Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness has some pleasures for long-time fans, but it’s inconsistent in every way and winds up feeling inessential.
This review of Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is spoiler-free.
It’s difficult to overstate the popularity of Resident Evil these days. I remember when it was niche! But a run of games ranging from outright terrible to all-time great, including at least two complete reinventions of the franchise in the fourth and seventh mainline entries, an extensive series of awful but prominent live-action adaptations, and three CG movies, have given the Japanese franchise a mainstream multimedia appeal. Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness, a continuation of the vibe and aesthetic if not necessarily the absolutely gonzo tone of Resident Evil: Vendetta, is the first of two planned Netflix shows that’ll continue to develop the franchise for a global streaming audience, and it’s a mixed bag that’ll please long-time fans by adhering very closely to the usual formula, but likely baffle and confuse newcomers with all kinds of series-specific bullshit that so many of us have learned to accept or ignore.
That formula is simple enough. Any Resi story plucks a couple of recognizable characters from a small pool – it’s Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield again this time, though the latter gets very little to do – and shoves them into a conspiracy that always involves corrupt pharmaceutical corporations, shady government conspiracies, viruses and/or parasites, and a menagerie of monstrous undead creations, usually on-hand to do the bidding of some sleazy government muckety-muck or arch cartoon villain. Infinite Darkness also dabbles in one of the series’ favorite recent themes, which is American military interventionism, since the plot revolves quite determinedly around the fallout from a civil war in the made-up nation of Penamstan, where Claire Redfield is working as a representative of TerraSave, the human rights organization from Resident Evil: Degeneration that I’ve just saved you having to Google.
Elsewhere, Leon, basically an all-action celebrity after saving the president’s daughter, Ashley, in Resident Evil 4, is drafted once again by the White House into an elite team tasked with getting to the bottom of a cyber attack on the Pentagon’s classified military secrets. And, of course, both seemingly disparate narratives are intertwined in a variety of ways, most of them laughably predictable. But the show seems to enjoy its cheesy plotting in the same way a lot of entries in this franchise have, even before the fourth game made camp self-awareness part of the overall appeal. There are, to my mind, two major problems with it all, and as a result, mileage is going to vary even for die-hard fans.
The first problem is tone. Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness sits between the fourth and fifth games on the timeline, but the public’s relationship with the franchise has drastically changed since then. After Resident Evil VII returned the franchise to its horror roots with a grotesque madhouse only tangentially related to the series’ overarching plot, Resident Evil 2 Remake applied the same scare-first formula to an older classic, so these days most people expect Resident Evil to be frightening. And Infinite Darkness isn’t. It reunites the remake’s playable characters, capably voiced by the same actors, but has none of that game’s creeping dread. Instead, its globetrotting action is reminiscent of the franchise from 2005-2012, when it tried to reinvent its entire cast as high-kicking boulder-punching anime superhumans, but it seems hesitant to lean all the way into those extremes the way Vendetta did. So, what we’re left with is an imbalanced focus on Leon’s covert mission, and a half-baked, tokenistic subplot for Claire to unravel that keeps her almost completely sidelined at best and reduces her to a damsel in distress at worst.
The second problem is length, both of the season overall and the individual episodes, of which there are four, each running about 25 minutes. It’s a chopped-up feature film, essentially, but the pieces aren’t always assembled in a way that makes much sense, leading to an overabundance of flashbacks and perspective changes to try and cram all the details in, which oftentimes amounts to confusion more than anything else. The finale is the worst offender, essentially playing out like a full episode of one of the game’s now-standard self-destructing lab sequences, but with a bevy of unceremonious character deaths and hastily wrapped-up plot elements just to come in under the allotted runtime.
There are things to like. A lot of the best parts of Resident Evil are all here, and many will find them enjoyable. Some of the set-pieces – both light horror and all-out action – are excellent, it’s full of nods and winks for long-time fans, Leon and Claire continue to have great chemistry, and there’s an admirable sense of complete nuttiness to it all that’s worthy of some respect. But the downsides, I think, outweigh the highlights, leading to an overall experience that is inconsistent in everything from its tone and plotting to its animation and character focus. Hopefully, the next one will be better.