Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Review: Another failed adaptation
After Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies were unable to really bring the games to life, the reboot from the heavily underrated The Strangers: Prey at Night director Johannes Roberts fixes some issues but creates many new ones in the process.
One of the biggest issues of Anderson films was that as it went on, it clearly emphasized action over horror. The horrifying zombies and mutated creatures simply felt like excuses to get some blood-soaked action on screen, and it was rare to see something actually terrifying take place or be shown in a true horror lens. Roberts makes it very clear from the start that Welcome to Raccoon City is pure horror with the slow-burn approach he takes in building up the impending outbreak. It’s creepy to watch residents start to have blood run down from their eyes and gain a hungering for flesh that leaves you on edge until all hell breaks loose. His framing is very strong with how he builds suspenseful scares and hides figures lurking in the shadows to create uneasy tension.
The first act really gives off the same kind of suspenseful tension and eeriness as Prey at Night and his use of lighting in certain sequences leaves you holding your breath. There’s a great sequence of someone fending off a horde of attacking zombies in a room filled with darkness where there are only flashes of light when they’re able to get a lifesaving shot off. However, Roberts isn’t able to maintain his horror vision because of clear budget restrictions and the sense of dreadful horror fades as the film goes on. The CGI for the creatures, like the Cerberus dogs and Lickers, isn’t bad when they’re shot a certain way, but it gives the film a damaging cheap look. Frankly, even the zombies look bland as hell once they’re fully the walking dead and it feels like Roberts got cut off in the process of letting the blood flow or creating interesting kills because this film barely deserves an R-rating.
Another major issue fans had with Anderson’s movie is how it never paid respect to its source material in meaningful ways. Well-known lead characters from the games became mostly supporting cameos behind its original protagonist and the storyline barely harnessed any recognizable plot points from the games. Welcome to Raccoon City attempts to rectify this wrong for fans, but completely falters after its first act.
Ever since it was announced, the casting for Welcome to Raccoon City has been spot-on and that still holds true. The looks of characters are evoked excellently in the costume design and casting choices and while I do wish that they did something more to make Avan Jogia look a little more like Leon S. Kennedy outside of him wearing a police uniform the whole time, Jogia’s performance definitely evokes vibes of rookie cop Leon from Resident Evil 2. It’s also interesting to see the characters of Resident Evil 1 and 2 collide since we never get to see them interact much in the games. It’s fun to watch the S.T.A.R.S. team make fun of Leon for being a rookie and the more casual interactions between these characters makes them a little more personable. The first act definitely tries to have more fun interactions between its characters before they’re forced to fight for survival and it’s a solid new way to experience these characters. Unfortunately, Welcome to Raccoon City’s sense of “authenticity” ends up being a big disservice to its source material on multiple fronts.
On paper, combining the plots of Resident Evil 1 and 2 could seem like a good idea and there are some aspects that are solid here. Chris (Robbie Amell) and Claire (Kaya Schodelario) Redfield being sort of the connecting centerpiece makes sense since it’s basically the same in the games and it’s easy to appreciate the deeper connection the film tries to establish between them and franchise antagonist Umbrella. Honestly, it’s just appreciated that this film tries to be more authentic to the games and brings iconic locations like the Spencer Mansion and the Raccoon City Police Department to life. Good intentions only get you so far though and frankly, as a fan, Welcome to Raccoon City is infuriatingly frustrating with how chopped up and cobbled together this story is.
There are glaring omissions of major story beats and characters that are incredibly annoying and a little irresponsible given the consequences of putting the first two numbered games together. By telling the story like this, the events of Resident Evil 0 and Resident Evil 3 as well as its characters are completely erased meaning that major antagonists like Nemesis and James Marcus as well as protagonists Rebecca Chambers and Carlos Oliveira are completely wiped. Even worse is that key plot points like Wesker (Tom Hopper) being killed by Tyrant or Leon and Claire having to dodge Mr. X are chopped out of the plot. Bravo team is also cut down to just two people now and it’s genuinely annoying that this film touts itself as authentic when major characters and antagonists are completely absent. What’s left is a bare bones plot that barely makes any sense and has depictions that heavily go against the source material.
Claire is essentially given Ada’s plot from Resident Evil 2 and the whole conspiracy surrounding Umbrella’s actions in contaminating Raccoon City go nowhere since this film totally drops the ball on establishing Umbrella. Outside of introducing William Birkin (Neal McDonough), this reboot completely erases most of Umbrella’s notable names, including Alexander Ashford making the reference to the Ashford twins make no sense as a fan. Even crazier is that Wesker isn’t a part of Umbrella so the entire point of him betraying S.T.A.R.S. and becoming the franchise’s big antagonist is totally non-existent and replaced with a generic betrayal for money plot. Honestly, this Wesker totally sucks and it’s mind-boggling how they replaced an intelligent and underhanded villain with a jarhead. Welcome to Raccoon City doesn’t have much depth to its authenticity and is actually the kind of reboot that does new things for the sake of being new rather than expanding on source material.
Its character depictions are even worse. Chris and Claire are fine for the most part, but even the enjoyable aspects of Jogia’s performance can’t help the disrespect done to fan-favorite Leon. The whole idea of him being a rookie cop is a big part of his character, especially in RE2, but it never felt like it made him as incompetent as he is here. He’s just totally lost in the movie and for RE2 being such a celebrated entry, it’s a shame that it can’t even give characters like Annette (Janet Porter) and Sherry (Holly De Barros) Birkin from that game any sort of admirable respect. Frankly, most of the female characters get really nothing in this movie as iconic characters like Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa) might as well not be in this movie at all since they literally do nothing and vastly pale in comparison to the counterparts from the games.
Welcome to Raccoon City shows glimpses of being an authentic adaptation of the Resident Evil games but is just a frustrating mess that feels more infuriating for fans than even the Anderson films. It’s simply another poor video game adaptation that really doesn’t understand its source material and paints a false sense of “authenticity.”