ZERO STARS ON TRIPADVISOR
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (15)
Director: Johannes Roberts
Screenplay: Johannes Roberts
Review: David Stephens
Whatever you thought of Paul W.S. Anderson's take on the Resident Evil gaming universe, they made money and enhanced Milla Jovovich's status as a kick-ass leading lady. Across six movies from 2002 to 2016 and an unrelenting series of godawful reviews from mainstream critics, they made over $1.2 Billion at the global box office. In fairness, the first is still eminently watchable (as it is repeated endlessly on late-night cable channels), and some of the others brilliantly realised some of the game's elements such as the "Nemesis" and suchlike. As with all things franchise though, a reboot was perhaps inevitable. And here it is. It's directed by Johannes Roberts, who made the sharky 47 Meters Down and its sequel, along with the slasher continuation The Strangers: Prey at Night. Headlining classic RE game characters such as the Redfield siblings, Jill Valentine, and Leon Kennedy, the franchise goes back to basics (i.e. 1998) and delves into the sinister goings of the Umbrella Corporation. Guess where it all starts?
After an overlong (and frankly tedious) prologue in the Raccoon City Orphanage, we meet up with Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario, who was so bloody good as 'gator bait in Alexandre Aja's "Crawl"). She's hitchhiking into Raccoon City to meet up with her estranged brother Chris (Robbie Amell), who's a cop in the aforementioned rundown town. Meanwhile, dorky Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia) is starting as a rookie in the Raccoon Police Force, whilst Chris, Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) head to the Spencer Mansion to look for a body (or something… it's not clear). Meanwhile, again, chemical corporation Umbrella has been drip-feeding the poorer citizens of the city with drugs for… reasons (again… it's not clear), and they've all had an attack of the munchies for human flesh. Strap in for big trouble in the big city.
It's tough to know who the target audience is for RE: WTRC. The ideal cinema viewer would seem to be a die-hard gamer, dissatisfied with the deviations made from the game's lore in the previous franchise, and wanting to see the creatures and locations shown in perfect detail on the big screen. And yet, if a cinema audience were wholly made up of people precisely fitting that description… they would still leave disgruntled and unsatisfied. Because whilst it tries to nod and wink to the gamers and entice the interest of action-horror lovers, it doesn't do a good job of either. Admittedly it will get a chuckle and a tip of the hat from gamers at certain moments like; "That's a Jill Sandwich now", "Itchy. Tasty", the use of Moonlight Sonata to open a secret door, and keys shaped like playing card symbols. And if you're reading this and shrugging your shoulders at those references, a lot of this film is going to go over your head or just seem nonsensical.
To fill in the holes between the surfeit of game references, we're offered unnecessary amounts of awkward exposition and dull flashbacks (worth it only for the opportunity to see one actor in a Beach Boy wig!). The plot strand involving one minor character is laboured and unnecessary. There's an odd focus on the Redfields being estranged orphans (which opens up many plot holes), and we even get an "origin" sequence for the jump-scare zombie-dog! Given that the plot is attempting two disassociated storylines from two separate games (although it's actually five if you include the two remakes as different games and the shameless "Code: Veronica" footage), there's a lot to cram into one hour and 47 minutes. This means that there are some apparent deletions that will rankle the game players (*cough*Tyrant*cough*Mr X*cough*), but it also highlights the needless padding and lack of scope.
Hoping to see Raccoon city aflame and infested with the shambling dead? Dream on. The nearest you're going to get to that is 20 made-up extras gurning at the police station gates. Most of the characterisation is "off" as well. Wesker and Valentine are absolutely nothing like their pixelated counterparts in looks or actions. Chris Redfield is even more of an asshole than usual. The stoic and heroic rookie cop Leon Kennedy, who saved the world in multiple games, is reduced to a (direct quote) "Boy Band Wannabe" who falls asleep all the time, loses his gun to a caged prisoner, and doesn't notice a petrol tanker explode about 20 feet away. Why was that character shift considered necessary? The only character (and actor) that escapes with some credence is Claire Redfield, who is as ballsy and kick-ass as her character and given some emotional depth by Scodelario. The fact that actors like Donal Logue and Neal McDonough are wasted in relatively minor roles is another bugbear.
That said, the film accomplishes one or two points very well. The cinematic representations of the Spencer Mansion and the RPD station are absolutely spot-on and very believable. The iconic introduction to the first mansion zombie is played out to mirror the gaming cut-scene but still feels like a thrilling sequence. It is in Spencer Mansion that the film briefly realises its potential. Chris is inundated with zombies in darkness, and a strobing gunfight ensues. If only the rest of the film had more moments like that. It may seem unfair to bang on about the links to the games rather than just appreciate the "pure" cinematic experience, but that's the issue. It never gets the balance between homage and cinematic action right, and judging by the general reception that it's had, we don't think we're the only ones with that opinion.