It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, and 2021.


Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Written and Directed by Johannes Roberts

Well, here we go.

Despite not really giving the Resident Evil film franchise a lot of attention in previous Easter Zombie Movie Marathons, I am a big fan of all but maybe the first hour of RE: Apocalypse. That said, have no memory of ever playing any of the video games and I’ve never watched the animated movie adaptations. I’m team Milla, baby.

But even I could recognize that after six films over fourteen years, it was time to give it a rest. And they went out alright. As well as they could have been expected to wrap up a sprawling narrative that flipped and flopped its own internal logic at the drop of a hat. Then it was announced that a reboot was on the way. This was in 2017, while Final Chapter was still in theaters which strikes me as a little tasteless, but whatever. In December of 2018, Johannes Roberts was attached to write and direct. He proposed giving the film a darker tone and staying truer to the aesthetic and narrative style of the first Resident Evil game.

Here’s the thing, though. In 2017 another film franchise reboot was announced, and its creators made similar claims about a darker tone and staying truer to the source material’s aesthetic and style. That film was then released in 2019 and maybe gave us a glimpse into what was to come with the new Resident Evil.

That film was Hellboy.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

If you’re going to reboot a franchise, I suppose there are worse ways than this. You could go the Robocop or Total Recall route and strip all the joy and fun from them in an attempt at what some might call realism but kind of misses the point of what made the originals so beloved in the first place. At least with the RE/Hellboy approach, you’ve got a better shot at appeasing at least one portion of the fanbase – the one out there longing for something that is closer to what they loved and had hoped the film adaptations would be.

Because, lets be real. Neither the Hellboy films or the Resident Evil films tried to stay too close to the comics or games they were based on. That’s what happens when you get filmmakers in charge who have their own personal aesthetic that infuses with the source material to make something similar but very different from what came before.

I can’t believe I just compared Guillermo del Toro and Paul W. S. Anderson as similar filmmakers.

I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Anyway, back to Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. I think one would be hard pressed to say that Johannes Roberts has a signature style as a director, despite being fairly successful and steadily working on his own projects for two decades. He’s literally only directed two out of fifteen projects that he didn’t write himself. One was the TV movie Roadkill with the legendary Stephen Rea and a bunch of CG vultures or something, and the other was the 2018 sequel, The Strangers: Prey at Night, which I didn’t really care for, but did get props for a very creative usage of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  

Plus, his latest two films, 47 Meters Down and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, were both mid-level hits that brought in a ton of money against their financial investments. These two films combined have grossed over $100 million on less than $20 million budgets.

So while I don’t know anything about Roberts or his films beyond what I just googled (although I did see his film Storage 24 and didn’t care much for it), I can see why the studio would hand him the keys. And while I really didn’t like Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City very much, I want to give it a fair shake.

First off, the cast is great. Robbie Amell is Chris Redfield and he always brings a lot of charisma and energy to anything he does, whether that’s The Flash, Upload, or The Babysitter. Hannah John-Kamen plays Jill Valentine and I love everything she touches. She was good in Ant-Man and the Wasp and was iconic in the underappreciated Killjoys Syfy series. Then there’s Tom Hopper as Albert Wesker, who is pretty amazing in The Umbrella Academy. In addition we add two of my favorite character actors of the past decade or two, Donal Logue and Neal McDonough.

I wasn’t familiar with the work of Kaya Scodelario, who plays Claire Redfield, and Avan Jogia, who plays rookie cop Leon Kennedy, but both do the best they can with the material they’re given. In fact, I’ll just say it here. Everybody does the best with what they’re given, even if some of the performances feel a little phoned in. If I were handed this script, I’d probably do the same. Everybody gotta eat.

The dialogue is clunky, and the plotting is serviceable. I mean, we all know what’s coming and at least Roberts tries to set up the story in a way that doesn’t just drop viewers into the middle of a bunch of mysterious chaos. Although, I would say that if he had done that, we wouldn’t have been saddled with a forty-minute wait before anything really happens. By opening the film with a flashback to Claire and Chris’ time in the Raccoon City Orphanage and a truly creepy and effective introduction of the disfigured and experimented on Lisa Trevor (Marina Mazepa), I had a glimmer of hope.

But then we jump to the current setting of the film, 1998, which I suppose is in tribute to the release date of Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 game? We are then introduced to our main characters, a series of cliches and character tropes, peaking with Donal Logue’s take on Police Chief Brian Irons. Then after forty minutes or so, all hell breaks loose, and the film at least becomes more entertaining. There’s a lot of shotgun blasts and jump scare zombies. There’s making fun of the rookie, making sure we all know Jill Valentine is a crack shot, and making it kind of clear that Wesker is a double agent for an Umbrella Corporation rival. Kind of.  

There’s the discovery of an old reel to reel film of some experimentation on children, and I was really annoyed by the fact that it’s made to look like just a document of the experiment, but there are edits and closeups and a cut away for a reaction shot from a “young” Neal McDonough. This bugged me more than just about anything other than wondering why the police in Raccoon City are called the Raccoon Police and not Raccoon City Police.

Anyway, we also get an awful CG monster and a suitably creepy zombie Doberman, and then, in what may be the highlight of the film, we get Neal McDonough chewing the scenery and giving 110% as mutated mad scientist, William Birkin. It feels like the best and most expensive design work went into turning him into a monster for the finale, as he bulges and warps, eyeballs growing all over his body as his arm turns into a giant monster claw.

And while I thought the gigantic CG mutant beast he turns into for the final few minutes of the film looked busy and didn’t really work on the TV or movie screen, when I rewatched the finale on my computer (because I couldn’t actually remember what had happened or who had survived after literally 12 hours), I have to admit it looked kind of great.

Was this film made to be watched on a computer or a tablet? Would it look even better on a phone? Maybe that’s the trick. Maybe this film isn’t really made for the theater, out in the real world or the home, but instead should only be watched on a computer monitor of some sort.

I’m not going to sit through this slog again to find out, but if you watched it on a small screen and thought the film was fine – or even an improvement over the original series – please comment somewhere. I’d like to know. Surely somebody liked something about this movie, right?

Right?

I mean, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City made over $40 million worldwide against a $25 million budget and hit it fairly big on VOD. Somebody must dig it. Somewhere.

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