Johannes Roberts is the Uwe Boll of modern gaming cinema.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City feels like a film destined for failure both on the studio side as well as for audiences. Putting aside the slow healing of theater attendance in 2021, any film coming out of this IP would have pretty big shoes to fill. While Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil series was a big sack of trash both in terms of its adherence to the canon as well as falling into that realm of films whose only saving grace is being laughably bad, the series did make oodles of money. Highest grossing video game adaptation kind of money.
At its core, Welcome to Raccoon City is kind of an amalgamation of Resident Evil 1 and 2. It brings characters and plot elements of both films into one 107 minute movie like mashing your slice of pizza and apple pie into one compressed food item because you don’t have enough time on your lunch break to eat both separately. At times it feels like a parody, or a script written for a High School drama reproduction. Paul WS Anderson was an executive producer, and you can feel his presence as the film progresses.
There are two plots going for this movie. In Plot A, Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns to Raccoon City in order to track down her missing friend Ben Bertolucci (Josh Cruddas), a conspiracy theorist who is convinced the Umbrella Corporation has unleashed something deadly on Raccoon City and that he might be dead soon. Meanwhile rookie cop Leon Kennedy (Avan Jogia) starts his first day on the job at the Raccoon City Police Department where Chief Irons (Donal Logue) doesn’t show him any respect. When the STARS force loses track of some of its officers, the Bravo team goes into the Arklay forest in order to find them, where they get trapped in a deadly mansion full of zombies.
Like I said, amalgamation of Resident Evil 1 and 2.
A lot of the plot elements for this movie feel like Johannes Roberts watched a let’s play of both games as well as compiled internet memes, and just pointed at things saying “I want that.” There’s a part in the opening moments where Jill steals half of another STARS member’s sandwich while the group is in a diner and almost breaks her neck rushing to the “well I guess this is a Jill sandwich now.” There’s all sorts of plot contrivances to get characters where they need to be in order to make references to the original games. The one viewers might be most familiar from the trailer is the lady who writes “itchy tasty” on Claire’s door with her blood. Remember that from the game? The plot elements are almost as awkwardly shoe-horned in as the requisite clear shots of people using Sony branded home equipment.
Sony; our headphones are so crisp you won’t notice a tanker truck explode right outside your police department, with the doors wide open during a zombie apocalypse.
One word I would use to describe Welcome to Raccoon City is loud. Maybe it was that particular theater on that particular day, but I had to cover my ears at a few points because the volume of the gunshots were blowing out my eardrums. If you’re sensitive to noise, which I will say I’m not, I wholeheartedly recommend waiting until this one comes out at home before you see it. Where you can modulate the volume.
My problem with Welcome to Raccoon City is that the film keeps making concessions for its bloated cast and short runtime, but also constantly wants to insert references and hints to the greater continuity. For instance the whole subplot with William Birkin and his family from Resident Evil 2 is cut to just a few minutes, to the point where the crew doesn’t even see Sherry until the very end, yet we make a detour early on to see a shot-for-shot recreation of the home footage of the Ashford twins from Code Veronica. The film also spends far too much time on the trucker who gets infected and blows up his truck from the opening of Resident Evil 2. Claire starts out hitchhiking into town so she can get her iconic motorcycle later on. Just…why?
The best Resident Evil can hope for is a film that is dumb, but enjoyably dumb, and Welcome to Raccoon City almost hits that target. Fan favorite themes are here like the mutated Doberman, infected crows, and more. For what it’s worth, everything looks fantastic from the sets to the zombies to the CG animals to the mutated William Birkin. The acting is almost adorably jank like in the games. The presence of Lisa Trevor is confusing to say the least. Lisa Trevor was one of the more interesting additions to the Resident Evil Gamecube remake, but they give her just a surface level interpretation in this movie.
In my humble opinion the worst adaptation made for this film was shoehorning in Claire’s need to go back to Raccoon City. Resident Evil 2 takes place months after the first game, where Claire goes back into the city to find Chris who had disappeared following RE1. In this version they retcon Claire and Chris as two orphans who grew up at where else but Umbrella orphanage that fronted itself as a religious-ish organization but secretly conducted experiments on the kids, and Claire has bad memories from her childhood that brought her back. Yes, Johannes stole the plot from the Uwe Boll adaptation of Alone in the Dark along with a shootout scene in complete darkness.
Ultimately Welcome To Raccoon City is the product of “this is all we’ve got” with its writer/director Johannes Roberts coming from a career of shitass horror films. Imagine how much better this movie would have been if Greg Russo had stayed on to write, with James Wan staying on board as producer. But both of those guys dropped out, so we got Johannes Roberts. What we get is a film that isn’t offensively bad, or “so bad it’s good.” It’s just below average edging on mediocrity.
Save this one for the Redbox rental.