FAN FAVOURITE OR FORMULAIC?
As the third film in a series of animated adaptations of the RESIDENT EVIL (Capcom 1996-) series, RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA aims to transport audiences into a world of chaos and fear as a mysterious virus is once again let loose on the world. The emphasis here is once again; as expected, a third film adapted from a 21-year game franchise about the same human-into-zombie threat can become rather tiresome. But, while some may see the repeated biohazard as the peak of formulaic, those more accustomed to RESIDENT EVIL’s survival-horror features will find comfort in VENDETTA’s gore-filled warfare. To view it as a pastiche to its own franchise would also make sense considering how convoluted the narrative is.
The opening ten minutes of the film offer an impressive flurry of horror elements, including zombie children and waves of jump scares. After the initially terrifying romp around a creepy mansion, we are whisked away into a jarringly different environment. The majority of the film is instead full of explosions, motorcycles and painful dialogue that barely acknowledges the original horror setting. Nonetheless, these contrasting genres reflect the game well. Boasting elements of horror and action, VENDETTA provides something for fans of the franchise, whether they enjoy moments of dread or impressively choreographed shoot outs. A number of dialogue heavy scenes are overly melodramatic and slow-motion motorcycle scenes, intended to provoke awe, instead result in embarrassment.
But these moments of over-the-top action may prove how successful a video game adaptation it is. Much like the rise in superhero films and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001-) franchise, audiences respond to familiarity and will often return to the same series expecting a safe, but enjoyable watch. For RESIDENT EVIL fans this would mean the occasional jump scare, a deadly virus and thousands of zombies. As a viewer unfamiliar with the history of RESIDENT EVIL, VENDETTA already appears stale in its presentation of all these aspects, as if the narrative has already occurred dozens of times within the franchise through film adaptations (both animated and real) and bountiful video game serials. All that can be clear at this point is that the inevitable sequel will no doubt include a brand new virus and many, many more zombies.
REAL LIFE VENDETTAS
RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA is a film filled with ridiculous over-the-top action, seemingly endless shootouts and countless CG explosions. Somewhere buried deep within all the adrenaline-fuelled animated testosterone is some semblance of a plot. Chris Redfield (voiced by Kevin Dorman) and Leon S. Kennedy (voiced by Matthew Mercer) must shoot, stab and kick hordes of undead as evil genius Glenn Arias (voiced by John Demita) attempts to take over New York. The villain is bland and boring with no real motivation other than revenge. The act he wishes to avenge, however, has some interesting ideas behind it.
Arias is labeled as a terrorist and is attacked by a drone strike as a result. The attack takes place on his wedding day, killing all his friends, family and new bride. It is significant that no real motivation is given for the drone strike other than he is a weapons dealer that has “landed him on some countries’ hit-list”. This can be seen as a critique of the use of drone strikes during the Obama administration. Obama launched ten times more drone strikes than his predecessor. The use of drone strikes has been continually supported by the American public with over 58% of the public saying they are in favour. However, as a Japanese-produced film, it is easy to see that the Japanese are a lot more skeptic.
VENDETTA is very vague about the conditions leading to the strike against Arias, which is also reflective of actual events. The American government has continually stated that they only ever resort to drone strikes if there is an “imminent treat”. However, NBC News obtained a justice department memo stating that the rules of drone strikes “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future”. The filmmakers are clearly aware of these flimsy rules.
This strike leads to Arias revenge and turn to bioweapon terrorism, which again can be seen as a reflection of real life causality. Terrorist recruiters have continually used the fear of drone strikes to recruit more people to their cause. For all the potential in this critique, it is undermined by lacklustre plotting and weak characters. While the film succeeds in setting up a critique, it leaves a lot to be desired in making those arguments effective. The more probing points are lost somewhere in the pixels.
PLAYING THE GAME
RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA is, as the name connotes, part of the RESIDENT EVIL franchise. Set in the same universe as the immensely popular video games, VENDETTA is the third instalment of the Japanese action-thriller CG animated series and is referred to as “The game lover’s film” by fans of the video game. While this may be the case, the film employs the same sexist stereotypes of gender that are common pitfalls of the gaming world.
When the game was first released in 1996, both female and male characters were hyper-sexualised. Over two decades later and considering the advancement of positive and progressive representations of both male and female bodies on screen, one would expect a drastic change to have occurred. Unfortunately, this is not the case with VENDETTA. The two male protagonists provide the audience with a stereotypical brawn and bad boy duo. Chris Redfield’s (voiced by Kevin Dorman) hyper-masculinity has been further enhanced due to advancements in technology, allowing his rugged face and muscles to be more clearly defined and his cheekbones to be that much sharper. The other male stereotype comes in the form of Leon S. Kennedy (voiced by Matthew Mercer) who is the game’s bad boy. Although not as muscular as Chris, he conforms to typical bad boy tropes, drinking his problems away during the day in a leather jacket and swishing his perfectly unruly fringe, not forgetting his fondness for motorcycles. Sadly, there are few realistic representations of maleness in the film.
In terms of female representation, Professor Rebecca Chambers (voiced by Erin Cahill) may be a leading expert in her scientific field, but that is the only positive aspect of her character. Visually, she is as sexualised as the original game; her curvaceous breasts and rear contrast her exaggeratedly small waist, once again providing an unrealistic and stereotypical representation of women onscreen. Her need to be saved by Chris is a narrative driving force and the sexualisation of her character is only enhanced during the terrifying moment when Rebecca is injected with the A-virus. During the 30 minutes that the virus takes to turn Rebecca into the living dead, she is strapped to an operating table and, in what appears to be more of a sex harness than a hospital restraint, she moans and pants heavily in an eroticised manner while the virus takes effect.
As the final scene comes to an end and the franchise is set up for yet another sequel, one positive that can be taken from this film is that Rebecca does not kiss Chris when he rescues her. Although it is a seemingly insignificant detail in the grand scheme of this film, in a diegesis filled with forced marriages by the lead villain (voiced by John DeMita) and Rebecca, women in impractical skin-tight leather jumpsuits and a fondness for men to kneel on the floor and roar in a primitive fashion during scenes of distress, any stereotypical convention that is not used is a significant achievement.
RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA screened on Wednesday 14 June at the Southampton Showcase Cinema de Lux as a special screening hosted by Park Circus. Showcase/Park Circus special screenings run until 15 June.