As someone who has always loved the other Resident Evil film series, I was excited to see Johannes Roberts at the helm of the Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City reboot, which follows the first few installments of the popular video game series of the same name. And while this newest film does have a few issues, they weren’t enough to derail my overall enjoyment, as Roberts has done an incredible job of creating something that feels like it was plucked right out of the world of the Resident Evil games, which should make longtime fans pretty darned happy.
Based on the title alone, it probably comes as no surprise that this adaptation takes viewers into the ill-famed Raccoon City, where Umbrella Corporation has left the city in ruins now that it has achieved its nefarious goals and moved on. There are still some folks living in Raccoon City, the ones who cannot leave for one reason or another, including a local cop named Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell). His sister Claire (Kaya Scodelario) comes to visit in an effort to get him out of the rundown town, but before she can convince him that something is really wrong, all hell breaks loose and those left in Raccoon City find themselves either fighting off hordes of zombies or becoming one of the undead.
It’s been quite a long time since I last watched someone play the first two Resident Evil games (I love watching video games play out, but I’m terrible at actually playing them), so I can’t say specifically just how closely all the details in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City mirror those contained in the first two Resident Evil games, but there were quite a few moments while watching Roberts’ adaptation where certain memories from those games came back to me in a flash, and a handful of production design elements, set pieces, and other details also set off all these nostalgic light bulbs. That being said, I think fans of the Resident Evil games will certainly geek out over those moments, probably even harder than I did since they probably have much better memories than this ol’ gal does.
Beyond all the Resident Evil goodness in Welcome to Raccoon City, there’s also a lot of love for the horror genre as a whole, which is something that Roberts has done in several other film projects over the years, including The Strangers: Prey at Night, which was filled with a variety of tributes to John Carpenter. There’s even more Carpenter love to be found in this newest Resident Evil, as elements in the film’s story structure feel a bit like a mash-up of the RE games and Carpenter’s cult classic Assault on Precinct 13. Visually, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City looks fantastic, and the level of atmosphere Roberts and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (who has done some incredible work throughout his career on movies like High Tension, Crawl, and the remakes of Maniac, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Crazies) manage to conjure here is utterly incredible and does a great job of capturing the moodiness and dread from the Resident Evil video games, perfectly infusing this filmic version of that world with all that visual creepiness.
As mentioned, though, there are some aspects of Welcome to Raccoon City that didn’t really work all that well for me. First and foremost, the CG monsters in the film are just... disappointing, and that is putting it nicely. I don’t know where it all went wrong, so when I say that they feel like they were pulled directly out of the games in this instance, it’s not really a compliment. They just feel really cartoonish and not authentic at all to their environments, so that was a bummer (the design elements themselves were good, though). I also think the pacing of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City was a bit wonky, too, where the film has oodles of atmosphere, but very little tension, and I’m still trying to figure out just how exactly that happens. That’s not to say there still aren’t several killer set pieces to be found in this newest Resident Evil, because there definitely are, but with this adaptation, I was really missing that feeling of how the games used to crawl up under my skin as I watched them unfold, because I never really experienced that at all while watching this adaptation.
As far as the cast in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City goes, both Scodelario and Amell are pretty good (Kaya is the driving force of a good chunk of the movie, and she once again rises to the occasion), and I really liked both Avan Jogia as Leon S. Kennedy and Tom Hopper as Wesker (Hopper’s performance finally hits all those Wesker beats that I was looking for in the second half of the film), but I am bummed to admit that I didn’t totally love Hannah John-Kamen as Jill Valentine, as it doesn’t really feel like she clicked with the part (I loved her in Ant-Man and the Wasp, so I’m really surprised about how I didn’t really gel with her work in this). But we do get Donal Logue popping up in this newest Resident Evil as the city’s chief of police, as well as Neal McDonough as bad guy/Umbrella stooge William Birkin, and it’s mathematically impossible for me to not enjoy McDonough playing a villain in anything, so I enjoyed him in this.
While I wouldn’t call Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City a perfect movie by any means, it’s still a perfectly entertaining time at the theater (if you’re comfortable doing so) that gets more right than it gets wrong. There are definitely some elements that could have used a little extra tweaking (I will forever remain saddened by the monsters in this), but as a whole, Johannes Roberts has crafted a video game adaptation that’s bursting with love for those games as well as the horror genre, and it’s his enthusiasm and attention to detail, plus Scodelario’s performance, that saved the movie for me and made it a rather entertaining viewing experience. Your mileage may vary (as the kids these days like to say), but I do hope we get to see more faithful live-action Resident Evil films down the line after Welcome to Raccoon City (and I’d like Roberts to get another shot with this universe, too).
Movie Score: 3/5