The Resident Evil series of horror video games is a fascinating look at how not to do serial storytelling. It’s so over-convoluted a remake of the first game was made to include references to developments made in the sequels, tying all the characters, histories, various viruses, and conspiracies together. Then series creator Shinji Mikami, while revamping Resident Evil 4 for the second time during development, said “screw all this clumsy history” and restarted with a clean slate. The dozens of loose threads from previous games were abandoned for dozens more loose threads. Resident Evil 5, coming out in March, appears to answer a few questions RE4 didn’t bother with, like what Sherry Birkin and Jill Valentine are up to, but with this series it’s best not to expect anything substantial from the plot department anymore. If you want to look at exactly how ridiculous and bloated Resident Evil‘s plot got over the years take a look-see at Thomas Wilde’s outrageously detailed FAQ, which tackles tough questions like “Does Ada actually care about Leon?” (No.) and “Is Saddler retarded?” (Yes.)
Clearly, the fans care way more about the games’ plot than its writers. Absolute proof arrived late last year in the guise of Resident Evil: Degeneration, a direct-to-DVD CG-animated movie that takes place between Resident Evils 4 and 5. It stars Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, the protagonists of Resident Evil 2, perhaps the most beloved entry in the series, long before it became the labyrinthine mess it is today. Early previews suggested Degeneration would be full of nods to RE2. Turns out it has exactly two, and one of them is a shot-for-shot reenactment of our heroes’ meeting. It was the only few seconds of the movie I guess I could say I enjoyed and that was only because I remember the intro sequence from a Playstation game released 11 years ago. If Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children proved to folks that Square should stick to video games, then Degeneration proves the guys at Capcom shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near pencils, pens, chalk or anything that could potentially aid them in writing a script. If they can’t keep their story straight in a long-running video game series, what makes them think they can pull it off in a hundred-minute movie?
The story is simplistic yet overcomplicated. The T-Virus, which was responsible for all the zombies in the original games, returns after a long hiatus to an airport Claire Redfield and some boring characters are hanging out in for some reason. The movie’s first ten or so minutes set up the action pretty well. You get your heroine, the people she has to protect, a sneering villainous U.S. senator, and suddenly an airplane full of zombies careens into the terminal – alright, it’s showtime. Leon Kennedy gets called in to save everybody and there’s some middling zombie-shooting action that, while not all that flashy, made me miss the zombies from the original games. It would’ve been nice if this product had been a video game or something, because afterwards nothing of any interest happens.
The second act coughs forth a long series of dull conversations and revelations and each one falls flat on its viral, decomposing face. Characters deliver monologues and information without pausing for any of it to sink in, not that it would matter much. The dialogue sloughs along, muddled and unclear, with several mentions to pharmaceutical companies, references to acts of bio-terrorism, the U.S. government’s involvement, cover-ups, vaccines … It’s the type of stuff that would be more more at home in the various notes and journals usually littered about the landscape in the games. When spoken none of it feels like it has any weight or merit – much like the stiff, emotionless mannequins delivering all this hooey. It’s the exact opposite of engaging. It’s like the entire enterprise exists in a vacuum, which is where the writers must have penned this thing, isolated from anyone who knows how to tell or pace a story.
Adding to the huge lull from action there’s some dopey investigating and lots of wasted time and dialogue on a new character no one cares about. Why this series keeps introducing new characters when it has a monumental fucking stable of established characters waiting for their next turn is absolutely beyond my realm of ken. The new character is named Angela and she’s a cop or SWAT team member or something. To make her even less interesting she may or may not have a crush on Leon (hint: he’s G-A-Y) and her brother is the movie’s long-haired, worthless villain. Because it’s not a product from Japan if the villain doesn’t have long hair covering his eyes or an absolutely moronic, simple-minded reason for doing what he does. Oh, it’s a revenge story? Well okay! Makes sense he would transform himself into a hideous monster. At least William Birkin had some pride in his work.
Even the climax drags on. There are little sparks of interest such as the numerous igniters spread throughout the final location, a different twist on the franchise’s obligatory endgame self-destruct sequence, and the implausibly (even for Resident Evil) enormous pit that shows up at the end is fun to ponder, but I was surprised to find absolutely nothing at the end to grab hold of. Climactic action set-pieces are prime staple of the series, something Degeneration could not be bothered with. What a tremendous, poorly-animated bore.
It’s inexcusable. The video games have better animation. How does Leon’s face never move? He has the same grim look on his face for every single frame he’s visible. It’s atrocious. He’s not even the same, goofy, affable character he was in Resident Evil 4. He looks, talks and acts insanely bored, like it’s a pathological condition. Maybe he regrets not taking Ashely Graham up on her offer. Claire shows some personality, thanks mostly to Alyson Court, the only voice actor who stayed with her character through the series’ run, and maybe the animators concentrated on her a bit more. She winks, she smiles, maybe moves a little more realistically than everyone else – they’re all stiff-armed puppets. Yet Claire is still neutered, relegated back to surrogate mother status as she was in parts of Resident Evil 2, taking care of some other little girl who has no reason for being whatsoever, a bizarre choice considering the death-defying Amazon she was in CODE: Veronica. Even the live-action Resident Evil: Apocalypse gave Claire some props for her stunts by having Milla emulate those exact same moves. Why the guys behind Degeneration chose not to portray action scenes featuring a sexy animated popular video game character is beyond me, but then the movie doesn’t seem to be interested in anything entertaining.
No, Degeneration is the kind of thing that’s not worth anyone’s time or money. It doesn’t push the story forward in any way, there’s better animation in Crash Bandicoot, there’s no novelty. Concentrate on games, Capcom.