Resident Evil (Netflix) (4/5)
...okay, this was actually pretty neat.
I'm going to get one thing out of the way before anything else - if we're judging this as an adaptation, it's terrible. It might be one of the worst adaptations out there technically, in that it's not really adapting Resident Evil, but rather taking a few familiar elements (zombies, Lickers), with a few pieces of familiar terminology (Umbrella, Raccoon City), with some familiar tropes (viral experimentation), and then doing its own thing. Even the Anderson films were more loyal to the games, and yes, beyond the first two films, when you get down to it. If anything, the series seems to use the Anderson films as an inspiration as much as the games, given the post-apocalyptic setting, Umbrella being the best equipped force in a post-collapse world, and the iconography of their soldiers and vehicles (though if anything, USS troopers seem to wear actual armour rather than Kevlar to protect them from the zombies, sorry, "zeroes," so nice job there).
So, yeah. As an adaptation, the series blows, and I'm saying that who's been a fan of Resident Evil since the PS1 era. However, if we're judging it as its own thing, it's actually quite enjoyable. The series alternates between the "present" of 2036 (long after society has collapsed), and the "past" of 2022, depicting events prior to the world going to shit. The 2036 plotline primarily deals with Jade Wesker (one of the two twin daughters of Albert Wesker...yes, you read that right), mostly fighting for her life in zero-overrun Britain and France), while the 2022 plotline depicts the Wesker family of Albert, Jade, and Billie living in New Raccoon City - an Umbrella planned community in South Africa (I don't think raccoons are actually IN South Africa, so having raccoon mascots, references to OG Raccoon City or not, is a little weird). I'm going to give my thoughts on the two plotlines separately - in each episode, we reguarly cut back and forth between the two (mostly), but it's easier to discuss if I do things in chronological order. So on that note:
The Weskers arrive at New Raccoon City. We have Albert (a geneticist, quiet, taciturn), Jade (outgoing, beligerant), and Billie (shy, introverted). Umbrella is working on a miracle drug named Joy, which I may as well tell you now, involves the T-virus. Recently, there was an outbreak at Umbrella's Tijuana facility where multiple people died, so they've moved production to their city in South Africa. Umbrella's currently run by Evelyn Marcus, who inherited the company from her father (I assume this is meant to be James Marcus, but like a lot in the series, this is nothing more than name recognition), and Joy is pretty much make or break. Billie and Jade are surrogate twins, with Albert being the father, and each born to a different mother, hence them being twins, despite looking nothing alike (and acting nothing alike either).
NRS is kind of neat, even if everything's highly sterile (I'll give props to the set design - the 2022 designs are clean, utilitarian, but cold, while the 2036 designs are more 'real,' albeit grungy), but cutting things short, the two girls break into Umbrella's lab to expose their animal testing on rabbits (something that's really striking is how terrible at security Umbrella is, despite having some pretty nasty shit on site), and Billie ends up being bitten by a Cerberus. Wesker covers for them, and Billie starts to deteriortate, but Wesker doesn't seem that worried. Looking stuff on the 'net, Jade finds herself in contact with a journalist investigating the Tijuana outbreak, and learns that in 72 hours, Billie will be dead.
Credit where it's due, this entire sequence (which plays out over a number of episodes) makes you think that Billie is going to turn, since Billie is conspicuously absent from the 2038 sequences, and future!Jade says that "my sister died 14 years ago," so you go expecting that Billie is going to turn and infect someone (since it's hinted that NRS was the hub of the global T-virus outbreak), except...that doesn't happen. The journalist tracks the sisters down, tells them that Albert Wesker died years ago, that they don't have birth certificates, etc., but they blow him off, and since Billie conspicuously isn't dead after the 72 hour mark, he must be full of shit, right?
Well, not quite. Not leaving well enough alone, the sisters discover the truth about their dad - he's a clone of the original Albert Wesker. One of three that OG Wesker created to help him in his dirty dealings. I might as well specify that we do see OG Wesker a bit, and given that he's portrayed by Lance Reddick and has game!Wesker's supernatural abilities, I was remidned more of Blade than anything else. Make of that what you will. Of the clones, two survived - "Al Wesker" (the Wesker we see through most of the season), and "Bert Wesker," who's been locked up in Umbrella's NRS facility. I've seen a lot of people give Reddick specific credit for his portrayal of Wesker, and while he does a good job (if not the only one), I think special credit has to go to him portraying both "Al" and "Bert," who have completely different personalities, and sometimes have to bounce off one another. Or, in the case of Bert, he temporarily impersonates Al with a combination of quirkiness and menace, leaving Jade and Billie to ask what the hell is going on.
Anyway, various events progress - it's revealed that because he's a clone, Wesker has advanced ageing, but by injecting himself with his daughters' blood, he's been able to keep it in check. Long story short, Jade works with Simon (a hacker who's been crushing on her throughout the season, and Evelyn Marcus's son) to enter Umbrella's HQ (which still has terrible security) to rescue Billie (who's suffering from the infection - she's a carrier, but because of her blood, she's immune to the virus itself) and Wesker. It succeeds, to a point, but in a moment of delirium, Billie bites Simon, forcing Evelyn to shoot him. Al stays behind to detonate a bomb that destroys a large portion of the facility, while Jade, Billie, and Bert escape NRS to find an "Ada Wong" in Japan.
Overall, I do like the 2022 plot, even if it slows down a few times - there's an episode that takes place almost entirely inside the Wesker household as the girls are forced to look for various clues their father has left for them that's a weird attempt to ape the games (e.g. Billie plays Moonlight Sonata on the piano, which is a reference any RE fan should get), but it really doesn't work. But it does work overall, even if, conspicuously, there's no clear start to the T-virus outbreak. While the idea of Albert Wesker having children feels like something out of fanfiction, both Jade and Billie are compelling characters in their teenage years. Wesker's got a good mix of menace, yet also familial love that somehow manages to work, and then there's Evelyn Marcus. Honestly, I think the actress playing her really deserves more props, because Evelyn is a gem. She's got the right mix of zanniness and menace, sometimes even done at the same time. It's like she's a personification of Umbrella itself - highly dangerous, highly sociopathic, highly idiotic (why yes, we ARE going to make money off BOWs rather than pharmacuticals, why do you ask?)
The "present" timeline takes place long after society has collapsed. There's about 600 million humans left on Earth, up against 3 billion zeroes (I don't know why they're called zeroes rather than zombies - I suppose this is a "walkers" thing, but it just doesn't work). Right off the bat, I'm going to give the show credit in that its zombie apocalypse has some unique aspects to it, in that while society as we know it has collapsed, society as a whole hasn't, in that the collapse isn't total, and there's still centres of civilization that can be found. For instance, Umbrella runs the western half of the US as a country simply called "Umbrella," the UK has devolved into a system of freeholds, at least some of France is run by a group of zealots called the Brotherhood, and India is implied to be run by a similar religious group (Simai, or something). Since Jade's journey starts off in the UK, we only see some of these new societies, but basically, the freeholds range from Mad Max-esque fortresses, to village where life approaches normaility. It's actually an interesting concept, where the collapse of human civilization hasn't been universal, and some areas/factions have emerged better than others. If The Walking Dead showed a "collapse point" of 100%, RE is somewhere in the realm of 80-90%.
I don't really have as much to say about the present plot, in part because this review has gone on forever, in part because in terms of actual plot, it's thinner than the 2022 one. It can basically be described as Jade trying to make her way back to her home base after things go wrong in the field, with Umbrella pursuing her. I should point out that at times, it can be really funny, such as Jade encountering a crazy cat lady who has her zombie husband locked up in the bathtub, and Baxter - an Umbrella operative who's obese, yet is really good with guns, and really misses Spongebob Squarepants. Because the fall of civilization meant the loss of Spongebob.
What's revealed halway through is that Billie is still alive (whereas we're previously led to believe that she's dead), but then is revealed to be working for Umbrella, only to be revealed that she, in fact, runs Umbrella. Suffice to say, the Billie of 2036 is a much different character of 2022, and tricks Jade into revealing the location of her base (a ship that collects artifacts from the past, with scientists trying to work out how to deal with the Zeroes). There's a lot from the Anderson films here, with Umbrella being a paramilitary force that's better equipped than everyone else (this includes stuff like drones which can easily take out Zeroes, and USS soldiers wearing custom armour that's better suited for zombies than standard Kevlar. In this time period, Jade has a daughter, Bea, who's a prodigy, and it's left ambiguous who her father is. By the end, Jade has been left stranded from her team, Billie has Bea (since she needed Jade's blood to deal with her lingering T-virus infection, but Bea's an even better catch, cue cliffhanger(s) that will never be resolved.
So, yeah. I really enjoyed this series, and I'd love for it to have a sequel. Not in TV form (since that's not going to happen), but in comics, maybe? Possibly? FFS, Infinite Darkness got its own Netflix mini series and this is much, MUCH better. But alas, not many people seem to think so. Again, I get hating this as an adaptation, but as its own thing? Pretty neat, actually.