In an effort to add an origin to a story that we already had, the latest Resident Evil film delivers at the expense of its most valuable assets. I enjoyed this film but would have liked it more if I wasn't already a fan of the franchise. The crisscrossing of characters who spent little to no time interacting in the games was fresh and odd. The speed of this film's progression changes from the first act to the third and I don't think that works. I'll start with the obvious and work toward what I liked in this film followed by what really bothered me.
*Warning Spoilers Ahead*
The issues in this film sincerely take away the focus from the acting and that really is for the best. I don't hate the acting, but so much of it felt forced and it's not worth getting frustrated over such a small complaint.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City was ambitious. It bit off a ton more than it could chew and that showed transparently. Its budget couldn't possibly give us the dose of creatures that we all wanted to see and make them look as good as they should. The story is a bit jumbled. When the buildup is over and everything finally starts happening, it moves at a lightning-fast pace that is hard to follow. The marketing team and trailers really sold this film. Seeing zombies, dogs, Lickers, and a cartoony-looking monster in the trailers would make any horror fan intrigued.
Previous fan or not, the interest in where a film like this could go was high. That being said, what you see in the trailers is quite literally what you get. The monster is a mutated form of Doctor Birkin and the way he looks in the trailer in his fully mutated form is the highest form we see. It's quite disappointing that his big reveal is given away in the previews and it's astonishing that it happens so briefly in the film.
Doctor Birkin wasn't all bad though. Before turning into the monster, his initial mutation is really well done. Wesker, who's attempting to steal the G-Virus samples, shoots Birkin who then injects himself to survive. His body begins partially transforming into the monster but slows down. Only half of his body changes and he looks both very gross and human. His arm turns into a giant claw and this is how he should have remained.
The final transformation after the characters "kill him" felt rushed and forced. It felt like a bad homage to the game's ability to infuriate the player with another boss fight. In reality, the gunshots to the mutated eyes on Birkin were funny to me, but I liked the constant Easter eggs throughout.
I thought it was going to be really difficult to make characters interact who really don't in the game. Jill with Leon? Chris and Claire fighting Dr. Birkin together? It was strange, but I admit I enjoyed the slight changes. There is enough familiarity between the characters in this film to make a fan of the games happy enough. They aren't carbon copies of the game characters and that's okay.
The set pieces were really cool. The orphanage was creepy and droll. The police station mostly looked the part even if we didn't see a whole lot of it and the mansion was the masterpiece. Was it perfect? No, but it does create the proper environments and that's all I need. I got lost in the scene and a good set should do just that.
I hated the makeup design on the zombies at first glance. They looked so poor at first. I may not be a makeup artist, but I know the zombies in The Walking Dead are scarier than the ones in Halloweentown. Fortunately, Resident Evil is more like the former. In the completed film, there are moments where the zombies look a bit strange but overall they did a nice job.
What's Really Bothersome?
Chief Irons is a jerk in this film but not nearly as bad as he should be. He fights alongside Claire and Leon, albeit briefly. The talent of Donal Logue is wasted in this film as his only meaningful dialogue is spent as a conduit between acts. I wish he was better in this film.
The Lickers are wasted in this film. They are supposed to be one of the most terrifying creatures in the entire franchise. They're also supposed to be one of the deadliest and most brutal monsters as well. The only time we see one, it makes a kill and then dies when Lisa Trevor grabs it from behind. She strangles the creature with her chains and then breaks its jaw. I hated this so much because as a gamer I know how damn difficult those things are to kill. It's never that easy and frankly, I feel cheated out of one of the biggest nightmare-inducing monsters in gaming history.
In my preview for Welcome to Raccoon City, I wrote about the dogs' comical look. The touch-ups made to the dog before release are good but they are wasted in this film. Just like the Licker, the dog is taken out so easily. A few gunshots miss the fast-moving zombified Doberman and before he can kill Chief Irons, Claire saves the day with a fire extinguisher. That's it. We don't see another dog throughout the rest of the movie.
It's a real shame that the studio and director Johannes Roberts failed to include the dogs breaking through a window. It would have been a better jump scare than what was actually in the film.
Claire and Chris grew up in the orphanage run by Doctor Birkin, and she's been suspicious of Birkin since childhood. Leon is a rookie cop, Wesker is a double-agent, Jill is a trigger-happy badass, and Doctor Birkin's experiments are the cause of everything. Why?
Well, the film does a piss-poor job of explaining that. A few sentences of dialogue barely describe what the G-Virus even is and there is no explanation why Birkin was doing it in the first place. We know very little about the origin of the G-Virus, the zombies, and the monsters, despite this being an origin film.
Final Summation: C+ is Being Generous
I'm glad I saw this film because it was worth the price of admission at least once. That being said, once is all I need for Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. At some point in about four years when I get an email from Vudu saying this film is now in the $4.99 section, I'll buy it and watch it again. I'll need a refresher eventually because this film sets up for a sequel. A mid-credits scene shows Wesker alive and with Ada Wong. There are too many issues with this film especially when I'm already heavily invested in the franchise.
Sony Pictures bit off way more than they could chew with this film and Johannes Roberts' vision was grand. Unfortunately, it was a mess of a film. If they truly wanted to do an origin for Resident Evil and the G and T-Viruses, they should have stayed more in the mansion. They could have shown the past more with the collection of the flower that eventually becomes the terror that we know in Resident Evil. The film could have ended on a cliffhanger where the Raccoon City police department from RE2 and the city streets/N.E.S.T. facility from RE3 were the central focus.
I feel like these characters were placed well in the film, and being the franchise's biggest assets, rightly so. There wasn't enough character development, however, and the laundry list of things to include in around 90 minutes was the cause of that. The creatures and action weren't enough to save this film from itself. I guess the stigma of video game movies is still true: creating an adaptation still has yet to be done extremely well. Perhaps that's for the best and video games can retain the quality that makes us play them in the first place.