Director Johannes Roberts’ 2021 reboot of the Resident Evil movie franchise thankfully already looks to be avoiding unfortunate past mistakes. For nearly 25 years, the Resident Evil video game franchise has reigned supreme as the most recognizable brand in survival horror. Well, mostly, as Resident Evil 6 almost dropped the horror elements completely. At the same time, star Milla Jovovich and director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson curated a six-movie series also called Resident Evil, but only loosely based on the games.
While those Resident Evil movies were huge financial success stories, regardless of their relationship to the source material, it’s safe to say many hardcore fans of the games were left disappointed at how little of their favorite characters and moments were adapted for the screen. That will change with the 2021 movie, entitled Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. Or at least that appears to be the case, based on the images and info released so far. Characters like Leon Kennedy, Claire and Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Ada Wong, and Albert Wesker are finally going to get the movie spotlight they deserve.
For his part, Roberts is a big fan of the games, and seems dead set on trying to reproduce what makes them so popular with millions of players. From characters, to locations, to stories, Roberts’ movie could possibly be the definitive Resident Evil adaptation. Even if that’s not the case, it’s on track to avoid several prior mishaps.
While Leon, Claire, Chris, Jill, Wesker, and a few other notable Resident Evil video game characters did appear in some form in the previous Resident Evil movie franchise, they often felt like interlopers in someone else’s story. For better or worse, depending on one’s opinion, Milla Jovovich’s Alice was always the clear main character of the franchise, despite being invented out of whole cloth for the movies. While Jovovich certainly isn’t bad in the role, it’s not surprising that fans of the games found this dominance of the spotlight annoying, while they had to watch their favorite game characters play the second or third fiddle.
By contrast, director Johannes Roberts is setting out to craft a movie that can equally please both diehard game fans and newcomers to the franchise by including fan-favorites and putting them front and center. Leon, Claire, Chris, and Jill are the main heroes of Welcome to Raccoon City, while Wesker is one of the main villains, and Ada is somewhere in-between. Also included is Lisa Trevor, a tragic monster who was a great addition to the 2002 remake of the original game. These characters generally look a lot like their game counterparts based on what’s been seen so far. Sure, there are some other game characters that some are surprised to not see present, such as Barry Burton and Rebecca Chambers, but there’s always room for them in potential sequels one assumes. Leon, Claire, Chris, and Jill have become seasoned, multi-faceted characters over the course of multiple games, and it’s about time they began to explore those facets onscreen.
One reason so many fans of the Resident Evil games were perplexed by the decision to adapt them loosely into movies before is that the franchise is renowned for its highly cinematic nature, likable and developed leads, terrifyingly cool monsters like the Nemesis, and sprawling stories full of twists, turns, and scares. There’s also Resident Evil‘s arguably most important aesthetic attribute, present in all its best games, that being an oppressive atmosphere of dread. Resident Evil games, when done right, can be an incredibly tense experience akin to a top-shelf horror movie, and Roberts seems to fully realize that fact.
That’s why, while Roberts is adding some new elements here and there, and expanding on some backstories, his base for Welcome to Raccoon City is the games. He’s trying to replicate the look and feel of the characters, the dark, sprawling yet somehow still claustrophobic locations like the Spencer Mansion and the Raccoon City Police Department building, and the white-knuckle horror aspects that make the games so enjoyably hectic at times. While there’s certainly a chance Roberts won’t succeed, and the final product will disappoint, if it does, at least his intentions were noble. And those who liked the old approach will always have six movies starring Jovovich as Alice to go back to and watch on Blu-Ray.
That’s not to argue that the approach taken by the makers of the Resident Evil games has always been perfect. While most of the mainline titles have been well-received, many of the spinoffs were letdowns, such as the woeful Resident Evil: Survivor and Umbrella Corps. The biggest point of division among gamers about Resident Evil though was its shift toward action. This began with Resident Evil 4, one of the most beloved games ever. The problem was, while that game nearly perfectly blended fast action with tense horror, follow-ups Resident Evil 5 and 6 tipped the scales so far toward the action side that the gameplay becomes almost unrecognizable, which some dedicated gamers were understandably bothered by. Capcom did eventually see the error of its ways there, running headlong back into full-blown survival horror with Resident Evil 7 and Resident Evil: Village.
In the same vein, while the first Resident Evil movie in 2002 blended action with horror well, the sequels progressively dropped the horror and became almost entirely action/sci-fi. Roberts appears to be taking both of those lessons to heart, as he’s made clear he specifically wants Welcome to Raccoon City to serve as the return of the franchise to horror, as opposed to action. That means fans should probably expect something closer to the works of zombie master George A. Romero, and less guns-blazing, explosion-filled shoot ’em up. While, as mentioned previously, millions of people did enjoy the Jovovich/Anderson movie series, there’s certainly room for a cinematic interpretation of Resident Evil that goes back and tries to capture the spirit of what excited legions of gamers in 1996, and has kept them hooked to 2021 and beyond.