When a series has a widely despised entry, a fun phenomenon arises. Every franchise has one or two entries that are at the bottom of everyone's lists, but when a new setback happens, some fans find themselves apologizing to their old favorites.
Resident Evil is the video game franchise that has seen the most screen adaptations from 2002 to 2016. It was once the most profitable horror film series, but it was rebooted last year to little success. This year, Netflix released its long-awaited loose adaptation of the material.
The Netflix adaptation of Resident Evil from 2022 has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of any live-action adaptation of the franchise. The only films that beat it are Resident Evil: Degeneration and Resident Evil: Damnation. This is less a result of strong customer support than it is a result of lowered expectations.
Resident Evil in adaptation
Perhaps the repeated failure to make anything decent out of one of the most famous video game franchises of all time indicates more about the source than the adaptations. Is it possible that the franchise is unfilmable? Perhaps the juxtaposition of uncomprehensible narrative and b-movie characters makes it difficult to prove in modern cinema. If that were the case, Netflix's Resident Evil would not be a viable option.
Resident Evil is quite strange in its use of gameplay elements. They're just borrowed ideas with no impact on the game's experiences. The new series is the first work to be explicitly tied into the game's canon. The original series had its own canon, while Welcome to Raccoon City dramatized the games as they were.
Welcome to Raccoon City is a stunning example of a game adaptation that embodies both plot and substance. Many of the show's themes are linked to the game's anti-corporate message, implying that Umbrella is still the same comically evil bigpharma business as before. As such, Netflix's interpretation of the franchise feels like an unrelated zombie series that just slapped the name on.
Resident Evil versus Resident Evil
The new horror/action 2036 half of the series seems to be a direct sequel to the original film series. Unfortunately, it brings back almost all of the same issues while introducing a few new ones. The survivors are still mostly unrecognizable nobodies who can barely support a single character trait. The monsters are still as useless as wild animals and only useful as cheap gore. The settings are still mostly dull gray industrial areas and sewer maps that resemble stock bad shooter maps.
From an action standpoint, the most significant shift between the new series and the classic films is that the main character is no longer superhuman. Alice was a rather ludicrous character, but her funny hyper-competent martial arts fights and shootouts were often the most enjoyable parts of those very silly movies. Without that, the new series' action isn't grounded enough to be The Walking Dead or engaging enough to be Resident Evil.
The majority of issues that were left out of the original Resident Evil games are dutifully preserved in the newer one. The changes are few and far between, but at least it's misguided in interesting ways. Resident Evil isn't a step in the right direction for video game adaptation, but it's not a step back either.