It’s been really challenging to create an accurate Resident Evil screen adaptation for such a popular video game franchise (whose most recent PlayStation/Xbox version, 2021’s Village, was fantastic).
Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, a four-part animated series on Netflix, and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, a theatrical reboot released last year, both failed to do the zombie-killing saga justice.
However, Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson’s six-film series had its share of pulpy highlights. Resident Evil, a new Netflix series that premieres on July 14 and is set after the canonical events of the original games, is Capcom’s latest attempt to bring its well-known survival-horror franchise to life in live-action. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain; aside from a normally solid performance from Lance Reddick, it’s the kind of shoddy thriller that most viewers will probably give up on in the middle of the action.
While some of the references in Andrew Dabb’s Resident Evil are more obscure than others, die-hard gamers will at least enjoy them. However, they are insufficient to make up for a plot that tries to go on a unique (and largely true) path but ends up stumbling around looking for a thrilling set piece, intriguing mystery, or frightful moment.
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The plot is frustratingly split between two time periods for reasons that are never quite clear, which only serves to heighten the helter-skelter tone rather than add suspense or intrigue. The action begins in a decayed version of 2036 London, where Jade (Ella Balinska) is using rabbits to test the city’s countless zombies, known as Zeroes for reasons that are too lame to explain. This entire scenario feels as clichéd as they come, like 28 Days Later meets The Last of Us meets a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland populated almost exclusively by the undead and gigantic mutant monsters like the huge caterpillar that almost kills Jade. All of Us Are Dead meets The Walking Dead meets [insert any zombie story from the last 20 years].
In order to determine whether the planet’s flesh-eaters are evolving, Jade is on a research mission. As she jumps from one random location to another, including a scavenger market and later Calais, France, she is being pursued by agents of the Umbrella Corporation, the franchise’s infamously evil organization that is in charge of the T-virus, the common cause of zombie outbreaks. Jade is a one-note genre stereotype who is a tough warrior and a mother who misses her daughter Bea, with whom she occasionally has video chats. However, the program tries to give her more depth by focusing on both her 14-year-old self (played by Tamara Smart) and her sister Billie (played by Siena Agudong) in 2022. Teenage twins Jade and Billie, who were born through surrogacy three months before “The End,” relocate to South Africa’s New Raccoon City, a master-planned metropolis developed by the Umbrella Corporation, which also employs their brilliant scientist father, Albert Wesker (Reddick). Even though former angry delinquent Billie tries to stay on the straight and narrow, New Raccoon City, a modernist techno-enclave where everything is white and chrome, irritates aggressive Jade.
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Wesker is historically the Big Bad of the Resident Evil series, but at first, Reddick’s portrayal of the character positions him as a loving father whose work at Umbrella involves Joy, a potentially ground-breaking anti-depressant that his boss Evelyn (Paola Nez) intends to market around the world to the tune of trillion-dollar profits. Wesker is less sanguine about its prospects, given that it’s apparently led to a prior catastrophe in Tijuana that a local reporter wants to expose, as well as the calamity that befell the original Raccoon City—a detail that casts the original games’ narrative as this one’s backstory. His apprehensions are well placed, since things begin falling apart almost as soon as he and his brood get settled in New Raccoon City, courtesy of Billie’s decision to break into her dad’s lab to free its bunnies (because she’s a vegan) and, for her trouble, suffers a nasty bite from a T-virus-plagued dog.
There are conspiracies afoot in Resident Evil, most of which have been seen in dozens of similar ventures, and multiple shots from inhuman creatures’ POVs and soundtrack songs with painfully on-the-nose lyrics can’t freshen them up. For a show about zombies, the walking dead are a peripheral plot device for the majority of these proceedings, taking a backseat to sisterly and parent-child conflicts, nefarious corporate machinations, and other dull end-of-the-world tropes. Considering the infrequency of its gore, the rare instances of extreme violence are out of place and off, while Resident Evil’s Lickers receive approximately three darkness-enshrouded minutes of screen time. For extensive stretches of the season’s eight hour-long episodes, the focus is on everything but horror, which might be more bearable if its tale weren’t so formulaic and its bombshells so pedestrian.
“ For a show about zombies, the walking dead are a peripheral plot device for the majority of these proceedings, taking a backseat to sisterly and parent-child conflicts, nefarious corporate machinations, and other dull end-of-the-world tropes. ”
Resident Evil’s few inspired touches are buried beneath mountains of tedious two-dimensional character drama that never stimulates the imagination or gets the heart racing. Of the (largely forgettable) cast, only Reddick emerges unscathed, using his imposing baritone and equally formidable physicality to make Wesker an alluring and captivating enigma. To that end, the series picks up toward the conclusion of its maiden run, if only because Reddick gets substantially more to do. Still, he can’t change the fact that this venture seems to have been carelessly stitched together on the fly, with one thing after another happening not because any of it makes logical sense but because certain events and decisions are necessary in order to propel everything toward the ultimate destination. Need to find something? There it is! Require a password? We already know it! Searching for an expert hacker? He’s right there! And on and on, until every obstacle and clash comes across as a time-wasting feint.
Alternately steely, passionate, and humorous, Reddick is such a forceful presence that it’s somewhat stunning to find Resident Evil so habitually fixating on second-rate concerns. He deserves far better than this retread—and so too do the games upon which it’s based.