Contains mild spoilers.
Right. Resident Evil: Damnation, the CGI follow up to 2008's animated snooze-fest Resident Evil: Degeneration, and not to be confused with the increasingly contrived and style over substance live action nonsense fused together by Paul W.S. Anderson and wife Milla Jovovich. And I wasn't optimistic. I'll be honest, I really struggled with Degeneration. I found it hard to digest, so utterly lacking in joy and life that it took me three sittings and a lot of caffeine to actually get through it at all. It's wasn't bad per se, with better than average animation and a competent, if utterly derivative story; it was just that the experience was akin to watching a long scripted and rather tedious video game being played out by someone else. Now, while that feeling hasn't been completely shaken off with this second outing, I'm pleased to report that things have significantly improved in all other areas.
It's another elaborate and overly complicated Resident Evil story with big corporations, corrupt politicians and nefarious overlords with questionable motives and methods; where everyday Joe's are quashed in the millions and the fate of mankind rests on the shoulders of the few or the one. This time we're in Eastern Europe, in the made up country of Eastern Slav Republic, the questionable baddy is President Svetlana Belikova (voiced by Wendee Lee), her motive is to seize the oil rich parts of the country controlled by the rebels, and her means is by playing with BOW's, Bio-Organic Weapons, of course. This is also where Leon S. Kennedy (Matthew Mercer), a t-virus specialist and hard as f investigator and our hero, comes in.
What differentiates director Makoto Kamiya's second directorial Resident Evil offering is simply put, the quality of the story and the writing. There's no derivative zombie tale, no cobbled together series of scenes to show-case increasingly lavish effects, but a real desire to present something both coherent and cohesive, and to treat both viewer and source material with some respect. At the outset there's no clear good or bad; things aren't so binary and simplistic and Kamiya confidently captures the full ambiguity and confusion of a country caught up in civil war with both sides resorting to increasingly desperate and morally-dubious tactics to win. Thing's are also kept fresh and interesting because we're not subjected to half an hour of slow contrived suspense driven build up, but thrown straight in, and expected, after some six films and six plus video games to have half an idea of about zombies, the Plaga mutations, and everything else this crazy world is able to throw at us.
Resident Evil: Damnation is as expected, full of action with lavish and outlandish CG fights, but also has perfectly spaced interludes. Kamiya truly has the pacing down, and he even manages to make the many heavily scripted and choreographed combat scenes, which in the past have so easily becomes chores to watch, feel inventive and on point. Even the long and excessive final boss encounter was broken up in such a way as to not out stay its welcome; in fact, that it was the last big fight was lost on me until it was actually over, and to say that's a departure from Degeneration is quite the under-statement. It's also worth mentioning that the CG is at times breathtaking realistic, and dare I say beautiful, with detailed textures and ridiculous attention to detail. There are times though that the illusion is lost; perhaps things are too perfect or contrived or there was less rendering or something technical, but over-all it's never a distraction.
Damnation is Capcom's Resident Evil and true to the video-games, not the live action films, and as such it always will have, and probably should have, a 'gamey' feel. Unlike Degeneration though, here it subtly guides aesthetic and narrative rather than consuming and dictating, and thus avoids that long laboured cut-scene feel. Also taking its cues from the games the zombies are really just the opening fodder to get you used to the game mechanics with the Lickers, Majini, and increasingly outlandish bio-engineered monstrosities, in this instance, several leather clad Tyrants, the real danger once things really kick off. For a good hour though these snarling, gnarly, fast-moving gut-munchers still pose quite the threat, and there's plenty of good old fashioned gratuitous zombie head popping on offer.
Easily the best Resident Evil film, for what, some eight or nine years since Russell Mulcahy's Extinction, Resident Evil: Damnation excels in all the areas the franchise has struggled with ever since. An interesting, complex and complete story, with multi-faceted motives and authentic characters and relationships, there's also an attempt at reigning things in a little, and dare I whisper, an attempt for substance over style. Ok it's still Resident Evil, and one crazy fight to the next, incrementally turning the excessive dial up a notch each time; but for the first time in a while, the story never feels it's being pushed aside in favour of forcing in an extra tentacle or larger horde. Easily the best video game zombie film, probably the best non-children's zombie animated film it comes highly recommended - 7/10.