DVD Review: Resident Evil Degeneration
Well, this turned out pretty much as I expected it to. Resident Evil Degeneration is the canonical animated feature by Capcom, the makers of the Resident Evil video games themselves - an Advent Children style attempt to expand on the directorial skills that they've acquired while crafting cinematics for their games. Yep, Degeneration is basically a ninety minute Resident Evil cut-scene. I'm sure some of you have left the building already.
Rather bravely, Degeneration makes no bones about being completely for the fans. Those of us familiar with the series don't need to hear any exposition about the nature of the G and T viruses, and those unfamiliar are unlikely to particularly enjoy being subjected to it. Similarly, there's no attempt to rehash the background behind Leon and Claire's friendship, their experiences in Raccoon City during Resident Evil 2 (though there's a nice little flashback), or their adventures since. It's difficult to tell just how obscure this makes things for the uninitiated, but you can't fault the decision. The decision to still throw in a few cringe-worthy bits of emotional exposition from two new characters: tough girl Angela and Sherry Birkin substitute Rani, is a little more difficult to sympathise with.
If I ask myself what I like most about the Resident Evil games, it's their atmosphere: tense, desolate, eerie. But this atmosphere is cultivated primarily through participation - ruined environments that you explore yourself, spine-tingling vistas that you take in at your own pace, dark doorways that you enter only when you've plucked up enough courage. Necessarily, this aspect is drastically reduced in Degeneration, and instead we're left with all the other aspects of Resident Evil: the haphazard plotting, the impressive but slightly imperfect action sequences, the melodramatic moments of character.
Not that any of that is too disagreeable, or at all unexpected. If you're already engaged with this world, you'll be used to it, and consider it more than outweighed by the chance to see these strong yet paper-thin characters (who we've struggled alongside through such ordeals) battling against weird, inconsistent conspiracies once again. It's also nice that there's some attempt at creating stylish character designs beyond just making them look 'realistic' - in particular I liked the fat, rubbery senator and the nicely elfin depiction of Claire. The strangely flat-faced Leon and strong-jawed Angela, though, might be said to dip a toe or two into the uncanny valley.
Naturally, this release is tied into the upcoming arrival of Resident Evil 5. On the one hand, I think this works quite well. At first glance you might think that the idea of Leon and Claire stumbling into yet another zombie outbreak seems a bit much, but this is our introduction to a world where the collapse of Umbrella has made monster-making viruses the weapon du jour for terrorists around the world. Having two of the franchise's most popular characters experience such an incident first hand provides a nice window into this alternate history.
But on the other hand, the film inevitably leads up to an 'it's not all over yet, folks!' ending that falls rather flat. Merely referencing something not obviously sinister that will appear in RE5 is no kind of teaser or cliffhanger, and anyone who's not yet seen the trailers for the new game will probably be completely baffled.
As a fan of the Resident Evil series of games, I'm glad to own this movie, and I'll probably wind up watching it more times than are healthy. But if I ask myself honestly why any non-fan would be interested in this, I can't come up with anything. While a new game has the space to flesh out backstory and character history at a leisurely pace, a ninety minute film can only avoid it altogether or try and cram it down your throat by the fistful. Degeneration makes the right choice in that regard, but it means that if you're not sure if this movie is for you, it probably isn't.