimpses of the games and iconic characters than none. But it just bums me out. I grew up on Resident Evil 2, and I basically just got to see a front hall and a jail cell.

Final Thoughts

I left the theater in 2002 pretending like I was fine, but I wasn’t fine. I felt very let down by Paul W.S. Anderson’s vision of Resident Evil.

I left the theater in 2021 feeling okay. I knew I had just seen a bad movie, one that I would argue is entertainingly bad. But at least I felt like I watched a Resident Evil movie. I look forward to the Blu Ray release of this movie, and I will definitely be watching it again. Maybe one day we will get our first Silent Hill movie quality version of Resident Evil. Till then to quote Barry:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s