Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City 1
Image: Sony Pictures

Resident Evil fans have had a rocky ride over the years. Sure, the mainline games may have steadied the course with a return to true survival horror, but we’re still not that far removed from the dark days of Umbrella Corps, Resident Evil 6’s messy intertwined story, and worse yet, Paul W.S. Anderson’s progressively baffling film adaptations. Thank heavens, then, that a reboot has landed with a closer reverence for the games, right? Well, yes and no. While Welcome to Raccoon City certainly pays better respect to the source material, its squishing of beloved events sees the story and characters all ultimately collapse into a mess — one far pulpier than any of the on-screen zombies we see get gutted.

It's a greater shame when you realise that, to a certain extent, proven horror director Johannes Roberts clearly gets Resident Evil in a way that Anderson never did. The iconic series location referenced in the title is proof enough of this. Here, Raccoon City is presented as a dark, grimy, and eery place to live, the unofficial toilet town in an otherwise flourishing (you imagine) US state. It makes sense, therefore, for most of its populace to have conveniently vacated in the wake of Umbrella Corporation’s underground bio experiments slowly appearing. Problems soon arise, however, once our heroes are introduced, and the film doesn’t know what to do with so many of them.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City 2
Image: Sony Pictures

This being primarily a faithful-ish translation of Resident Evil 1 and 2, you’d think that events would start at a similar point. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Instead, we’re treated to a plodding first opening act plagued by too much exposition and setup. It also feels like it’s trying to win over franchise die-hards by repeatedly having fan-favourite characters like Jill, Chris, and Leon say each other’s surname. It’s like the movie is trying to say: “See, I know what I’m doing,” but it just comes across as patronising. It’d be forgivable if most of them were given the chance to develop and grow into the versions of them we know from the games, yet it never happens.

Of the four leads, Kaya Scodelario’s Claire Redfield fares best, especially since a short prologue sequence set in an orphanage helps fill out some of her backstory, tying into some of the later gory events to come. You truly get the sense that she was a tortured kid, more so than even her brother, and the childlike scenery works well to establish a creepy tone. Implementing some fresh context like this into a narrative we think we know is a good idea, and should be commended. However, it does little to help you understand what makes other characters tick other than: they’re badass.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City 3
Image: Sony Pictures

When the action finally does get going the movie’s pacing is much improved, and we’d be lying if we said that watching Chris, Jill, and Wesker slay hordes of flesh-eaters within the Spencer Mansion didn't feel just right. It’s in brief moments like this where viewers are afforded a glimpse at the kind of B-movie, grindhouse throwback Welcome to Raccoon City sometimes wants to be, only it can't, because the corny dialogue and character interactions are played by the actors with dead seriousness. By contrast, Claire and Leon’s situation in the RPD is blessed with hardly any action at all, and when the handful of familiar monsters do pop up, their appearances are far too fleeting, undercutting any fear or tension they might have had otherwise. Since when was a licker so easily dealt with?

Speaking of which, the film’s use of CGI is thankfully quite sparing, though it’s still hard not to be taken out of the movie whenever something that’s meant to be terrifying ends up filling the entire frame. You just don’t get a sense the monstrosities that the gang are meant to be fighting are actually there, which is unfortunate considering that their designs adhere extremely close to how they appear in the games. Turns out it was a wise choice to focus on modest zombies in the first and second act, as this movie needed more time and a far bigger budget to believably pull off even a zombified dog.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City 5
Image: Sony Pictures

It all comes down to the fact that Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City was an inherently flawed concept from the very start, before the cameras started rolling. By merging the events of the franchise’s first two games into a single movie, we don’t get anywhere near enough screen time with these characters to worry about their plight, which doesn’t mean much anyway since it takes place amidst a mangled plot that is noticeably ill-paced. Reshuffling Resident Evil 1 and 2 also means we don't get to experience some of the best set pieces featured in both (and now likely never will). Instead, fans must contend with jammed-in Easter eggs, alongside breadcrumbs and teases for a sequel that isn’t all that guaranteed.

If you’re just going into it expecting a brain-dead zombie movie with brief flickers of pulpy action, you can have a fun time in Welcome to Raccoon City. Unassuming movie-goers, however, will likely be lost at all the fan-servicey moments, and anyone who is familiar with them will be too furious at how their favourite characters and story beats have been handled to enjoy any of it. As far as video game movie adaptations go, its heart is in the right place, but this is one of the sloppiest examples yet.