Saturday, August 6, 2022

Resident Evil is a convoluted video game adaptation that we didn’t need

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In 1996, when newspaper coverage was fixated on the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, a phenomenon not unlike a virus was spreading around the world. Osaka-based video game developer Capcom had just released resident Evil, a shoot ’em up where players had the hilarity of blasting the brains of the brain-eating undead. Nearly three decades later and the Brainiacs (OK, I’ll stop now) at Netflix have brought the franchise back from the dead for an eight-episode run, its first small-screen live-action iteration that follows a seven-movie cinematic universe, despite blanket critical panning, never got killed.

The focus of this new version of resident Evil (the character through whose eyes the story would unfold if this were a first-person video game) is Jade, played by Charlie’s Angel“Ella Balinska. She’s a badass, undercut athletic scientist with action heroine in the form of resident Evil heroines before her. The twist here is that her father plays through Albert Wesker (the games big villain) with typically sonorous authority The cableis Lance Reddick. Two timelines unfold: the “today” when Jade, a researcher, monitors zombies on the streets of London (“Come on, show me something,” she whispers to a rabbit she placed in front of the horde), and 2022, when she was a child living with her father and sister in New Raccoon City. This thread, it soon turns out, chronicles the genesis of the virus that will immediately turn humanity into a mass of drooling carnivores.

The backstory quickly becomes a cautionary tale about corporate greed and the exploitation of wellness fashion (after severance pay apparently everyone wants a piece of dystopian work culture), while Jade finds himself on the run in 2036, pursued by both undead (“The T-Virus doesn’t kill people, it rewires their brains,” Jade notes, “Anything they want to do , is eating and spreading the virus”) and the seedy Umbrella Corporation, her father’s employer. The zombies themselves – and let’s face it, a resident Evil Adaptation is only as good as its ravenous crush – looks like a flash mob of drama high school students until they run off, then the frenetic action sequences are given more sparse lighting than a medieval boudoir.

Perhaps the creators of this show felt that escaping the video game aesthetic was enough. And for some, it will be: There’s something about the Wesker origin story and skull-crushing violence that will appeal to devotees of the seminal franchise. But for those unfamiliar with the fabled video game series, this will feel like little more than a muddled and somewhat cheesy zombie series saddled with the baggage of pre-existing lore. The video games were a smash hit, but there’s not enough meat on the bones of this rework for anyone but hardcore completists.

The whole thing is shonky. The writing is inevitably largely exponential and cliche (“Scientists said the world would end in 2036,” Jade’s opening monologue proclaims. “But they were wrong: the world ended a long time ago”), though they also find room for some odd asides , mostly courtesy of Paola Núñez’ very evil Evelyn Marcus. She says things like, “Who hasn’t banged a xany and gone hunting for Louboutins?” before cutting off a rat’s head with scissors in case you’re in doubt it’s fake. The visuals, meanwhile, range from a black mirror-lite Techscape into an abandoned world built on cheap sets and half-baked CGI. The production design invites comparisons with both 28 days later and children of men; Comparisons that seem increasingly unflattering as the show returns to its relentless gameplay origins.

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