The header image for this piece is a cropped still taken from the Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City movie, showing the STARS team entering the Spencer Mansion
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about my thoughts on how video game fans tend to react to the movie adaptations versions of their favourite titles. I’d recommend giving it a read through before reading my thoughts on Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City
because I make reference to a few things that I explored in that piece during this one.
I really don’t want to have to keep typing Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City. There’s a great blog post by Scott Hanselman where he talks about the idea that we only have so many key strokes in our fingers.
And because of that, when I need to refer to the name of the movie, I’ll shorten it to “Resident Evil” - because this piece provides all the context you need in order to know that I’m not talking about the games. I’ll also refer to the series of survival horror games that the new movie is based on as “the game series” (or similar).
I also don’t want to fall into the trap of typing “Resident Evil: Welcome to the Jungle,” which is a real possibility after having heard it referred to as that during a recent episode of the CultCast
although this would be a fun typo, I’m actually writing this at 2am (because I can’t sleep); so the more chances I can give myself to fall into the Pit of Success, the better.
Because you are here, I’m going to assume that you have either already seen the movie, or are happy with spoilers for it.
It also goes without saying that I’m writing about a horror movie, which is based on a series of survival horror video games. So take this as a generic content warning for a horror movie which involves reanimation of corpses, the spread of a deadly virus, and CGI monsters.
Good luck everyone.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City
Let’s recap the run up to the release of the movie: in the run up to its release, Resident Evil saw varied reaction from fans of the game series on the Internet. I saw discussions on things like:
These don’t look like the characters I know
Why isn’t Jill wearing should pads and a beret?
I really hope that they retell the story of the first game
In other corners of the Internet there were also discussions which were, quite simply, thinly veiled racism and bigotry. I’m not going to talk about those. What I am going to talk about is what I thought of the movie.
The Movie Itself
If I’m honest, I really rather enjoyed the movie. It was a fun romp, an enjoyable twist on a zombie movie, and explored the worries related to small town America being held hostage to big corporation take overs.
I had some issues with it, but these were more from the viewpoint of a generic movie goer, rather than as a fan of the canon of the games.
What I really liked was that it was a wonderful return to the actual source material. Most of the main characters from the original games are here, with a helping of side characters, too. Leon, Claire, Jill, Chris, Wesker, and Chief Irons are the protagonists for the majority of the film; with William, Annette, and Sherry Birkin making appearances (and William being one of the antagonists). And even someone who looked like Dr. Death himself (aka Hunk) is here, too
And a mid-credits scene brings in fan favourite fem fatale Ada Wong
I did tell you to expect spoilers
Barry Burton doesn’t make an appearance, and it makes perfect sense as to why: in the first game (either the original or the remake) he is literally Wesker’s stooge. He betrays the other STARS Alpha team members and draws Jill into the conspiracy at the orders of Wesker, because Umbrella has his family held captive. But because the movie version of Wesker isn’t painted as an antagonist, there was no need for Barry’s betrayal.
So no Barry. Sorry folks.
I liked that the Wesker of the games was replaced too. In the original game, Wesker is actually a member of the research team who invented the T Virus and is sent by Umbrella to lead the STARS team so that he can bring them into the Spencer Mansion. Why does he do this? Because Umbrella want to get some real-word research on how their BOWs
fare against an elite team of highly trained combat specialists.
Whereas the movie version of Wesker is a member of STARS who has been contacted by some unknown entity and given a tip-off about what’s happening in the mansion - which is a really nice nod to the Ada of 1996 original
whose family name is Mole
and her boyfriend John.
An interesting side note, perhaps: when Squidge and I were watching, we thought that the mole was Trent from the S. D. Perry novels.
Chris and Claire being orphans is something that a lot of people online have said goes against their established backstory. But I’m pretty sure that there is nothing in the first two games which refutes them being orphans - so that makes their argument against this moot. Plus it was a nice way for the creative team to include the Racoon City Orphanage of the RE 2 Remake without having to shoe horn it in some other way.
The subtle 90s callbacks were nice, and helped to remind viewers that this movie takes place in an era which is almost 30 years ago
sorry for reminding you that the 90s were that long ago, by the way
There’s a Palm Pilot (which acted as a great plot reason for having a map of the mansion); a Nokia phone with the original Snake game on it; a Discman with Sony branded headphones; and a couple of great songs from the era. All fantastic.
We Have To Talk About Leon
I really liked Leon’s character in this. He is literally a rookie cop, who has just graduated from the academy. He doesn’t know the job that well, and is an every-man type.
A lot of people got hooked on the fact that Leon in this movie isn’t same Leon that he know from the games, arguing that he’s #notMyLeon,” and such. But there are subtle, almost unspoken details peppered throughout the dialogue which explain his character changes:
In the diner, near the start of the movie, he is chastised for shooting one of his training partners in the butt
a possible Bad Boys 2 reference? Probably not
In the same scene, he is further chastised for his Dad being a big deal in the police force and making the controversy around shooting someone in the butt “go away“
He mentions that he literally has no idea why he was posted to Racoon City
He also mentions that he’d rather not be a cop
And I’m pretty sure that I there were a few other lines which explain it a little more.
All of these go a long way to explaining why Leon isn’t the hulking He-Man, take-charge-and-save-everyone type that he became by the end of the second game, or indeed the character that he is by the start of the fourth game.
The thing about this Leon not being the Leon that some fans have grown accustomed to is exactly that: they know what he becomes in later games, not what he is in this situation. Have you ever started a new job, in a new town, and not known anything? I have, so I understand where he is coming from.
I realize every TV cartoon show has a cadre of fans who grew up with it, have seen every episode many times and are alert to the nuances of the movie adaptation. But those people, however numerous they are, might perhaps find themselves going to a movie with people like myself–people who found, even at a very young age, that the world was filled with entertainment choices more stimulating than "Scooby-Doo".
Another criticism is that, “Leon is just there to provide comic relief.” And my answer to that is: and?
The scenes in which he provides that comic relief are after some of the most intense parts of the movie. Comic relief is exactly that: a relief from the tension via some comedic action.
And I genuinely think that they made up for it by having Leon suddenly come into his own when taking down the zombie at the end of the jail cell scene. Something which I think echoes real life: you slowly build up your skillset through experience and knowledge, but it’s through big-bang moments that you apply those skills and show to others that you are now capable of doing whatever it is that is needed of you.
But It’s Not The First Game
Yes. And think about it for a moment. Aside from blasting BOWs in the first game (either the original 1996 release or the remake), what does the player character actually do for most of the game?
I’ll give you a moment to think about it, because I don’t think the answer is immediately obvious.
The majority of the original game is spent running from room to room, collecting items and solving puzzles. Which doesn’t really make for compelling horror movie viewing.
As such, I completely agree with what the creative team did to remove this from the movie going experience:
Smoosh the best bits of the first two games together
Ditch a bunch of side missions and characters who aren’t integral to the story
Get rid of all of the puzzle solving
Write a story which can be accessed and understood by people who have never played the original games
Focus on the six main characters
Why six main characters? Because Sherry is only in it for four scenes and has a total of about two lines of dialogue, I don’t see her as a main character. This leaves:
Funny how that’s just a little more than the amount of people who would have been allowed on set during the time of filming.
Because the movie was made when it was made
I’m not going to refer to it by name, other than to call it "the unpleasantness"
there were regulations about how many people you could have in one place at one time.
Because of that the creative team had to be very clever in how they made the movie and laid out a bunch of the shots. Because of that there’s hardly ever more than four characters on screen at any one time - with the exception of the diner scene, where the shot was really cleverly laid out so that you don’t realise that it was created using forced perspective and compositing).
With a greatly reduced cast, a tighter story, and a need to keep upping the ante
another thing that the game series don’t really do properly until the fourth game
the end result is something which is neither the first game, nor the second game, but also both.
Honestly, I really enjoyed this film. And I think that the subtitle is very apt: this is a movie about coming to Racoon City at the end of it’s live, not about the full story of the first few games.
There’s a lot for fans of the franchise to enjoy - as long as they don’t walk in thinking that it will be a shot-for-shot, beat-for-beat movie version of the first two games in the series. There are nods to the series, and Easter Eggs (some of which are blindingly obvious, and some are rather obtuse and require a little thought).
I really, really liked the mid-point action scene with Chris having to fend off a hoard of zombies in a room with no lighting, the muzzle flashes of his gun being the only lighting in the scene. It was disorientating, exciting, heart thumpingly intense, and way better than the similar sequence in the Doom movie
which was also fun. Even though it was men-in-rubber-suits jumping around in front of the camera
I really loved the bonkers excuse for Leon to have found a rocket launcher during the sequence on the train. To me, if felt right at home with any of the other excuses for the player character to use a rocket launcher against the boss in either of the first two games, and it was bonkers enough that it was able to provide comic relief.
The characters are great, the story that they tell is refreshing, and and film reel that Claire finds in the basement of the orphanage and the mid-credit sequence set up a sequel
which I hope we get
that may be a combination of Code Veronica and the fourth game.
I think that Resident Evil is really worth your time as either a fan of the series of games or as an entertaining horror movie with fresh ideas.
Sure, I’ve spent most of this piece defending the movie. And sure, the movie certainly doesn’t need some weirdo in the UK to defend it
in that, I’m a weirdo. I’m not calling anyone else a weirdo
But I genuinely think that this movie deserves a better reaction than it got: it’s fun, silly in places, intense in places, and tells the major plot points of the first two games.