By: John M Jerva
Growing up and to this day, I have only really been a casual video game player. I did play them more when I was younger, but the appeal never really wore off on me. There are those classic games that I gravitated to of course which were the usual suspects in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. To be honest, my favorite go to game in my early years was the Jet Li led fight game Rise to Honor where you would play as the martial arts icon taking out thugs and villains galore with your awesome array of hand-to-hand bad assery. Like I said, Resident Evil was a game I played, and I do know of the lore and when the Paul W.S. Anderson films with Millia Jovovich came out, I did enjoy them for their over-the-top excess in zombie action. They did get ridiculous and by the time the final installment came out, the franchise was running on fumes to say the least.
When a franchise burns out, you know that that means. Yep, you guessed it. Reboot the whole flipping thing with new actors and plotlines. This is what we have with the newest resident evil film subsequently titled Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. Chances are you’ve seen the film already or heard enough reviews but with it now on streaming services and coming to Blu-Ray, I wanted to serve up my thoughts. This time, we have 40 Meters Down director Johannes Roberts at the helm, and he has taken the franchise back to its horror roots with a film that plays out like the first two games of the bestselling line of games. At Roberts’ disposal is a crew of lesser-known actors taking over for Jovovich and those who came before and with it the results are a stripped down, bones bare version of the game that takes it back to its horror roots but with lackluster results. It does have its moments and the creature effects are pretty good but that is about it for this revamping of the game inspired films.
This newer version starts off in 1998 where the once bustling town of Raccoon City, home of the Umbrella Corporation, is now a decaying shell of its former self. The corporation is now pulling out of the city and with it, an evil is about to be unleashed which is the direct result of the vile experiments done by the shady company. The townspeople are changing into something ungodly, and a small band of survivors consisting of Claire Redfield, her brother Chris and a team of cops must work together to uncover the conspiracy and stop the evil from escaping out into the world.
Fans of this reboot will probably gravitate to it more than the other films as it literally is fan service and while watching it, it looks and feels like you’re playing the game. All the usual suspects are present with Clair Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) leading the way as the main protagonist along with her cop brother Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell). We also have Jill Valentine (Hannah John Kamen), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia) as the last line of defense against this bio-weapon scourge that threatens the very existence of mankind. The cast is relatively unknown and while usually I don’t mind this and it works sometimes in a film’s favor, here most of the cast is forgettable with no real standouts besides Scodelario and Amell. Tom Hopper, who I did like in the throwback actioner Kill Ratio, is an interesting character as we all know what he will eventually become, but I was hoping for some more of what I saw in that other film from the actor.
On the negative side of the casting, Avan Jorgia as Leon Kennedy is the worst offense of the film and fans will loath what this interpretation does to his character who is shaped better in the video game realm. Normally in the games, Kennedy is more of a bad ass but here he is reduced to an incompetent rookie who serves no purpose except maybe for some misguided comic relief. It’s not Jorgia’s fault as it is the writers who did this to the character. Neal McDonough is solid as usual in the handful of scenes that he’s in but unfortunately, he’s misused as well, and I saw his character arc coming a mile away.
What does work well here is the fact that Roberts and company have stripped the bombastic earlier films down to size and the horror vibe works better than the all-out action extravaganza that came in the previous films. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them, but it got severely redundant towards the end of that run. There are a lot of creepy moments to be had and the gore factor is done well. The special effects are passable seeing that this is a lower budgeted affair, and the creatures serve their purpose especially the licker that I wanted to see more of. Unfortunately, the main villain that our scrappy crew comes up against is a letdown and it looks like something you would have seen in a SyFy original movie.
In terms of action and thrills, the film drops the ball at the one yard line and there is no real standout set pieces to speak of. there’s a little running and gunning in the police station and the mansion that serves as the film’s main focus but for the most part, there is no real spark to speak of. The finale is the biggest culprit here and it is a major snoozer when one thinks of what came before in the other films and the source material. There is no real sense of urgency at all and it seemed like the climax was in slow motion. There are some decent kills and bloody moments but for a Resident Evil film it left me wanting a whole lot more.
One highlight for me in the action department was the dark, CQB fight were Chris Redfield takes on a horde of undead. The scene is played out with no lighting except for the muzzle flashes of Redfield’s gun and a lighter. This sequence feels the most like it was ripped from the game and it resonates with a terrifying feel because you can’t clearly see the attackers until they are up close and personal. It was moments like this one that the film needed more of in my eyes, and I feel Amell needed more scenes like this.
The music is pretty solid and there are hints of a John Carpenter feel to the proceedings. The score does add some atmosphere to the movie especially in the more tense moments and it’s too bad that what we saw on screen never lived up to what we were hearing. I also enjoyed the fact that it took place in the 90’s so the soundtrack certainly brings back memories and it was fun to see old cell phones, Atari style video games and VHS players again.
Overall, this Resident Evil does have its moments and there are enough nods to the game that will please fans but in all it’s incredibly lackluster and dull in its execution. The horror aspect to it does work to a point but it wasn’t enough to satisfy for its running time. The special effects are serviceable, and the score beckons to the days of Blockbuster Video, but the finale is lackluster, and the action is unfulfilling. I can see what they were going with here as it is vastly different from the earlier films but while they stripped it down, they left it too bare bones for any real effect. It is left open to a sequel of course and if there is one, which I think this is one and done, they will have to try to find a more balanced playing level between the two styles of films in the franchise. Here we witness the beginning of evil but if it wants to stay around longer, they’re going to have to step it up.