Kino Korner: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

The conventional wisdom has been that video game adaptations by and large suck. That does not mean they’re necessarily unsuccessful. If nothing else, the Resident Evil series has proven there is merit to marrying your leading lady, as Paul Widescreen Anderson has jostled up the ranks of Wife Guys. The films were also runaway successes, the first spawning no less than five sequels. That doesn’t make them good, though, despite the fact that even I will admit they’re intermittently entertaining in a “turn off your brain”/”remove the feeding tube” sort of way. The common criticism of the series besides “it sucks donkey dick” was its loose interpretation of the Capcom video game source material. Wife Guy wife Milla Jovovich’s character was created for the film, after all, and integration of video game characters and lore were scattershot at best. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (what an awful title) seeks to correct this miscarriage of adaptative justice by hewing closer to the first two games. As a result, RE: WTRC sucks in new and exciting ways. It’s the Netflixiest movie to never premiere on Netflix, to paraphrase a friend of mine.

Set in the futuristic year of 1998, Welcome to Racoon City won’t let you forget that fact. Donal Logue (Danny Trejo autobiography co-writer) has a rant that namechecks both Planet Hollywood and Blockbuster Video, a character receives instructions on a palm pilot, exposition is delivered through a video cassette, and enough problems could’ve been solved by the characters having cell phones it’s like an episode of Seinfeld. I will note an anachronism: at one point a character delivers Marc Maron’s famous catchphrase “lock the gates!”, yet Almost Famous came out in 2000. Do better, Resident Evil. Despite the period setting, the film feels well into the now as Raccoon City is a Midwestern town ravaged by the loss of its main employer, the Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical company that a better movie would use as a stand-in for the companies that created and profited off the opioid epidemic. Problem #1 with this movie: we’re saddled with absolute dud characters played by actors of questionable quality. No motion picture needs an Amell brother, especially not the lesser one. He and his sister Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario, Skins) grew up in an orphanage wherein the latter met a deformed child. This actually matters. She eventually ran away whereas Chris grew up to be a member of STARS, the sort of Strike Team equivalent in the Raccoon Police Department.

Anyway, Raccoon City (you do not want to know what the outlying suburban areas have nicknamed it) has become a ghost town since the exit of Umbrella, leaving behind the six or so police officers and the waitress at a diner. That’s pretty much the extent to which we see civilians here. There’s been a body found at the old Spencer mansion so the STARS Team (Chris Redfield, Albert Wesker, Jill Valentine and dead meat) go to investigate why their colleagues haven’t returned from the call yet. This is known as adapting Resident Evil. Adapting Resident Evil 2 takes place at the police department, where zombified people are collecting at the gates for some reason and it’s up to the Prez-from-The-Wire-esque rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy, Chief Donal Logue and Claire Redfield to do something. Survive? Sounds about right. Logue has a hilarious sequence where he boxes up all his shit, promotes Kennedy and tries to get the fuck out of the city, only to be turned away by paramilitary Umbrella men in hazmat suits. See, it’s funny because he’s listening to Journey as it happens. People loved Journey in 1998.


Ricky would somehow fare really well in a zombie apocalypse. Either that or he’d be bitten and suffer no ill effects.

There’s a germ of an idea about a modern day company town that’s poisoning the town’s water and turning the citizens into monsters (basically C.H.U.D.), but whatever social commentary Resident Evil can muster is smothered by an effort to further the plot. At intervals the screen will flash a time, like “1:50 AM”, to indicate to us we’re getting closer to “6 AM”, the time at which the city is meant to be destroyed. Yet this creates no sense of urgency. I spent that time trying to suss out how long events were supposed to have taken place. This isn’t The Shining; the passage of time there is meant to establish Jack’s descent into madness. At best this just helps count down to when this piece of shit is over and done with. “Yay! We’re at 6 AM! We can go out to the parking lot now!”

Characterization is pretty rough if you’re one to believe it exists. You can argue the characters weren’t fleshed out in the game either, but that’s a game and the demands of that medium are different from the demands of this medium. At best each character has one characteristic and that’s being generous. The most nuanced out character is Wesker (Tom Hopper, I Feel Pretty), and that’s because WTRC makes the curious decision to turn the unambiguous dirtbag traitor character into a conflicted villain. He’s in it in the money to leave town, and he doesn’t know who he’s working for or even what he’s really doing. The betrayal comes off as much less egregious than it does in the source material. Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen, Ready Player One) loves guns and also sorta Wesker, Leon (Avan Jogia, Zombieland: Double Tap) is Cory & Trevor in one body, and Chris (Robbie Amell, Eat Wheaties!) is a generic white guy. The main characters don’t differentiate themselves especially from the cannon fodder. When the most memorable aspects of characters is the practice of raceswapping, you’re in trouble.

There’s a hard and fast rule when it comes to characters that I find useful. A movie or TV show tends not to be good if over the course of the duration they do not succeed at characterizing the characters better than in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. It’s not a good product if Chuck Lorre did a better job than you. Welcome to Raccoon City‘s main characters do not exactly pass the Turtles test with flying colors. For instance, is Jill Valentine really better characterized than “does machines” or “is cool but rude”? I didn’t think so. Claire Redfield “leads”, arguably, but not with the authority of a blue bandana turtle with katanas. Again, the best characterized player here is Wesker, and “Albert Wesker is a betrayal dude” is still not much to hang on to.

The majority of the movie plays as an effort to get from varied locations (mansion/police station) to the train before the ticking clock hits 6 AM. Along the way they have to face zombified characters you all know and love, such as the Licker, lovingly rendered in the best CGI 1999 can provide. It becomes noticeable that in opposition to the hordes one has come to expect, there’s at best one of these monsters. It goes to the budget again, which I’ll touch on later. Neal McDonough’s character turns out to be the villain of the piece, a doctor/orphanage director who used these orphans as lab rats for Umbrella’s experiments. He wants to escape the city with his precious experimental vials. The little deformed girl, all grown up, helps the cast realize this, and by this point “Umbrella isn’t exactly on the up and up” is not the earth-shattering twist this wants to be.

By the end of it Neal McDonough’s become a giant tumor monster off some G-Virus shit and he’s defeated by literal Deus Ex Rocket Launcher and you’re wondering why we’re supposed to care about any of it. In the game you’d have the satisfaction of having done it yourself, maybe earn a Playstation Trophy for your trouble. Here: nothing! The video game name characters all survive because canon dictates they do, not because of anything like their actions dictating their fate. Leon is actively useless most of the time, but he survives for the sequels so there he is at the end. It wouldn’t be a mainstream movie with an after the credits teaser: Wesker wakes up in a body bag, finds he can’t see without some shades (hey! there’s that iconic accessory he always has! Retitle the movie Resident Evil: How Wesker Got His Sunglasses) and finds himself in the employ of Ada Wong. Who’s Ada Wong? What’s happening? Read the instruction manual, or wait for the sequel that won’t happen to explain it.

I want to reiterate what a shit title Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is. It’s clear they couldn’t just title it Resident Evil, because it’s been less than 20 years since something with that title came out, so they needed a subtitle to create some distance between it and the progenitor. But it just reminds me of that Frisky Dingo joke where Killface puts out a postcard that says “Welcome to You’re Doom” on it. Given everyone wants to LEAVE the shitberg, Escape From Raccoon City makes far more sense, which explains why they didn’t use it. Sense? In a Resident Evil adaptation? Who needs it!


Killface is much more of a plausible threat than Umbrella.

While superficially closer to the video games, Welcome To You’re Doom is by no means closer to knowing what it is to craft a coherent, cohesive or compelling story than the Paul Widescreen Anderson did. At least that had a couple of memorable set pieces across six films. I struggle to conjure up memories of something I saw less than a week ago. Like, I enjoy Neal McDonough and Donal Logue a lot, but they’re not given many scenes or much to do. Instead charisma vacuums like the lesser Amell are expected to hold things down. It does replicate the drab, grubby colors of a Playstation game well enough, though I’m not sure that was the intention.

The thing that surprised me most with Resident Evil: Etc. Etc. Etc. is how cheap it looks. It truly does resemble a Netflix production. The production budget was apparently $25 million. The 2002 Resident Evil, adjusted for nothing, cost $33 million. It makes sense. Bad lighting and poor CGI don’t cost a lot, especially in this age. Johannes Roberts, he of the 47 Meters Down movies “fame”, doesn’t exactly stretch the budget into something worth watching. Again, at its “best” Welcome To You’re Doom resembles a Playstation 1-era cut scene, complete with the famously badly translated English script.

For this piece I rewatched the original. Now, I won’t say it’s great, or even good. For one thing, zombies don’t show up until 40 minutes into a 100 minute movie. But there are engaging action set pieces and its pacing is about right. It has the laser hallway sequence (a sequence so memorable half the sequels use it to diminishing returns), which is one up on Welcome to Raccoon City. The score is pretty good (by Marilyn Manson—the band, not the monster). What does this have? Elbow nudges to Capcom continuity and not a whole lot else. Michelle Rodriguez alone wipes the floor with the principal cast of this, both literally and figuratively. This movie shows a dire misunderstanding of why people play video games and why people watch movies. People play video games for an immersive experience in which they’re given the illusion of free will. People watch movies to be told/shown stories. The twain rarely meet well.

Raccoon City lacks a reason to exist besides the hardcore faithful wanting to see more video game accurate iterations of their favorite characters portrayed by the best Hollywood semi-stars Canada has on offer. Even then that didn’t work because the casting director had the temerity to cast some non-white people as Jill and Leon, thus enraging the sizable “huge racist” portion of the fanbase. (To be fair, any fanbase in America has a “huge racist” portion, seemingly.) This whole debacle just reminds those Resident Evil games weren’t high art and the key to their success was mood and atmosphere, not plot or story. This one doesn’t get the mood/atmosphere right there, as the overall cheapness distracts from the terror. But hey, you get to see a lil Neal McDonough tumor face on a poorly designed monster! Name one other movie that promises you that.


And the award for best Michael Rooker impression in Slither goes to…

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