Runtime: 100 mins
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writer: Johannes Roberts, Greg Russo
Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Avan Jogia, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper
By Mique Watson
Alas, the Hollywood machine’s unhinged devotion to cold, hard capitalism persists. I should preface this review by stating that I have played “Resident Evil 1 & 2”, the games which this film is based on (and I love them). Not a few years ago, Paul W.S. Anderson proved that you can adapt a video game to film, have your product have nothing to do with the source material, and still make a ton of cash overseas.
So, inevitably, Hollywood decided to take that same source material and reboot it with the same goal. The greens. The Benjamins. The moolah. This time, however, they’ve adopted a different approach–a novel idea!–one where the adaptation actually resembles its source material.
Overall I was surprised by what Johannes Roberts and Co. were able to come up with in spite of their severely limited budget and minimal marketing (I didn’t even know this film existed until a month ago). After having seen the final product, though, I wish they’d cast a bunch of unknown actors instead so they could allocate their funds better. I doubt fans of any of the people in this cast would be interested in this film. This is another instance of pandering to the wrong crowd, but what can ya do?
Taking on the herculean task of cramming an average of 17 hours worth of gameplay (two games, with two separate storylines!) resulted in many crucial elements (characterizations and lore) getting left on the cutting room floor.
The biggest offender is the film’s script (by Johannes Roberts and Greg Russo); hardly any of the film’s characters felt like themselves. The only thing that distinguished them from one another were their costumes; barely any characteristics of the video game characters were evident here. This film hinges on you having built an emotional reaction to these characters from your experience playing the games, which is a huge flaw. Prior to the film’s release, there was a controversy about Leon and Jill’s actors not physically resembling those in the game. Here’s the deal; the script is so bad that even if they’d cast people identical to their characters, it still would’ve been a disappointment given how underwritten and sidelined they are.
Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) is the protagonist in the first game, and perhaps arguably the most popular character in “Resident Evil” in general. If you’d gone into this film knowing nothing about the game, you’d likely assume that she was some random, inconsequential side character. Wesker (Tom Hopper) and Chris (Robbie Amell) are reduced to good-looking frat boys devoid of anything that makes them interesting in the games. We do harken back to a bit of Chris’ stoic cynicism, but his abandonment issues take precedence here, and it feels completely forced.
Perhaps the most insulting character is that of Leon Kennedy (Avan Joglia) himself. In the games, he’s a rookie cop who, on his first day on the job, is left to his own devices and thrown into a city infested with mindless zombies. Over here, he’s a cop that was so incompentent he was transferred to a “shithole city” because he had connections, and because no other precinct would hire him. He’s also made to be a drunkard for some reason. He gets his moment, eventually, with the rocket launcher (in a scene that comes off as more reckless than heroic), except it doesn’t feel earned because he spends 95% of the movie being the butt of everyone’s jokes.
The best way to enjoy this movie would be to pretend it came out in the year its set, 1998, because this feels like a horror movie from that era. Thankfully, unlike the previous “Resident Evil” franchise this one does feel like survival horror. The previous RE films from Paul W.S. Anderson were mindless, gory action movies.
When the RE video game followed the action footstep of those commercially successful films–spoiler alert–people ended up hating them. RE reignited the enthusiasm of its fan base in RE7: Biohazard, when it wisely went back to its roots and presented survival horror of the highest caliber (replete with interactive sets, puzzles, well-timed scares, and very limited ammo).
Overall this experience may be a mixed bag, and it is definitely a rough watch at some points. It does, however, offer a glimmer of hope that we do have filmmakers who love the RE games and will put in the necessary effort to have their product resemble something fans of the games will instantly recognize.
This may not be a perfect film–it may not even be a good one (“Mortal Kombat” (2021) is the film to beat as far as video game adaptations are concerned). But if it makes money, perhaps its follow-up (be it “Nemesis” or “Code Veronica”) will be the RE film the fans deserve. I’d like to hope this film walked so those films–if they ever see the light of day–can one day run.