Love it or hate it, but a new era for the Resident Evil films has arrived. This time writer-director Johannes Roberts brings an adaptation of the famous games that more accurately reflects the survivalist-shooting game that has held video game fans’ attention for many many years. Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a fun and faithful adaptation of the games it is based on, but is lacking in character substance.

Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City follows a small group of people consisting of Raccoon City police officers and members of the Special Tactics and Rescue Service team as they become trapped in the small midwestern town during a zombie outbreak caused by the Umbrella Corporation, a super shady pharmaceutical company. With very few options, the team does whatever they can to get the hell out of Raccoon City. Arriving just in time for the chaos is Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario), who has returned to this retched town to warn her brother Chris (Robbie Amell) that Umbrella is up to no good. Welcome to Raccoon City re-introduces and focuses on several primary and recurring characters from the video games. Namely, sister-brother duo Claire and Chris Redfield, rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia), STARS agents Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), and Umbrella leader William Birkin (Neal McDonough). Credited in the cast list, but not seen, is the mysterious Ada Wong (Lily Gao), who may have unfortunately been cut from the film.

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Unlike the Resident Evil film franchise from Paul W. S. Anderson, this adaption places front and center the primary playable characters from the games and closely aligns with its narrative. While Anderson rejected the idea of an adaptation that was a tie-in to the games, Roberts offers an alternative approach, be as faithful to the source material without exceeding the limits of the new medium. The result? It works. One thing fans of the games and of horror will notice right away is that Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City goes back to the basics. The first game in the Resident Evil franchise was termed a survival horror; it would then be attributed as the first in a new subgenre of games. Roberts draws from that and creates a film that is exactly what the subgenre suggests — a survival horror with a fair amount of shooting from our characters. Set in 1998, the film pays homage to the first two games of the series (released in 1996 and 1998, respectively), borrowing the characters, the narratives, settings, and tone.

It is also inspired by John Carpenter’s classic horror and thriller films from the '70s and '80s. The most notable influences are Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog. These influences are almost immediately recognizable to fans of Carpenter due to the careful camera movements, clever use of lightning, and Carpenter-esque music. Maxime Alexandre's cinematography gives the film that distinct Resident Evil aesthetic, with hues of red shrouding the film and the endless rain looking like blood. There is a deliberate effort to ground this video game adaptation with film genres that pair nicely with the narrative. It is no surprise that Roberts' prior films have been predominantly horror, as his adaptation of Resident Evil hones in on this aspect. Welcome to Raccoon City doesn’t use the zombies too much. Rather, it builds suspense and excitement by slowly drawing in more and more zombies as the characters race against the clock. Roberts eases us into the tension rather than bursting onto the scene with wall-to-wall action.

But while the film is not lacking in zombie action, it does lack a narrative drive. Other than the protagonists needing to get from one of three locations to a safer one to escape the zombie outbreak, the film plays it safe with its world-building. It subtly draws a portrait of a corrupt pharmaceutical company that is experimenting with dangerous toxins and biohazardous materials that produce zombies, but it fails to fully integrate the characters into the larger picture in a compelling way. Other than their names and Claire’s connection to Umbrella via Raccoon City Orphanage, there is very little cause or reason to care about these characters. The story also has a rather abrupt ending that doesn’t conclude this chapter or leave us with a memorable lasting impression from our survivors. There are a few great actors sprinkled throughout the ensemble, but the cast delivers average acting in what is otherwise a very enjoyable and well-made film. Jogia’s charisma carries him throughout the film but offers nothing more. Hopper and Amell are laughably bland. Scodelario doesn’t do much to elevate Claire beyond the typical stoic “strong woman” archetype. John-Kamen’s Jill Valentine is the only one who has any modicum of personality and charisma in the ensemble.

While Roberts does a great job translating the essence of the game and its core narrative on screen, the film needs compelling characters to keep audiences engaged. Having everyone use the f-word consistently doesn’t make a character interesting. To exacerbate the issue, the characters often look like fools, especially when confronted with an obviously bad situation, but face it with a blank stare of confusion. (If a frightening woman appears at one's window using blood to sprawl a creepy message on it, don't ask her if she needs help. Run!) Furthermore, the connections Claire has to Umbrella aren’t drawn out enough, and the presence of other forces at play is left for a sequel to expand upon. Without a strong narrative, the blandness of the characters becomes nearly impossible to overlook.

Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is fun in its presentation but lacking in substance. It may be entertaining and faithful to the games, but bland characters and half-baked world-building dampen the impact of what could have been a fabulous adaptation. If there is a sequel, then Welcome to Raccoon City is a great start for an exciting, faithful adaptation of the games. If this is to become like so many wishful franchise starters and fails to get that much-needed sequel, then the film is a good time (albeit not a memorable one). Hopefully, Screen Gems has faith in Roberts to march forward with a sequel, but preferably with a co-writer who can beef up the character’s personalities.

Next: Why Milla Jovovich's Resident Evil Movies Were Such Poor Adaptations Of The Games

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City releases in theaters November 24, 2021. The film is 107 minutes long and is rated R for strong violence and gore, and language throughout.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Key Release Dates
  • Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)Release date: Nov 24, 2021
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