This is a spoiler-free review of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, which debuts in theaters on Nov. 24.
When Sony announced that it was going to relaunch the live-action Resident Evil film series, I was cautiously optimistic, curious to see how director Johannes Roberts would stick to the source material after a promising first trailer. Unfortunately, Welcome to Raccoon City is disappointing as a horror movie; in fact, it felt more like a comedy at times than something that would keep me on the edge of my seat. It’s got some interesting ideas, but between the cheesy writing that doesn’t do its thinly-sketched characters much justice and a rushed third act, it’ll be hard to rewatch this one as a fan of the series.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City’s plot adapts the stories of the first two Resident Evil games with one portion of the story focusing on Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper) as they explore the Spencer Mansion, while the other storyline focuses on Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia) and Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) as the duo looks for a way out of Raccoon City before the town explodes. The cast isn’t a problem, with a solid performance from each fitting mostly to their fictional character counterparts. Plus, the post-credits scene certainly teases that we’ll be seeing more of one specific character should a sequel be greenlit.
Despite a good performance from Jogia, there is a somewhat annoying issue in the way Leon’s written here. His background’s been changed a little bit, and he’s still considered that “rookie member of the force” as he was in Resident Evil 2 (he was only a cop for one day in that game). Yet, most of the scenes with Leon had him either being extremely incompetent or taking the brunt of the joke, which can become frustrating and grating, particularly if you’re a fan of Leon S. Kennedy. I can appreciate the screenplay leaning into his inexperience, but the gag quickly grew tiresome, especially as we’re expecting a darker and scarier film from this.
Live-Action Versions of Video Game Characters
My biggest concern going into the movie, however, was the fact that it was sandwiching the plots of two video games together, and the relatively lean runtime of 107 minutes does indeed make the entire product feel extremely rushed once the third act approaches. That said, I wasn’t expecting to be a beat-by-beat repeat of the first two games, and why should it be? You can watch YouTube supercuts of all the cutscenes for that. Even though the entire film feels both underwhelming and overwhelming with how much they tried to pack in, it’s worth giving Roberts credit for wanting to try to make a film that had closer ties to the games than any of the Paul W.S. Anderson films. Still, it might have been a more realistic goal to focus on, say, the story of just one of the games rather than trying to figure out how many key plot points they could shove into a short run time.
Meanwhile, the main setting — the titular Racoon City — is suitably intriguing. In the first act, Roberts sets up Raccoon City as a decaying town in economic shambles after Umbrella, the powerful and extremely influential corporation known for developing pharmaceuticals and weapons leaves with but a few employees left. The atmosphere and several scenes that focus on the city itself really help bring a fresher take on this fictional location, and it would’ve been nice to see more about it, as it mostly leaves a lot up to your own interpretation.
We do in some instances see the impact Umbrella had on not only the town but on the residents. The walls of the Raccoon City Orphanage, for instance, are littered with propaganda posters, and the Raccoon City Police Department has been stripped to a skeleton crew because of budget cuts. These are subtle yet smart ways of setting the tone, and something, again, I would’ve liked to see more of, underscoring the double-edged sword Umbrella was for this town before its inevitable destruction.
As far as the main attraction, there’s a decent amount of zombies (and other infected that players of the games will recognize) on screen, but don’t expect a ton of high-action undead-slaying scenes. There is one in particular that feels both fun and tense, but if you’re here for a constant barrage of zombie-fighting action, you’ll be disappointed.
It’s fun to catch some enemies from the first game pop up, including Lisa Trevor, the infected superhuman that appeared in the 2002 remake of Resident Evil. While she’s still a tragic character negatively impacted by Umbrella’s inhumane experiments, her screen time is disappointingly short, to the point where if she had been removed from the film entirely, it would not have too much impact on the overall story.
Until the second act, when the infection begins to take over the city, there’s a surprising lack of action. We do see the zombies breach the gate at the police station, but it’s kind of a bummer to not get any extended looks at them running around in this chaotic town. Sure, the main focus of Resident Evil 2 was mostly contained to the police station and a few other areas, but it felt like a missed opportunity to really flaunt how much damage was done to the city.