RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY (reboot/redo) REVIEW (Sort of)

Steve attempts to find out why “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has been panned by almost all who’ve seen it. Maybe the director has something to do with it.

Figure 1 – Milla Jovovich as Alice

Hey! I forgot last week to play an April Fools’ Day prank on you. That’s okay; according to Howard Chaykin, the artist and writer. Chaykin says (and I have to agree with him) that those particular pranks are simply bullying for the passive aggressive to enjoy.. Back in The Day, when I fixed and/or installed pinball machines, pool tables, juke boxes and, yes, video games, I also played video games on the computer. My favourites were puzzle-type games and FPS (First-Person Shooters) games, like Wolfenstein and Doom. (I played so much Doom one year that my wife had a button made that read “Doom Widow.”) I also played a game called Resident Evil; I think it was version 3. I also played RE 4.

This is more a commentary than an actual review of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. If you stick with me, I’ll show you why.

Long about 2002, I saw the first movie, Resident Evil, loosely based on the franchise, in which Milla Jovovich played Alice (Figure 1). In that movie, Raccoon City’s labs were underground in a vast complex called “The Hive.” Milla’s costars included Michelle Rodriguez, who played Rain. (Although Rain died in this movie, she returned in a couple of sequels.) I was immediately struck by the intensity of the movie, as well as by the beauty and athleticism of its main star, Milla. The movie made something like 3 or 4 times its production cost, making it a success; it was designed to use elements of the video game, yet not be completely linked in case either the movie or the game were to become failures; the director Paul W.S. Anderson wanted it to succeed or sink on its own merits.

Although this has been the highest-grossing video-game movie series ever (over $1.5 billion U.S., according to Wikipedia), it’s obvious to me that none of the movies even attempts to be anything more than action/sf/horror films based, however loosely, on a video-game franchise. That’s okay—sometimes you just want popcorn, not steak at the movies. And partially because Milla likes (according to Michelle Rodriguez in the commentary for the first movie) to appear naked on film, these films have been accused of objectifying women. There’s at least some truth in that, although Jill Valentine’s costume in the movie is based on her costume in the video game, consisting of a short skirt and a tube top—hardly a common outfit for a police officer (Jill was a member of S.T.A.R.S., the Special Tactics And Rescue Service), so part of that objectification is embedded in the game. Another accusation thrown at the series is that gore is being substituted for thoughtful action—really? It’s a video game/movie series about zombies; what else would one expect? So let’s cut the social commentary and just enjoy our popcorn, okay?

Figure 2 – Resident Evil 4 Leon S. Kennedy

Although there were references to the game in the first movie, almost no characters from the game appeared in the first one; in following movies we got characters such as Jill Valentine, Ada Wong, Albert Wesker, Claire and Chris Redfield, and Leon S. Kennedy, along with Carlos Olivera; they come and go throughout the live-action movies. Did I say “live-action”? Yes; in addition to the six movies with Milla, there are numerous CGI movies without her or her character Alice. Characters common to both live-action and CGI/Manga-ish movies include the Redfields, Wesker, Leon, and Ada; there are probably more I’ve forgotten. Leon has, in almost all movies, his characteristic “wings” of hair around his face (it’s an anime thing, the “wings” of hair). (BTW, besides Jill, Wesker and Chris Redfield were members of S.T.A.R.S., and pop up in various live and animated films.) Remember that face and hair: Leon is a serious badass in all the animated movies!

Figure 3 – Resident Evil Infinite Darkness Leon and Claire

Now we come to the reboot (or redo, since this is based more on the video games than the movies were)—Milla is nowhere to be found, nor is the Hive. Instead, Umbrella (the main corporation sponsoring Raccoon City and the T- and G-Virus experiments) has a facility under the Arkley Mountains, where William Birkin is doing something dastardly with the G-Virus. This setup is closer to the first two video games’ setups than the movies are (I didn’t play those two, unfortunately).

The movie begins in the Raccoon City Orphanage, where Claire Redfield, asleep in the top bunk with her brother Chris, hears an odd clacking noise that wakes her up. When she sits up, she wakes Chris, who tells her to get back to sleep. She says she saw “her” again, a mysterious girl who isn’t part of daily orphanage life. She walks from room to room until she finds the girl reading by flashlight inside a “fort” made of a sheets. She asks the girl’s name, and sees a hospital tag for “Lisa Trevor” on the girl’s hand—the girl’s wrists are trapped inside some kind of wooden restraint. When she attempts to enter, the girl vanishes, and Claire is hauled out of the sheet fort by William Birkin (Neal McDonough, wearing a weird blond wig. We’ve seen him in many movies lately with close-cropped white hair.) Birkin is in charge of this place.

Next, we meet grown-up Claire (Kaya Scodelario), who’s hitching a ride into Raccoon City. She is riding with a trucker and his dog (a Rottweiler, perhaps an homage to the Rotties in the first movie), who wonders why anyone would want to go there; after all, Umbrella has pulled out and the only ones left are the people who have nowhere else to go. While his mind is on Claire rather than his driving, the trucker hits a woman in a white dress. The truck, a tanker, skids to a stop—the trucker is frantic; Claire checks the woman’s vitals; she’s dead. While Claire and the trucker are talking, the woman gets up and leaves; the dog starts lapping at the blood. The trucker takes this as a sign and leaves; Claire decides to stay.

Well, you know what’s gonna happen, right? Yep, the dog turns, bites its master who also turns. We learn that the water supply in Raccoon City has been poisoning its inhabitants for years; Claire breaks into her brother Chris’s (Robbie Amell) house; he accuses her of abandoning him in the orphanage; they are beginning an argument when a siren goes off. Loudspeakers all over town deliver the message that the Umbrella Corporation wants all residents to stay in their homes; they’ll be given further directions later. Chris has to go to the RPD, and tells Claire to lock up and leave, and not to touch his bike. (Duh—you know the next thing she’ll do is steal that motorcycle, right?) After he leaves, she is attacked by the neighbour, who smashes through the glass in the outer door; she beats the woman off with Chris’s thermos. She smells the liquid in the thermos, makes a face, and pours it into the sink. She runs the water and sniffs that. Obviously, there’s something wrong with the water in Raccoon City.

We meet the members of the RPD (Raccoon Police Department) besides Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell). They include Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Chief Irons (Donal Logue). The chief is worried about the team he sent out to check out a report of a body at the Spence Mansion; he sends out what is mostly the S.T.A.R.S. team. We also meet Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) who is a rookie with RPD, who serves as the dispatcher and front desk person, and who is somewhat reviled as a rookie. This is part of what upsets all those who played RE 1 & 2, and who’ve watched the movies—especially the animated ones—because he’s nothing like that Leon. He has no wings of hair (a jumbled mess of black curls, and a matching beard), seems to be weak and ineffective, and in no way seems like the Leon everyone knows. The director of this movie has made a choice which will upset all the fans who “know” Leon (Figure 4).

Figure 4 – Resident Evil Welcome…Leon and Claire

When the siren goes off (with the ever-repeating instructions from Umbrella), Chief Irons is alone with Leon, having sent all the rest of his team to the Spencer Mansion, and the Chief knows what that means (if you pay attention, later you’ll find that the RPD has been receiving—knowingly or not—antidotes to whatever’s in the water in Raccoon City; Chief Irons has to be more knowledgeable than his officers. He knows what the siren means. He cleans out his office and tells Leon “you’re in charge” when Leon asks where he’s going.

From here I’m not going to be reviewing the actual movie, which was (let’s face it) kind of an “okay” zombie movie. I’d like to talk about why this movie is so reviled by RE fans. There are a lot of RE fans out there; many got into RE from playing the game (it’s up to version 8, I believe, with versions going back to RE4 being currently available for several platforms, including Steam and PS4. Hmm. Maybe I need to get back into it to keep current!). And many got into it from watching the series, both CGI and live action.

What’s the attraction of the game itself? For FPS (first-person shooters) games, you need several things: action—you need antagonists who are somewhat smart, otherwise you’ll get bored just shooting at moving targets. You need puzzles to solve; puzzle-solving is a big part of games. The puzzles can’t be repetitious, they must be unique. You need bosses and, optimally, a way to replay/retry your attempts to solve boss levels without going back to the beginning. (A “boss” is usually a harder-than-usual antagonist; someone or something who is very hard to kill.)

Since a movie is a passive enterprise—you can’t shoot the bosses yourself—you have to be able to empathize with the characters; you need characters you can invest yourself in. Likeable or unlikeable, there has to be a “hook” for you. (Example: the 2019 movie Joker, which has an unlikeable major character whom you nonetheless sympathize; sympathy begets empathy. Even though you know that the Batman series character is a “bad guy,” you feel for Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) even after he kills someone at first, because you see how he was driven to full insanity, although you know he started out with less than a full deck, so to speak.) RE: Welcome… has no such hook for any character. You can’t invest yourself in anyone.

And RE: Welcome… is more passive with less explanation than most; you see (in an actual “film” flashback) the Ashford twins and how they began, but they don’t really appear in the movie. If you’ve never played RE 1 & 2, you don’t know what they have to do with anything. Likewise the hidden key in the orphanage; yes, there are secrets in the game you have to discover, but when they’re brought into the movie, you have no idea why—things just “happen” in the movie.

All these things, plus Birkin’s changing into a major “boss” (a giant monster, because he took an injection of the virus) come to the viewer with little or no explanation; so the people who came to this from the movies will probably be lost partway through. The people who came to this from the games will likewise wonder where the suspense, where the scary zombies, where the jumpscares are. (The zombies here are easily disposed of, for the most part, since they probably come from the poisoned water. One wonders why anyone could get bitten by these slow zombies.) This movie was written and directed by Johannes Roberts, just FYI. All the choices—including how the characters (i.e., Leon) should look—were consciously made by him.

In short, this movie, that even my wife—who’s seen all the other RE movies with me, but has neither played the game nor been a fan—would say it’s “okay, but nothing special. And why the game and movie series fans would be upset by it: it’s not a good zombie movie, it’s not as good as the game, and it’s not a good RE movie. In short, it fails on pretty much all counts. Hints have been given that the director expects at least one sequel; I doubt it is popular enough to warrant one.

There’s a new CGI TV series (4 episodes in Series 1, though I expect it will have at least one more series), called Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (Figure 3); it’s pretty good for fans of the films (except the present one). I’m just touching on it for those who haven’t heard of it.

Comments? Anyone? Bueller? Hey, Bueller, I’ve been calling on you for weeks! Anyone else? You can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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