Netflix’s new Resident Evil series is the latest attempt by Hollywood to adapt the long-running videogame franchise to live-action. Previously, there have been seven films, all but one starring Milla Jovovich. While fans may forever be divided on any of the non-game installments, there’s no denying the new series’ characters are better written and acted than most videogame-to-screen attempts. But just how good? We’re going to find out (Apologies to the terrific Jovovich’s Alice and the terrifically menacing Red Queen, as they (so far) have only appeared in the Paul W.S. Anderson films).
Spoilers ahead for the new Netflix series and any other Resident Evil properties.
Going all the way back to the original Resident Evil, the 1996 PlayStation-era title introduced Albert Wesker as a seemingly trustworthy captain of the Raccoon City Police Department Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) Soon enough, it’s revealed that Wesker is one of the series’ main antagonists, a scientist hell-bent on the mass extinction of humans in favor of whatever mutations the T-virus wreaks on planet Earth. In the Anderson films, Wesker (a scenery-chewing Shawn Roberts) isn’t an undercover baddie but a full-on mustache-twirling menace with superhuman abilities. And for the past two decades, most fans have enjoyed Wesker as a one-dimensional foil to heroes Jill, Chris, and (in the films) Alice. Last year’s Welcome To Raccoon City film was an all-time low for the brand, and yes, I’m including the lame Resident Evil 6 of the PS3/360 era. In that film, Umbrella Academy‘s Tom Hopper’s Wesker went back to the character’s not-so-secret undercover roots, barely leaving much of an impression.
Yet we had no clue how much better this character could be once saddled with twin daughters and played by veteran actor Lance Reddick. The actor is no stranger to games, having starred in Destiny 2 and Horizon: Forbidden West. Reddick’s strong onscreen presence is key, but the writing doesn’t let him down. Wesker as a scientist doing nefarious things in an underground lab is one thing, but having to hide all it from the inquisitive Bille and Jade ain’t easy. Turns out evil people can’t handle teens either. It’s not that this Wesker doesn’t have ulterior motives from frame one per his M.O., but the character of Albert Wesker is fleshed out to dazzling degrees. And then there are his clone(!) versions, which gave the actor an embarrassing amount of variety to play. Winner: Series.
One of the key characters of the RE universe has been consistently engaging in-game but kind of a mixed bag onscreen. 2019’s RE2 Remake solidified the plucky college student whose brother is S.T.A.R.S. bro Chris, the best character in the games. As voiced by Stephanie Panisello, her quippy one-liners more often than not induce smiles rather than eye rolls. In the Anderson films, Ali Larter plays Claire as a likable yet kind of bland sidekick to Alice. Larter is fine yet forgettable in her three turns as Claire. The biggest crime against the iconic character arrived in last year’s Welcome To Raccoon City. Casting Kaya Scodelario from Crawl seemed like a good idea on paper, but in execution, not so much. If anything. Scodelario’s tough-as-nails, take no crap attitude would have made her a perfect Jill Valentine. Winner: Games.
Claire’s brother, on the other hand… that’s another story. As a stand-in for every young nerd that wanted to just kick butt with mucho ammo and plenty of green herbs, Chris is fun to play but a nothing character. To be fair, these are characters created in a time when Mario’s “It’s a me, MARIO!” was the height of personality. Flash forward to 2010, Wentworth Miller’s Chris to Ali Larter’s Claire was surprisingly engaging. He suffers memory loss and numerous other sci-fi mumbo jumbo, but Miller brought it as a young man trying to make sense of a zombie-infested world. Winner: Movies.
If the character of Jill Valentine was merely based on her appearance in the original Resident Evil: Nemesis from the 90s, then the prize would go to Sienna Guillory’s take on the action hero in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Afterlife, and Retribution. More cosplay come-to-life, viewers would never mistake the gun-toting Raccoon City officer as a living, breathing person. Guillory did what was required in the role, but even in 2004, before cringe was a thing, her performance was pretty cringe. Still, her portrayal has fun, campy turns like turning evil for a mind-controlled brawl with Alice in Retribution. Hannah John-Kamen’s at-bat for the role in Welcome to Raccoon City is oddly charisma-free, considering the actress has delivered a memorable turns in Ant-Man and the Wasp and SyFy’s Killjoys. Thankfully, 2020’s RE3 Remake knocks both performances away as easily as Jill using a grenade launcher on Nemesis itself. Voiced by Nicole Tomkins, her Valentine plays up 80s machismo to eleven yet finds a person to root for under all that kevlar armor. Winner: Games.
Leon S. Kennedy
2004’s Resident Evil 4 is arguably considered the best in the series, games or otherwise. Leon S. Kennedy’s mission to rescue the president’s daughter took the world of RE beyond mansions and underground labs to a European Old World setting. A rookie no more, Leon, as voiced by Paul Mercier, brought an early Keanu Reeves detached coolness to the character. He’s still in over his head, but with that anime hairstyle, he couldn’t go wrong. Evan Jogia’s Leon from last year’s Welcome to Raccoon City was a mind-baffling low point. The actor had charm, but as written, Leon became a doofus trust fund twenty-something with zero skills (He literally almost blows his own head off). Terrible. In Anderson’s Resident Evil: Retribution, actor Johann Urb had little screen time and wasn’t very memorable. His cosplay was fine but lacked any wacky moments like Guillory’s Jill in the same film. None of this matters, as fans of the series were beyond excited to see Capcom’s teaser of the new RE4 Remake coming in 2023. Winner: Games.
Bonus: Jade Wesker 2036
As cool to watch as Netflix’s season is, the bulk of the “good stuff” takes place in the first timeline: 2022. The relationship between twins sisters Bille, Jade, and papa Wesker is the emotional driving force that makes it perfect for a television series. The second timeline, which takes place in 2036, involves a lot of adult Jade killing zeroes, giant insects, and generic post-apocalyptic humans. Jade, as played by Ella Balinska, is funny, skilled, and has cool investigative scenes trying to figure out how to curtail the T-virus. In other words, her setting is perfect for a video game. Jade should definitely star in a future Resident Evil entry on the gaming side. Get on it, Capcom!