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Movie Review: Resident Evil: Degeneration

[WARNING: There are a few minor spoilers in this review.]

Resident Evil: Degeneration
Resident Evil: Degeneration

Resident Evil is a landmark video game deserving of its stellar reputation. It has spawned numerous sequels--some better than others--and the franchise continues to be one of the biggest video game juggernauts out there, right alongside such other greats as Mario, Zelda, and Halo. However, attempts to bring the game to the big screen have met with some pretty dismal results, though Paul Anderson's Resident Evil films remain one of my guilty pleasures (don't get me wrong, they are bad movies). Still, Resident Evil: Degeneration is a new attempt, one that adheres to the universe in a way that Anderson's films definitely do not and brings the story to life using CG rather than live action.

The story follows franchise regulars Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield during an outbreak of the T-virus at an airport about a year after the events of Resident Evil 4. Surrounding this event is a shady pharmaceutical company, WilPharma, along with an organized search and rescue-slash-protest group called TerraSave, of which Claire is a member. There is also a fairly typical cast of stereotypical characters--the evil fat politician, the ambiguous corporate guy, the long-haired terrorist, the blood-thirsty marine, and the beautiful young female with big guns and even bigger breasts. All in all, a pretty good set-up for a Resident Evil storyline.

Claire and Leon reunite to kill some more zombies
Claire and Leon reunite to kill some more zombies

Unfortunately, the story fails to take advantage of its made-for-zombie setting by quickly taking the action out of the airport and separating the cast of characters after an all-too-brief bout of zombie hunting. There is one pretty interesting twist followed by several lame ones, and by the end of the story, you're not left with much to care about. The characters are one-dimensional and do not move the plot forward on their own (especially the main character, Leon, who is so stiff he might as well be Keanu Reeves under heavy sedation); the melodrama is wasted on an insignificant backstory that seems to serve the sole purpose of giving Leon an important-sounding line at the climax; the action is brief and interspersed with painfully long sequences of unnecessary exposition; and the characters don't have any interplay or chemistry to speak of. While there is a brief moment where you question whether the obvious villains are something other than what they seem, this potentially wonderful turning point is wasted when it becomes clear that the bad guys are actually the bad guys.

But hey, you don't go into a Resident Evil movie expecting a good plot, right? There are a few positives worth mentioning. For example, it appears early on that Claire is going to wind up babysitting an annoying little girl--Rani Chawla--for the whole movie, but there is a moment of relief when the girl is removed from the story. And while there are some odd lapses of logic (why would a facility designed to house dangerous biological materials be held up with positive pressure?), the majority of the story makes sense in the context of the Resident Evil universe. And, speaking of that universe, if you are a fan of the video games, this movie will not forsake what you love the way Anderson's films do; it stays continuous with the story laid out in the games and, in many ways, feels more like a video game installment in the series than a movie.

Sombody needs a breath mint
Sombody needs a breath mint

That may be why the movie ultimately fails to be very good: the entire story would have been better as a game. Seriously, a Resident Evil game set in an airport? Where can I sign up for that? It would be awesome.

All of this could be forgiven if the CG were good and the zombie-killing action exciting. Alas, all this fails too. On the surface, the CG isn't bad, especially when there are no people in the shot. Details are crisp, textures are deep, and there is complex layering and lighting. Hair and water, usually so difficult for computer animation, are pulled off really well. But the people are as wooden as their characters. A lack of dynamic facial movement, especially in the cheeks, eyes, lips, and forehead, makes everybody talk as though they've been injected with David Hasselhoff's entire stockpile of botox; occasionally the dialogue will be loud and intense, but the people on screen look like they might as well be reading from the telephone book.

At times, the music seems like it is emphatically trying to make up for the poor animation. There are scenes that aren't all that impressive that are accompanied with this sweeping, dramatic score that winds up totally out of place. This is a problem, especially late in the film.

Tip to story writers: if you have a character with a helmet who becomes a zombie, leave the helmet on so he is impervious to headshots!
Tip to story writers: if you have a character with a helmet who becomes a zombie, leave the helmet on so he is impervious to headshots!

And while the actual zombies look pretty good--better, in fact, than the uninfected--it's impossible to discuss the film's CG flaws without discussing the big baddie of the film. Without giving much away, the climax of the movie involves a pretty bad-ass fight with a big monster. The monster, from a conceptual stand-point, is cool-looking and gross, but the animation of this interesting creature is sorely lacking. It looks kind of like stop-motion animation thrown into a CG setting, and the whole thing comes off as disjointed and unusual, and not in a good way. This is a big disappointment, and it takes away from what would otherwise be the highlight of the movie.

And that's how it is with the whole movie. On the surface, it seems like a good plot, but the execution is weak. The characters have the potential to be dynamic and interesting, but they never change or do anything surprising. The CG, if you look at a still picture, appears to be pretty solid, but the animation and voice synchonization are awful. So, while I can imagine how this movie could have been done right, I stand by my opinion that Resident Evil shouldn't try to be anything but a video game.


While the movie has a lot of potential, the final product is little more than a poorly-executed mess.

-e. magill, 02/16/2009

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