Debuting in 2002, the original Resident Evil movie feels very much like a product of its time. It (along with its sequels) oozed with over the top stylized horror action that took itself very seriously and was convinced that it was incredibly cool while doing it. Like The Matrix, but with zombies, the series dragged on long past its welcome, finally ending with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in 2017.
For better or worse, the series ran its course, so when a complete reboot was announced, it kind of came as a surprise. There didn’t seem to be much left to explore in this world, however with a new setting in 1998 (the year the game was set), and a near shot-for-shot recreation of certain game scenes, Welcome to Raccoon City proves to be a worthy contender.
Back to the Basics
Fans of the original video game will be incredibly pleased to see not only the visuals and setting, but also the same cast of characters from that original game. Gone is Milla Jovovich’s Alice, replaced with Claire (Kaya Scodelario) and Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia), and many others.
2002 certainly wasn’t a time that movie studios were interested in completely accurate adaptations of video games (or comic books for that matter), but it’s really cool to see that smaller, self-contained story told here. The Umbrella Corporation is less the focus, and more a mysterious figure in the background, pulling the strings.
Set in a single night (other than flashbacks to Claire’s childhood in an Umbrella-owned orphanage), this reboot follows Claire as she returns home with trouble news about the fate of Raccoon City. Umbrella has been experimenting and created something truly sinister. Despite being estranged from her now police officer brother, she joins forces with him and his local police force as they try to survive the night.
With a deadline of 6am when Umbrella plans to demolish the city itself to cover up its nefarious secrets, Claire, Chris, Jill, and others fight to survive the night. We explore familiar places like the Spencer Mansion, as well as Raccoon City itself, which feels like a more lived-in place than in any of the previous Resident Evil movies. The sting of a massive local company shutting its doors is felt among the residents much like Detroit following the closing of many auto factories.
In the previous movies, Raccoon City always felt like a prop, here it feels like a real place with a real community, despite only getting to meet a few of those community members this one night. The characters themselves are interesting enough, although it does feel like we come up just short of any one of them being fully developed. For instance, we learn about them from contrived dialogue, but we never really see any of them grow or learn about them from their actions.
Granted, expecting outstanding character development from a video game might seem like an absurd request, but given how well this movie handles everything else about the lore and source material, it was surprising how much it came up short here.
The Right Tone
It’s easy to look back and cringe at the Matrix-inspired, self-proclaimed coolness that the original movies were going for with their overt style over substance. Welcome to Raccoon City definitely seems to know itself better. There are moments it remembers to be a genuinely creepy horror movie, with an eerie aesthetic that’s present throughout the production design. But it also remember to have a sense of humor, sometimes at its own expense.
It’s not exactly meta, however it relishes its late 90s setting with a cheesy but fun tone that was very common in that era of filmmaking. It diffuses moments of tension with humor, without ever doing it too much. And there are even subtly sarcastic callbacks (such as the chief of police listening to Journey as he fights for his life) that demonstrates to the audience that this movie may be video game schlock, but it’s well aware of that and just wants to have fun.
Overall, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a fun reboot that does enough differently to justify its existence, and takes a much more direct (but fun) adaptation of the source material. It may not have the over the top action the other movies did. But it’s not trying to be anything other than it is. Granted, the CGI isn’t always great, but let’s be honest, was it ever in this franchise, or in Playstation 1 graphics in the 90s?
What did you think of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City? What are your favorite moments from the franchise overall? Let us know in the comments!