Console Yourself: Resident Evil Degeneration
“I can’t bring myself to disagree with you there.” -Ron Davis
Format: N/A• Developer: Capcom & Partners• Released: Jan 2009
Possibly the most second baffling videogame announcement of last year was Capcom’s intention to walk down the path trodden by Final Fantasy: Advent Children, producing a CG movie instalment of their most famous franchise. Unlike the western live-action films staring Milla Jovovich, Degeneration would take place within the game’s story canon, featuring returning characters and adding new elements to the ongoing plot. My first reaction was to lament that I would have to play overseas shipping fees from Japan for what was sure to be a poor quality venture. These thoughts were abandoned, however, on hearing the most baffling announcement- that the film would have a full UK high street release. Could it really be true? Had I just been able to buy a 90-minute cut-scene from Tescos? On overcoming these existential doubts and actually inserting the disk into a DVD player, however, I was shocked for the third time, by the very last thing I expected.
It’s actually rather good.
The threat of bioterror attacks from Indian militia leader General Grande is occupying much of the US Government’s attention, but the situation closer to home is just as concerning, with a dangerous cocktail of elements being mixed at Harvardville Airport. The terminal is located close to the headquarters of the Wilpharma company, a source of controversy since leaked pictures suggested that the firm was experimenting with the infamous mutagenic T-virus. The cavalier rejection of public calls for an enquiry by Senator Ron Davis has enflamed a public still in shock from the exposure of the destroyed Umbrella Corporation’s experiments on human beings, and the horrors that resulted its work. When Davis attempts to make a surprise visit to Wilpharma, he finds opposition from a variety of sources, from militant anti-bioweapon protestors at the gates to human rights activist (and Racoon City survivor) Claire Redfield, arriving back in the US after investigating Grande’s claims. But certain parties feel the situation can be turned to their advantage…
Despite feeling staggeringly consistent with the videogame series, the film features only two pre-existing characters, plus one brief cameo. Paul Mercier reprises his Resident Evil 4 role as Leon Kennedy, and he performs to the same standard as he did in that title. The film’s Leon is the most convincing CG character, with an expression well suited to his brooding presence in the plot, and a remarkable amount of attention has been paid to his animation during the film’s closing action sequence. Meanwhile, Alyson Court‘s return allows Claire Redfield to retain her mantle as being the only character in the series to have been consistently voiced throughout. Court has always been one of the stronger members of the Resi ensemble cast, and here she delivers a good performance full stop. This sound work, however, is rather undone by the character model, which is incapable of expressing any emotion. Hearing Court emoting while Claire stands there with a blank expression makes the proceedings resemble a Gerry Anderson venture, and reminds the viewer that this isn’t a “real” film. The rest of the cast also tend to be stronger in vocal performance than computer modelling, with new ally Angela Miller and Claire’s love interest Dr Dowling also suffering the same “blank face” problem. With Leon only overcoming this problem by remaining deliberately inscrutable, the only truly successful model is that of cowardly senator Ron Davis, whose blustering self-importance is perfectly conveyed.
Although held back by ropey modelling, the film draws strength from some surprisingly solid plotting. The initial scenario, with Claire and her party of survivors having to escape the infested airport terminal, was enough for the first of the Paul Anderson Resi films in its entirety. Here, the escape story is nothing but an introductory section, resolved within 30 minutes to allow a far more interesting drama to take centre stage. When Leon and Angela have to shelter from a wall of flame, the script discreetly ensures that the water feature utilised was introduced half an hour earlier. There’s consistent skill shown in the misdirection, with the writer able to keep diverting the viewer’s attention though a minor mystery, while feeding them apparently unimportant information that will be critical to an action sequence or the central question of who is really behind events.
What gives the film such a reassuring feel is the proof that Capcom absolutely understand the world they have created. Although Wilpharma is only introduced in this game, it feels entirely consistent with the setting, and the nature of the threat means that we see the Resi formula functioning perfectly well in the absence of its usual black hats of Umbrella and Albert Wesker. The series’ creative directors also understand their fans, taunting those who have been rooting for Leon and Claire as a couple since their introduction in Resident Evil 2. By being unafraid to introduce new elements and walk its own path, the film succeeds in establishing its own identity as convincingly as any of the games, and it’s almost a shame when the final few scenes are used as set-up for the forthcoming Resident Evil 5. Although it may well have been commissioned as a part of the publicity drive for the fifth title, the result is fresh and independent enough to have stood on its own merits.
It’s impossible to overlook Degeneration’s weaknesses. The dodgy CG is too low budget to ever allow you to ignore it, with inexpressive character faces damaging the drama, and Angela is at times given some abysmally weak dialogue. But it’s also surprising easy to appreciate its strengths, and to hope that the “Resident Evil CG Film Partnership” is given another crack at the whip sooner rather than later…