Latest Resident Evil is game over for the long-running franchise

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Photo courtesy of Screen Gems
Photo courtesy of Screen Gems

RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY
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Eschewing the action-heavy aesthetics of the successful six-film series — beginning with 2002's Resident Evil and culminating with 2016's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, all starring Milla Jovovich as kick-butt heroine Alice tasked with saving the world from the zombie apocalypse — Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City attempts to take the property back to its horror video-game roots. I'm not certain that was a good idea.

Written and directed by Johannes Roberts, this reboot goes heavy on the atmosphere and jump scares, while at the same time doing precious little to craft characters worth caring about or to deliver a plot that justifies a 107-minute running time. While individual moments do impress, overall this is a mind-numbing jumble of genre clichés presented with all the imaginative flair of an animated critter slipping on a banana peel and falling splat on its face.

Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) has returned home to the dying Midwestern town of Raccoon City to warn her estranged brother Chris (Robbie Amell), a respected police detective, that something horrible is about to happen. While she doesn't know what that is, the young woman is still certain the Umbrella Corporation is up to no good. It's secretly run Raccoon City for decades, and according to Claire's sources, whatever it's been creating in its underground laboratories has broken free and is no longer under its control.

As fans of both the first two video games created by Shinji Mikami and Tokuro Fujiwara (or that aforementioned sextet of previous cinematic adaptations) already know, that "something" Umbrella has been working on is a weapon known as the T-virus. It transforms its victims into highly infectious, zombified killing machines. It can also cause monstrous mutations, creating bloodthirsty creatures capable of unimaginable carnage.

Popular characters from the games make appearances, including Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper). The primary settings for most of the action from those first two entries in the long-running series — the spooky Spencer mansion and the dilapidated Raccoon City police station — are also brought to vividly breathtaking life by production designer Jennifer Spence (The Forever Purge), and I admit to being suitably impressed by both locations.

But Roberts' scenario could easily be labeled Exhibit A as to why so few video game adaptations choose to follow the "plots" of their source material. What works from a first-person, investigative horror shooter perspective doesn't exactly translate to narrative fiction. It all plays like you're lazily sitting on the couch, watching someone else utilizing the PlayStation controller and wishing it was your turn to try and survive the carnage and figure out the complex puzzles. There is no emotive weight, so staying invested in whether or not Claire and Chris will put their differences aside and find a way to survive this zombie-filled night from hell is next to impossible.

The initial appearance of Lisa Trevor — one of the game's spookiest and most tragic characters — is outstanding, and the creature designs are suitably gnarly. There's an awesome transformation sequence involving a nefarious Umbrella scientist that had me squirming in my seat. And there's a terrific pitch-black scene in the Spencer mansion featuring Chris trying to evade a gaggle of flesh-eating monstrosities. Also, while she never achieves the dynamic, larger-than-life screen presence Jovovich brought to her films, Scodelario is pretty dang wonderful as Claire, and if this reboot does garner a sequel, I'm intrigued to see where she'll take the character next.

Look, I'm no superfan of the first series of films (although I did somewhat enjoy the first, third, and sixth entries), and I cannot say I was someone who at any point addictively played any of the games. But that does not mean I wasn't still curious what a more horror-centric adaptation would look like, and as someone partial to three of Roberts' past efforts — Storage 24, 47 Meters Down, and The Strangers: Prey at Night — I didn't see any reason why he wouldn't have the chops to pull this reboot off.

It does me no pleasure to say that simply is not the case. While Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City has its moments, it doesn't have enough of them to make watching the movie in its entirety worthwhile. In other words, it's game over for the franchise, and if that's not a disappointing turn of events, I'm not sure what else would be.