Set in 2036, 14 years after the spread of Joy (a little pill packed with the T-virus) caused so much pain, Netflix Original Resident Evil follows Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) as she fights for survival in a world overrun by the blood-thirsty infected and terrifying creatures. But the story isn’t just about the present, it’s also about the past. Cut into the main story we get flashbacks to 2022, where it all began with Jade and her family being welcomed to New Raccoon City. There we see her father, Alber Wesker’s (Lance Reddick) chilling connections to Umbrella Corporation, the company’s greed, and what happened to her sister, Billie (Siena Agudong).
Telling a new story we haven’t seen while using the hallmarks of the franchise (puzzles and creature designs included) is something that Resident Evil does extremely well. From imagery to enemy types, the TV series manages to feel like it’s a part of the lore and the world of the iconic Capcom series. We know from interviews that everything that has happened the games is canon in the series. That said, by choosing a time we haven’t seen, Resident Evil is able to stand on its own with an interesting story, and a pace kept steady even while jumping between time periods. Resident Evil is good. It’s not a one-for-one adaptation, but rather a series inspired by capitalism-bred zombies we’ve all come to love deeply that knows exactly where it came from, including the volcano question at the center of it all.
Look, I love Resident Evil as a game franchise. And while it is easy to say that this series didn’t need the name to be made and could have been an unattached original story there is a lot for existing fans of the franchise in all of its forms to love. From the films to the animations, Resident Evil as an IP keeps changing, investigating different elements of lore, and telling new stories along the way.
I mean, in no way would I have thought that the events of Resident Evil Village would be an arm of the franchise when I first played the video games. And yet, here we are. That leeway and openness that we give Capcom to tell new stories in the video games should also be given to those looking to tell new stories in other formats as well.
I’d be remiss not to point out the visual beauty of the series. The use of color throughout the series, particularly in the larger sets and sweeping shots make it stand out. From neighborhoods with all identical buildings to blue soap lined perfectly in order on sinks, or the red glow of the Umbrella facility as zombie dogs rip through it, Resident Evil is a visually stunning series.
Additionally, the series’ action sequences are well-thought-out, dynamic in scale, and feature extremely interesting and exciting creature designs. From the beginning of episode one to the last episode of the season, the monsters and fighting against them are the reason to watch. Exciting and fast-paced, the blending of CG visual effects and practical makes a damn good time, with Jade excelling in selling every minute of it.
And really, Resident Evil is a success because of Jade. She’s a tenacious and unrelenting force that we get to see as a rebellious teen, played by Tamara Smart and as a smart and strategic adult, played by Ella Balinska. Whether it’s the focus on the sister relationship with Billie and her dedication to finding the truth in 2022, or if it’s her action star status in 2036, Jade is the heart of the series.
Balancing her against her father, Albert Wesker is a choice that added depth to the series and allowed us audiences to explore something wholly original. To that point, Lance Reddick as my favorite gaming bad man surprisingly works. While Reddick brings an entirely different style as Dad Wesker that we haven’t seen (and probably won’t see) anywhere else. A near-future series, starting in 2022 and extending to 2036 the choice to make all of the science fiction elements feel grounded in reality works extremely well. In fact, the science of the series takes a central role, as the mysteries of Umbrella’s city, company, and misdeeds come to light.
This is a different Wesker, but he’s compelling nonetheless and by the end of the series, hits the intimidating and powerful man we know from existing canon. Capable of violence and much more, Reddick’s Weskeris a take on the character that excites and turns on a dime in some of the best ways possible. Whether this is from clever writing or Reddick’s charisma is a question, but the character delivers either way. But without spoiling the surprise, there is a lot more to Wesker than you see at first, and well, just a lot more Wesker too.
To push Umbrella’s evil self-serving moves the series introduces Evelyn Marcus (Paola Nuñez). She’s calculating, money hungry, and refuses to see anything in her way as an obstacle to getting what she wants. She’s focused on making Umbrella larger and shipping Joy regardless of any and all consequences. One of the series’ original characters that I deeply need more of.
As a character, she is physically smaller than Reddick’s Wesker, and yet, in scenes opposite him, her intensity and intimidation match his stature. Evelyn is as dangerous as she is gorgeous and the series never lets you forget, with each scene she’s in ramping up tension methodically. Add in the exploration of the experiments run on Mexicans in Mexico, exploiting the people just because they can, and Umbrella as the specter of unchecked capitalism is clear.
To be honest, the choice to spend eight episodes across the start of the fall of Raccoon City and the current hellscape works well to develop characters and show growth over time without falling into a pacing nightmare. The slow growth of infection that we see in the series and the tie to the Wesker family is one that I was hesitant about. But the human element and slow descent while constantly reminding the audience where everything will end up helps build tension effectively.
Netflix has managed to keep the spirit of the franchise alive in Resident Evil. This series is something original and heart-pumping. And while the bulk of the live-action offerings, between Paul W.S. Anderson’s series and Johannes Roberts’ Welcome to Raccoon City, easter eggs minefields (and lack in pretty much every other area), this series avoids that. As a horror series, Resident Evil is great. And while some elements seem like set-dressing to remind the audience that this is inspired by the game franchise, the bulk of the show gets at the heart of the franchise: unrestrained science helping capitalism drive us to our end.
If the series has flaws, it’s the inconsistency of the science and the rules of infection. That said, some of it can be explained away by the choice to show and not tell exposition points, but others stick out like a sore thumb. At some point though, the unexplainable can be pushed to the side because the monsters and the infection fights are that well designed. While there is a gap in knowledge as to how the rapid descent from 2022 to 2036 happened and the acceleration involved in the largest of infected creatures, suspension of disbelief can overcome that.
Additionally, the unevenness of the two time periods being explored in the narrative needed more finessing to balance them. While 2022 is quite interesting from a science fiction and mystery perspective, it sometimes overwhelms the events happening in 2036. In 2022, young Jade and Billie are trying to solve the mysteries of Umbrella and their dad is having to confront the danger he helped create with the T-virus. But in 2036, it’s all about survival, action set pieces, and running. As the pace slows down in the last few episodes of the series for the 2036 timeline, that section of the show gets swallowed by the intensity of the 2022 flashbacks. Though, where the two time periods meet, is wonderfully pulled together.
At the end of it all, if you go into Netflix’s Resident Evil open to a new and original story, then you’re in for a good time. Judging it by any video game purity standards makes any adaptation hard to pass, but unlike last year’s Kaya Scodelario’s outing, this Netflix Original series is actually good. With creatures to make you squirm, well-paced and edited action, and a cast that absolutely rocks, Resident Evil is worth binge-watching immediately. With great science fiction, great horror, and even better action, I need more. Give us Season 2, you cowards.
Resident Evil is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
At the end of it all, however, If you go into Netflix’s Resident Evil open to a new and original story, then you’re in for a good time. Judging it by any video game purity standards make any adaptation hard to pass, but unlike last year’s Kayla Scoldalario outing, this Netflix Original series is actually good.