<<Preface>> This is a first viewing for me.
Let me start by saying this – if you have a problem with CG films (or animated films of any kind) skip this perspective/synopsis/blog posting. Similarly, if you have some kind of sick prejudice against zombies, zombie films, or the girls who love them, please navigate away lest you get an eyeful of what you fear most.
This film has been rated R for bloody violence, eh? We’ll see about that.
I tried to resist the temptation to see this film, but, being a die-hard fan of the Resident Evil franchise I finally put the Blu-Ray version of the film on my Netflix queue and waited. You see, you can only resist a thing for so long. I figure, what’s the harm? So, I popped down to Casa Mia, picked up my favorite sub sandwich, cracked a Coca-Cola and warmed up the good old PS3.
The film, and yes, we will call it that because that’s what it is – I’ve already given a warning to those of you who hate on the animated films and disrespect them as if they are somehow less than – starts like an interstitial in any one of the Resident Evil video games. Anyone who plays any franchise game will tell you that the story lines in these games is often times better than those found in major budget Hollywood films. So, it’s no surprise that in recent years, many mainstream films have been made based on story lines created for best-selling video games (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Max Payne, Lara Croft to name but a few). Enough back fill. Our heroine, Claire (voiced by Alyson Court) has just arrived at the airport following a massive back story sequence during the title credits. Already, I’m captivated – again, great way to catch the audience up to where we should be in case we’re new to the story.
Claire works for a company called Terra-Save, combating bio-terrorism. That’s what they’re calling it in this installment. The T-virus found in the other three of the Resident Evil films starring Milla Jovovich is no where to be found this time around. Instead, it is the D-virus and the company to blame (originally the Umbrella Corporation) is called WilPharma. Nevermind the stiff shoulders of the characters – check out the amazing photo-realism of the lighting, the textures. It’s gorgeous.
Meanwhile, a sick individual is shown on a plane preparing to make a landing at the airport. When I say “sick” what I really mean is “infected.” He’s turning black and tells a flight attendant he needs to reach the chairman of WilPharma immediately. But, it’s too late – zombies are in the airport.
A secret service agent who is protecting a sleazy senator takes the first zombie down – but before he goes down, he takes a security guard with him. It spreads quickly, faster than anyone can react to, and before long the airport is in utter chaos. To make matters worse, the plane we were previously shown carrying the sick individual is making a crash landing a la Airplane! It skids through the airport dragging zombies, humans along it’s underbelly. If you thought that things couldn’t possibly get any worse, you haven’t seen a horror film in a long time. As the plane slows to a stop, the door slowly flails open and one after another (after another) zombies beginning piling out of the wreckage.
The airport is locked down, of course, after authorities report a bio-terror incident. Any survivors who have managed to leave the airport alive are quickly quarantined outside. The SRT (Special Response Team) arrives and we learn the White House has sent a special agent to “handle this mess.” Enter Leon S. Kennedy (voiced by Paul Mercier) – emo agent at large. I’m sorry, but if I needed to fight zombies, you better bet that I’d have a clear line of sight at all times. That means no emo bangs for me.
Leon lays down the rules – anyone who’s been infected will attack, without warning. The only way to stop them is to take out their brain. Leon and two SRT officers enter the airport through a rooftop entrance. There’s a senator trapped inside, after all, and the White House protects its own. What follows is classic horror. The trio is seperated. Infected are everywhere. It’s dimly lit. The sound is gutteral, animalistic. It would probably make my hair stand up if I was alone. SRT officer McHottie…oh, I mean Angela, can barely believe it when she takes a shot at a zombie and it doesn’t die. Wow, I think she’s new to the franchise…and to the concept of zombies (is that even possible in this day and age?). Leon said shoot them in the head, Angela. It’s the only way to stop them.
Meanwhile, Claire is keeping the senator company as they wait for Leon. She decides she’s going to set out to find him and, equipped with an umbrella, she bravely steps out into the hall. She runs into Leon almost immediately, and has an encounter with a zombie – great use of lighting here that really sells the shot.
With everyone together, a plan is formulated to extract the senator. After all, the zombies move slowly and the group decides they can run past them. We also learn that Claire is one of the few remaining survivors of the original T-virus outbreak in Raccoon City. That makes her the expert.
The great escape begins – as does the carnage. It’s usually that way. The two are interrelated. Greg, the other SRT officer gets bit in the process. He tells them to go on without him, the brave soul. It’s important to know that one (usually most) of the team always gets bitten in the Resident Evil films. They make it personal, and let you know it’s “for real” by taking out any (or all) of the characters to whom you may have developed attachments. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but ultimately, you have to be responsible for yourself and rely on your own wits, strength, and relentless drive to survive.
During the massive exodus, the senator breaks away from the group who have risked their lives to save him and emerges alone outside the airport. No matter. Most of the group survive. The shot of Angela as she watches the rest of the SRT team rush into the airport and open fire on the remaining zombies is brilliant. Watch the way her hand tightens into a shaking fist and the camera pans up to see tears begin to well up in her eyes. As beautiful as that moment is, right about now, if you’re anything like me (and if you’re reading this, we probably have at least one thing in common) I’m wondering where the story can possibly go from here. Right?
Well, there’s still the mystery of this WilPharma company and it’s involvement in this recent outbreak. It’s only been mentioned briefly, but it’s got to come back into play at some point. And, that point is now – as Claire and the others spend the night in the military quarantine outside the airport a convoy of WilPharma trucks rolls past. If you’ve played the Resident Evil 4 game (I have it for the wii console), you’ll recognize this next shot and feel at least a passing sense of continuity between the stories:
We learn that there’s a vaccine for the T-virus and that it’s being delivered to the quarantine area by WilPharma – developed by Frederic Downing. Apparently, WilPharma is not responsible for the current outbreak. Instead, they’ve been working on an inoculation for the virus. That’s what they want you to believe, and it’s okay. Go with it. You’ll be rewarded with a great flashback sequence of the original outbreak at Racoon City, establishing the history between Leon and Claire.
Just when things are getting cozy between Leon and Claire, with Angela listening in outside their tent, there is a massive explosion. That’s right. The WilPharma trucks carrying almost all of the available T-virus vaccine has just been blown to high hell. Finally, the plot thickens and we get a sense of where the story might be headed. The bio-terrorist group responsible for the airport attack wants to uncover those responsible for the creation of the original T-virus…a list that includes those in high-ranking US government positions. If this group doesn’t get the information they want, they plan on dispersing more of the T-virus to major US cities.
It’s convenient story telling, where everything that happens to push the story along, but you can’t judge it too harshly. However, you may be surprised when you find out that Angela McHottie’s older brother is Curtis Miller – one of the leading bio-terrorist suspects involved in spreading the T-virus in an attempt to uncover the truth behind the Raccoon City outbreak. Nice twist. Up until now, you may not realize there is a connection between this long haired hippy we keep seeing and what’s actually going on in the film.
Meanwhile, Frederic (fancypants fake accent leading researcher for WilPharma) and Claire take off for a little high tea. Dear God – check out these external shots. The buildings, the lighting, everything so gorgeously detailed. It does make you mad, if you let it, that such a place is imagined and does not exist in any real way. No chance of visiting it. Ever. Frederic takes Claire on a tour of WilPharma, being cautious to show her only the things he wants her to see, of course. And you get more of a sense of what I’m talking about here with the stunning, sweeping architectural panoramic shots that follow. It’s now that we’re shown a new mutation: the G-virus, which WilPharma has obtained via the black market with the intent to create a vaccine. Oops. I think Frederic’s told you too much, Claire.
Curtis Miller is there, carrying a briefcase. The next thing Claire knows, she is lying on the floor of Frederic’s office. There’s been a massive explosion, ripping apart the beautiful dome in which a majority of the top secret work is being done at WilPharma. Leon and Angela rush to the scene. Leon finds Angela seriously injured from fragments of glass. It’s too bad no one ever stays together in horror films, because Angela is alone when at last she finds her brother. He tells her what we need to know – he’s purposely infected himself with the G-virus (which doesn’t zombify you, but instead mutates you into something vulgar and ungodly) – just when a SWAT team crashes through the building. He mutates before our eyes as the SWAT team descends upon him.
There are plenty of great homages to the video game franchise that gave birth to this saga (check for instance the great building map as Angela climbs into an elevator after fighting through a gaggle of zombies – these maps were often used in the games to help you navigate through difficult levels). In addition to playing by all of the horror genre rules, there is a moment in the film when mutant Curtis is fighting the SWAT team and everything slows down, goes quiet, and he turns his sights on his sister – this moment will send shivers up your spine (if you indeed have one). Masterfully done.
I love the idea of mutation caused by viral infection – after all, what is more terrifying than becoming something, well, terrifying? It was always an interesting companion to the T-virus, and in Resident Evil: Degeneration it’s used to draw us into the final stretch of the unfolding plot. It’s not difficult to draw conclusions like – Curtis Miller finally turns into the monster that was created in the wake of his faimly’s horrific demise in Raccoon City. It also serves to remind us that in order to move on, we must first let go.
The final word: not for the faint of heart. Yes, the film is animated, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less gory than it’s live action counterparts. In fact, I would wager, CG films can take more risks, can be more ruthless, more inventive, more sadistic – and they often are. Resident Evil: Degeneration is a great addition to the franchise, and while you probably won’t have many moments when you actually forget you’re watching a CG film (films like Beowulf and Final Fantasy have a leg up in that arena when elements within the film actually look more real than real life) you will find yourself saying – often, and with a smile or grimace on your face – “Wow! Look at that!” – because many of the elements in the film are absolutely stunning.