Resident Evil: Vendetta

Monday 7 August 2017

Vendetta is the third Resident Evil CGI movie, preceded by Degeneration (2008) and Damnation (2012). Degenaration was a fairly good movie with a familiar plot and an interesting cast of characters, while Damnation was a solid and impressive piece of work, the one that felt closest to the spirit of the games, while having a very deep and well-developed emotional background for the characters thanks to how Leon's connection with Alexander Kozachenko was portrayed in the movie, a connection that was thoroughly backed up and was, for a good deal of the film - if not all - a major driving force.

And now we have Vendetta, the highly anticipated sequel. Vendetta is the third movie to have Leon Kennedy as a lead, while featuring Chris Redfield and Rebecca Chambers as co-protagonists. Its plot revolves around a race against time where the three characters are struggling to stop an embittered and ruthless man before he releases a virus upon the whole world. To begin with, the CGI movies are way better than the live action movies. That's a given. If anything, they are faithful to the spirit and the atmosphere of the series, and they rightly have 'Resident Evil' in their titles. The live action movies have always been way off; constantly ignoring the trademark characters of the saga, and when they did use them in the plots it was in such a bad way that it degraded them, good and bad guys equally (not implying anything about the actors here; they all did a decent job for their part); and not to mention the impossible character of Alice who became some sort of overpowered superheroine, putting everyone else to shame.

The Resident Evil CGI movies were some kind of answer to the mess that were the live action ones. Casting original characters of the games as the main protagonists, they managed to maintain the spirit and feel of the games, while having plots that were connected to them one way or the other. Interestingly enough, though, I always found that the plots of some of the games were way superior. Code Veronica, for example, had an incredible plot, a story that could be a perfect material even for a live action movie. Sure some of its elements were used in the live action movie Apocalypse, but were extremely poorly treated and altered to such a degree that they became almost unrecognisable. Unfortunately, same goes for the CGI movies. Although much better than the live action films, they were still surpassed by the games, plot-wise.

Vendetta, although still better than the live action movies, seems to be inferior to both Degeneration and Damnation from many aspects. All the great elements are there; you can see them. The animations are very good - maybe not as good as they were in Damnation or the Resident Evil 6 game, but still they are fine, and at times quite impressive. Leon's stunts with the Ducati are fantastic, and the battle scenes have good old Resident Evil written all over them. The environments are built with detail and realism and the atmosphere in some scenes is compelling and immersive. Where the movie limbs is in the plot and the character developement.

Although the premise is intriguing, the story never becomes strong enough to justify the movie's title. When I first saw the title, it gave me the impression that the 'vendetta', the revenge, would have to do with either of the protagonists (Leon or Chris) on a personal level. That it would be either their revenge against someone else, or a revenge aimed at them, coming from someone from their past. This was even more stressed with the very imposing and atmospheric teaser trailer, which had a good deal of Hannibal (the series) spiced into it (if you have watched Season 3 and its trailers, you know what I mean). As it turned out, the movie was about the revenge of a new bad guy, Glenn Arias, against a whole state and, subsequently, the world. Surely he had very serious reasons to hold such a grudge; but this is never analysed enough to give him a bit of justice or give us some further insight for his actions. The scenes where we get to see why he became so evil are very brief and presented in a rather rushed way, while they could have been powerful and unforgettable.
Instead of devoting time to the bad guy to get us acquainted with his background and his inner motives, the creators of the movie thought it would be better to give us some never-ending sequences with Rebecca in the lab, covering nearly one hour of movie time. Rebecca Chambers, the once timid rookie with the amazing medical skills, is now an established professor carrying out important researches. She is a renowned scientist and she is even the love interest of Aaron, one of her colleagues. All of a sudden however she becomes the target of the evil guy just because she looks like his dead wife, so he kidnaps her to relive his ill-faited wedding with her. All good so far. A deranged mind could think of anything impossible, and we have seen far more insane things in actual movies. The problem is that Glenn Arias never seems determined enough for what he does. As easily as he had Rebecca wear his wife's wedding dress, as easily as he approached her with mellow style to mock-propose, he equally easily tied her down in the lab to inject her with the most dangerous virus. So it looks like the whole idea of him obsessing over Rebecca was developed rather superficially; he could have kindapped her anyway to serve his purpose, and moreso since she was the mastermind behind the creation of the vaccine that could fight his virus - and he knew it.

As a side-note, I would have liked Rebecca to make at least a subtle mention of Billy Coen. When Aaron asked her what made her change field, I was certain that she was going to say something about Billy. It would have been a nice tribute to the man who helped her out during the Ecliptic Express incident and later in the Umbrella Training Facility adventure. If you have played Resident Evil Zero, you know how obvious it was, judging from her lack of experience and overall weakness at the time, that she wouldn't have survived without him. 

Then, it's the character development, which seems to be lacking essential stuff. The movie begins with Leon talking in first person, which somehow creates the impression that the movie will be centered around him. Well, it is not. Leon appears again about close to the middle of the film, and we see him in an isolated hotel, drinking his sorrows away. When Chris and Rebecca go to talk to him, he is borderline rude to them. This is so incredibly out of character, that it is as if he had a secret split personality disorder all along, which now decided to demonstrate itself. Leon has always been such a great character, so balanced and gentle, refraining from bad habits and ready to offer a helping hand. Sure life is hard and people change. But this is fiction we are talking about. It is supposed to create solid characters that won't easily change. It is called fiction for a reason. Leon has been through thick and thin, yet he has always maintained that great personality. Turning him into a grudgy alcoholic won't make him more human or realistic, simply because it's not himself. Consequently, we see him one step before total resignation because his team got betrayed in a mission and his comrades were killed. Is it possible that the 'vendetta' of the title refers to his revenge for this? It is unclear. The clues and hints leading to such a conclusion are almost non-existent. Basically you waste more time trying to figure out where this new Leon came from, that there is barely any room left for other thoughts concerning him.

On the other hand we find Chris, whom we saw in Resident Evil 6 being in absolute despair, resorting to drinking and constantly grieving about his lost soldiers, reaching a tragic peak at the end with Piers's death, and whom we saw moments before in Vendetta witnessing the zombification and demise of one more partner and her son, now susprisingly cool and collected in this stressful situation, in admirable control of his temper and anger. Where is the cool, smart, cocky Leon of Resident Evil 4 or the quick-thinking, fair and clear-minded Leon of Resident Evil 6? And where is the hot-blooded and fiesty Chris we know and love? It's as if, in the movie, Chris and Leon switched characters, for whatever mysterious reason.

Glenn Arias equally has a lot of hollow points; we get to know only a few things about him and these things are not enough to either hate him or like him. He could have been a very powerful character, he had so much potential, and if only some of his scenes were more extended and supported better. Same goes about his trusty helpers, who could have been developed a lot more. You can't have a character like Maria in your cast and make so little use of her, even if it is implied that she plays a great part in Glenn's plans. The only character who sees some development is Rebecca, but this is mainly due to the fact that the last time we saw her she was 18 years old, and now she is in her early thirties and she is supposed to have undergone a change after all.

I can see Vendetta as a prelude to a game. As a game, that is, it would have been great. I can picture it already, with three playable characters (Leon, Chris and Rebecca), complete with epic action scenes and the necessary drama in the cutscenes. There were times when I felt I wanted to grab the controller and lead the character somewhere. Vendetta is a good and well-made movie, but it gives the impression that it is incomplete, because it lacks many things that could make its story memorable. Considering how rich and action-packed Resident Evil 6 (the game) felt and was, with its hollywoodesque plot and its excellent character development, Vendetta feels quite a few steps back, in relation to both the games and the other two CGI movies.

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