Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Resident Evil: Degeneration, some thoughts

At some point the makers of the Resident Evil games decided to try their hands at movie making.  I don't mean the live action, "Alice is awesome! (Why does Michelle Rodriguez always have to die?)" series of movies that are loosely connected to the games.  I mean actual movies that tie into the games.

Computer animated (I would argue badly) to match the games.

It had to happen.  The Resident Evil games were an attempt to take B-movies about zombies and make them into a third person shooter limited inventory version of adventure games.  (Seriously, they're puzzle games as much as Monkey Island ever was, just more shooting zombies.)  What started with movies was bound to come back around eventually.

So Resident Evil: Degeneration fits into the games' continuity and has characters from the games and stuff.

And the spoilers will start around here.

I'm not sure whether the timing of the two simultaneous zombie outbreaks was supposed to be coincidence or there's no kill like overkill but either way it struck an odd note with me.  Not necessarily off, just odd.

The first big surprise to me was when Leon showed up and spoke and it was Bear.  His style of voice acting is exactly what you'd expect for the character of Bear, quiet, reserved, thoughtful, generally level even tones and pacing.  It was ... different to hear it coming out of an action hero.  I think I like it in theory more than I liked it in real life.  The hero who keeps his cool, who has a soft meditative feel to his words definitely seems cool in the abstract to me, and maybe it worked in Kung Fu and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (the first was my parents, the second was the one known to my sister and I) but I honestly don't remember, but here it didn't feel quite right.

Maybe I'm just so used to every other action hero being not that way that it's biased me against that kind of delivery.  It was still nice to hear a familiar voice.

While the movie is self contained there were definitely call backs that would make no sense to people unfamiliar with the mythos, for example Claire commenting on the oddity of heading out after hearing a human (not zombie) noise armed with the only thing that could be scrounged up: an umbrella decorated such that it exactly matched the logo of the Umbrella Corporation (the bad guys responsible for... well, just about everything in the games until they finally collapsed.)

When Claire and Leon met up I was confused as to why he didn't give her a gun, surely he had a back up.  Eventually I would come to understand and, in fact, approve of this disarming of previous action game star.

There came a moment in the movie when everything was going to shit and much seemed hopeless.  At this point Leon threw Claire his primary weapon and she used it to quickly kick ass and take-- actually just kick ass.  Apparently she was all out of bubble gum.  She wasn't a faux action girl or a damsel in distress, when needed she was totally there as actiony as you like.

Leon meanwhile got out of his predicament with his secondary pistol (I knew he wouldn't go in with just one weapon.)  But, moment saved, Claire gave the gun back to Leon and went back to being an unarmed member of the group.

It was only when Leon and Claire were talking after the fact that I understood.  Claire had chosen to oppose the forces of zombie-and-worse via public non-violent action.  She had chosen NOT to be the person with the gun.  When needed a gun could be passed to her and she could take on the role of Claire Redfield: Zombie Killer but when it wasn't needed. --which was the case for much of the movie because of Leon, cops, and sometimes marines-- she was choosing not to be that person.

That's something I don't see a lot of in this sort of movie.  There are the fighters and the useless and maybe mission support staff.  But the, "If we really need an extra gun, hand me one but otherwise I'm totally good corralling the civilians as a civilian," is something I don't think I've really seen.

And so choosing not to be armed while part of the group except when absolutely necessary becomes something larger.  It becomes a choice, a moral decision to be shield rather than sword.  It becomes, "I'm not taking the non-violent role here because I have to, I'm doing it because I choose to."

This is not to say that the movie didn't have an action-girl-all-the-time character.  It did.  Though her actionness was diminished by the fact that a good chunk of the movie was spent fighting her own brother which is morally fraught and difficult to do.

Also she became a somewhat love interest for Leon and he has enough already.  I haven't even played all of the games and he had more than enough in the first one he appeared in.  Leon and Claire were the male and female leads and player characters.  Of course they got shipped (but I don't recall anything canonically indicating romance.)  But Leon also got Ada Wong where there was definite chemistry and attraction and so forth.  Add in female cop from this movie and you've got:
1 Claire by default
2 Ada
3 Original character from movie
And whoever else the games have indicated romantic sparks with.  One would be enough.  Zero would be just fine (they're stories about zombies and assorted monsters, not romance.)

The movie also does a passable job at keeping you guessing about who is good and who is evil.  The person who looks in that movie coded way to be obviously evil isn't.  He's just a jerk.  (And an insider trader.)  While you can pick out the big bad when he first appears, the movie introduces doubt.

When that tea turns out to be just tea and not some kind of poison/drug/whatever.  When he admits to wrongdoing.  When you're not sure if he just faked his death or he just actually died.

It becomes possible to think you misjudged him and he actually isn't evil.  But, of course, he is.

Especially when it turns out that you misjudged the organization he worked for (he was the only evil person in it, everything else was good) because on first appearance it seemed like the thing that would be evil in a movie like this just as he did.

Also, for a little while at least, it's unclear if the terrorist is actually a terrorist or being framed.

So that uncertainty was well played, I thought.

The collapse of the not-evil just a jerk Senator and the not-evil just has a mole company I don't fully understand.

It seems like the movie could easily have ended thus:

Leon or Claire: Get us a press conference and we'll save the company whose stock you're heavily invested in from collapsing.

At press conference:

Leon: My name is Leon Kennedy and since surviving Raccoon City I have reported directly to the President and dealt with situations like this.  We may never learn the full truth of what happened in Raccoon City, but we now know the full truth of what happened here.  It's important to get that truth out because up to this point everyone has been lied to.  The people have been lied to, the government has been lied to, TerraSave has been lied to, WilPharma has been lied to, even the terrorists responsible for this attack were lied to.
Leon: Let me introduce fellow Raccoon City survivor and TerraSave member, Claire Redfield.
Claire: TerraSave has dedicated itself to stopping events like this and helping the survivors when such events do occur.  In that capacity we've constantly been on the lookout for the next Umbrella Corporation and that allowed us to be manipulated.
Claire: A few lies at the right time, a few videos without context, and we were turned against who we should have been supporting.  WilPharma wasn't researching new biological weapons, it was researching ways to deal with existing ones.  It has developed a vaccine against the T-virus which will allow us to finally eradicate the menace.
Claire: This attack was designed to be so horrible it would get every drop of the vaccine sent here, where it was all destroyed.  Combined with the destruction of the computers at WilPharma's facility, the vaccine would be lost and, because of TerraSave's protests against WilPharama, the company would take the blame for the outbreak.  It would be destroyed, and the actual guilty party would escape, with the only surviving data on the vaccine.  Which he could then sell to the highest bidder.
Claire: We at TerraSave need to do a better job of recognizing who is and isn't on our side.  WilPharma is on our side, and has been since the beginning.  The source we trusted, who gave us information implicating WilPharama in horrible crimes, was against us.  He staged those crimes and caused this outbreak.
Claire: We need to support the reconstruction of WilPharma so that the world can be inoculated against the T-virus and the virus eradicated from this earth.  The data on the vaccine was saved, all that is needed is to rebuild the facilities.
Claire: BUT we must also be ever vigilant when it comes to the next Umbrella.  For example, WilPharma's current facility is contaminated.  The entire thing should be incinerated.  If anyone tries to do anything else, if anyone tries to dig through the rubble, they are the enemy.  Everything we need to know about the vaccine has already been recovered, the only reason to sift through what remains is to look for the biological weapons that had to be stored in the facility to make the vaccine.
[shift back to Leon]
Leon: Since the collapse of Umbrella the T-virus has been on the black market.  The vaccine, if WilPharma is allowed to rebuild and produce it again, would make that worthless.  The T-virus would go the way of smallpox.  This attack was to stop that from happening.  It was about money, nothing more.  It was to destroy the vaccine and the company that made it so that the perpetrator could go on selling the T-virus on the black market.
Leon: He has been captured, but it's up to all of us to make sure that he doesn't succeed in his other goals.  We've recovered the data necessary to recreate the vaccine, now we just need to support WilPharma so they can manufacture it.

Except better because political speech writers would be involved and shit.

And stuff.  Look at the damn time, I must sleep.


  1. I really like what you just noticed about Claire's CHOICE not to be action girl. I can't think of many other visual stories (in games, movies, etc) in which a female character plays second fiddle action-wise to the male lead and it's NOT a matter of her lesser ability, or her having been incapacitated in some way, or her being the motivating object rather than an equal player. It says a lot about Claire's ability levels, but also what strengths she CHOOSES to focus her life and time on. Very cool.

  2. Chris, I find your take really fascinating.

    I watched this movie TWICE and hated it both times (the second time I was hoping I'd like it, but no luck). (I flinched so hard at the whole "The terrorist is Bob Johnson." "Gasp, that's my BROTHER! ... He lives down the road, you wanna meet him?" I just...yeah.) (Yes, that's a paraphrase, but still.)

    The thing with Claire giving back the gun... I didn't like that at all. Like, I personally HATE guns, but I also don't live in a world where a zombie apocalypse follows me wherever I go. So it seemed like it made her willfully stupid and willingly... not helpless, but less protected.

    STILL. I had not thought about it in terms of a conscious choice being made, and... hmm. Now I'm kinda tempted to watch it again and see if I like it more under that paradigm. Either way, thank you for the new insights roiling about in my head looking for things to collide with. :)

    1. I was actually considering directly asking you if you'd seen it to get your take. I like Claire giving back the gun as a choice on who she was going to be when she clearly could have kept it or traded for Leon's back up. But it still leaves the male character from the game as action hero and the female one as not. So it's not as if it's not without problematic implications regardless.