Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is the faithful movie adaptation the games deserved

Review: The survival horror series gets the kind of breezy undead cinematic adventure fans have wanted for 25 years.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
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Sean Keane
5 min read
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Spencer Mansion

Albert Wesker (left), Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield have escaped into the mansion, where they thought it was safe.

Sony Pictures

If you asked me to create a theme park based on anything in pop culture, I'd re-create the Resident Evil games' sinister Spencer Mansion and eerie Raccoon Police Department. If you're high-fiving me right now, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is absolutely the movie for you. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it most certainly is not.

The movie -- which is out in US and UK theaters and hits Australia on Dec. 8 -- is written and directed by 47 Meters Down's Johannes Roberts and delivers an adaptation that's pretty darn faithful to the source material. He wisely reboots the movies and jettisons the complex continuity of the six Milla Jovovich Resident Evil outings, which barely resembled the games.

In doing so, Roberts has crafted a movie that'll delight fans looking for a fun, Easter egg-filled ride through the first two games in the 25-year-old survival horror series. However, the film might leave the wider audience a little bewildered and unsatisfied.

Back to the '90s

The movie kicks off promisingly, with a flashback to siblings Claire and Chris Redfield as young'uns living in a spooky orphanage. Like most of Raccoon City, this place is run by the Umbrella Corporation (surely a children's home operated by a pharmaceutical company would raise some red flags?) and has an intense "unethical experimentation" vibe.

We jump to 1998, with Umbrella abandoning the city to set up somewhere new. The Redfields are all grown up and have gone their separate ways, but Claire (Maze Runner's Kaya Scodelario) returns with some intense conspiracy theories about Umbrella's experiments on the populace. But Chris (Robbie Amell from The Flash), now a member of the city's police force and feeling indebted to the company, is having none of it and his sister's suspicions fall on deaf ears.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City zombie

The zombies are eager to bid you welcome to Raccoon City.

Sony Pictures

Zombies soon start shambling through the streets and taking bites out of people, suggesting Claire might just be right. As Raccoon City falls into chaos, she heads to the police station to find Chris again, teaming up along the way with bumbling rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia from Zombieland: Double Tap) and slimy chief Brian Irons (Donal Logue of Gotham).

Meanwhile, Chris and his elite team, which includes series icons Jill Valentine (Ant-Man and the Wasp's Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper from Umbrella Academy), are sent to the abandoned mansion on the outskirts of town to locate their missing compatriots and discover more hungry undead.

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Fans of the long-running game series will recognize these separate plot threads as the stories of the first two entries mashed together, so the movie has a huge amount to cover in its brisk 107-minute runtime. And it holds together pretty well, paying homage to the games' schlocky dialogue and B-movie inspiration along the way.

Meet the Redfields

Scodelario gives Claire a likable intensity, though she's not nearly as warm a character as she is in the games. She and Amell bounce off each other nicely, giving the sense there's plenty of affection between these siblings despite their differences.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Leon and Claire

Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield explore the Raccoon Police Department, which is full of horrors.

Sony Pictures

The rest of the characters feel secondary to the Redfields, but all the actors manage to make them memorable. Logue chews scenery as his frantic police boss delivers expository dialogue in a breathless comedic manner, Jogia's Leon trips over his own feet (his incompetence is likely to annoy game fans) and Hopper infuses the traditionally icy Wesker with a fascinating inner conflict.

We also get Neal McDonough (from Captain America: The First Avenger) as William Birkin, hamming it up as he slides from loving dad to maniacal scientist. Despite their prominence in the games, the movie doesn't dive into the Birkin family enough to make them memorable. 

It makes sense to push these characters into the background, but John-Kamen feels criminally underused. Unlike the stoic and occasionally sassy Jill from the games, the movie version is slightly unhinged and unpredictable. John-Kamen is clearly having fun in this role and is a joy to watch, but you'll be left wanting more time with her.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Jill

Hannah John-Kamen's Jill is immensely fun to watch.

Sony Pictures

City of the Dead

As fans of the games know, Resident Evil's locations are as important as its characters. The movie's versions are both heavily influenced by their game counterparts, but the grand mansion feels a little cramped, and the background of the police station's main hall has a CGI sheen of unreality (making it look odd, but also charmingly similar to one of the old games' pre-rendered backgrounds). Aside from these rooms, the movie doesn't linger long enough in any other locations to give us a sense that they're ripped from the games.

Zombie makeup is super creepy and visually distinctive across the board, while the CGI monsters blend in convincingly with the practical elements and stay true to their game counterparts. 

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Chris

Robbie Amell's Chris has one of the movie's coolest action sequences (but doesn't punch any boulders).

Sony Pictures

Encounters with the undead are engaging and intense, with the quick cuts and unsettling perspectives paying homage to the early games' fixed camera angles. The most memorable encounter sees Chris battling a zombie horde lit only by his gun's muzzle flare and lighter -- it'll give you the same kind of adrenaline rush you got from the most thrilling moments in the games.

The specificity of some visuals is likely to alienate people who haven't played the games -- one scene where Claire stops to look at a projected movie will blow longtime fans away, but it'll feel like a non sequitur to more casual viewers. 

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Licker

Lickers have absolutely zero respect for your personal space.

Sony Pictures

Survival horror spirit

The surprising use of '90s pop songs (and one killer '80s tune), offsets some of the movie's darker moments, adding a touch of surrealism and reminding us the filmmakers aren't taking themselves too seriously. By contrast, the score by Mark Korven (who previously showed his horror chops on The Witch and The Lighthouse) adds a layer of dread as our heroes battle to survive in this doomed city.

The movie leans harder into the look, action and irreverent quirkiness of the games than it does their scarier moments, so those hoping for major frights will likely be disappointed. One of the games' truly terrifying-but-tragic enemies is perhaps a little too humanized, diminishing the threat level, while another iconic baddy is completely absent. 

Still, despite the lack of scares, minor tweaks to the games' lore and overall silliness, Johannes Roberts' love for Resident Evil is clear in every moment of Welcome to Raccoon City. With a barrage of Easter eggs -- be sure to stick around for the mid-credits sequence -- and fascinating takes on classic characters, the film's a gleeful trip back to the Spencer Mansion and Raccoon Police Department aimed squarely at fans.

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