You Won't Be Staying Long
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
Capcom is known for a few big franchises. A few -- Mega ManIn 1987, Capcom released Mega Man on the NES, a game featuring a blue robot that fought other robots and took their powers (so that he could then fight other robots with those powers, and on, and on). The series went on to release over 50 games in 30 years and become one of the most famous gaming franchises in the world., Street Fighter, Resident EvilFirst released a Biohazard, the Resident Evil games, and eventually movies (awkwardly and clumsily) tell the stories of a world ravaged by zombies and the greedy corporate, Umbrella, seeking to profit from the mess. -- stand out not just in the minds of gamers but as part of the collective pop-culture consciousness of society. Not everyone may have played a Mega Man game, for example, but I'm sure most people could at least recognize the Blue Bomber as a video game character of some repute. And with that fame for their games, Capcom has worked hard to try and create massive, cross-media franchises. Nowhere is that more evident than with Resident Evil, a massive, sprawling franchise that has managed to exist not just in video games but as successful movies, anime, and television shows as well (for at least a certain definition of "successful"). if there was any game series that perfectly exemplifies the idea of creating a "four quadrant franchise", it would be Resident Evil.
While the games themselves were massive hits, with Resident Evil 2 truly being the game that launched the franchise for gamers, the series was helped along in no small part by 2002's Resident Evil live-action film. Although that movie generally disregarded much of the continuity of the games to tell a good, old fashioned, zombie action film, it was a solid enough hit to launch a six-film series which pulled in over $1.2 Bil at the Box Office. That's the kind of consistent performance that makes any brand into a household name. Audiences turned up for these films and, when the franchise finally ended its theatrical run, it was inevitable that some studio would come along to try again.
As it happened, Constantin Film, the same group that made the previous run of films, maintained the rights to the franchise and wanted to take another stab at it. They partnered up with Screen Gems to produce the new take, hiring Johannes Roberts to write and direct the new movie. In fairness, Roberts has a long career in horror, having worked on films such as Hellbreeder, Forest of the Damned, and The Other Side of the Door. His most successful films were 47 Meters Down and sequel 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, which both made tidy (albeit little) profits at the Box Office. With a budget of $25 Mil, the new Resident Evil would be another low-budget entry for the director, if still the largest amount of money he'd yet had to work with for a film.
And if were taking note of these things, $25 Mil is the smallest budget the Resident Evil live action films had yet seen. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter was the most successful film in the franchise and it was made for $40 Mil, earning 7.85 times that at the Box Office ($314 Mil in ticket sales). Constantin Films may have thought, "we should be able to get a couple hundred million for a budget of only $25 Mil. That makes sense." And, sure, if past performance were the same, that math does hold up. But with a director of smaller films, who hadn't really earned more than $60 Mil on any one film, and a franchise that was getting fully rebooted after a four year lull, it might have been too much to expect newer film Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City to be a hit. And it wasn't, making only $42 Mil during it's theatrical run in 2021.
If I'm being honest, though, I think the writer / director tried to do too much with what he was given, telling a story he just wasn't equipped to handle all things considered. Welcome to Raccoon City is a mess of a film, start to finish. It does have decent performances in it, with a game cast doing what they can to carry the film. But between muddled special effects filmed on dark sets, combined with a script that never really settles down in any way, shape, or form, it was a recipe for disaster. This is a movie that just constantly throws things at you -- new characters, new monsters, new locations -- but it doesn't ever give any of these people, places, or things time to settle and reveal themselves. It runs and runs and never stops, but everything important about a movie is left on the way side. It's a big, busy, sloppy film, but it never once feels like a good film.
The film tries to make up for the one "mistake" the 2002 film made: not having enough Resident Evil characters in the Resident Evil film. Thus our main characters are Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) and her brother, Chris (Robbie Amell). Claire and Chris are estranged, Claire having left their hometown of Raccoon City years early to get away from the strange place. She used to see things as a kid, when she and Chris grew up in an orphanage together, but Chris never saw those same things. She felt betrayed then, and left as soon as she could. But once an Online buddy told her about the weird things going on in Raccoon City, home of the Umbrella Corp., Claire felt the need to come back and warn her brother. He was, to put it mildly, less than receptive.
Ignoring his sister, Chris went off to work at the RPD, whereupon he was immediately sent out with his fellow "Alpha Team" partners, Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper), to the old mansion at the top of the big hill to investigate a possible murder. Claire eventually heads to the police department after some people break into Chris's house and try to kill her (you know, as you do). There she meets up with rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) just as all hell breaks loose. Both teams, Alpha Team and the Claire / Leon backup squad, suddenly find themselves under attack from the living dead as Umbrella's experiments break containment and start wandering the city. And it's only a matter of time before Umbrella tries to bury its dirty little secrets (as literally as they can).
There are many sins this film commits, most of them related to a tiny budget for a 2021 production. There's any number of instances of bad lighting, bad set design, bad makeup effects, bad CGI. Really, the list does go on. Had the movie been made for just a little more money most of these issues could have been fixed 9at least in theory). You can't blame a production for looking cheap when the studio isn't willing to spend enough money to make it look good. That's on the studio and not the production team.
With that said, you can blame the writer / director for the decision to create a bunch of stilted characters with absolutely no character arcs whatsoever. The worst offenders are the Redfields, who are pitched as estranged siblings that, clearly, will come back together over the course of this zombie outbreak. To do that, though, the film would actually need to have them interact and have, you know, development with each other. After a shared starting scene, though, Claire and Chris don't see each other until the final climax of the film. And then, suddenly, their entire relationship is healed because... well, the film doesn't put in the work so I can't really say why. Movie magic seems to be the answer.
Most of the characters are treated this way. Leon is the rookie who, on his first day, shot his partner in the ass. One would assume he'd have an arc where he learned to be a good cop because he's forced to step up... except nope, that never happens. The chief of police, Brian Irons (Donal Logue), goes from sending his men out to investigate a murder to immediately packing up his office and ditching (or at least attempting to) out of Raccoon City without any provocation simple because reasons. Wesker goes bad because he gets a single note saying, "hey, go be evil," but what little we know of the guy before this doesn't support this sudden heel turn. And poor Jill Valentine gets absolutely no character development at all, which is a major issue for someone who is a co-lead and major character in the very first game.
You get the vibe that Roberts had a plan for his movie. He would combine the plot lines of the first and second game in the franchise, which had stories that sort of ran concurrently, giving an "inspired" recap of those games, which fans had said was what they wanted from the films. If that was his plan he managed to nail the, "this is kind of, sort of what happens in the games," storyline, but he never makes it connect with the characters or the audience. Everything feels forced and stilted as the character rush through eight-ish hours of game plot in 90 minutes of movie. Instead of directly mirroring the games, whatever the fans said they wanted, he should have found a way to connect with a smaller cast of characters in meaningful ways. The story, setting, and cast needed time to develop and breathe on their own, and if that meant two movies with longer run times, that's what was needed. What we got was the wrong approach.
And if the goal was to give fans of the game series what they wanted, it backfired. The movie was a flop, failing to make enough at the Box Office to break even for the studio (based on Hollywood math). The return of investment was bad enough (even at the tail end of COVID times) that a sequel is unlikely to happen. Whatever grand plans there were for adapting the later games (or the Zero prequel) are gone, crushed by the poor performance of this film.
I can appreciate what the director tried for, and I can even give allowance for working with a tiny budget and COVID conditions. But it's hard to forgive a bad story told badly, and that's exactly what we got with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. I though the previous six films were a cascading series of terrible films, but somehow this new movie manages to be even worse.