Review: Resident Evil - Damnation / Cert: 15 / Director: Makoto Kamiya / Screenplay: Shotaro Suga / Starring: (voices) Matthew Mercer, Courtenay Taylor, Val Tasso, Robin Sachs, Salli Saffioti, Dave Wettenberg, Wendee Lee, / Release Date: Out Now
Unlike its shambling zombies, the Resident Evil franchise shows no sign of slowing down. It's a busy year to be a fan - with the fifth live-action instalment in cinemas now and the sixth videogame also out on consoles everywhere, this animated movie whets the palate for the latter in inimitable Resident Evil style. Those who prefer the former may feel a little lost.
With Paul WS Anderson's loose adaptation of the games very much blazing its own trail (for better or worse) the animated movie offers a more canonical experience. Fan favourites Leon S. Kennedy and Ada Wong take centre stage for Damnation, and are far more recognisable here than they are in Anderson's latest feature. The characters of the live-action Resident Evil series are effectively interchangeable, related to their videogame counterparts in name only (although Retribution gets Leon's ridiculous fringe right, at least) so it's good that we have these animated films to show what the characters are really like, when they're not being controlled by your thumbs (this reviewer spent most of Resident Evil 5 running away from things and dying, painfully).
In Damnation, special agent Leon S. Kennedy investigates rumours of biological warfare in a war-torn Eastern European country. As is wont to happen any time anyone investigates anything in a Resident Evil story, he is immediately attacked by sinister forces both human and not. Joined by tough mercenary Ada Wong, he attempts to defuse the threat and stay alive, beset by Lickers and angry locals alike. No zombies though, which is a disappointment.
Like its predecessor, Degeneration, the film caters more to fans of the videogames rather than casual viewers. There's no introduction to the characters, nor much effort made to explain who anyone is. It gets downright convoluted fast, with lots of plot going on. Well, it wouldn't be Resident Evil if everything made sense all the time.
An advantage of using CGI animation over live action means that it always feels as though it's part of the Resident Evil universe; particularly the faster, more cinematic games of the past few years. Sometimes, this is to the film's detriment – looking and feeling like a cut-scene from one of the games means that we were left with a constant sense of itchy thumbs, waiting for it all to be over with so as we could have a go ourselves. The animation looks great, particularly during the gorier, more horror inspired scenes, and those involving Kennedy's biggest threat – the Lickers. The humans don't fare quite so well though, always looking expressionless and dead-eyed, like a shop dummy or something out of The Polar Express. That's fine in a videogame cut-scene, but it makes it very difficult to care about a film's protagonist when they spend most of the time staring into space like one of the zombies they're supposed to be fighting.
Resident Evil: Degeneration will appeal to die-hard fans of Resident Evil more than casual observers. It's action packed, gruesome and tense. Best of all, it's entirely canonical.