Thursday, 21 December 2017

Movie Review: Resident Evil: Vendetta (2017)



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The plot: Arms dealer Glenn Arias (John DeMita) is preparing to unleash a new zombie apocalypse on the masses, having engineered a virus that he is able to control. After an infiltration mission goes south, BSAA agent Chris Redfield (Kevin Dorman) enlists the help of scientist Rebecca Chambers (Erin Cahill) and former agent Leon Kennedy (Matthew Mercer) to help him stop Arias and find a cure for the virus. However, as Arias’ plan goes ahead, the three of them will have to work fast to save the world once again.





Dorman gives a certain gruff authority to his military role, although he’s honestly the blandest of the main three. Cahill may be saddled with a ‘damsel in distress’, but credit to her as she manages to convey genuine smarts and even a dry sense of humour without any of it feeling beyond who visually looks the most out-of-place of any of the characters here. Mercer is in full action hero mode here, selling how tired his character is of all the fighting and carnage has gone on in the series prior while also nailing a bravado that shows while he may be run down from all the fighting, he is more than willing to deal some damage if he has to. DeMita makes for a great villain here, balancing out the vengeful backstory with an absolutely batshit depiction of a mad scientist and making them both stick. Sure, he’s far more entertaining just being crazy, but he doesn’t waste his chance for at least some character depth.

Studio Marza Animation Planet, who are behind the animation here, are best known for their work with Sega, particularly on the more recent Sonic games. That experience in game cutscenes shows here as the CGI quality has a very pre-rendered feel to it, like it was all made in a game engine. Not only that, it feels like it’s at least one generation behind as far as graphics, leaving a shiny and rather plastic sheen to what we are seeing. That said, while the textures are a bit lacking, the actual animation is still pretty good. The motion capture is solid, allowing for some very energetic and lively movements during the action scenes, and while the lip-sync can be pretty hit-and-miss, the modelling on the character faces overall look lifelike without stepping into Uncanny Valley territory. The same goes for the environments they run around in, from the creepy corridors of the mansion in Mexico to the chaotic streets of New York, which all feel like they have separate identities as locales and enough atmosphere to fit with the frequently gear-shifting tone of the story. And then there’s the action scenes, which are remarkably fluid and show a good understanding of pacing and scope to get the blood pumping.

Something that I keep noticing with Japanese video games, especially those with more cinematic aspirations like Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid, is a recurring fear about corporate privatisation. This idea that those in power, those who control capitalist empires, will end up destroying society as we know it. Here, that fear is embodied by the machinations of Arias, a weapons merchant who doesn’t deal in tempered steel but flesh and blood. The notion that not only can he turn everyday civilians into undead bio-weapons, but that we could already be tapped for the transformation without even knowing it, is quite unsettling and highlights a lot of the dehumanization that is inherent to the zombie genre. It taps into a key idea of the original games, and something that Paul W.S. Anderson’s live-action attempts completely missed: You don’t need overblown ideas to make zombies seem scary. Just the idea that a single bite can turn a human being into a weapon is creepy enough, aided by the characters remarking on how much their conflicts with the Umbrella Corporation have changed them and their hopes for the future.

But I’m not going to pretend that this film’s main goal is exploring human fears of corporatisation and the dead coming back to life. When I said that Resident Evil has cinematic aspirations, that’s more in reference to how much of the series’ identity is comprised of a B-movie aesthetic. Right from the first game’s legendarily awkward acting and dialogue, there’s always been this spectre of the ridiculous hanging over the franchise. And here, it seems that the filmmakers have grabbed onto that aesthetic with both hands because this thing is seriously ri-goddamn-diculous. Whether it’s Leon Kennedy showing that a motorcycle can be the most effective weapon for fighting zombies, Arias trying to re-write his own past through a particularly kooky attempt to recreate his dead fiancĂ©, or the BSAA agents connecting over their shared love for Breaking Bad (considering how much the RE world has been ravaged by zombies, that show existing in it is a bit of a mindfrag moment), there’s this recurring feeling that a lot of what we’re watching is here because it’s supposed to be cool. However, it gets that across without feeling like it’s talking down to the audience or trying to be more than it is. The film knows that it’s a bombastic zombie flick, and as the story carries on, it only gets more and more glorious in how over-the-top it is. It’s enjoyable without being dumbed down, and it’s goofy without being too self-conscious; the kind of zombie film I can absolutely get behind.

All in all, I really hope Paul W.S. Anderson is taking notes on just how much he got wrong. The acting is damn good, the animation can be a bit muddled but pulls off spectacle where it counts, the writing taps into certain cultural fears to wring out some decent horror and the action is so over-the-top that it’s difficult to watch without grinning like a complete idiot. It’s more than a little insane, but not to any insulting degree; instead, it allows the audience to enjoy what’s on-screen because of how bombastic it gets, not in spite of it.

It ranks higher than Life, which was definitely a well-done bit of genre exercise but it was also made of quite familiar parts. This feels like a giant breath of fresh air, considering the absolute inanity that we got earlier this year under the name of Resident Evil. However, as deliriously fun as this is, its positives still only apply to pure entertainment value. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, while revelling in rather immature comedy, managed to highlight why that very sense of humour is very much a good thing for those who enjoy it. This appeals to those who already have the taste for it, while Captain Underpants made its case for everyone else to join in.

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