As a fan of any particular gaming franchise, you go into a movie adaptation with…no expectations. Resident Evil and Paul W.S. Anderson already put us through a series of sub-mediocre movies that had more scenes ripped-off from other successful films, than what they had in common with the games.
Johannes Roberts (of 47 Meters Down fame) fanned the flames of hope with this reboot, by staying much closer to the game-world and adapting the first two games into one movie. You take what you get, of course, but that’s already a missed opportunity, because the first two games actually lend themselves reasonably well to be an Alien/Aliens affair – the first darker, slower, self-contained and heavy on the horror, the second an adrenaline fueled ride out of Raccoon City. Surprisingly, though, it almost works as it is.
It all starts out as a throwback to the 90s, filled with references to the game world, in particular Resident Evil 2. The story itself begins with a couple of scenes set in the Racoon Orphanage, inspired from the RE2-make, where Chris and Claire Redfield supposedly ended up after the death of their parents. The rest of the characters we know and love make their appearances and set a tone that, again, reminds a bit of Aliens, with seasoned members of STARS bantering about, while Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) does an Ellen Ripley and returns to Raccoon to uncover the dark (un)doings of the pharmaceutical company Umbrella. It all comes together rather nicely, staying rather faithful to the source material, while trying to avoid excessive exposition. What it does well, is capture the nostalgic feel of the 90s and make sense of the convoluted storylines from the games, putting some focus on unexpected social commentary.
However, like many movies of it’s type, Resident Evil applies movie logic to get out of tight spaces, which can insult your intelligence if you expect anything else. The writing is painfully plain and the story unfolds at a sluggish pace before a rushed ending. Ironically, it could have done with at least another fifteen minutes (or the two-movie approach), to set-up a grand finale. Instead, it ends on a whimper, with a couple of boss fights that are both poorly motivated and underwhelmingly executed.
The movie was slammed even before its release for the level of production design apparent in the trailer, with cosplay level costumes and dire special effects. For the most part, it’s not an issue in the movie, barring a couple of scenes which look painfully cheap – including one that should be the highlight. What’s worse is that the movie is only rarely atmospheric, never scary, and the action is haphazard, culminating with a shoot-out in the dark that makes no cinematic sense at all.
As a fan of the games, I was mostly happy with the reinterpretation of the characters, though two stood out to me like sore thumbs – Leon and Wesker. The former gets a comic relief treatment and is a walking punchline, whereas the latter just completely fails in capturing the menace of the character he’s based on. The same can be said about police chief Irons, who is dark and corrupt, especially in the RE2-make, but here is simply a cowardly jokester. Or about Dr. Birkin, who ends up being a vaudeville villain. Ultimately, what hurts the most is that you just don’t have the time to develop the characters properly – but that would have required some serious writing and I’m not sure Roberts would have pulled it off.
Focusing a bit more on developing the characters would have paid off too, because the cast is fun and engaging. Robbie Amell basically looks like Chris Redfield, Kaya Scodelario offers up a driven Claire, whereas Hannah John-Kamen plays Jill as a bit of a psycho-killer (Vasquez!). Even beyond the core characters, Donal Logue and Neal McDonough are great actors, and definitely have the capacity for nuance that would have elevated their one-note parts with more screen time.
This being said, Resident Evil is fundamentally camp when it comes to all the things that make up a cinematic universe. In that spirit, Johannes Roberts gets a lot of things right and offers a glimmer of justice to fans who were appalled by the previous film series. You will always be better off playing the games, but as far as Resident Evil movies go, at least we’re in the right universe. 6