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What every live-action Resident Evil adaptation does wrong

With seven movies and an upcoming TV series, why can't producers seem to get Resident Evil right?

The past week has been an exciting time for Resident Evil fans. Just six days ago, Capcom finally unveiled the highly anticipated Resident Evil 4 remake. Following the successful remakes of RE 2 & 3, the next entry seems to follow in their footsteps. With modern graphics, controls and an updated story, Resident Evil 4 Remake looks to capture and expand on the critically-acclaimed horror survival title.

Resident Evil 4 Remake announcement trailer

However, alongside the stunning trailer for RE4 Remake, fans also got some less than exciting Resident Evil news recently as well. For those unfamiliar with the project, Netflix has a live action series planned for the IP.

The new series takes place in the year 2036 and serves as a sequel to the games. The story focuses on Albert Wesker’s two daughters Jade and Billie as they fight for survival in a world overrun by Umbrella’s bioweapons. And although the show’s premise that follows unfamiliar territory and new characters left me skeptical, I remained open-minded on how they would pull it off.

Netflix embodies every flaw with each Resident Evil adaptation.

Well, on Monday, Netflix finally gave us a new trailer for the upcoming series. However, as much as I want to still give this show a chance, the trailer really doesn’t do it justice. In fact, I would argue that in just two minutes, this trailer embodies everything wrong with live-action Resident Evil adaptations.

Before I dive into the issues, however, you can watch the trailer for yourself.

Resident Evil Netflix trailer

It’s honestly crazy to think that at seven movies, Resident Evil has the most live-action adaptations of any video game. And it’s even crazier when you realize that none of them are any good! And unfortunately, it seems like the producers over at Netflix are simply rehashing the mistakes of the past with this new series.

Just as Paul W.S. Anderson did with his six-movie series, the largest mistake Netflix is making involves neglecting the storyline of the original games. Sure, the lore gets a little convoluted in later titles, but if you take the story back to its roots with the characters fans already know and love, you’ll get a much better product. Instead, Albert Wesker apparently now has three children, (I wonder if RE6’s Jake will ever get mentioned) and Umbrella somehow unleashed the T-Virus yet again, this time causing a world-ending apocalypse.

Although hopefully the actual show can bring answers, the trailer just leaves me with so many questions. How did Umbrella Corporation somehow resurface and come into good standing? Where are characters like Chris Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy? And what games are they even pulling the show’s lore from?

Simply having a licker in the show doesn’t make it faithful to the games.

However, I guess a better question is possibly: did the writer even play any of the games? It’s as if the laughably bad Alice-saga from Paul W.S. Anderson’s movies didn’t teach anyone a lesson. You’d think producers would learn by now that introducing random characters and trying to reinvent the plot doesn’t win over established fans.

There’s more to it than shooting zombies.

Okay, at this point, I think it’s time to address the elephant in the room. But do we really have to? Fine.

Many of you reading this are probably already thinking, “there was a live-action adaptation that followed the story of the games, and it was garbage too.” Yes, you’re completely right. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City was in fact ALMOST the perfect adaptation. Yet, like every other attempt, it too failed to capture the magic of the video games.

But why? I mean, it had all the characters; it had the locations; it even recreated moments from the games beat for beat. The problem is that it crammed too much action and damaged the pacing immensely. Welcome to Raccoon City tried to jam the stories of the first two games into one 90-minute feature. Naturally, this resulted in a mess.

It’s too bad the rest of the movie couldn’t have been as suspenseful and faithful as the recreation of the zombie reveal from the first game. Even awesome moments like this sprinkled throughout couldn’t save the film from bad pacing and a jumbled up story.

The video games famously work by building the horror through unnerving suspense, isolation and a feeling of helplessness. And the story unfolds subtly through notes, puzzles and occasional cutscenes. Instead, this film sacrificed nuance for over-the-top action set-pieces.

By removing any form of build-up and suspense, the action quickly takes away from any real feeling of terror. As a result, we’re left with a generic, fast-paced zombie shooting bloodbath. That works for some properties, sure, but not RE.

Yet, that seems to be what we get every time someone grabs the reigns to make a live-action adaptation. The characters, locations and plot points mean nothing if the entire focus on horror is lost in unnecessary action. And with Netflix’s new series, it looks like we’re going in for more of the same.

Less is more.

So far, Netflix’s Resident Evil series already highlights two of the major flaws that plague every live-action adaptation of the franchise. Ignoring the story? Check. Sacrificing suspense and horror for explosions and shootouts? Check. I guess there’s only one more glaring issue to discuss: the scope of the story.

Remember when Resident Evil focused on a small group of police officers investigating a mansion isolated from the rest of the world? Or what about when the chaos was condensed into tight corners and corridors of the Raccoon City Police Department in the second game?

No, this is a zombie franchise, so I guess it has to become a global apocalypse, right? Why would we create a small-scale horror property that focuses on a limited number of characters struggling to survive in one location where they’re trapped and strapped for resources? Surely, that just wouldn’t be interesting enough.

This video brilliantly explains what makes Resident Evil scary.

Alas, Netflix must also complete the trifecta of ruining Resident Evil. Just as how Paul W.S. Anderson made the T-Virus a global pandemic, so too will Resident Evil on Netflix. And what we’re left with is the tired zombie apocalypse trope that continues to remain overplayed in mainstream media.

For me, Resident Evil masterfully separated itself from other zombie franchises by shrinking the scale to a singular location. You aren’t in this nightmare with the entire world; you’re trapped and alone. And worse yet, you don’t have many resources to survive. Now that’s scary!

However, in live-action media, the bioweapon outbreaks impact too large of a scale. Now, the whole world’s dealing with these monsters, thus removing the uncomfortable intimacy and creepiness the games rely on. Overall, this turns Resident Evil into a generic zombie apocalypse scenario and destroys everything that makes the property unique and nuanced.

Establishing Evil: the ideal plot for a live-action Resident Evil adaptation

You know what’s the most frustrating part of watching Netflix make the same mistakes other filmmakers already made? It’s understanding how easy it would be to make a GOOD Resident Evil live-action adaptation.

All you need to do is follow just the events of the first game and retain the game’s core element: horror. Place Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Barry Burton and Albert Wesker in the Spencer Mansion. Then, let the plot slowly unfold as they uncover dark secrets that reveal the truth behind Umbrella Corporation.

Slow the pace down as the characters find themselves unmatched at times against even single zombies. Let there be moments of quiet where they hesitate to open doors and turn corners. Let the characters run out of ammo and need to run away. And let the action-pieces like the Tyrant battle mean something without over-saturating the film with endless shootouts.

Paul W.S. Anderson failed with his series. Welcome to Raccoon City almost got it but still failed. And Netflix is about to repeat history and make all the same mistakes. But maybe one day, we’ll get the Resident Evil movie diehard fans deserve, even if I have to do it myself.

Do you think we’ll ever get a good Resident Evil live-action adaptation? Do you have any hope for the Netflix series? As always, share your thoughts with us down in the comments!

Sam Fronsman

A writer with a love for video games, both new and old. A collector of games, CDs and DVDs. Can sometimes be found behind a camera or playing guitar. The X-Men games for SEGA Genesis will always hold great memories.
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