Forget “Retribution;” Damnation Shows Evil Going Global
A Film Review of Resident Evil: Damnation
By: Lawrence Napoli
We are DAYS away from the release of my most anticipated videogame of 2012 in Resident Evil 6 and Capcom saw fit to release its most recent CG film a week prior in an effort to prime American fans for the kind of story, action and thrills that will be awaiting us all on October 2nd. What better way to do this than by giving the fans a prequel (of sorts) that bridges the gap between Resident Evils 5 and 6 without making any actual reference to either? This may sound a tad curious, but I attribute that to Japanese sensitivities to the concept of plot which I will explain later. This original film produced by the coalition of Capcom, Digital Frontier and Sony Pictures Entertainment joins its brother (Resident Evil: Degeneration) as the only two films to be part of the official Resident Evil cannon and unlike its predecessor, Damnation delivers a high fidelity experience that is sharp on looks and intense on action.
By the start of Resident Evil 5, the concept of international bio-terrorism is in full swing because the Umbrella Corporation allegedly goes bankrupt and in the process, all of its viral research and development hits the global black market. Anyone with a WIFI connection and a few million bucks could become a bio-terrorist overnight. Damnation further explores the investigation of B.O.W. (bio-organic weapon) sightings in an Eastern European (ex-Soviet Block) country with fan favorite Leon S. Kennedy taking the lead. Leon arrives in this country with a very obscure status as he doesn’t represent the CIA, Secret Service or BSAA in any capacity. The only thing the viewer knows for sure is that Leon is still some sort of US government agent as Ingrid Hunnigan (from Resident Evil 4) continues to relay intelligence to Leon via his cell phone. Leon is in full tactical gear as the country is in the midst of a civil war and the action simply shoots through the roof once he starts jogging to his next destination.
The overall story of Damnation is much more concise than any of the games because it strictly gravitates around the plot of this one setting and main character. However, the typical mood of conspiracy and betrayal is as consistent as any other chapter in the Resident Evil saga. As this franchise continues to move slightly away from “horror” to feature more “action;” Damnation is yet another perfect (or terrible, depending on your point of view) example of this strategy. The director, Makoto Kamiya wanted the events of this film to depict Leon S. Kennedy as he “descends into hell” which would seem to evoke more “horror” elements to this story. Sure, Leon gets disarmed at some point and only has his bound fists to survive for a while, but the fact that this character IS Leon removes ANY semblance of threat because fans know he’s a mainstay of the franchise and he IS in Resident Evil 6 as a primary character. There is virtually no element of horror to this CG film because there is no dedication to building suspense. Doing so requires many more moments of silence to allow the audience an anticipation of fear which the bullet and explosion filled pages of this particular script are ill equipped to produce. Oh well, I guess this just means Damnation must settle for being a really good action film with plenty of gory violence, gunplay and slow motion, close quarter combat.
One other aspect of this story that demands singular recognition is the fact that the B.O.W.s being used throughout Damnation are within the framework of war. As such, viewing classics like zombies, lickers, ganados, parasites and tyrants as alternatives to guns and grenades is a theme never before explored in Resident Evil. What makes this exceptionally interesting is the unprecedented level of control that is demonstrated over these monsters in addition to the fact that they are used against each other on several occasions. Ever find yourself cheering for the bad guy? The player/audience has always seen these things as antagonists that need to be dispatched or avoided, but never as an option in combat scenarios. It will be interesting to see if this concept is somehow applied to any gameplay mechanic in Resident Evil 6, so if it is - remember, you heard the prediction here first!
Resident Evil has always been a character driven drama so I was expecting to learn a little more about Leon S. Kennedy, the man, during yet another one man mission against the undead. After the events of Resident Evil 2 very little has been revealed about this man other than his continued involvement from a distance during the plots of every game and his hush-hush government training post Raccoon City. Unfortunately, Damnation is not very forthcoming about any new details concerning Leon; maintaining his status as an ultimate bad ass with unwavering ethical integrity. Ho hum.
Whenever Leon is involved, it seems Ada Wong is not far to follow as she (yet again) appears to be infiltrating this particular dangerous environment as a spy working for “someone else” (not named Albert Wesker because he’s dead, at least I think). If you have been living under a rock and have not seen any of the Resident Evil 6 trailers, Ada appears to be set up as the big bad in the upcoming game, thus working for herself all this time. That certainly jives with her character type, yet Damnation is clear about establishing an unidentified employer backing Wong’s infiltration. She’s still a sexy femme fatale and (you guessed it) very little else is revealed other than the fact that a more intimate relationship between her and Leon culminated prior to the events in Damnation. She clearly cares about him, yet neither is truly smitten with the other despite an obvious attraction that was set up in RE2.
The rest of the characters in this CG film are not particularly interesting as they are dealt with (one way or the other) within the confines of this plot. Degeneration approached its antagonists in the exact same fashion which, unfortunately, removes a healthy amount of danger and intrigue from these newly introduced characters. I admire the Japanese filmmakers for creating this movie, but as a plot, does not stand on its own strength and really comes off as a strategic setup piece to get gamers used to the scale, scope and stakes of RE6. These are the important bullet points I took away from Damnation: 1) Biohazards are potentially everywhere: from obscure rural communities to the largest of urban jungles in EVERY country. 2) Every variety of mutation you have seen thus far is probably going to make an appearance in the next game and the “zombies” that are supposedly making their triumphant return in RE6 are actually smart, weapon-wielding, ganados and not brainless T-virus victims. 3) Capcom’s marketing of the “3 campaign system” supposedly featuring 3 distinct play styles promising a return to “survival horror” in at least one of them is an absolute crock! This film and the exceptional RE6 trailer attached to it cement this franchise in straight monster-slaughter action. Accept it.
I liked parts of this film, but cannot admit to loving any of it. The extra features on the Blu Ray disc are nothing to write home about, but the “making of” featurette is neat seeing the cast do all sorts of motion capture work on set. I also found it interesting how this Japanese production company was using nothing but HP computer hardware for 100% of its production tools. It’s just a simple observation. This CG film is a vast improvement over Degeneration in almost every regard (look, sound and feel) with the exception of story. Clearly, Capcom did not give director Makoto Kamiya the same leeway Paul W.S. Anderson had with his adaptations. These films HAD to fit with the games and surely his options were limited. Still, I was amazed that nothing more than the stellar action was at work in Damnation. I wanted to see more character revelations, more connectivity with the games and overall more relevance, but what I got was more typical Eastern filmmaking that promotes style over substance; look over story. The Blu Ray copy of Resident Evil: Damnation retails at $19.99 US dollars and I simply cannot recommend this film at that price to anyone besides serious Resident Evil fans. If you find it on sale for $10, go for it, otherwise save that money for your pre-order of Resident Evil 6.