By Hugh David.For fans of the Japanese Biohazard series, known internationally as Resident Evil, the multimedia spin-offs from the core videogame series have not always satisfied. The live-action feature series in particular has come in for much criticism over the years, despite its increasing financial success. Even now, with its final chapter released on home video, there is talk of a reboot. Novels, comics (both American and Japanese), even stage plays in Japan have all had a variety of reactions. However, with Vendetta, a third third foray into CG animation, Sony has brought in some key creatives with proven talents to shake things up, and they succeed in spades.
The latest CG-animated Resident Evil videogame tie-in sees game regulars Chris Redfield, American Special Operations Unit Captain and founding member of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (B.S.A.A.), and Leon Kennedy, former Raccoon City cop turned American Federal Agent, teaming up with Rebecca Chambers (now a university professor although still a B.S.A.A. agent) to stop black-market biotech arms dealer Glenn Arias from unleashing a new zombie virus in New York. The “Vendetta” of the title refers to a backstory between Arias and Redfield that is laid out in the opening portions of this feature, which we shall not spoil here, but suffice it to say that to Arias, turning everyone in Manhattan into zombies is barely enough to satisfy his thirst for revenge.
Even within the parameters of tying in to the release of Resident Evil 6, Vendetta manages to carve out an original space for itself while including all of the references long-term fans expect. This is very much down to the director, writer and executive producer involved, Takanori Tsujimoto (best known in the West for his Hard Revenge, Milly), Makoto Fukami (PSYCHO-PASS, School-Live! and Berserk! TV anime) and J-Horror royalty Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on: The Grudge series). Together, they have pushed the envelope of the previous CG outings Degeneration and Damnation. The result is the best of the three, a solid entry that remembers the horror part of the action-horror subgenre while still delivering state-of-the-art motion-captured action sequences. The opening sequence alone is one of the more effective action-horror set-pieces from the last few years, with nods to the very first game and a solid explanation for Chris Redfield’s motivation for killing zombies (something Fukami contributed). Even the shade of red used for the blood is different to previous instalments, reflecting both the games and the contributions of Tsujimoto and Shimizu – it makes a noticeable difference to the emotional response of the viewer.
Admittedly, there are those who will find faults with it, only some of which can be attributed to the limitations of the still-developing medium. While this third production crosses the uncanny valley more times than either of the previous ones, with some moments that are so close to live-action as to be frankly stunning, it still cannot maintain such levels throughout, especially once combat starts and blood spatters. Having struggled with issues of diversity before in the games, it is telling that this international release returns to American characters in an American setting, even if Japanese fan requirements are actively met (frightening attention to detail in the weaponry and other tech; specific body/hair/dress types for the three female characters). On the commentary track, the trio of creators mention how their suggestion of utilising RE5’s Sheva Alomar (a then-rare example of a black female lead in gaming) was shot down by Capcom, although they attribute this to protectiveness over the characters, which came into play elsewhere when the three wanted to delve into the backstory of Leon. Later action sequences in New York are spectacular but, much as with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which clearly influences at least one sequence in particular), it’s blatantly obvious that innocent bystanders die, or at least are at risk, from actions taken by the supposed heroes. Finally, the insane physics (or lack thereof) in the final rooftop fight tops even some of the most extravagant movie action set-pieces of the last decade, which, given the relative attention to realism in earlier sequences, will lose some viewers at the final hurdle.
However, this third CG-animated movie should still satisfy the majority of franchise fans. It continues the trend for sticking closely to the games’ settings and characters, as these movies are considered canon. It offers action sequences with sufficient game-style camera angles and edits to make gamers feel at home. But it also adds just enough new points of characterisation to enhance players’ understanding of those characters when meeting them again in the games.
This is arguably why gamers prefer these to the live-action films; in opting to set themselves in their own parallel universe, the latter may have lost something, but they enabled non-gaming fans to take an interest which paid off handsomely in the long run. Nevertheless, for anyone underwhelmed by the last few live entries, RE: Vendetta is well worth checking out as well; fans of CG animation interested in the state of the art should also give it a look. Be warned, however, it is not for the faint of heart; but then, this series never was.
Resident Evil: Vendetta and Resident Evil: Degeneration are screening at Scotland Loves Anime.