'Resident Evil' review: Netflix adaptation is painfully pedestrian

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Ella Balinska as Jade in Resident Evil. (Netflix)
Ella Balinska as Jade in Resident Evil. (Netflix)

When mindless marauders treat the population like microwave meals, then we must be back inside Resident Evil.

The zombie franchise has soldiered on for over twenty-five years, with the help of twenty-eight Capcom computer games and seven movies. Having grossed over one billion dollars at the global box office, the franchise heads for the small screen as a glossy TV series, hitting Netflix on 14 July, returning audiences to a retrofitted Raccoon City minus the ravenous inhabitants.

It's just the first of many poor creative choices, which diminish this ailing intellectual property, as it struggles for relevance.

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With the promise of some Paul W. S. Anderson-inspired mayhem and Supernatural alumni Andrew Dabb also on board, the new Resident Evil looks intriguing on paper.

Lance Reddick as Albert and Paola Nunez as Evelyn in Resident Evil. (Netflix)
Lance Reddick as Albert and Paola Nunez as Evelyn in Resident Evil. (Netflix)

On first impressions though it's painfully pedestrian stuff hindered by poor pacing and some inconsistent editing choices. Flashbacks feel awkward, timeline transitions are genuinely jarring, while a slew of sub-standard visual affects distract. In fact, this reboot feels so distinctly average that you have to wonder whether anyone was paying attention.

Where the films embraced every ludicrous element of this concept; the Netflix adaptation decides to drag its heels, dropping Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) into an I Am Legend-inspired derelict London. Production designer James Foster taps into past glories by lifting design elements from Children of Men even if the zombie extras ruin it slightly by reluctantly pursuing our central protagonist.

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A short time later surrogate twin sister Billie (Siena Agudong) is introduced when the show jumps from 2036 to 2022, three months before the T-virus hits. Not only does it cut away from Jade at a crucial moment in time, but it also establishes key story points through flashbacks that never really work. It undermines dramatic tension, as audiences either turn up too late, or cut away too soon from anything of substance.

Watch a trailer for Resident Evil

For much of those first two episodes Lance Reddick (John Wick) is wasted as Albert Wesker, a ground zero figurehead in the Resident Evil legacy. Playing opposite a young Jade (Tamara Smart), Albert is reduced to window dressing as an overworked single father to two tempestuous daughters who relocate to South Africa for reasons unknown.

White washed minimalism and blistering blue skies establish this new Raccoon City as a place of architectural perfection. Which again, harks back to James Foster’s Black Mirror moment in Nosedive season 3, where he so convincingly conveyed a dystopian future defined by validation.

Turlough Convery as Richard Baxter in Resident Evil. (Netflix)
Turlough Convery as Richard Baxter in Resident Evil. (Netflix)

That Resident Evil goes on to benefit in present day set pieces, as a barren landscape of dilapidated shelters and corrugated iron strongholds tips a hat to Mad Max: Fury Road should also be acknowledged.

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Beyond the predictable bullying that creates friction for the girls at school, which in turn fuels their rebellious actions at Umbrella later on, not a lot happens.

Present day Jade is afforded fleeting moments of humanity, as it gets revealed she has a daughter and therefore something worth fighting for. However, any larger emotional stakes are squeezed into flashbacks, where the foundation of her trauma can really be found.

RESIDENT EVIL. (L to R) SIENA AGUDONG as YOUNG BILLIE, TAMARA SMART as YOUNG JADE,  SIENA AGUDONG as YOUNG BILLIE in RESIDENT EVIL. TAMARA SMART as YOUNG JADE in RESIDENT EVIL.  Cr. MARCOS CRUZ/NETFLIX © 2021
Siena Agudong as Young Billie and Tamara Smart as Young Jade in Resident Evil. (Netflix)

Fundamentally, one of the chief problems facing Resident Evil as a franchise is competition. Films like World War Z and The Girl with All the Gifts changed things.

Audiences these days are more discerning, hankering after emotional depth, contemporary touchstones and cinematic ambition engrained into their entertainment. A few lines name checking COVID or the AIDS virus feels like placement without purpose.

RESIDENT EVIL.  (L to R) TURLOUGH CONVERY as RICHARD BAXTER,, ELLA BALINSKA as JADE, TURLOUGH CONVERY as RICHARD BAXTER in RESIDENT EVIL. ELLA BALINSKA as JADE in RESIDENT EVIL. Cr. NETFLIX © 2021
Turlough Convery as Richard Baxter and Ella Balinska as Jade in Resident Evil. (Netflix)

What Paul W.S. Anderson and Mila Jovovich's films got right had as much to do with the era as anything else. Those Resident Evil incarnations occurred when the Capcom franchise was flourishing and gamers were hungry for further instalments.

In terms of female cinematic icons, Alice followed on from Ripley in Aliens (James Cameron), as well as encouraging the Underworld (Len Wiseman) franchise into existence which Kate Beckinsdale spearheaded as Selene.

Read more: Milla Jovovich slams Resident Evil reboot plans

The market moved on but the Resident Evil name remained, so interested parties tried to reinvent, reboot or retrofit the brand and keep it relevant. Unfortunately, what this Netflix effort manages to do is never read the room, as only cinematography from Ms. Marvel’s Carmen Cabana and production design from James Foster saves it from ignominy.

Simon (Connor Gossati) and Young Jade (Tamara Smart) in Resident Evil (Netflix)
Simon (Connor Gossati) and Young Jade (Tamara Smart) in Resident Evil (Netflix)

If audiences are looking for a genuine thriller about the threat of contemporary pandemics, they would be better served by Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion: a film which should be mandatory viewing for anyone still vaguely interested in avoiding COVID.

As for Resident Evil 2022, maybe subscribers should stick to playing the computer games right now. Either that, or go and track down The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, which is everything I Am Legend wanted to be minus the Hollywood royalty.

Resident Evil is streaming on Netflix. Watch a clip below.

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