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Before the movie begins, I’m in two minds about what Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City will offer. The cynic in me remembers the previous, underwhelming run of movies from Constantin Film, and a sinking feeling announces itself in my stomach. A natural reaction considering Paul W.S. Anderson seemed to do all in his power to remove any of the game franchise’s charm during his adaptation process.
However, there’s also an optimism coursing through my veins. After all, the trailers for this new Resi movie seem to be a welcome departure from what came before. Gone are the days of Milla Jovovich portraying the superhuman Alice. Instead, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City looks to utilise the game characters as main protagonists from the off. The locations bear a striking resemblance to ones from the game. What could go wrong?
See the trailer for Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City here
Well, it doesn’t start too strongly. Beginning in the Raccoon City Orphanage, it’s clear the film is trying to go for creepy, but instead feels dull and lethargic. This lacklustre display hangs around for a fair chunk of the first act. There are some poorly delivered lines, and a general sense of cartoonishness to some of the side characters, although there are plenty of fun references to the source material. Luckily, things soon pick up when the action gets going.
Once the zombies begin to wreak havoc (spoiler, but obviously not a spoiler), the big-screen Raccoon City comes alive. Well, technically it becomes undead, but the point is that this reimagining of the well-known video game locale begins to click. The police station’s gorgeous main hall and dark, winding corridors feel claustrophobically frightening. The Spencer Mansion is at once enticing yet petrifying, with many of the ornate rooms cloaked in shadow, with danger clearly slumbering within.
Watching our heroes navigate these iconic buildings is pulsating yet comforting. Fans of the games know these places. We’ve walked them countless times, some of us even doing it at breakneck speeds. This is our world, but it’s impossible to feel like our heroes are safe. Watching Chris confront the undead should feel fine because we know how the games play out, but there are genuine moments of panic for the audience.
Despite the effective scares throughout the movie, there is plenty of cheesy, schlocky laughs to be had. Hammy dialogue is delivered as if straight from the mouths of Nick Apostolides and Nicole Tompkins, the voices of Leon and Jill respectively from the recent remake games. There are plenty of funny moments, some clearly intentional and some more open to interpretation.
And yet, there are real moments of emotional impact. Similarly to the more recent video games, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is able to make you genuinely care about this world, its characters and the fantastical situation they find themselves in. Even though the zombies are anything but scary upon looking at them, my heart was still in my mouth when they outnumbered a member of S.T.A.R.S., because they can do real damage in this movie, as they did in the games.
Not all the monsters look bad, fortunately. While the zombies attempting to gain access to the R.P.D. resemble Eric Andre trying to gain access to the DNC, the licker is stunning. From its aesthetic to its movement, you’ll be hard pressed not to appreciate the work the movie’s creators have done here. I actually found myself desperately wanting to shout “BE QUIET!” to the characters once I realised what they were up against, and that kind of empathy is not something I’m used to in a horror movie.
As I said, it’s not all scary. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is often silly but rightly so, because that's Resi. The series is schlocky but scary, and delivers occasional moments of real emotion. This film understands the assignment and delivers that same experience beautifully, albeit with some creative twists to keep things fresh.
While many characters in Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City resemble their video game counterparts almost to a tee, there have been some interesting interpretations, too. For instance, Leon is not the squeaky clean and super-keen rookie officer we know from either version of Resident Evil 2. Changes like this help establish this film as its own entity, while allowing it to pay tribute to beloved games.
The only real downside I see with Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is that it’s so clearly made with fans in mind that newcomers may feel underwhelmed, and possibly even confused while watching. For instance, when the T-Virus and the G-Virus are mentioned, they’re not given much grandeur, so it would be easy for someone unfamiliar with those quantities to disregard them, and that will be an issue for understanding character motivations.
Add to that the wealth of references to the video games, and it would be totally understandable if viewers who haven’t played the series were left cold by the events on screen. So in this respect, it’s arguably not a good movie.
The thing is, I am a Resi fan. I’ve played the games, and I’ve taken many of them to heart. That’s why I ranked them all. It’s why I want a remake of Code: Veronica, and it’s why I adore what Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City has to offer.
While it perhaps isn't the movie I totally expected, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is the finest Resident Evil movie so far. It honours the games, it has fun, it makes you jump, and it makes you care. In short, Welcome To Raccoon City is the perfect name for this movie, because this is the first time the big screen has really gone where fans have always wanted.
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