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Resident Evil: Damnation – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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U.S. Federal agent Leon S. Kennedy sneaks into the “East Slavic Republic” to verify rumors that Bio-Organic Weapons (BOWs) are being used in the country’s civil war, which the U.S. and Russia are making preparations to jointly intervene in. Right after his infiltration, the U.S. government orders him to leave immediately. Determined to uncover the truth, Leon ignores the order and enters the battlefield to end the chain of tragedies caused by the BOWs.

As someone who would consider himself a longtime fan of the Resident Evil video game franchise, the prospect of a film adaptation of the game series has always left me with some skepticism. This feeling isn’t unwarranted considering, in my opinion, the rather unfortunate direction that the live-action film franchise has decided to take. Presenting a heavy focus on the aspect of action rather than keeping true to the original premise of survival horror, the live-action film series has almost completely taken on a life of its own, entirely separating itself from the foundations of its original source material. Couple this with the fact that the live-action films have been released at a rather nauseating pace—as of this review, five films have been released thus far—the series has simply devolved into mindless action fanfare that does little to none in elevating the mythos of the series. This all changed with the addition of Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008), a CG animated film that at least had the decency to remain within the Resident Evil video game universe. Helmed by director Makoto Kamiya, the film was a cooperative effort by Capcom Studios and Sony Pictures Animation, a combination that effectively brought about the Resident Evil universe in a more appropriate fashion. With Kamiya returning to the directorial helm with Resident Evil: Damnation, we see the two studios team up once again to expand upon the world of Resident Evil.

One of the interesting elements of Resident Evil: Damnation is that it effectively explores how the use of bio-organic weapons can influence both emotionally and physically the populace in which they are loosed upon. This is an approach that is shown throughout the video game series, and is a tradition carried over to this film as well. With the tragic societal effects of such bio-weaponry use being showcased amidst the bloodshed and brutality of a civil war, we slowly begin to see the emotional strife that takes place even amongst brothers in arms. When one of the characters defiantly refuses to shoot an infected individual due to him being a past teacher of his, the film questions the possibility of how far one could go in regards to killing someone they know or care about, which is a strong theme within the film. The real-world possibility of such bio-weaponry is a genuine concern within our modern world as well, with the film exploring the concept of its deployment in a small, inner country conflict in order to harm and control a populace. With the risks ever so high, we see the dangerous realm that biological weaponry resides in. Of course, those who have some familiarity with zombie-related films or series will not find this approach unique to this film alone, but it does a surprisingly good job at elevating the material far beyond most video game-to-live-action adaptations.

The film also produces many scary moments that certainly made me jump as a viewer, which is very reflective of the video game series itself. In fact, the film effectively combines both moments of horror and action, which is an approach that the later video games in the series have done quite well. This creates multiple moments of tension that do a great job in engaging the viewer into the narrative of the film. One such moment can be seen in simply attempting to pry open a door…while being chased by a horde of infected. Moments like these are simple but are executed in a way that reminds us that Resident Evil is a universe bound by elements of survival horror, with a huge emphasis on the survival part. This is one element that I feel has been left out within the live-action film series, which often relies too much on obnoxiously over-the-top action sequences in a vain attempt to make up for not offering a plausible storyline.

But, as any fan of the later video games in the series would know, the action elements within the overall franchise have been increasing as well—thankfully not on par with the live-action films—as is seen vividly in Resident Evil: Damnation. While the aspect of horror remains a considerable focus within the narrative, the film shines in its exceptionally well-placed action sequences that are nicely choreographed and extremely visceral, which is far from an understatement. With a slew of infected zombies, lickers, and tyrants—yes, you heard right, tyrants—facing the human characters within the film, the action complements the elements of horror that is displayed. This can be viewed somewhat as a drawback to some viewers who would prefer aspects of horror to be the prominent focus of the film, but by having both, and doing them quite well, it balances the film in a manner that should appease both crowds. With numerous moments in the film leaning heavily upon offering an adrenaline rushing to the viewer, even the most hardened of Resident Evil fans will at least have to appreciate the incredible effort that went into detailing these scenes. While certainly not on par visually with that of say, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005), the animators at Capcom and Sony Pictures Animation do an exceptional job at creating an authentic, real-life world in which to base the film’s characters in. This approach makes the possibility of such events much more plausible than not, with war torn streets and dilapidated exteriors, it presents some familiarity to us as viewers in regards to the television footage of utter devastation we often see of a country in disarray.

As in Resident Evil: Degeneration, Resident Evil: Damnation offers fans of the Resident Evil video game series a sanctuary from the unfortunate live-action films. The film offers a realistic exploration of Leon S. Kennedy as a character, as well as basing the film within the confines of a somewhat real-world political conflict that nicely grounds the film; one receives an overall impressive addition to the universe of Resident Evil. In many ways, this film exceeds that of Resident Evil: Degeneration both in scope and narrative, not getting too far ahead of itself in regards to following a logical story—that is until the grandiose concluding battle. While there are still some setbacks—the aforementioned final battle is stunning but also borders somewhat on the absurd side—those accustomed to the prior video games within the series will feel right at home. While the film may not be too welcoming to viewers unfamiliar with Resident Evil in general, Resident Evil: Damnation still stands as a testament to creating a wonderful, complementary story to one of the most beloved video game series of all time—let’s hope Capcom continues to uphold such a tradition in regards to its cinematic endeavors.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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