“Resident Evil: Damnation” (2012)

by A.J. Hakari

Even casual observers of the video game trade can tell that the term “survival horror” doesn’t cut much these days. What’s happening there is the same trend that horror cinema likes to follow, in which the dread of not knowing exactly what is making that horrible noise around the corner is replaced by shoving the audience right into said ghoul’s ghastly kisser. The “Resident Evil” series has always been regarded as a survival horror mainstay, but while folks have criticized Paul W.S. Anderson’s movies for taking too many liberties with the games, I don’t think the publishers are doing that much better. This is all just going off the Capcom-produced and CG-animated title Resident Evil: Damnation, wherein a lot of monsters and buildings are blow’d up real good but not a twinge of fright or concern for the characters’ safety is ever stirred.

In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Eastern Slav Republic has risen to take its place on the world stage. The fledgling country is still plagued by civil war, pitting peasants against a new government that’s eager to pillage their land for natural resources. But when word gets out that genetically-engineered creatures are being used to do someone’s dirty work, in comes grizzled operative Leon Kennedy (voice of Matthew Mercer) to get to the bottom of things. Hordes of unspeakable beasties and zombified locals show up to greet Leon, but there’s still more to the story, one complicated by the machinations of both the Republic’s president (voice of Wendee Lee) and enigmatic spy Ada Wong (voice of Courtenay Taylor).

Not owning a gaming console has left me stranded in a lot of conversations shared amongst my nerdy amigos (don’t worry, I get them back with my Streets of Fire references). Still, I’m savvy enough to gather that bad dialogue and monotone voice acting are as much a part of the “Resident Evil” charm as high-tailing it from the undead. But put to film in Damnation, all they contribute to is taking you out of the scant suspenseful moments the thing can claim. Between this and 2008’s Degeneration, it seems as if Capcom wants to spearhead its own line of Resident Evil films that cater to fans of the games more than Anderson’s blockbusters have. It ain’t a bad mission statement, but the follow-through that is Damnation turns out to be a drab horror show that still manages to confound you with a story no more complex than “hunk shoots at walking meat slabs.”

A big reason why Damnation fails to raise ye olde blood pressure is that its protagonist is one of the biggest dullards to ever choose a Chris Gaines look. The only time we really feel anything for Leon is when he rattles off a smarmy quip about missing breakfast, since he spends about half the movie watching everybody else duke it out with each other. He’s less “hero” and more “prop with a rocket launcher,” and the fact that 30-year-old Mercer voices Leon like he’s added a few decades is distracting when he finally gets in on the action. There’s some kinda interesting stuff going on with the plot (including the idea that the monsters aren’t with the bad guys), but the prolonged action sequences and boring characters do a real number on the pacing. Plus, there’s the uneven animation, which is responsible for as many spooky bunkers and bloodthirsty behemoths as it is for some of the poorest lip-syncing this side of a Godzilla dub.

Resident Evil: Damnation is more grounded and a lot less loopy than its live-action counterparts, which is both good and bad. You aren’t shaking your head in disbelief at the latest moronic plot twist you’re expected to swallow, but the inert shootouts and showdowns you get in return don’t really engage you either. While Damnation isn’t a total chore, it’s sad when the best thing I can say about it is that it at least doesn’t have Mike Epps.