Listen, I was there in the era between Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. We were truly out here in the trenches as fans. You think you can hurt me? I bought Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D on launch day even after spending all of my adolescent money on a Nintendo 3DS. Sure, we got Resident Evil Village last year and we were rewarded handsomely for our patience and loyalty, but, Baby, I have been through it as a big fan of this series, and while I still stick by a lot of the more polarizing entries in the series (Resident Evil: Revelations and Revelations 2 are better games than Resident Evil 5 and 6 are), it is very nice that we find ourselves in a Resident Evil renaissance at the moment (one of these days, Silent Hill will get its due), and with that comes a renewed interest in bringing the franchise to the film and TV medium.
From 2002 to 2017, Paul W.S. Anderson wrote, produced, and directed (with the exception of Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction) six Resident Evil films based on the video game series starring his would-be wife, Milla Jovovich. While the first two films attempted to slightly follow the structure of the video games, from the third entry onward, Anderson pretty much abandoned all hope of finding a through line to the video games, instead opting for action-heavy set pieces revolving around Jovovich being an all-around badass. While this still produced some cheesy, unrelated fun, it also distanced the film series from anything resembling its moniker. Even as Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was released in theaters (a very bad movie), Constantin Film and Davis Films were already in the process of rebooting the franchise, and with the rousing success that came from Resident Evil 7: Biohazard onwards (particularly the remake of Resident Evil 2 which inspired this film), there was reason to believe that there was real stock in actually abiding by the already successful source material. It was a quick turnaround for the new film series, but one that needed to ride the wave of relevance the series was now holding in the mainstream eye again.
Signing on to write and direct, Johannes Roberts assembled Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a film with perhaps the worst title of any film I’ve seen in recent memory. The opening title card simply says Resident Evil, and it wouldn’t have been the first time a film has simply used the same name as its previous counterparts and still been successful. It’s a reboot completely divorced from the previous series, and we can treat it like that. It’s very clear that this was a choice on behalf of Sony at the last minute, but…could we really not come up with anything better than that? It’s a nitpick that doesn’t affect the remainder of the film, but let me complain for a bit.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City adapts the plots of both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 (mostly Resident Evil 2) and follows a parallel storyline within Raccoon City over the course of one night in 1998 as a zombie outbreak begins to spread through the town after an experimental, weaponized virus developed by the Umbrella Corporation leaks into the town’s water supply. The elite S.T.A.R.S. tactical squad of the Raccoon City Police Department, led by Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell) and assisted by Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), Richard Aiken (Chad Rook) and Brad Vickers (Nathan Dales), is sent to investigate reports of a mutilated body found at the Spencer Mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City. Meanwhile, across town, Chris’s estranged sister, Claire (Kaya Scodelario), assists Sheriff Brian Irons (Donal Logue) and rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) in defending the police station against the rapidly growing zombie hoard, and, in their escape, uncover the massive plot against the city led by Dr. William Birkin (Neal McDonough) of the Umbrella Corporation.
Does Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City sound like a lot of plot for one film? It is! Even as a seasoned Resident Evil fan, I still found myself catching onto multiple easter eggs and references only on my second watch of the film, and there are a lot. I can understand many complaints levied against the film, but you certainly can’t say that this isn’t the first film in the series to really put fans of the game first. This, ultimately, might alienate some more casual viewers who were sated with the self-contained storyline of the previous film series. However, I am not that person, and I let y’all have your moment giving Spider-Man: No Way Home five stars on nostalgic fan service alone, so I’m going to take the opportunity to not really care whether this film is “for everyone” or not.
I’m not so deluded to have some qualms, of which I noticed more on my second watch than during my adrenaline-laden first watch in theaters, and we should get these out of the way so I can complement the good majority of the film of which I enjoyed. While Resident Evil has never been the pinnacle of good writing (this film even pokes fun at the shoddy translation work done on the early games), there is a general clunkiness with a lot of the dialogue between characters that doesn’t feel quite as intentionally hammy as the games did, and even with several clever winks at the viewers, it can sometimes feel like entire character interactions are only occurring for the sake of lore exposition. It’s the double-edged sword that comes with an adaptation taking the source material seriously. On one hand, I’m so glad that so many plot points of the Resident Evil franchise are finally being brought to film, but I also think the audience is smarter than the film might give it credit for, and that we don’t necessarily need explanations for every plot device that’s uncovered. The mystery is half the fun.
Shot on a budget of $25 million, lower than any of the previous live action Resident Evil films, one can often feel the burn of the lower budget. While I really dug how the film was shot and edited (we’ll get to that shortly), I found the visual effects to be less than impressive, with shoddy, cartoonish CGI and pervasive green screen work which makes some settings (particularly the iconic Spencer Mansion) feel more artificial than they should. Again, while this isn’t something I necessarily needed from a film that leans so heavily into the schlock factor, I’d rather the film have gone with quality over quantity and invested more into its practical effects and sets.
Okay, now that that is out of the way, let me talk about what I liked, which vastly outweighs the qualms that, should this film be granted a sequel (it should), they can definitely iron out.
One of the larger negative talking points online surrounding the film was in its casting, which ironically, I found to be one of the strongest elements of the film as a whole. It’s not lost on me that the primary amount of dissent came in the casting of John-Kamen and Jogia in their respective roles…characters who were white in the games, like the rest, but are played by mixed-race Black and Indian actors respectively in the film. It’s not a surprising turn for the internet to react in such a vitriolic way, not especially because I found both John-Kamen and Jogia to be perhaps the most inspired, charming choices from the whole cast. While others like Amell and Scodelario look nearly identical to their game counterparts, John-Kamen and Jogia help show that not everything about the soul of a character is defined by their appearance, and they tap into the DNA of the characters (as much as they can given their more limited roles) better than most.
Taking a stark left turn from the previous series, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City embraces its horror elements much more explicitly than previous titles, and the way the film is shot and edited reflect this wonderfully. This is a darker, moodier film that really leans heavily into the grungy ‘90s aesthetic (laced with plenty of needle drops), complete with schmaltzy zoom shots and those lovely references to the sometimes infuriatingly extra fixed camera angles of the first games. It’s not a pretty film by any means, but it also doesn’t pretend to be. Raccoon City is an abandoned dump, and you’re never once supposed to feel like you should want to be here. It’s a truer, albeit nastier, representation of the setting than has never been done faithfully on film. It’s a town where, despite the looming feeling that something awful is about to happen, it is also haunted by the ghosts of awful things that have already happened.
But I suppose the main difference here is that Roberts, who is generally hit-and-miss for me as a filmmaker, succeeds at this for the same reason he succeeded at The Strangers: Prey at Night: because he simply loves it. So many times, we can find adaptations of various works handled by filmmakers who might say they loved the source material, but rarely actually show it in their work. There are big swings that occasionally don’t land, but I found many of the film’s greatest strengths, and even some of its flaws, rooted directly in Roberts’s desire to actually do good by the franchise for once.
Sony’s 4K Blu-ray release of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City comes in two versions: a standard packaging release, and a limited edition Steelbook release (not tied to a specific retailer). The latter of which also includes five specially designed mini-prints of some very impressive art made for the film. Given the $17 price difference between the two releases, I can’t say that the Steelbook is fully worth the money unless you are a fan like myself, or simply are an avid Steelbook collector (it is matte, if that helps). Included with all releases (including the non-4K standard Blu-ray release) is a standard Blu-ray copy and a digital code for use in the Movies Anywhere app.
As stated before, this is not a particularly pretty film, but for the intended effect, this is a very impressive 4K transfer. Blacks are deep, rich and impressive, with little crush artifacting plaguing the vast shadows looming over Raccoon City, while the brief pops of color and contrast work to compliment the film’s grungy aesthetic even more (the RPD sign at the police station is a particularly beautiful shot in this release).
Meanwhile, the film’s Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a much more boisterous affair from the 4K Blu-ray, one that lets Mark Korven’s wonderfully haunting score fill the room with a bodied, balanced track. I will say, much like some of Disney’s recent Atmos tracks on their home media releases, I found the balance between the livelier moments of the film to sometimes leave the scenes of dialogue a bit too soft to hear, resulting in a yo-yo effect of volume adjustments throughout. Included with the release is also a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, that when tested, did help balance the dialogue out a bit, but lacked the body you get from that native Atmos track. The fussing with the volume is worth it for the Atmos track’s larger moments.
Listen, I’m allowed to both recognize the shortcomings of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City while also completely indulging myself in the fan service of it all, because frankly, fans have been pretty burned on the cinematic endeavors of the Resident Evil series for a while. While perhaps Resident Evil: Apocalypse might still be my favorite Resident Evil film for the silly fun factor (and the fact it’s the one movie in that series that seemed to give a shit about its adaptation), there’s no doubt that Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is the film that far-and-away captures the essence of the source the best, with no competition. I wish that the studios involved could’ve put a little more financial faith in Roberts as the visual effects are what easily bring the film down the most, but as a whole, there’s a ton of fun to be found here regardless of familiarity with the series, but there’s just that extra sense of careful, deep love for the material attached for those who have stuck with the franchise.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and digital Special Features:
- Replicating The DNA: A short featurette about how Roberts and the cast approached adapting the Resident Evil game faithfully while also placing their own stamp on things. This is where I got the real confirmation about how much Roberts really cared about this material.
- Cops, Corpses and Chaos: Another short featurette detailing much of the same information as the previous featurette.
- Zombies, Lickers, and the horrors of Resident Evil: A small dive into the makeup and visual effects work of the film. This is where I got a little bummed when they showed just how much of the film was digitally rendered, leading to many of the less than stellar effects.
Available on digital January 18th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD February 8th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Resident Evil website.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.