Though ostensibly based on, and in the canon of, the Capcom videogame series, this Netflix produced Resident Evil series feels far more beholden to almost anything else. It is a soulless, formulaic and stupidly convoluted show that only succeeds on an ironic level. In other words, it only satisfies when it becomes so stupid that it devolves into self-parody which allows the viewer to have fun at the show’s expense. This bizarre collection of repetitions and re-interpretations offers very little for series fans (and actually gives a lot that may irritate) but does not have enough unique or interesting DNA to accrue anybody else. Frankly, it’s just a mess.
The opening is very much an arbiter of what is to come. We start with the empty streets of London, a bland echo of 28 Days Later (2002), and already a reminder that you could be watching something better. Our narrator sets the scene, and through that narration lets us know that Climate Change was false. Yup, you read that correctly. The opening narration, of a show coming out when we are firmly embedded in the Anthropocene age decides that a fun narrative device will be to say that worries about climate change were ultimately pointless because… zombies. On one hand, this is stupidly nihilistic, but it is also infuriatingly invalidating. It is such a casual invocation of ridiculous logic, a tone deaf moment meant to establish the sincerity of the stakes that actually just comes across as very, very, very stupid. And the show continues in this mode.
Soon, our structure is established: we will swap between 2022 and 2036, ostensibly a pre-outbreak and deep into outbreak story. A protagonist will echo over both and her connections to other characters will have arcs that bridge this gap, or the lack of key characters from 2022 in 2036 will be the narrative mysteries that drive involvement. It is blandly mechanical stuff, the show follows the most rote model of televisual storytelling: not much happens in an episode but it builds up to a forced cliffhanger that incentivises the next instalment. As long as it can leave a dangling thread in the last five minutes, it knows it can accrue viewership (or keep people talking). It does this really rather manipulatively, the worst example being how one of the core mysteries of the show plays out: what happens to the twin sister of our main character. You see, she’s there in 2022 but is initially not in 2036 and, early on, something very serious happens to her. Our first cliffhanger goes out of its way to imply she has been killed, and then her being mentioned in the 2036 plotline is this bold revelation. Then the next episode starts by revealing that she didn’t die at that point, and the bold revelation becomes a nothing. Then the show decides to push and pull at that dynamic, hanging a sword of Damocles over this character in 2022 and using that as its only dramatic currency.
Realistically, it just gets so little out of its split structure. The two periods feel underdeveloped and our shuffling around is more disorientating than it is compelling. We have little reason to care about either timeline and the show only ever uses one as a resource for the other. It all feels incredibly transactional. Things would be better with a singular direction, instead we have structure for the sake of structure. It is a reminder of when the first season of The Witcher (2019-) came out and its use of overlapping time periods accrued so much conversation. Whether that worked or not for that show is irrelevant: it got people talking, it got attention. Netflix operates on the attention economy: it does not care if you like its shows, it wants to be in the conversation. That is what keeps people subscribed. The split structure of Resident Evil is a talking point, it is there to make it divergent. Does it help the show? No. Not at all. But it is a bullet point to get you talking.
The wider show is just rather terrible. The narrative is messy even by the standards of a famously ludicrous videogame series (in terms of narrative content). You see, the appeal of the videogames is that you play them. The background story has some hyperbolised anime-esque glee to it that is fun when it punctuates interactive sections that are usually incredibly solid (though, instalments vary in quality). When you only have the story, and when it is a new kind of stupid, it does not work at all. In fact, the only thing worth recommending at all is an absolutely wild twist that happens at the start of the penultimate episode. Lance Reddick, who plays Wesker (which seems like interesting casting until you realise the nature of Wesker in this show is not the nature of him in the games), gets to do some really adventurous acting and the plot points around this are so stupid as to be inspired. It finds a new tone, a kind of madcap comedy that is seemingly aware of its own ridiculousness, but eventually drops this in favour of overarching self seriousness. But, if you’re going to watch any of the show, watch the opening of the penultimate episode. It needs no context and presents an energy that should exist elsewhere. It is actually very fun.
The rest just is not. It is derivative, ugly and beyond bland. There are lazy nods towards the videogame, occasionally deft ones that make you realise that there are people somewhere in the project that know things. Alas, these glimmers of positivity just illuminate the wider failings. There is just so little reason to watch this. As an adaptation, it is incredibly lacking and as a distinct project it has almost nothing to offer. There is some ironic enjoyment to be found from the depths of dumbness it sinks to but, you are better off watching something good.