While returning from humanitarian work abroad, Claire Redfield finds herself caught in another outbreak of the T-virus, this time in an airport. Also caught in the outbreak is Senator Ron Davis, a backer of pharmaceutical corporation WilPharma, which rose to prominence after Umbrella’s downfall. They are rescued by Leon Kennedy, and soon he and Claire find themselves in the middle of a bioterror plot that could cause more widespread outbreaks of the T-virus. Together the two have to discover the perpetrators of the incident and retrieve whatever data remains of a vaccine.
Although Resident Evil 4 was one of my favorite Playstation 2 games, I never followed the series very closely. The impression I got from Degeneration was more or less the same one I got from Advent Children; fans will find themselves obliged to give the movie a pass on its shortcomings, while everyone else will simply pass it up. Resident Evil never had a reputation for intelligent writing; it was more about tension, atmosphere, and the elaborate boss fights. This type of thing isn’t hard to get right in a game, but translated to cinema, requires a lot more effort.
We can start with the plane crash, which was surprisingly easy to survive for Claire (she was in the airport terminal it crashed into!). Right from the get-go there are flaws in the story’s logic. If bioterror incidents are such a problem, especially in a post 9/11 world (the last time I will ever use that phrase, promise), you’d think people would develop protocols to prevent outbreaks on planes and in airports. Hell the WilPharma building, as you’ll find out, can detect the presence of the virus automatically. For the importance of the work that WilPharma is doing, you’d think organizations like TerraSave (which Claire works for) would be better informed of the basic purposes of their activities. The subplot about Senator Davis and WilPharma is muddy to begin with, and then gets dropped altogether. Curtis Miller’s story seems like it should be important, but is made mostly inconsequential. There are just too many plot threads for an hour and a half long movie, which were poorly developed and poorly presented. All you see is what appears to be the director’s love of unnecessary plot twists.
Following the airport incident, Leon and Claire are thrust into an investigation into the bioterrorists that caused it. Unfortunately, there is very little connecting logic between the airport and the events at WilPharm. Instead of a villain with real motivations, we get some hackneyed exposition about greed and politics. It’s not that I didn’t understand it, it’s just that the whole WilPharma angle is more or less irrelevant to the story.
What you want are excitement and scares, but Degeneration delivers too little of either. The opening is promising enough, with a fake-out zombie and some genuine tension. But once the shit hits the fan, the proceedings are disappointingly pedestrian. This is partly because, if you follow the games, you know that Leon and Claire have both survived worse. If the protagonist of Resident Evil 4 can single-handedly slaughter an entire village of ganados infected with plagas parasites, he could probably take out an airport full of ordinary zombies with a sharp stick. Sadly you don’t get to see the sweet moves Leon uses in the games; there’s barely any shooting to speak of at all. There’s no searching for resources, no zombie dogs, nor any of the tricks that the games pull to force you to stay awake. In other words, there’s no sense of danger.
When you can see the enemy, when you understand it and know that Claire and Leon understand it too, you have effectively taken the danger out of the situation. These zombies don’t hide, run, or even attack very effectively. In fact they’re barely in the movie – the franchise’s signature bad guys are dealt with in the first 30 minutes, and the rest of the movie is the same corporate conspiracy fluff that pads out the stories of the games.
Degeneration should have been a tight and efficient thriller. It probably could have taken place entirely in the airport. It probably could have produced real scares and excitement by using a little more atmosphere (dark is not an atmosphere). It might even have had a tinge of irony and allegory. Unfortunately the writing is too jeuvenile, too reminiscent of a string of video game cut scenes compiled into a montage. It would have been infinitely more fun to play Degeneration than to watch it.
Degeneration‘s convoluted and mostly irrelevant story features the protagonists of Resident Evil 2, Claire and Leon, but they have very little screen time together. Instead, Leon is paired with Angela Miller, a cop who’s probably more emotionally distressed than she should be. I didn’t really see the point of her character; her presence might have added something to the story had it been more competently told. Why couldn’t Claire just take her place? It’s not like she was busy doing anything worthwhile in the movie.
For the most part, Claire is not as you remembered her in the game. She became a member of TerraSave, protesting pharmaceutical corporations because apparently all of them love to develop zombie viruses. Anyway, her story could have had real consequences to the film, but they’re all too easily dismissed by a few words from Leon. I wanted to see her toting a gun and shooting down zombies, but she effectively becomes a spectator to the last 2/3 of the movie. Her greatest contribution to the boss battle, apparently, is to vent some air.
Leon isn’t much better off. His rock-like stoicism is reflected by the stiff facial animations, and he probably could have been replaced by a floating gun altogether. There’s no attempt at characterization. The writing staff bet the farm on Angela, and they lost hard. The remaining cast members are of dubious quality. Apparently even Halo-tards can become cops, as Greg, the film’s very own redshirt, proves. The over the top assholery of Senator Davis does not belie a caring public servant. Degeneration doesn’t have characters. It has paper cutouts, rendered in 3D.
The quality of 3D seems like a step back in terms of movie 3D of the past year or so, but overall it’s still decent. The cinematic angles, backdrops, and technical detail are all spot on. Character designs are good too, except when they start moving. The uncanny valley has gotten some attention in the gaming press as of late, and these characters have set up a colony in it. In stills, Claire and Leon look great. In motion, their bodies have an awkward stiffness. Leon’s face is wooden and unchanging, whereas Claire’s head can’t stop bobbing. Little niggles like that make the characters seem very unnatural. This kind of problem is abundant in Advent Children as well but at least for that movie, Square-Enix covered it up with shitty edititing and weird camerawork.
The music seemed like an afterthought, with some heavy metal tracks during the action scenes and not much else. It’s the type of thing that would be too lowbrow and obvious for Paul W.S. Anderson. Think about that. Voice acting is decent if a bit wooden, but then again the script doesn’t exactly give much opportunity for the actors to express range. Alyson Court as Claire sounds great – comfortable, natural and believable. Paul Mercier’s performance as Leon is almost entirely mumbled in monotone. Laura Bailey does fine as Angela, but Michael Sorich and Crispin Freeman are almost unbearable as Senator Davis and Frederic, respectively. Freeman’s horrible English accent is probably the weakest voice work of the movie.