Julien Neaves, Editor
Plot: Strong-willed Jade Wesker confronts the machinations of the evil Umbrella Corporation in two timelines: in 2022 as a teen in the New Racoon City with her troubled sister and mysterious scientist father, and in 2036 as an adult fighting for survival in a post-apocalyptic overrun by zombies and plagued by monsters of the grotesque and/or giant variety.
Context: As a fan of the massively popular video game franchise and some of the film adaptations I for one was excited by the prospect of a Resident Evil tv series. The six Milla Jovovich films are mostly fun guilty pleasures but none of them I would call a “good” film. Last year’s Welcome to Raccoon City got points for being pretty faithful to the source material but the execution was a mess. The franchise fared better with the three anime film adaptations with the second, Damnation, being my favourite of the bunch. Then we had the Netlifx four part anime series Infinite Darkness which had some good moments but overall was an exercise in disappointment. And this brings us to the newest flesh eater on the block.
And I will say out the gate that the new Netflix series is the best live action adaptation to date (which admittedly is not saying much) though I can understand why it is so divisive among fans. With a Titan-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s break it down in four bites:
Bite #1 Keeping Up With the Weskers
For those who haven’t seen the series (and this is a SPOILER-FILLED review, so you do you) let me point out that the show does not take place during the events of the main games, or at the very least the first six games. Rather, the show is a sequel to the events of the games. So if you come in expecting to see familiar characters like Jill, Claire and Leon then expect to be disappointed. Instead we have almost entirely new characters, with the main ones being Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick) and his daughters Jade (Ella Balinska as an adult, Tamara Smart as the young version) and Billie (Adeline Rudolph as an adult, Siena Agudong as the young version). If I could give you one reason to watch this series it is Lance Reddick. I have previously enjoyed him in shows like Fringe and Lost and films like John Wick so I wasn’t surprised that he knocked it out of the park here. Reddick sells his role as the caring but sociopathic scientist Albert “Al” Wesker, is hilarious as the amoral and maladjusted clone “Bert” and even has a memorable if brief turn as OG Albert Wesker (more on that later). If not for Reddick this show would not be half as good as it is.
I much also give props to Balinska as Jade. She is strong, determined and with a dark sense of humour, and I had no issue rooting for her. She has to carry most of the 2036 timeline story and did it well, making it the more entertaining of the two timelines. Smart and Young are solid as the younger versions of the sisters but the writing for them is not the best and Young Jade’s use of an f-bomb every other sentence did not feel organic but rather an ill-advised attempt at teen edginess. Much better was Paola Núñez as despicable Umbrella CEO Evelyn Marcus. She is delightfully over the top but still balanced off with a trace of humanity. I enjoyed her more the evil future Billie, who came off too one note for me. And speaking of one note, Turlough Convery begins like that as Umbrella enforcer Richard Baxter but during a brief and ill-fated team-up with Jade delivers some good laughs and the most entertaining action sequence of the entire first season. There are other characters but none of them leave much of a lasting impact.
Bite #2 Thar Be Monsters Here!
This is a Resident Evil series so we gotta talk about the monsters. Here the zombies are called “zeroes” and are not undead but instead their brains were altered by the T-virus. The makeup for them is kinda meh and not even close to the level of the Walking Dead. And they are fast zombies too like the Dawn of the Dead remake and not the shuffling, rotting corpses of the game. Yeah, not the most interesting zombies I’ve ever seen. But what did interest me was how in depth the show goes into the science of the zeroes. I like when a show takes time to establish its zom-rules.
Outside of the zeroes we have a giant mutant caterpillar, T-virus-infected dogs, those wonderfully horrible Lickers, a giant spider, and even a giant crocodile. The designs are pretty good and the CGI well done. And while it’s not a gorefest there is enough blood and guts to fill a hole in the belly of your average gore hound. Seeing the creatures massacring hapless people was when the series felt most like the game. Heck, even the Chainsaw Man from Resident Evil 4 makes an appearance, though he doesn’t decapitate anyone. Don’t worry, Jade makes up for that in gloriously gory fashion.
Bite #3 To Game or Not to Game
I pointed out that the series does not take place during the main game timeline but the writers were clearly fans (or at least did their research) because there are lots and lots of references to previous game events and characters. It is a real Easter Egg hunt here and I think most game fans would enjoy that. And it is done in a way that does not feel fan-service-y but organic and intelligent. From Baxter making a “master of unlocking” joke while escaping a cell to the entire sequence of the young sisters figuring out puzzles in their house just like the game to even Bert mentioning that OG Albert Wesker died in a volcano. While the main setting is outside the games the Resident Evil lore is in this show’s blood and veins, and it wears its love for the source material on its sleeve.
And speaking of OG Wesker, I have to talk about Reddick’s costume in his cameo. He looks utterly ridiculous and like a Blade knockoff. But you know what, I liked it. It was almost as if the show was showing how ridiculous OG Wesker would be in this more serious take on the source material and having fun with it. If they had left OG Wesker completely out I would have assumed that they had rewritten the character as a scientist just for the name recognition. But what they did with the clones was a cool way of tie into the source material without being beholden to it. So if you want a recreation of the events of the games then the early Milla Jovovich films and Welcome to Raccoon City would be more your speed. But the game fan in me enjoyed their approach. And the series ended with a reference to fan favourite character Ada Wong, so maybe we will be seeing her and more familiar faces in the future.
Bite #4 A Tale of Two Timelines
Let me conclude with talking about story, which is where I think the series has its most issues. The show starts off slow and the first couple of episodes felt like a slog, especially the 2022 timeline. Then the show picks up steam and really picks up in the middle episodes. Great action, lots of twists and things start happening across both timelines. But then the show stumbles at the finish. You have the very smart adult Jade making not one but TWO very stupid decisions (bringing the zero aboard the University ship and telling Bea to escape). What happened? Did the head writer decide to take a nap? It is so contrived. And while I enjoyed seeing the giant crocodile the whole concept of using it as weapon seemed kinda silly. What was to stop the croc from attacking the ship that had him enslaved for years? In a reversal of fortunes the 2022 ending was actually stronger, with Evelyn shooting her bitten son Simon dead quite the shocking moment. And the tease of the Titan escaping made me excited for what is to come.
So yeah, Resident Evil is not the best horror series or even the best zombie tv series and it has severe pacing and storytelling issues. But there is a definite love for the source material. And with the 2022 timeline heading towards the zombie (or zero) apocalypse and the 2036 timeline already a fun one I think there is enough to warrant a second season. Definitely enough for RE and horror fans by extension to at least give it a chance and watch it through.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.
So what did you think of the new series? Love it or hate it? And you can sink your teeth into more zombie content below: