Another day, another attempt at a Resident Evil movie.
Resident Evil is one of the most popular game franchises of all time, with a huge (and dedicated) fanbase. Naturally, studios have tried to capture the eyes of this fanbase with big feature film adaptations, including six films prior to this latest installment.
And yet, fan consensus is that these adaptations have pretty consistently missed the mark.
Now we have a new entry to the franchise, Welcome to Raccoon City, which serves as a reboot and a new chance for the Resident Evil franchise. But does this movie succeed where the others failed?
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Review
As Welcome to Raccoon City serves as a reboot for the franchise, you don’t need to know anything about the previous six films to start this one. The movie takes us back to the beginning of the Resident Evil story, to the ground-zero T-virus outbreak in Raccoon City.
In terms of carrying over the story from the original Resident Evil games, Welcome to Raccoon City combines plot points from the first two entries in the franchise. Whether that’s a good or bad choice is a bit of a tossup; it does give the movie more to work with, allowing it to fill time better than perhaps it could with just one game. However, it also feels a bit overstuffed at points, contributing to a rushed final act.
Characters you know and love (mostly)
Along with the combined plots comes a collection of characters mixing and mingling in new ways. Whether or not this works for existing Resident Evil fans will depend on how much of a game purist you are; you might be excited to see different interactions and team-ups between your favorite characters. Or you might start yelling at your screen, “that’s not how it goes!”
(As a quick example, in the early RE games Claire’s story revolves pretty heavily around trying to find her brother Chris. In this movie, she just rolls right up to his house right at the beginning and they have a chat.)
Some personalities in the group feel a bit different, too. Jill Valentine comes across as slightly more chaotic and unpredictable, which actually adds to her character in my opinion. But Leon goes from “guy having a rough first day at the office” to “kind of slow and incompetent comic relief”— a real downgrade.
Easter Eggs Galore
The one absolutely standout thing that can be said for Welcome to Raccoon City is this movie was undoubtedly made by Resident Evil fans. From start to finish, it’s full of Easter Eggs to the original games, from characters and locations to visual gags. You’ll meet Lisa Trevor, fight a horde of zombies in Spencer Mansion, and even see Wesker don his iconic sunglasses.
For the most part, this movie manages to make fan service feel like a triumph. Expect a ton of online sleuths and RE fans more familiar with the franchise than me to drop comprehensive guides to all the Welcome to Raccoon City references sometime soon after the movie officially premieres.
The story, the zombies, and the horror
Welcome to Raccoon City is the most fun when it feels a bit like playing a video game. The best part for me was when the crew was fighting off zombie attacks in the mansion; these sequences managed the best balance of suspense and jump-scares. They also played with lighting and perspective in a way reminiscent of the gameplay. Seeing zombies suddenly emerge from the darkness really added to the atmosphere of the movie. When Chris keeps clicking a lighter to illuminate his attackers in the dark, I felt like I was in the game, clicking the button to make it happen myself.
However, the overall pacing of the movie does feel off. Most of Welcome to Raccoon City relies on slow-moving exploration that gives way to sudden creature attacks. But by the time everyone’s individual stories converge, the pace turns a bit frenetic. True, the team’s working on a ticking clock (since Umbrella is going to blow up the town at 6am), but it’s more than that. The movie dedicates a lot more time to fighting off one-off random zombies in the mansion and the police station than it does to defeat the “big bad” at the end.
I still don’t know that this movie has managed to find the right balance between exploring the backstory of Umbrella Corp and its experiments and zombie-fighting action-horror. Especially for first-time viewers, the movie throws up a lot of questions and not enough answers to be truly satisfying. (If Umbrella was experimenting on siblings, why did they only take Claire and not Chris? Why is Dr. Birkin the only member of Umbrella trying to salvage those vials? Why did Umbrella bother to immunize the Raccoon City police force? I could go on, but I won’t.)
I’ll have to let people more invested in RE decide whether or not Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City deserves to re-launch the franchise with a whole new series of films. I didn’t hate this entry, but it also doesn’t leave me itching for more movies either.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City premieres in theaters November 24.