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Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City Review: A Mangled Love Letter

How do you evaluate a campy movie paying homage to a legendarily campy video game? I say this as someone who fell in love with Resident Evil’s B-movie cutscenes and awful voice acting.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is one of the most faithful video game adaptations around which is a blessing and a curse. The film sticks so close to the cheesetastic games that it inherits their flaws.

Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil franchise stands out for its longevity – the series released six films over fifteen years. The Resident Evil movies occupy a strange space in popular culture. It’s one of those franchises some people like, but few people love. It’s a third-rate franchise that earns just enough at the box office to shamble from forgettable sequel to forgettable sequel.

Those films took elements from the Resident Evil video games and grafted them onto some original concepts. These films used familiar aspects from the games – character names, locations, monsters – but always felt like they existed in some off-brand corner of the Resident Evil multi-verse.

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This tactic isn’t unique to the Resident Evil movies. Video game adaptations have a horrendous track record of bastardizing their source material until the final product is almost unrecognizable (the Street Fighter movie somehow lacks street fighting).

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Raccoon City knows precisely what it is and stays true to its pixelated roots. Director Johannes Roberts has only one goal in mind: craft an authentic Resident Evil experience to please diehard fans.

Raccoon City follows the series’ plots beat for beat and sometimes shot for shot, delivering one of the most spot-on video game adaptations to date. Although Roberts delivers a fun homage to the series, it doesn’t work as a fully formed movie.

Years ago, a sinister pharmaceutical company called the Umbrella Corporation set up shop in a quaint, mid-western town called Raccoon City. The former boomtown hasn’t been the same since the company packed up and relocated. Without the Umbrella Corporation fuelling the economy, Raccoon City is dying a slow, miserable death.

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Making matters worse, the eggheads at Umbrella were up to no good. Behind closed doors, the company conducted genetic experiments so gruesome they would make Victor Frankenstein lead a PETA rally.

When a deadly virus escapes from Umbrella’s labs, Raccoon City becomes ground zero for a zombie apocalypse – we’re talking fast zombies, devil dogs, and mutated freaks ripped right out of David Cronenberg’s worst nightmares.

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A plucky group of survivors fight to uncover the Umbrella Corporations’ dark secrets before a covert airstrike destroys the evidence by wiping the town off the map.

Resident Evil’s original concept should be impossible to screw up. A covert special forces team finds themselves trapped in a mansion, hunted by bloodthirsty monstrosities. That sweet premise deserves a chef’s kiss. Think Assault on Precinct 13 but with genetically engineered freaks.

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Raccoon City expands on the classic premise. It takes time building to Resident Evil’s iconic zombie-mansion showdown, but not before the plot gets unruly. Raccoon City draws from both Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2.

The story splits off to follow several characters, most of whom lack the personality to carry the picture for even short stretches. No one in this film is compelling to begin with, so when the story branches out on B and C plots with jabroni side characters, it kills the momentum.

The movie would work better taking a less is more approach. Instead of five competing plot threads, it should have settled on two that actually matter. The cast come across as Resident Evil characters in name only. They aren’t well-developed, so if you don’t know who they are going in, there’s no reason to care about them. Hell, I played the games like a fiend, and even I don’t care about these thinly-sketched video game personalities.

If you’re a horror lover or action flick junkie, this movie doesn’t bring the heat on either front. It’s not that the action beats and creature effects are bad; they’re generic and uninspired. Nothing stands out in any meaningful way and my memories of the movie have started to bleed together. Most people will forget about the film once they walk out of the theatre.

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What’s most frustrating is that Roberts shows considerable skills behind the camera, and his love of the source material is undeniable. Roberts excels at recreating the series’ menacing vibe. As I watched the movie, I felt trapped in Raccoon City with its desperate protagonists. For all the film’s flaws, you feel thrown into danger, as though the walls are closing in on you from one scene to the next.

The best horror movies scare us because they put characters we care about at risk. Raccoon City never manages to forge that sacred connection between the heroes and the viewers. Making matters worse, the film features a solid cast who have all delivered great performances in other titles.

No leaves an impression aside from Donal Logue’s Chief Brian Irons. Logue, it appears, is the only member of the cast who gets what type of movie he’s starring in. Brian Irons is Raccoon City’s Chief of police, but he’s also the movie’s chief of giving no fu<ks. He radiates a delirious coked-up energy and fires off one-liners like he’s MC’ing a comedy roast. Throw in Logue’s gravelly voice, and every one of Irons’ line readings is a thing of beauty.

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Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, and Tom Hopper have all delivered standout performances in other genre movies and TV series, so it’s disappointing to see them fail to make an impression here. We know they’re each capable of owning the screen, but they aren’t miracle workers. There’s only so much they can do with Roberts’ shaky script.

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I’m being hard on the film because it has all the tools to kick ass, yet it still comes up short. A disappointing movie bothers me more than a straight-up awful movie. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City managed to get my hopes up early on before inevitably crushing my spirit. When it comes to video game movies, I feel like Charlie Brown, hoping against hope that this time, Lucy won’t yank the football away.

Resident Evil’s campiness has always been a major part of its appeal. Fans are addicted to the series’ anxiety-inducing gameplay, but we love Resident Evil for all its tacky charms. Raccoon City is an almost clinical recreation of the original games. Roberts recreates the games’ plots, settings, and B-movie vibes without capturing Resident Evil’s kitschy spirit.

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