Against my better judgment, I’m a major Resident Evil fan. I’ve stuck with the survival horror-cum-action series since the early 2000s and have followed it through its darkest,boulder-punching days. I’ve never not enjoyed the series even when most of the world turned its back on it—whether ridiculous or genuinely chilling, Resident Evil has always had something for me, and it’s been a delight to see the franchise receive an uptick in popularity since Resident Evil 7. Perhaps unsurprising for most, Capcom has a difficult time maintaining this momentum.
Netflix’s Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is Capcom’s latest foray into on-screen adaptation for their most beloved survival horror franchise. The show is something of a follow-up to 2008’s Resident Evil: Degeneration, which is wedged in the extensive Resident Evil timeline between series darling Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5, typically seen as the genesis of a great decline in the franchise’s acclaim. Just like Degeneration, Infinite Darkness stars two of the franchise’s most notable characters: Leon S. Kennedy, a rookie police officer turned U.S. federal agent, and Claire Redfield, Chris Redfield’s younger sister and a member of TerraSave, a global humanitarian aid non-profit. Infinite Darkness concerns their separate journeys uncovering a White House conspiracy from an inside and outside perspective, which of course eventually converge.
There are a few misleading things about Infinite Darkness right off the bat. For one, the show advertises itself as a miniseries focused on Leon and Claire. In reality, it’s more akin to a movie divided into 4 parts. Infinite Darkness is laser-focused on Leon and Claire’s separate storylines to the point that the TV-style format does no favors for it—it would have had a much cleaner presentation if it had simply been cut as a movie. Similarly, Infinite Darkness hardly mirrors the recent creepy survival horror elements of Resident Evil Village or the recent 2 and 3 remakes. In fact, it feels like a bizarre return to the franchise just before it’s soft reboot; it’s much more of a political thriller a la Edge of Darkness (in other words, movies only your dad would like).
The show opens in Penamstan, a fictional country in the Middle East that is a not-so-subtle stand-in for Afghanistan. Penamstan underwent a Civil War six years prior to the show’s start, which led to military intervention from the United States. Penamstan is still in a state of turmoil and is a key territory for both the United States and China, so we’re meant to infer that the United States stepping in to assist with Penamstan’s rebuilding would cause a ripple effect that could lead to a war with China. Seems like a massive leap, but this is only the tip of the iceberg with the fumbled political themes of Infinite Darkness.
In Penamstan, Claire is working towards refugee relief and assisting with the building of schools to help get Penamstan’s youth back on track. She meets a young boy traumatized after witnessing a squad of American soldiers reanimate into zombies and wipe out a whole cavalcade of Penamstanis. This reminds Claire of what happened back in Racoon City in Resident Evil 2, so she heads to the White House to investigate. There, Leon is meeting with the president and two federal agents named Jason and Shenmei to discuss a cyberattack seemingly launched by China on the Pentagon. There’s a zombie outbreak in the building, and Leon saves the president (again).
Leon, Shenmei, and Jason head to Shanghai, where we soon learn that their motivations are not what they seem. Jason continually mutters something about “terror” and “fear,” as well as the fact that federal agents have to value the country over civilians as opposed to police (which somehow makes him a foil to Leon, who used to be a cop for one whole day). This further frustrates the supposed political storyline the show is attempting—they turn a valid criticism of intelligence agencies into a meme-worthy catchphrase. Somewhere in Infinite Darkness there is a glimmer of political consciousness making valid points on war profiteering, American meddling in global affairs, and the moral duty of whistleblowers. This is all unfortunately obscured by flaccid action and both-sideisms courtesy of Leon, which is a pretty disappointing arc for a character I otherwise had grown to love.
As for the leading duo, they feel refreshingly familiar and are easily the best part of the show. Leon’s back with some tongue-in-cheek quips (who else would say “wish I had some cheese” before being attacked by a squadron of zombie rats?), and Claire, despite getting the short-end of the stick in terms of screentime, is a delightful moral compass for an otherwise fraught series. This is only made all the more frustrating when a wedge is shoved between Claire and Leon, where Leon chooses loyalty to the government over exposing something that could have probably saved a ton of lives in the long run. The show is clearly trying to fill in a hole on the state of Claire and Leon’s relationship after Resident Evil 4, but occasionally lore comes at the cost of satisfying or logical conclusions. Claire’s motivation is always with assisting Penamstan however she can, but the show orients itself around Penamstan being little more than a pawn in some mercurial war between state actors.
Despite all the troubling elements in Infinite Darkness, it probably won’t get the sort of buzz required to have any actual discourse surrounding it. There’s a lot to dig in here in how Americanized propaganda finds itself even in Japanese-made survival horror franchises, and how China is consistently portrayed as a squalid hive of villains, but Infinite Darkness has a barrier to entry due to its heavy reliance on a preexisting investment in the greater Resident Evil series. Maybe we should count ourselves lucky for that.
Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness is now streaming on Netflix.
Austin Jones is a writer with eclectic media interests. You can chat with him about horror games, electronic music, Joanna Newsom and ‘80s-‘90s anime on Twitter @belfryfire
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