I’ve been slowly making my way through all of the main Resident Evil games over the past couple of years—all I have left to tackle at this point is Resident Evil 3, and then I’ll finally be able to get to Village—and something I’ve found fascinating is how the tone of the franchise has shifted so wildly as its universe constantly expands. It’s a point that many fans have made about the series, including some of my favorite critics (Noah Gervais’ massive retrospective on YouTube has some especially keen insights on the matter). The biggest thing that stands out for me is how, particularly in the parts of the RE timeline that take place between the fourth and sixth games, the ongoing adventures of the Raccoon City survivors take on a character that can best be compared to the kinds of pulpy tomes that every middle-aged salaryman collects on their business trips to and from the airport.
If you need more evidence of this, look no further than Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, which is CAPCOM‘s latest effort to branch the series out into flashy CGI animation, and Netflix‘s latest attempt to chop up a feature film into a handful of arbitrary “episodes” and pass it off as some kind of limited event series. It is also the most obvious ploy yet to transform Leon S. Kennedy, who started life in Resident Evil 2 as a vaguely believable rookie cop, into the Jack Ryan of the Resident Evil universe. Also, Claire Redfield is here, presumably because the movie began development right around when the incredible RE 2 remake came out, and CAPCOM wanted to capitalize on its success by…releasing a movie that takes place in between the Resident Evil 4 and 5 and adds absolutely nothing new or interesting to the larger canon of the games.
To Infinite Darkness’ credit, it isn’t like any of the other canon RE spinoffs have done much to add to the series’ lore, either, except for how much they, well, add to the lore. This is where the comparison to cheap airport thrillers comes into play, because like the tens of thousands of Tom Clancy knockoffs that are filling the worlds landfills on any given continent, Infinite Darkness is an efficient machine of mildly entertaining gobbledygook. For Leon, who at this point in the chronology has only recently returned from rescuing the president’s daughter from a cult of parasite infested Spaniards in RE 4, this new-but-also-old adventure is business as usual. He trots around the White House with his perfectly coiffed hair, glowering intensely at people as they exposit about government conspiracies, bioterrorism experiments done on U.S. soldiers, and all the other expected RE staples.
Claire, for her part, is officially working for Terra Save, the anti-bioterrorism organization that crops up in the Resident Evil Revelations spinoff games. Now, I’m actually a fan of the idea that there are just so many Evil Pharmaceutical Corporations out there in the RE world, all of them turning people into zombie monsters left and right, that there would even need to be a massive counter-organization just to manage it all. Infinite Darkness doesn’t do anything creative with that potential, though, and Claire’s B-plot shenanigans were maybe the most disappointing thing about the show in general. She’s my favorite character from the games, and her rapport with Leon and other major characters is often very appealing. In Infinite Darkness, though, she is stuck on the sidelines playing detective for the majority of the four episodes, and she only barely stumbles into the action in the final act. There is a hint of interesting conflict that might be brewing between Leon and Claire that I would have loved to see developed, but it literally doesn’t come up until the final scene of the series, and I’m pretty sure that the two characters haven’t even interacted with one another since then in any other media.
The new characters that do get to participate in Leon S. Kennedy’s Globetrotting Mission to Kill Even More Zombies are Jason and Shen May, and they’re…fine? Seeing as they have literally never been mentioned or heard from again in any of the stories that take place after Infinite Darkness, it’s hard to feel like they’re anything other than bit players who have been elevated to the main ensemble simply because other franchise mainstays Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine couldn’t be bothered to fly in for a cameo appearance. The voice actors all do their best, and it is admittedly nice to hear Nick Apostolides and Stephanie Panisello reprise their roles as Leon and Claire from the RE 2 remake, but the dialogue suffers from the latter-day Resident Evil games worst instincts. It’s all exposition and one-liners, with no end in sight, and none of the nerve-rattling tension or warm banter from the best RE stories that make all of that a lot more bearable.
“Okay,” you might be saying, “But nobody actually gets into Resident Evil looking for an amazing story. Do we get to see some zombies explode real good, or what?” And to that, hypothetical strawman, I can only respond: “Eh? I guess.” Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from the wonky CG of 2008’s Resident Evil: Degeneration, and a lot of the work that TMS and Quebico have done here looks pretty good…in still frames. When the characters and zombies are moving, though, things get a lot more inconsistent. A lot of their actions lack weight and momentum, and there are a number of scenes in each of the four episodes where the character models don’t quite look like they belong to the same plane of reality as everything around them. The direction from Eiichirō Hasumi is okay for the most part, as is the music and sound-design, but in general, I don’t think you will be seeing anything in Infinite Darkness that you couldn’t also see in any one of the modern games.
Plus, the games have the added benefit of all that gameplay, which is what tends to make Resident Evil interesting, exciting, and sometimes even—gasp—a little scary. Without the benefit of getting to play around Resident Evil’s wacky world of undead espionage for a dozen hours or so, Infinite Darkness doesn’t have much to offer. It is, in the best and worst of ways, a collection of good-looking videogame cutscenes that have been cut out and hung to dry on Netflix‘s content clotheslines. Hardcore Resident Evil completionists may feel compelled to check it out, since you can binge the whole thing in under two hours, but everyone else would do better to seek out the other, better zombie shows out there, which undoubtedly have a lot more meat on their bones to chew on.