Resident Evil: Vendetta review

It is difficult to know where to begin.

Since 1996, I’ve sunk time and effort into the world of Resident Evil. At this point, it spans dozens of games, a separate cinematic universe, and other continuities within continuities. I even reviewed a stage play based on the material for this site which goes some strange places. Now that we’re in a post RE 7 world, I’m already unsure what even qualifies to make a piece of content Resident Evil-ish. It certainly isn’t zombies and it needn’t be horror either. Is it action or weirdness or poorly translated drama? Is it questions about humanity or rocket launchers or Jill sandwiches?

When you’re already burned out on the lore of a series, you’re not in the best frame of mind for diving into even more obtuse storytelling. That’s my starting point in reviewing yet another CGI tie-in film for a series that honestly needs less storytelling at this point. Previous entries in animated spin-off RE’s over the years have amounted to little more than editing together cut-scenes from the games and slightly upping the production value. Despite adding some talent pedigree to this project, the bar for Resident Evil: Vendetta is set reasonably low. The end product trips while attempting to clear that bar. That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but here we are.

It was difficult to gauge crowd reaction, as I was completely alone.

I attended a screening of Vendetta in theaters, on the one night it was available. I was unaware that it would be available to rent online the next morning, and this was the first of many mistakes I would make. The second mistake was showing up on time for the screening, because in place of trailers, Vendetta opened with a fifteen minute behind the scenes featurette that managed to show off every major set piece of the film we were about to watch. It also spent five minutes veering into an ad for Ducati motorcycles, of which one appears during an aforementioned set piece. I’m still not sure if this was supposed to raise our appreciation of the film or merely function as an ad for the iTunes release the following day. It was difficult to gauge crowd reaction, as I was completely alone.

During this time I discovered that my seat could recline several inches, and in that moment I was happy. This was short lived.

Director Takanori Tsujimoto (Red Tears, Bushido Man) sets the stage for us with an opening sequence in what is very clearly the mansion from the first RE game. Kinda fun, right? Well, this takes place between Resident Evil 6 and Resident Evil 7. It also features Chris Redfield– a dude who should know better than to go into this mansion again. But this one is in Mexico for some reason? Sure.

Chris and the other military bros break up into smaller groups to search the house, and for a few minutes it seems like this might be a super credible entry into the RE pantheon. Creepy house, things go bump, everyone makes poor decisions. Perfect. Then a little boy zombie takes out nine trained soldiers with automatic weapons by distracting them with an RC car and nothing is ever good again. A couple of soldiers get cut to pieces in a hallway just like the laser sequence in the first Resident Evil movie, and this sets a standard by which the rest of the film is measured.

[Resident Evil: Vendetta] synthesizes every cool moment you’ve ever experienced in twenty years of Resident Evil into a 90 minute buzzkill.

Like all the worst tie-ins, Vendetta becomes immediately and transparently invested in incorporating (read: copying) as many characters, plot points, and devices as possible. Not just from the games, but from the movies as well, even the CGI ones. It is a bizarre nexus point, or even a black hole, that synthesizes every cool moment you’ve ever experienced in twenty years of Resident Evil into a 90 minute buzzkill. Hell, the next act of the film even takes place in a college that directly rips off the story of the otherworldly stage play I reviewed from last year. Writing about this movie would be a waste of time if I just rehashed everything you already know about people and locations, so perhaps it’s in our best interests to just focus on the original concepts introduced?

The big bad in this film is Glenn Arias, a weapons dealer with a VENDETTA to settle. See what they did? Do you see? Anyhow, Arias was at his wedding when someone he wronged dropped a bomb on the party. Arias survived but everyone else was left in pieces. Now Arias has a version of a zombie virus that causes monsters to be controlled into not attacking Arias or his buyers. This is sort of a fun idea, but it translates into Arias being able to deliver long, weird monologues from in the middle of a zombie horde and that’s about it.

Our protagonist Chris Redfield tracks down the smartest person he knows: former teammate Rebecca Chambers, who maybe has a cure for the infection that she whipped up in a day? Sure. They go on an adventure together but also take some time to talk about how great Breaking Bad is. I’m not making that up. I promise you I’m not making that up. Kudos to whoever did translation/localization here, because holy cow I enjoy imagining what is on Chris Redfield’s Netflix que.

In an effort to bring down Arias, the team locates the final piece of their puzzle in the form of Leon S. Kennedy, who is busy drowning himself in a bottle of whiskey the proportions of which are unlike any bottle of whiskey that has ever existed in any country or in any time. Why wouldn’t all these lead characters band together? This absolutely makes sense.

A brief aside here, going back to the behind the scenes featurette from before the film. Immense amounts of motion capture went into the making of this film, and the lead animator explains that he’s somewhat shocked that all of the male leads were played by female stunt people for the motion capture. (This could be its own piece but I’m not going to do that to you.) His only complaint about these female stunt people is that their hands are too small, so he has to animate their hands bigger so they look like men.

Where was that guy on this whiskey bottle? It would have pulled me completely out of the movie if I wasn’t already distracted by looking at all of the digital hands — or by the fact the movie isn’t very good.

The rest of the film… what is there to say? I mean, I can guess at to what you want to know. “Is it full of weirdo lines that don’t super make sense?” Absolutely. The villain’s big speeches are action packed with platitudes and observations that go nowhere. The lead characters bicker over nothing at all. The logic leading scene to scene… doesn’t… doesn’t do that. It’s a big asinine mess, and if you’ve stuck with Resident Evil this long, you’re probably into that.

Arias as a villain tries to do some interesting things with his limited screen time, including reanimating his entire wedding party and hoping to wed Rebecca as his Wife 2.0 which is creepy as all hell. His eventual undoing is a letdown, but also what was I expecting? Vendetta isn’t here to make me feel good about my choices in life.

Resident Evil: Vendetta does an almost admirable job of ticking every box on a fandom checklist, and in the process gives its audience something that almost no one could want.

To its credit, some of the action sequences are visually stunning (having garnered much more attention and time from the animators, as opposed to that whiskey bottle) and the quality of this series entry is miles beyond previous CGI outings. Yeah, a bunch of zombie dogs are going to appear from nowhere and chase Chris Redfield through the streets of a city while he drives a Ducati motorcycle — but did you see that Ducati? Ducati. Buy it. I want to. Oh god, this is just an ad for Ducati. That was unexpected.

Resident Evil: Vendetta does an almost admirable job of ticking every box on a fandom checklist, and in the process gives its audience something that almost no one could want. It raises a question about what brings people to this series:  Are you here for the scares or are you in on a joke? Vendetta unfortunately chooses neither, and in doing so wastes an opportunity to make waves in a time when the universe is primed and open to taking big chances. Bummer.