Reviewed by John Hussey
It seems to be a running trait with these Resident Evil reviews that I’m left disappointed one way or another, whether they lack the feeling of being a Resident Evil story, or that they lack any inventive input to the overall franchise, thereby becoming either really bland or unnecessary. Luckily that pattern has finally been severed with Resident Evil: Damnation.
Thank God we finally got one that didn’t leave me pulling my hair out in frustration because something bugged me about it. With the Resident Evil films by Paul S. W. Anderson it was fairly obvious what the problem was, but with Resident Evil: Degeneration I was left pondering whether I was disappointed because of lack of interest in watching it at the time or because it was generally a bad movie. Come watching the second instalment within the animated film series I can safely say it was the latter.
Damnation has a better set-up, a better grasp of the Resident Evil universe, really does its job of expanding the narrative, has an interesting story to tell, adds to the characters, and generally feels engaging throughout. Leon S. Kennedy returns as the lead protagonist as he’s dragged away from his holiday to investigate the rumoured presence of Bio-Organic Weapons (BOWs) within the fictional country Eastern Slav Republic. In the midst of the country is a raging civil war over leadership as a rebellious group attempts to take back their freedom from madam President Svetlana Belikova.
Already this has a lot of promise as the animated feature explores the terrifying world of biological warfare. I feel the later Resident Evil games get a lot of unnecessary flack due to their departure from the survival horror genre. In my eyes the franchise is simply expanding its ideas, moving forward to explore its creative narrative rather than its specific genre. Yes it can be said that Capcom tried too hard to pull Resident Evil into the modern era of gaming, i.e. the dominant feature of first/third person shooters. But by making this move they tried exploring a new area within the narrative in which the threat of BOWs became global due to being mistreated in new destructive manners.
Damnation doesn’t suffer by falling in-line with this narrative but instead enhances it. Degeneration was okay, clearly testing the grounds for an animated version of the franchise and by the time they got to do Damnation Capcom and Sony Pictures Entertainment were fully aware where they wanted to take this new format. The narrative was sharper, the concentration on characters was better explored, the overall setting created a better feel, and the animation itself was thankfully upped. It’s not perfect but definitely not a distraction anymore.
In fact, I love the direction of this animated feature. Whereas Degeneration looked really bland and uninspired, which further showed that both companies didn’t fully understand what they were doing at the time, Damnation clearly had more thought put into it because the animated film series was now refined. Makoto Kamiya‘s direction of the animation was extremely clever and felt like a high budget film as the camera angels brought you closer to the action. It went as far as really showcasing the emotions of each and every scene, becoming incredibly inventive during horror moments. I also liked that they repeatedly cut back to a first person perspective in order to fully immerse you, almost reminding you that this is an expansion of the games.
And finally I really liked the music by Rei Kondoh and Shusaku Uchiyama. Like with Kamiya’s directing, Kondoh and Uchiyama knew just how to add to the emotion and intensity of each scene. I really couldn’t tell you anything about the music in Degeneration, but here it was truly memorable. There were many moments, particularly heartfelt scenes, where the music kicked in perfectly to draw you further into the drama and the character’s thoughts. I also felt that the music was very reminiscent to the earlier Resident Evil games.
As soon as Leon lands in Eastern Slav Republic he is called up by Ingrid Hunnigan and is informed that all American troops and citizens are being pulled out of the country. Determined to complete his investigation Leon decides to go rogue and quickly gets caught in the middle of the civil war. Once this occurs we are introduced to many memorable characters. I really loved J.D. as he acted as the comic relief of the film, but as the narrative progressed more layers were explored and he became somebody you wanted to care about.
One of his defining features was his love and enthusiasm over American culture, constantly baggering Leon (who is supposed to be his prisoner) about the different aspects of the United States whilst geeking out over it. Then he later showcases he is unable to fight back against the infected due to his emotional attachment to those in front of him. It’s certainly a terrible dilemma to be faced with and no matter how you calculate the situation in your head you’re still essentially shooting a loved one or a friend. Leon, on the other-hand, continues to showcase how cold this line of work has made him as he simply doesn’t hesitate putting down the Las Plagues infected victims, despite their connection to the rebels around him.
This further showcases how, like in Degeneration, that Leon has been hit hard by this nightmarish world as he’s continuously thrown into the same scenario in which he must relive Raccoon City over and over again, each time taking away a little bit more of his soul. Though he does this with such courage and selfless nature as he commits himself to fighting BOWs in order to prevent what happened to him in Raccoon City to other’s, and hopefully one day put an end to the hellish world that the Umbrella Corporation started.
We are also introduced to rebel fighter Alexander Kozachenko (also known as Buddy). Though his presence is rather cold and secretive within the first act, it is revealed by J.D. within the second act that Buddy’s reasoning for fighting is due to his vendetta to avenge his family, who were wrongly killed during a bombing raid. The only problem with this addition to his character is it treads the same waters as Degeneration, which explained Curtis Miller’s reasoning for going rogue (ultimately becoming a wasted opportunity). Though it is clearly better utilised here, I can’t help but feel that it pulls it down slightly by being a rehashed idea.
Damnation becomes even more intriguing when it’s revealed that the rebels have been using a new technique to control the Lickers after infecting themselves with Las Plagues. Though it slightly took away the Lickers menace due to becoming obedient dogs, it was none the less a great addition which helped to make the narrative even more interesting. Despite being controlled, the Lickers still had plenty of moments to show off why they are amongst my favourite monsters within Resident Evil. I actually had moments where I felt sorry for the soldiers that had to face them as they clearly stood no chance and quickly became overrun and slaughtered.
The only puzzling part of the narrative was knowing who was truly the enemy, which again added to the narrative. Of course you want to believe in the rebels but end up asking, “Are they truly fighting for the right reasons and would their outcome make their country any better?” Plus you have to question their motives of using BOWs to gain the advantage, which clearly makes them no better than their enemy.
Then came villainess President Svetlana who wanted her country to gain independence and find a place within the progressive world. Again, she appears to have good intentions and may be misunderstood by her people who wish their country to remain the same as it always was. But at the same time she appears rather untrustworthy, as if she has some sort of hidden agenda. Of course it is later revealed that she has her own storage of BOWs and further raises the problem of understanding whether she is truly evil and what her motives were. Maybe I wasn’t fully paying attention but even by the end I couldn’t tell you her full motives for being evil.
This doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the animated feature. It still remains entertaining and engaging with so many wonderful scenes of suspense, excitement, and truly saddening moments. Damnation has the full package. It’s great seeing Leon dragged into this conflict and witnessing how he adapts to it and figures out how to confront it. He eventually starts helping characters J.D. and Buddy, as Leon comes to understand them during their attempts to bring a better tomorrow to their country.
I really enjoyed how the animated feature explores the horrific nature of the Las Plagues infection, in which the infected become more intelligent and aggressive. There is a great moment where Leon and J.D. are trapped in a tunnel and desperately try to force open a door whilst fighting off an oncoming horde. There’s another scene which depicts a group of infected hunting down a soldier before capturing him and forcing him to swallow the parasitic infection, thus beginning his horrific transformation. Slowly, but sure, Eastern Slav Republic becomes overrun and pushes President Svetlana schemes closer to completion.
Eventually poor J.D. also succumbs to the disease. His death is really saddening as he exclaims his fears of becoming one of the infected, desperately trying to fight back and explains to Buddy how he only joined the fight to be with his friends. Leon even shows his frustration by announcing how he was looking forward to showing J.D. the United States after the crisis was over. Buddy then enters a complicated scenario as his vengeance gets the better of him, leading to him infecting himself in order to stage a siege upon President Svetlana.
The third act is a brilliant culmination as it throws everything at you to bring Damnation the best possible conclusion. Unlike Degeneration where it tried throwing you a half-arsed mutation of Curtis at you via an underwhelming confrontation, Damnation provides a nice balance of fan-service whilst naturally developing a conclusive ending. Instead of a random monster encounter seen in the rest of the films we get the return of the Tyrants. And they are as scary as ever, formulating the best possible obstacle for Leon to face at the end of this intense and explosive journey.
During this battle Leon manages to get through to Buddy, rekindling his inner humanity as they form an alliance in order to survive the onslaught of multiple Tyrants. This whole sequence feels like it could easily be incorporated into the final section of one of the games, but this time round I wasn’t wishing I was playing it because it was exciting enough to stand as a film sequence. There were many moments that left me feeling quite tense, like I probably would if I was playing it, and constantly wondered how Leon was going to escape and asking, “Fuck me, they just won’t die!”
Ultimately it ends in the most badass way possible, as you witness Leon and Buddy fighting with an arsenal of different weapons, having the aid of an army of Lickers (which was exciting to see, considering we’re witnessing the collision of two iconic Resident Evil monsters, but after a while I did start to feel sorry for the Lickers as they constantly got torn apart by the Tyrant’s strength).
After all the carnage is over Buddy contemplates his future and believes he has no future after the loss of his family and friends. Leon gives him the perfect insensitive to continue his existence with this powerful line, “I’d feel the same way if I was you. But the option of taking our own lives no longer belongs to us. Once we start using these, we owe it to the people who died alongside us. We have to continue living. Even if it means living the rest of our lives without the use of your limbs. That is my answer and your answer, Buddy.”
This really shows how far Leon has come as a character and that deep down he is a little tired of the fight but continues because he owes it to the innocent that are caught in the cross-fire of the villains who continually try to gain power through the usage of BOWs. Leon wants this nightmare to finally stop and close the past for good. Another thing that is clear, which leads into his attitudes in Resident Evil 6, is his feelings of being used for the purposes of the government, something that adds further determination towards his own personal role in ending the existence of bio-weapons.
Resident Evil: Damnation ends this month of Resident Evil reviews rather nicely as I finally come face-to-face with a satisfying product that managed to entertain me from start to finish for all the right reasons. I’d without a doubt recommend this animated feature to every Resident Evil fan out there (but I’m sure you’ve already seen it). But if you haven’t then please go watch it because it brings together everything brilliant about Resident Evil and simply adds to it, becoming an explosive roller-coaster ride that allows Leon to be a continuous badass.
Also for anyone expecting Ada Wong to have a massive role within this animated feature, be prepared to be disappointed as her involvement is minimal. Though she gets a few cool scenes to show off her flexible fighting skills she becomes rather forgotten and appeared rather pointless in the grand scheme of things, besides setting up her involvement within Resident Evil 6 and delivering a bit of fan-service.