PG Score: 5.75/10
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City was released in theaters on 11/24/21
Writer/Director Johannes Roberts (47 Meters Down and The Strangers: Prey at Night) aims to please die-hards of the beloved games with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. It is clear he did his homework in some respects, and his attention to detail is commendable. However, he falls laughably short of the mark in other vital areas, resulting in a truly uneven experience.
Based on the revered video game series, the origin story follows a group of fan favorite characters as they fight together to stay alive over the course of a fateful evening. Turning the clock back to 1998, the movie is an adaptation of the first two games. It unpacks the mystery behind the doomed Spencer Mansion and concentrates on the malevolent Umbrella Corporation.
While Paul W.S. Anderson’s installments feature a fair share of stylized action sequences, they fail to capture the genuine essence of Resident Evil. Roberts offers a far more authentic adaptation in multiple regards. There are a few locations that really stand out, and the Raccoon City Police Department is at the top of the list. From the building exterior to the lobby, seeing the base of operations on the big screen is like walking into the video game that started it all. Roberts flawlessly captures the aesthetic, all the way down to the lettering on the outdoor signage, the foreboding entry gate, and the massive semi-circle reception desk.
Not all locales feature this level of accuracy, however. The Spencer Mansion does not carry the ambience it should, given its integral place in the RE universe. The Raccoon City Orphanage also fails to evoke the nostalgia expected from such an important site. The erratic quality of the set design is just one of many examples of inconsistency that haunts Welcome to Raccoon City.
Another area that proves the director’s fidelity to the film’s origins is his aim to terrify rather than exhilarate. Where previous entries prioritized action above all else, Roberts opts for a more scare-driven path. This leads to a slow-burn approach of sorts, which yields mixed results. Even though it is not particularly frightening, the emphasis on horror stays true to the first two games. The steadier pace allows the many Easter eggs to shine even brighter. There are some real gems present and the level of fan service is most noticeable with these nods.
Lack of Action
On the other hand, the action shortage leads to less enemy variety and missed opportunities to include more memorable monstrosities from the source material. The encounters that do occur are pedestrian for the most part as zombies take the spotlight for much of the 107-minute runtime. Thankfully, a couple of sequences that find the protagonists facing off against a more formidable adversary showcase the best of the creature combat. These battles take on a similar feel to select boss fights found in the games and are the closest to pulse-pounding that Welcome to Raccoon City reaches.
Stumbling to the Finish
Despite the movie’s initial focus on gradually immersing the audience in the various environments, the third act is rushed. In his attempt to recreate the events of the initial T-Virus outbreak, dig into the secrets of the Spencer Mansion, and peel back the nefarious layers of the Umbrella Corporation, Roberts spreads himself too thin. Significant plot points are undercooked, and subtle nuances are lost in the shuffle. He scrambles to neatly wrap everything up in the climax but to no avail. The finale feels incomplete and detracts from the filmmaker’s noble efforts elsewhere.
Bringing the legendary characters to life is a tall order, and not every cast member is up to the task. The most egregious example is Avan Jogia as Leon Kennedy. Calling him a miscast would be putting it politely as the actor’s performance is a train wreck. He fails to exhibit any of Leon’s mannerisms, and his delivery/timing of the protagonist’s (albeit poorly written) trademark, cheesy one-liners is especially pitiful. Jogia reads as simply going through the motions and his acting is robotic. His depiction of the iconic zombie-slayer is nothing short of a travesty and probably feels like a slap in the face to franchise disciples. In his defense, he should not have been assigned the role to begin with.
The rest of the roster in Welcome to Raccoon City fares at least somewhat better, and Kaya Scodelario’s Claire Redfield is the highlight. Out of all the characters, the actress’ likeness to her video game counterpart is the most impressive. She conveys the heroine’s raw fearlessness in a convincing manner and wears the distinctive, red leather jacket with confidence. Claire’s brother, Chris, is played by Robbie Amell. The Upload star adequately fills the gruff police officer’s shoes but is not allotted enough screen time.
Neal McDonough is slightly underwhelming as William Birkin and does not feel like the right fit for the mad scientist. Hannah John-Kamen provides a decent portrayal of Jill Valentine, but it still seems like another case where the part should have gone to a more suitable candidate. Overall, Tom Hopper does relatively well as Albert Wesker, but there are times when his performance comes across as hollow. Donal Logue’s talents are sorely misused as Brian Irons. He semi-enthusiastically reels off the asinine dialogue, but the cartoonish police chief is too uninteresting of a character for any actor to overcome.
Valiant Effort but Falls Short
Johannes Roberts deserves praise for faithfully transferring some of the previously untapped roots of the classic games to the cinema. Unfortunately, he tries to cover too much, too quickly and skims over (or misses altogether in some cases) key material along the way. Still, veteran gamers will likely find Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City worth visiting as long as they enter with modest expectations.