With no Milla Jovovich in sight and a story that stays true to the RE universe more or less, Resident Evil: Damnation exceeds the somewhat low expectations set for it as it provides a fun and somewhat thrilling experience. On top of the standard RE levels of diabolical plans which are never laid out perfectly, Damnation ends up being a good action movie which rests high above the mediocre and dreadful offerings we've received in the past.
+ Story is simple, dumb, filled typical characters – it’s pure Resident Evil.
+ Leon isn’t a muscle bound mope with an emo haircut as he’s instead a one-liner cracking badass.
+ None of the action scenarios are similar to one another and ….
+ Stylistically the movie has some true character to it even though the visuals are a bit inconsistent.
+ Acting manages to make a silly plot acceptable thanks to the talents of actors such as Matthew Mercer.
- Visuals are inconsistent in some areas and aren’t prime top-tier material.
- Plot has some rather gaping holes but such a thing is par for the course for the RE franchise.
Sometimes when we play a video game we may come to a certain realization, in particular the wonderful thought of “Wouldn’t this be cool as a movie?” For the last decade or so video games have matched if not exceeded the scope of certain Hollywood movies, but at the same time the feeling always creeps up on us of seeing a particular world brought to life in a live-action setting and perhaps being expanded upon, either to add a little more thematic juice to the story or even up the action quotient higher than what we were able to control.
Of course when a video game property does go the movie route the result is often mixed if not terrible, but then another notion comes up, “Wouldn’t this be better if it was CG and/or handled by the actual game developer/publisher?” And thus gamers find themselves in another quandary of sorts as to what sort of experience they want. Going the CG route with a video game may seem to be the antithesis of making a movie to begin with as it may be viewed as a step above a video game, but then thoughts may go through our heads such as whether or not a real actress, that isn’t made of plastic or the scalpel of a surgeon, can ever fulfill the aura of Lara Croft.
Well after a somewhat lackluster debut film which was oddly enough meant to serve as a separate entity to the existing live-action film series, Capcom has finally done the Resident Evil series justice with Resident Evil: Damnation; a film that manages to translate the horror, action, non-sensiscal stories, and gaps of logic the legendary series is known the most for.
As a Resident Evil fan I decided to take a risk more or less by watching Resident Evil: Degeneration, the first CG film produced by Capcom and Sony Pictures. I use the word risk as going into the movie I knew the chances of it being good were as low as a lone Raccoon City citizen surviving the T-virus outbreak without becoming zombie chow or nothing but ash. Such thoughts on Degeneration were confirmed since despite including Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield the film plodded along from action moments to scenes of drama which were tepid in their execution. Being Mr. Jaded Gamer Extraordinaire I didn’t think RE: Damnation would be that much of an improvement, but Capcom seemingly rectified the problems found in its first effort and in the process delivers a movie that longtime Resident Evil fans won’t feel shameful for watching.
Once again set within the canon of the Resident Evil games, Damnation doesn’t serve as a direct prelude to RE6, but it more or less provides a little extra glimpse at to why certain things may have happened without being an integral thing to watch in order to know all the facts. Set within an Eastern European country plagued by civil war over territory and oil, RE: Damnation once again has Leon S. Kennedy trying to deal with BOWs (bio-organic weapons) all while trying to uncover whose behind the bio-weapons and pto ut an end to things once and for all. I’s a basic RE plot minus having half a dozen plot strings and a robust cast of secondary characters meant to serve as exposition tools or as meat bags for monsters to consume.
While Degeneration had a basic premise that somehow trudged along as it attempted to be serious despite having action moments that puts what’s found in the live-action Resident Evil movies to shame in the outlandish department, the film was a complete bore. Seriously, finding a positive in Degeneration is a hard thing to do since it suffered from that certain disconnect that some Japanese produced video game films suffer from; namely it doesn’t know what narrative elements to pick up from the games or how to adapt the characters gamers cherish. Damnation on the other hand keeps things short and sweet as it doesn’t lag in putting the plot into action, and more importantly it doesn’t feature a strained relationship between a sister and brother we couldn’t care less about.
Damnation’s strength rests in how it actually keeps a rather brisk pace without putting the plot on the backburner completely. There are definitely some plot holes within the film as one particular element is never clearly addressed, it involves those pesky Plagas, but the way in which it’s glossed over can just be chalked up as traditional Resident Evil element – things don’t need to be explained as long as the conclusion is ultimately reached. Plot holes aside, besides the pacing of Damnation which makes the 1hr 40 minute runtime go by rather fast, the movie does a rather excellent job at adapting the core characters such as Leon and Ada Wong.
Leon is the central character in Damnation as he’s doing his James Bond secret agent thing, but he isn’t as totally devoid of personality as was the case in Degeneration nor does he have that slightly off putting hair style. While Leon may have some odd looking stubble in an attempt to presumably make him look more manly in Damnation, his core character is confident and he’s in full-on action movie mode as the one-liners are plentiful and thankfully have a nice punch to them without being consistently cringe worthy. The supporting cast in Damnation, including Ada, may not be as fleshed out as Leon when it comes to writing, but there are some nice elements such as characters that rest in a shade of grey along with an antagonist who isn’t some crazed scientist or a former Umbrella employee trying to continue the legacy.
Sections of the writing in Damnation were a bit weak as one particular character was a bit annoying in his love of American products; he even has an “urban edge” that comes across as a tamer and less stupid version of Ali G if he was a Euro freedom fighter. But even then the film does an admirable job at making such a character become likeable and even better it doesn’t end up with everyone walking off in the sunset. Ultimately the success of the characters being believable more or less and likeable is due to the voice acting which remains consistent on all fronts thanks to actors such as Matthew Mercer (Leon), and new characters voiced by actors such as Dave Wittenberg.
At this point the Resident Evil series is full-on survival action as opposed to survival horror and that tone is present in Damnation. In some ways it makes sense for a movie to be more action oriented, but unlike RE6 it doesn’t feel too out of place in Damnation and the tone of a Resident Evil experience. The setting of an old Eastern European city does lend the film a slight style that’s similar to the old RE games in its usage of gothic archicture and dimly lit underground tunnels with things scattering in the distance. The setting of Degeneration hardly had an impact of the film or the action itself, aside from Leon doing epic parkour as a facility purges itself, but in Damnation the setting feels like a true character and such a thing is played up in the action scenes.
Besides Leon doing his standard run and shoot stuff, Damnation doesn’t fall into one direct pattern of having hordes of zombies pop up, serve as shooting targets, chase the heroes, and then boss X pops up at the end. Standard battles with the Plagas are in Damnation, but the chief action occurs in some rather inventive ways thanks to the inclusion of the Lickers as the chief enemies and a nice appearance by a classic RE baddie that I dare won’t spoil.
Moments of the action sequences in Damnation do seem to be tailored for 3D as that’s the format the film is being released theatrically in Japan, but it’s never too distracting nor did it seem like I was missing something by not seeing the action in the 3D format. There are fewer obvious moments of slow-motion as it’s used sparingly instead of on a near consistent basis in a “look at me, I’m cool!” Len Weisman style, so things as a whole aren't too distracting when it comes to the action scenes.
The overall directing of Damnation surprised me the most as the action is framed well without being presented in a predictable way or one that makes it’s harder to track than an action scene in Taken. Tension may not be at an all-time high during Damnation, though some clever uses of POV (point-of-view) are used to put the viewer in Leon’s shoes more or less during an action sequence. Far from being a gimmick like the FPS sequence in the Doom movie, Damnation’s brief moments of a first-person perspective provided a nice sense of character to the film as an addition to the well-directed action scenarios.
As another rare video game film presented through high-end CG visuals, Damnation’s visual style is admirable though it still doesn’t hold a candle to what we’ve seen from Square Enix and the Visual Works team. A moderate upgrade compared to Degeneration, Damnation at times looks a bit uneven when it comes to visual fidelity as some scenes look soft and lack a fine sense of visual clarity while others look beyond sharp and easily surpass the quality level found in Capcom’s more polished cutscenes built with the MT Framework Engine.
Beyond the occasional softness found in Damnation, which is found the most in the skin textures, the film simply boasts a look that seems mid-tier but doesn’t look completely date as if it’s from a mid-1990s CG cartoon. Damnation doesn’t scream like it’s a budget CG film since the animation work is smooth throughout despite the lip-synching being off at times, though not on the level of hilarity it was in Tekken: Blood Vengeance. What I did find odd was how the film looked the best during the sequences set during the day, so perhaps with some further tinkering and perhaps an added visual boost we could soon have a beautiful Resident Evil CG movie if Capcom proceeds with a third film.
With action scenes which feature half a dozen Lickers or Ada Wong doing perfect cartwheels to effortlessly grab a falling gun, and a plot that provides enough to get the gears turning but still ends up being a bit lacking in the clarity department, Resident Evil: Damnation is a vast improvement over its predecessor and somehow manages to be one of the better video game films created. There may not be a grand sense of scope in Damnation compared to the last few Resident Evil video games, but Damnation does the series justice in maintaining the overall tone while not coming across as a blatant commercial for Resident Evil 6.
Fans of the series may not watch Damnation and have a newfound sense of clarity or appreciate for Resident Evil as it instead boils down to one simple thing: the movie is simple entertainment that won’t eat away at your soul while you watch it. As an alternative to the non-canonical live-action RE movies, Damnation is ultimately an entertaining movie that isn’t complete fluff and is far from being as horrendously cheesy as the Wing Commander movie or as soul crushing as Tekken: Blood Vengeance. If you want a solid action movie that just so happens to be set within the core Resident Evil universe then Damnation is the film you need to watch.
Resident Evil: Damnation is currently available on Blu-ray/DVD in North American as well as digital rental services such as the PlayStation Network, YouTube, Amazon Instant, and Xbox Live.