Review: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

Director: Johannes Roberts

Stars: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Avan Jogia

Play pretty much any video game nowadays and there’ll be a selection of optional ‘trophies’; pre-set goals to complete to improve your overall ranking and measure how thoroughly you’ve bested it. A fairly commonplace one – and one present on the recent Resident Evil II remaster – is the ‘speed run’, which invites the player to charge through the storyline as fast as possible for that elusive win. For the inexperienced player, Resident Evil II can take anything from 8 to 12 hours to complete. Seasoned gamers looking to get that 100% score will hone their reflexes and blast through it in a couple hours or less.

Johannes Roberts has them all beat.

Five years on from the final chapter in Paul W. S. Anderson’s fun, patchy and wildly unfaithful six-film saga and we’re back in the Capcom Resi universe once again. Someone’s hit reset. Where Anderson took the core premise as a jumping off point for his own vision of a global zombie apocalypse, Roberts is clearly more of a purist. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is doggedly faithful to the look, feel and (for the most part) story of the first two games.

Yes, two.

Now, Capcom have recently taken to upgrading these titles; remastering their old ’90s originals with sleek new graphics and adding greater immediacy to the gameplay. But even they haven’t been as ambitious as to try and tackle the first two games at once, set as they are over roughly the same night. Roberts know no such fear, and cannons us into a rushed, convoluted mess as he tries to beat everyone’s best time at both simultaneously.

The result is a film satisfying for absolutely no-one. For newcomers, what’s presented is jumbled, ill-defined, tokenistic and – in spite of reams of exposition – borderline impenetrable. For ardent fans, it’s a cluttered dash through familiar cut-scenes and Easter eggs that doesn’t have enough time left over for the level of tense involvement Resident Evil is known for.

There are scant positives, though. In a cluttered cast, you have two three standouts. Character-actor mainstay Donal Logue is happily hog-wild as Raccoon City police chief Irons. Trashing cars and chewing up scenery, his oversized efforts are at the very least entertaining. Hitting a very different key, Avan Jogia shrugs his way comedically through his iteration of Leon Kennedy, and might be the most convincing rookie cop in a movie this year. I really believed he didn’t know what he was doing. And then there’s Kaya Scodelario as Claire Redfield, thanklessly keeping the motor-running in a role that might once upon a time have gone to Melissa George or Radha Mitchell.

And Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City certainly looks the part. Time has been spent making sure that the lighting is just-so. Every object, every stick of furniture. The layout of the buildings… The attention to detail – in this regard – is admirable. If this were a fan’s museum to RE you’d salute with your beer. You’d say, “bravo, kid”. So, superficially speaking, Roberts is absolutely on track.

RE Welcome to Raccoon City

But… that’s your lot. By any other yardstick this is a complete mess, as Roberts seems torn between making an inert carbon copy and the urge to delicately innovate. While sets are fetishistic in their faithfulness, he chops and changes story beats between the dual narratives and molds established characters into new ones. Hannah John-Kamen’s Jill Valentine, for instance, is wildly off-base from her polygon iteration. Although, in fairness, the character as rendered here only has one attribute; her love of shooting things.

Indeed, with so much to get through, pretty much everybody gets short-shrift, but that’s not always a bad thing. Tom Hopper and Robbie Amell are dull as dishwater in their respective turns as Albert Wesker and Chris Redfield respectively, so no loss there. And you have to wonder what Neal McDonough thought he was getting into. His laughably wooden one-note villainy makes one pine for the days of Iain Glen’s campy theatrics opposite Milla Jovovich.

The opening act of Welcome to Raccoon City is – comparatively – pretty decent. With similar moves to his superb slasher The Strangers: Prey at Night, Roberts gets to instill a sense of elegant eeriness to Raccoon City, as we’re drip-fed disparate pieces of a disturbing narrative that raises expectations. There even seems promise that the film might provide comment on corporate (ir)responsibility, with a quickly abandoned drinking water subplot that reaches out toward ripped-from-the-headlines dramas like Dark Waters.

The trouble is that once he gets to the meat of the gameplay, all this is lost. The hour that follows really is just a load of underdeveloped characters walking down hallways asking each other, “What the fuck is going on?”. Bad CG doesn’t help instil any sense of realism and, as the pacing telescopes, it’s all-too-easy to just jump off the ride and watch as it speeds off into the distance. Any goodwill earned in the opening stretch is lost and, by the end, it’s an absolute shambles, buzzing through scenes and story beats at the rate of knots. We may even have to start replacing the phrase “jumping the shark” with “launching the cow” – you’ll see if you’re still fool enough to engage with his mutated farm animal of a film.

Roberts tries to reuse some of his old tricks here, but they don’t work. He’s particularly fond of drowning violent scenes in the contrasting gleam of a radiant pop song. Worked wonders in The Strangers. Here it is distracting, awkward and counter-productive. Jennifer Paige’s “Crush” is a ’90s banger, no doubt. It has no place soundtracking an overturned tanker exploding at the gates of the Raccoon City Police Station.

But that’s this movie all over. Bad decisions heaped on top of one another, always with the sense that it’ll make a particular scene or moment pop, but without the wider forethought of how that fits into a whole. Roberts’ screenplay is diabolical and his rendering of this universe – that he evidently loves – is about as gracefully executed as that aforementioned tanker crash.

Most terrifying of all, Welcome to Raccoon City pulls the old Marvel trick of a scene mid-credits, goading the audience with the threat of more to come. Roberts may have gotten his speed-run trophy, but it’s game over for the rest of us.

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