This is a spoiler-free review for Netflix’s resident Evilwhich premiered on the streaming service on July 14.
Resident Evil is back in live-action, but instead of hitting the big screen, the latest adaptation in Capcom’s long-running franchise is another Netflix original show focusing primarily on classic series villain Albert Wesker. Despite my initial concerns regarding the franchise’s checked history in non-video game media, the superb acting combined with an intriguing plot that somehow fits into this ever-growing and wildly convoluted timeline makes for an interesting watch for the biggest Resident Evil diehards, but might be a tough sell for casual fans and especially newcomers.
Resident Evil is split between two timelines: one set in 2022, which focuses on Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick) and his half-twin daughters Billie (Siena Agudong) and Jade (Tamara Smart), who recently moved to New Raccoon City. The second timeline is set in 2036 – 14 years after a deadly virus causes a global outbreak focusing on an older Jade (Ella Balinska) as she searches for a cure while evading the Umbrella Corporation.
Without giving much away, the events of the Resident Evil games – particularly the Raccoon City outbreak that was the main focus of Resident Evil 1-3, as well as Resident Evil 5 (especially the ending) – do play a key part in the story . However, the series does a great job of condensing the game’s big plot points while still telling an original story. While the call-outs are no doubt enjoyable for big fans and even casuals, it likely won’t be as exciting for newcomers (I’d recommend looking up a quick recap of the game story to enhance the viewing experience).
Though if you are a huge fan of the franchise, you will be happy to know that Resident Evil does a good job tying itself to the games beyond including a few noteworthy enemy types. Throughout the first season, several nodes to the games can be spotted, such as someone quoting how they were the “master of unlocking” to Billie and Jade doing some detective work, which reminded me a lot of some of the puzzles you’d come to expect from a Resident Evil game. They’re fun reminders of the series’ respect for its source material.
Overall, it’s a relief to see that it doesn’t mangle the lore, considering the initial teasers and plot summary certainly left even the biggest of Resident Evil fans confused as to how the same Albert Wesker that died in 2009 was also the same character in this show. As for his two daughters, while I won’t reveal the entirety of how they fit into this chaos, just know that it is nothing short of what you would expect from one of the most notable villains in the franchise and the evil megacorporation, Umbrella .
The 2022 timeline is set entirely in New Raccoon City, built from the ground up beneath the ashes of the original city. It’s a planned community that houses Umbrella Corporation employees and their families, complete with its own police and fire departments – all controlled by Umbrella.
Lance Reddick’s performance as Wesker is phenomenal but also somewhat odd at first, since it’s not the same Wesker we know in the games. He’s a family man, more level-headed than the villain fans of the series are familiar with. But trust me when I say we get more information that makes his current characterization make sense as the show progresses. Another standout performance from this timeline is Paola Núñez as Evelyn Marcus, the CEO of Umbrella Corporation. Evelyn is ambitious, impatient, and willing to do anything and everything to ensure Umbrella is profitable; her familial ties play a big part in her desire and drive to make Umbrella Corporation thrive.
The 2036 timeline, at first glance, gives a lot of Resident Evil: Extinction vibes. Everything seems dark and uncertain. While it certainly provided that post-apocalyptic atmosphere negatively impacted by Umbrella’s shady experiments, there are walled city-states, with Umbrella holding a death grip across the entire globe. Still, it’s made clear that the virus is becoming more dangerous by the day.
While both timelines tell their own original stories, the 2022 timeline ends up being the highlight. Not only do we get more backstory on Albert Wesker, especially on the circumstances for how he is still alive in this series, but the performances and chemistry from Tamara Smart and Siena Agudong are consistently engaging.
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The 2036 timeline has some intriguing ideas, particularly when we reach the last two episodes, but getting to those better parts was a slow burn that requires far too much patience in the first six episodes. I could not find myself truly emotionally invested in what Jade was up to in this timeline. Unfortunately, the 2036 timeline just slams the brake on pacing. The introduction of the characters exclusive to this plot felt extremely contrived.
We see Jade has a loving husband and daughter and a close friend, but since we never properly received any background for these relationships, it is hard to really care for them. Put that up against the characters exclusive to the 2022 timeline, where we do get gripping context and backstory that kept me emotionally invested, and it pales in comparison. Even with the emotional stakes Jade faces as someone trying to save the world and rectify her father’s sins while also struggling to be a loving mother to her daughter, the show’s most complex elements lie in the 2022 timeline, leaving the 2036 one feeling like it’s often dragging by comparison.
Even though the 2036 timeline could’ve done more to keep things moving leading up to the final two episodes, the overall pacing feels deserved by the end. Each episode had a clear A and B plot; by the end, it felt complete with a proper setup for the next episode. And despite all the darkness and chaos that ensues in both timelines, a few lighthearted moments had me laughing from time to time.
Given how both timelines end come the season finale, it effectively sets up a lot of questions on how a second season could interconnect its various moving parts and explore the Wesker twins’ deteriorating bond. Considering how eager Netflix has been lately with canceling new shows, and how much promise this series shows despite its shortcomings, I hope we are not left on a cliffhanger. There’s a lot of good in the writing of the lore and how it all fits into the Resident Evil timeline, and I would be curious to see how, if at all, it could connect to other games post-Resident Evil 5, even though the series is set in its own original universe with a good chunk of the games providing the foundation.
The special effects, for the most part, are solid and an improvement from the ones we saw in 2021’s Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City. There are plenty of zombies on screen throughout the first season, and we even see a few other enemies appear, my favorite being the Licker. Zombies, or as they are known in the show, “Zeros,” look terrifying and threatening, and yes, they run. While Resident Evil certainly had me on the edge of my seat a few times, particularly in the last episode, if you expect consistent scares, you’ll be disappointed.