When a series has a widely disregarded entry, a fun phenomenon arises. Every franchise has one or two entries that sit at the bottom of everyone's lists, but when a new rough patch arises, some fans find themselves apologizing to their old favorite punching bag.
Resident Evil is the video game franchise that has seen the most screen adaptations from 2002 to 2016. It was once the most lucrative horror film series, but it was rebooted last year to modest success. This year, Netflix released a long-awaited loose adaptation of the material.
The Netflix adaptation of Resident Evil from 2022 has the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating 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 product of high-quality filmmaking than it is a result of lowered expectations.
Resident Evil in adaptation
It's possible that the repeated failure to make anything decent out of one of the most famous video game franchises of all time suggests more about the source rather than the adaptations. Is it possible that the franchise is unfilmable? Perhaps the juxtaposition of incomprehensible narrative and b-movie characters just doesn't translate to modern cinema. If that were the case, Netflix's Resident Evil would not be a suitable test to prove it.
Resident Evil is somewhat different from the films before it, in that they're extremely strange in their use of game elements. They're just borrowed designs with no impact on their in-game counterparts. The new series is the first work to be explicitly tied into the game's canon. While the original series had its own canon, Welcome to Raccoon City dramatized the events as they were.
Welcome to Raccoon City is a game adaptation that combines both effectively and respectfully. Many sections of the new show illustrate the game's anti-corporate message, portraying Umbrella as the same comically evil big business as usual. However, the game's narrative, while lacking in its logos and monster graphics, is hardly any better as an adaptation.
Resident Evil versus Resident Evil
The new horror/action 2036 half of the program seems to be a direct sequel to the original film series. Sadly, it brings back many of the same issues while introducing a few additional ones. The survivors are still mostly unrecognizable nobodies who can barely support a single character trait. The monsters are still as clever as target practice or cheap gore. The surroundings are still mostly dull gray industrial areas and sewer tunnels that resemble stock bad shooter maps.
The greatest difference between the new series and the classic films from an action standpoint is that the focal point is no longer superhuman. Alice was a very weak lead, but her comedic hyper-competent martial arts fights and shootouts were often the most enjoyable aspects of those very silly films. 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 problems related to the original Resident Evil movies are dutifully preserved in the newer version. Improvements are few and far between, but it's nonetheless misguided in interesting ways. Resident Evil, like the franchise's monsters, isn't a step back.