Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Rating: C-

Dir: Johannes Roberts
Star: Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper

I avoided watching this when it was released, out of franchise loyalty to Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich. But between its underwhelming performance and the dismal failure of Netflix’s Resident Evil series, I am increasingly convinced it’s not possible to adapt the video-game in a way that’s both faithful and entertaining. This one, by all accounts, hews closer to the former. I can’t say, having never played the games. So accuracy is irrelevant. But I tend to think generally, that video games are an active form of entertainment, while movies are passive. Changes must be made to convert between them. That’s why the most successful video-game adaptations go in a different direction from their inspirations.

When you don’t, I suspect the results end up being like this. It’s well-enough made, in the studio’s desire to reset the series in a Jovovich-free universe, but spreads itself too thin. As the overcrowded poster below suggests, rather than focusing on telling one story, such as that of Alice in the Anderson version, Roberts has to do justice to Jill Valentine (John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Hopper), Leon Kennedy, and both of the Redfield siblings, Claire (Scodelario) and Chris (Amell). Even at a relatively chunky 106 minutes, slightly longer than the first Anderson adaptation, you’re left with not enough connection to the characters. It feels like it’s dropping in elements that are familiar to fans of the video-game, yet don’t necessarily work as aspects of a cinematic story.

This version takes place in a near-deserted Raccoon City, with Umbrella having basically bailed on the town. Few residents remain, along with a skeleton police force of STARS personnel, including Valentine, Wesker, Kennedy and Chris Redfield. Claire also shows up in town, concerned about the corporation’s activities. Rightfully so, since locals are turning into infectious, flesh-eating monsters. Some of the STARS group run into trouble while looking for colleagues, and end up in the Spencer Mansion, which belonged to an Umbrella executive. Leon, Claire and Chief Irons are in the orphanage where the Redfields were raised. Neither prove exactly safe spaces, and in an overlap with the previous movie, they have to hightail it out of there on a train, before Umbrella take off and nuke the site from orbit.

Roberts has said he was trying to recapture the atmosphere of the games. Again, I can’t speak to that. If those were largely concerned with creeping round poorly-lit corridors, interrupted by occasional bursts of head-shot action: nailed it. None of the characters here make a real impression, or have a significant arc, because that’s not what games need. Contrast Alice’s turn from shrinking wallflower to ultimate bad-ass, karate kicking zombie dogs in mid-air. There’s nothing to compare with the memorable moments Anderson delivered. The laser corridor might not have made sense, but you certainly remember it. This feels more like a cynical exercise in box-ticking, accompanied by songs which remind me the nineties were really shitty for music. Albeit with enough well-crafted gore to make me feel the time was not entirely wasted.

But #Milla4Ever…