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You can’t keep a good zombie down. Well actually you can, with a perfectly placed shot to the forehead, but that’s easier said than done. Just ask the residents of Raccoon City, the fictional town that was laid to waste when the Umbrella Corporation’s experiments went bad and produced flesh-eating zombies. That was the plot of the “Resident Evil” games from Capcom, and to an extent, the plot of the three live-action “Resident Evil” movies. Capcom is back with their never-say-die (literally, in this case) moneymaker, this time in the form of a completely CG original movie called “Resident Evil: Degeneration”. In the grand ol tradition of the RE games, “Degeneration” features everything gamers worldwide have loved about the franchise: zombie shooting sprees, seemingly impossible boss fights, corporate conspiracies, and oh yeah, characters with improbable names and even more improbable family ties.
“Degeneration” doesn’t waste a whole lot of time getting to the good stuff: after a brief montage of news footage designed to catch the audience up on the story so far, we’re not even 10 minutes in when the first zombie lumbers into frame in an airport and begins chomping on the nearest flesh. What starts out as a homecoming for our familiar heroine, zombie fighting veteran Claire Redfield (Alyson Court) soon turns into a feeding frenzy, as zombies attack en masse and planes begin crashing into terminals, delivering even more zombies on poor Claire’s doorsteps. It all happens that fast. This is a CG movie about zombies based on a series of wildly popular games about zombies, after all. What did you expect, an hour-long build-up?
Since this isn’t the first zombie outbreak (or as the film calls it, “bio terrorism”) the country has dealt with (the word zombie, as far as I know, is never used in the movie; instead, the shambling wrecks are referred to as “infecteds”), the airport is immediately sealed off and survivors caged for testing. Meanwhile, local SWAT-type commandos Angela (Laura Bailey), a character clearly patterned after Angelina Jolie, and rugged tough guy Greg (Steve Blum) are itching for some action, unaware of what awaits them inside the airport. They get their wish when the White House sends a “special agent” to help out – another familiar hero from the RE games, Leon (Paul Mercier). Or as he introduces himself, Leon S. Kennedy. So into the airport goes our trio of gun-toting badasses. Let’s hope Claire is still alive when they get there, but of course we know what a resourceful gal our Claire is, so no worries there, really.
By leaping combat boot first into the bloody mess, lots of zombie action is had by all within the film’s first 30 minutes, much brain matter is imploded, and the red stuff flows pretty freely, which is sure to delight fans of both the games and live-action movies. I can imagine that Capcom has designed the movie specifically for former and current RE gamers. As with the games, beautiful sound work is an important aspect of the movie, an element that helps to increase the atmosphere and heighten the action. As for the CG, that’s a bit hit and miss, as seems to be the case when the CG isn’t a talking dog or flying squirrel, but are instead supposed to be living, breathing human beings. While all the attention seems to have been focused on creating fluid character motions during the movie’s action sequences, apparently everyone went to sleep when it was time to render characters just standing around or walking a few feet in any direction. Then again, maybe the awkward walking gait or seemingly lifeless standing around CG stuff was intentional. An homage to the games, perhaps? Or maybe I’m just being a tad optimistic.
Without a doubt, the script for “Degeneration” could have used a major polish, especially the middle section, which consists of a series of endless backstories, conspiracy exposition, and other useless character moments that kills any semblance of breakneck pacing the film has created up to this point. The WilPharma Company, the movie’s Umbrella Corporation replacement, gets too much airtime, as does some uninteresting conspiracy angles involving a midget-sized and incredibly unpleasant Senator character. We’re also forced to sit through some painfully described story between hot SWAT cop Angela and her brother, who lost his family in Raccoon City and now wants revenge on those responsible, even if it means unleashing something worst than zombies. Fortunately for us, the chatter eventually gives way to an action-packed Third Act that is, curiously, mostly devoid of zombie mayhem.
Even if you’ve never played the games, “Degeneration” should still work as a stand-alone zombie movie for those who enjoy the genre. If you like flesh-chomping action, definitely give “Resident Evil: Degeneration” a shot. Don’t let its CG roots fool you, this isn’t just a series of game cut-scenes strung together to make a movie. It really is an honest to goodness movie, with an actual, serviceable script, professional voice work, and fantastic creature and sound designs. The first 30 minutes of “Degeneration” are inspired stuff, with great action and some gory moments as Leon assaults the airport. For the middle section, I would take the opportunity to run to the bathroom, or just slip in an old copy of “Resident Evil: Nemesis” to pass the time. Just be sure to come back in time for the film’s final 30 minutes for the impossible boss fight.
My other complaint? We have Leon and Claire, but where oh where is my Jill Valentine? Angela Miller ain’t chop liver, of course, but she ain’t no Jill Valentine.
Makoto Kamiya (director) / Shotaro Suga (screenplay)
CAST: Alyson Court … Claire Redfield (voice)
Paul Mercier … Leon S. Kennedy (voice)
Laura Bailey … Angela Miller (voice)
Steve Blum … Greg Glenn (voice)
Michelle Ruff … Rani (voice)
Roger Craig Smith … Curtis Miller (voice)
Michael Sorich … Senator Ron Davis (voice)