What Would A "Faithful" Resident Evil Adaptation Actually Look Like?

I don’t love Netflix’s Resident Evil series. It tries too hard to be current in a way that already feels dated, there isn’t quite enough tissue to the games for my taste, and its unwillingness to explore the thematic consequences of changing Wesker’s race disappoints me. All that being said, I stand by the claim that I and many other reviewers made – this is the most faithful Resident Evil adaptation yet. Not only does it go to some lengths to not contradict the lore, but it generally operates within the same narrative and thematic bounds as the core series. Its story and characters are as Resident Evil as any of the games, yet the common refrain I’m seeing from fans online is exactly the opposite. If you think the show is some kind of betrayal of Resident Evil, I have to ask: what do you think Resident Evil is? What makes an adaptation faithful to the source material, and what exactly do you expect from a Resident Evil show?

It seems to me that a lot of people think of fidelity in very narrow terms. When they assess whether or not an adaptation is faithful to the original story, they’re only really concerned with the plot. This would explain why so many are automatically opposed to Netflix’s Resident Evil, which introduces new characters to the series and tells a completely original story. Leon, Claire, Chris, and Jill aren’t part of the story and it isn’t a retelling of the plot of the games, so it isn’t faithful to the source material. A lot of people seem to expect adaptations to directly adapt from the source, and any creative liberties or deviations from the road laid out should be considered an insult to the original.

The problem is that that ideal of what an adaptation should be doesn’t exist, and if it did, it wouldn’t be good. No movie has ever translated the original game, book, or comic in a perfect, one-to-one way. The closest example is probably Watchmen, which recreated individual frames from the comic to tell a story that still failed to capture essential qualities from the book – and with a different ending. We already know exactly what a Resident Evil adaptation that is faithful in this way looks like. It’s called Welcome to Raccoon City, and no one seemed to like that one either.

Chasing that kind of faithfulness is a waste of time. Even hitting all of the plot points perfectly doesn’t guarantee that an adaptation will be authentic to the source, and being faithful to a game is especially foolhardy considering that most games are actually pretty bad, narratively speaking. What really matters is that the adaptation tries to explore the same ideas and themes of the original, and, crucially, avoids contradicting whatever it is the source material wanted to say. A good adaptation feels like it ‘fits’ in the world that the original work created, even if the story it tells is quite different. Its perspective is aligned, meaning that any social, political, or philosophical positions it takes or concepts it explores are related to, or at least not contradicted by, the original. Netflix’s Resident Evil is a faithful adaptation because it still engages with all the things that Resident Evil is. Its themes of global capitalism, eugenics, family connections, as well as our fears of viral infections and unregulated scientific exploration are all perfectly in line with what Resident Evil has always been.

The criticisms I’ve seen toward the series on social media have confused me. Screenshots of cringey dialogue, references to Covid, and an out-of-context dance number are being used to illustrate how much the show betrays Resident Evil, but none of those things feel out of place to me at all. Resident Evil changes dramatically from game to game, and to suggest that there’s one single consistent tone throughout the whole series is either uninformed or dishonest. If you’ve only played Resident Evil 7, you would have a very different perspective about the tone of the series than if you’d only played Resident Evil 6. This is a franchise that has included, in different games, a giant robot Napoleon, a man with arms thicker than his head punching a boulder into a volcano, a man supergluing his hand back on, and rocket launchers with infinite ammo. If there’s one consistent thing about Resident Evil it’s the way it embraces camp, and criticizing the show for doing the same is unreasonable.

My favorite take of all is from the people that are discovering a newfound respect for the original Resident Evil film series, which has long been reviled by the fans. The willingness to finally embrace their over-the-top action and lore contradictions in light of Netflix’s Resident Evil proves that no one really knows what they mean when they demand a faithful adaptation. You’re welcome to dislike Netflix’s Resident Evil – I’m certainly not going to defend some of its more CW-like dialogue – but drop the whole ‘faithful’ thing. For better or worse this is a Resident Evil show. Whether you like it or not, it’s unfair and inaccurate to call it a betrayal.

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