Friday, March 31, 2023

What’s So Wrong With Resident Evil?

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Netflix’s new live-action Resident Evil show has, to put it mildly, faced an onslaught of criticism and dissatisfaction. Some call it the worst live-action project ever to bear the name. Everything from the characters to the plot to the effects have been ripped apart by angry fans and unimpressed critics. I suppose we will see what the future holds for the show, but things look bleak at the moment.

Having finished the first season recently, I will not pretend Resident Evil is some underappreciated masterpiece. It is not a good show. But really, what is so wrong with it?

Wesker from Resident Evil

I learned long ago that the best way to approach any Resident Evil side content is with the lowest of expectations. It is a good rule for any video-game adaptation, but Resident Evil holds a particularly cynical place in my mind. The Alice movies were just so endlessly dreadful after the first one, and the animated ones hardly much better. The premise of Netflix’s new version did not sound promising. A show following Albert Wesker and his teen daughters decades after the original Raccoon City was destroyed? Expectations were set below the floor.

Maybe this helped, because I walked away thinking this was…okay. Not good, but it was inoffensively watchable and, at the very least, on par with the first of the Alice Resident Evil movies. I will even go a step further; Netflix’s Resident Evil is the most faithful Resident Evil project to the spirit of the games, despite its many serious flaws.

Now, this argument mostly applies to the earlier of the two timelines, where Albert Wesker and his two daughters, Jade and Billie, move to New Raccoon City. The best Resident Evil stories have typically focused on smaller locations, like a city or mansion, where an outbreak occurs. Umbrella controlling the town fits what we know about the original Raccoon City, though their control was not quite on this level. People complain about lax security that allowed two teenage girls to enter Umbrella HQ, leading to Billie being bit by an infected dog, and I won’t pretend that was good. However, is it really any worse than the ridiculousness of many Resident Evil outbreaks?

Lance Reddick’s Wesker is easily THE highlight of the show, and serves to faithfully adapt the Resident Evil feel in numerous ways. On one hand, his role as the morally compromised architect of an evil drug that infects people falls very much in-line with how scientists in this IP are portrayed. The most obvious comparison is William Birkin from Resident Evil 2, and many wondered why Reddick’s character was Wesker and not Birkin.

Well, this show has an answer for that, as it is later revealed that this Wesker is one of three clones of the original Albert Wesker, who created them as part of his attempts to live forever. So we get OG Wesker and an explanation for why New Raccoon City’s Wesker is so different. By the time Uncle Bert, second of the three clones, showed up, I was sold on everything about Wesker in this show. That includes the unintentionally hilarious wardrobe Reddick wears for the OG Wesker scene.

Look, let’s tell the truth here. This is Wesker. This is completely, entirely Wesker. He is the kind of character who would create three clones of himself, one of whom goes on to create his own semi-clones. These are the character traits that actually define Wesker, not blonde hair and white skin.

Besides, it’s Lance Reddick. He automatically makes damn near anything he stars in watchable.

I also enjoyed Evelyn Marcus as a villain. She is everything we have come to expect from Resident Evil’s corporate overlords. Paola Nuñez chews every bit of scenery in the best of ways, as she damn well should. Evelyn is selfish, greedy, egomanical, and obsessed with the idea of control. Her ultimate hopes for Joy, the new drug she has based all of Umbrella’s future hopes on, is to be able to fully control human behavior, which falls perfectly in line with the original Resident Evil game’s T-Virus ambitions. Back then the virus was meant to create resistance/immunity to physical damage, so a drug using the T-Virus to create mental zombies is a cool inverse of the original idea.

By the time Evelyn was using Joy to drug her wife, then shooting her recently bitten son in the head and claiming to save him, I was fully sold on this character. Evelyn, and the Umbrella corporation she created, is the most accurate and faithful version of Umbrella that any movie/film version of Resident Evil has ever managed.

Now, once you move past Wesker and Evelyn, things do get rough. The future storyline is quite terrible and far less interesting than its present-day counterpart. Jade is an awful protagonist in a way that makes me feel terrible for Ella Balinska, whois trying her absolute hardest to sell a character that’s written to be completely unlikable. Jade never learns a lesson despite making terrible decisions in every episode that leads to the deaths of almost everyone she cares about. Since Jade is the focus of almost every second of screentime in the future plot, that makes for pretty bad television.

(Should I mention how similar this is to Resident Evil 5 or 6? Let’s move on.)

Adult Jade in Resident Evil

The younger Jade and Billie are more palatable since they are younger, but your tolerance for them will depend on your tolerance for high school drama-type television. They make their share of ridiculously bad decisions, but at least they are teenagers. Teens make bad decisions, it’s just how things go. I also have a more empathetic view of their mistakes because of context around them. Albert is an awful father who largely neglects his daughters.

Still, I recognize why people do not like them anymore than they like future Jade and her storyline.

Over time, the present-day storyline really embraced the cheesy, ridiculous nature of this property. Resident Evil has rarely been serious. For the longest time, it embraced the B-movie feel that came with its famously bad dialogue and voice-acting. Netflix’s version also feels inspired by that. I’m not suggesting they intentionally tried for bad dialogue and acting, but you cannot tell me that much of this series wanted to be taken that seriously. There are some seriously fun moments here, such as Bert’s love for breadsticks or the clues Albert leaves for his daughters to find the supplies he left to aid their escape from Umbrella.

Sometimes all I ask of a bad show is that it entertain me. Resident Evil entertained me enough to not feel like it was a catastrophe.

I know it’s not good. I know a second season is likely a bad idea. That being said, I do not see why the criticism has been so fierce. Do us Resident Evil fans deserve better? Yes, undoubtedly. We have seen so much worse than this, though. Maybe we should ease up a bit.

Images Courtesy of Netflix

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  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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