Resident Evil: Death Island (Japan 2023)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/22/23
Cast: Matthew Mercer, Nicole Tompkins, Kevin Dorman, Stephanie Panisello, Erin Cahill

Continuing where "Vendetta" (2017) left off, we have yet another zombie virus on the loose, except that this one can target individuals and isn't transmitted via bodily fluids or airborne agents. Some of these newly infected creeps show up in San Francisco, and all of them had recently visited Alcatraz Island, so something nasty must be going on there. Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine head to the island to investigate, while Claire Redfield comes along to look into a related case. They conveniently run into Leon Kennedy on the island, who is following his own mission, which is more than mere coincidence. The madman behind everything clearly wants all of Raccoon City's finest in the same place at the same time so that he can give a long-winded speech about what a whiny little bitch he is and how he's going to make them all suffer. But he seriously underestimates the heroes and comes to a grisly end when Rebecca Chambers shows up to save the day (and the world).

Much like the previous "Resident Evil" CGI films, "Death Island" is gorgeous and uses cutting edge animation. The motion capture is superb and the filmmakers have learned from previous mistakes regarding the casting of motion capture actors. The closer you can get your motion capture actors to their rendered characters, the better off you'll be. Otherwise, you can introduce subtle body language cues that will make the performance look awkward and bizarre with the rendered model. Basically, don't use a small Asian woman to perform the motion capture for a character that's going to be rendered like Dwayne Johnson. Unless that's what you're going for. The mouth movements and lip-syncing aren't great, but I've come to expect that from the series and the technology. The action scenes are excellent, albeit completely physics-defying and over the top. However, they seem much more grounded and less outrageous than the action in "Vendetta."

The return of Jill Valentine and her CGI debut are a triumph for the series and clearly the best thing that the film has going for it. While I wasn't completely sold on her design, her movement, body language, presentation, and voice acting are spot-on. Nicole Tompkins does an incredible job of selling the character and bringing Jill to life, and she's fantastic throughout. For once, Leon Kennedy isn't totally annoying, and Matthew Mercer does a good job of downplaying the absurdity of Leon's previous incarnations so that Jill can have the spotlight. Chris, Claire, and Rebecca tend to come across as a little flat, but I can't completely blame the actors for that. For better or worse, "Death Island" is the closest I've seen to capturing the true "Resident Evil" experience, which includes awkward dialog and questionable behavior written through the skewed lens of American culture as perceived by Japanese authors. The dialog and character behavior is always slightly off, even if you can't explain why. In a way, it adds to the creepy factor of the series. The villain is also true to the series, and is a completely psychotic nut-job with infinite resources who likes to talk way too much about his past trauma (to which Jill delightfully responds, "Deal with it yourself, asshole!"). And in his insane mind, the only way to atone for his sins is to turn half the world into flesh-eating zombies. Sure, that makes PERFECT sense... About as much sense as why anyone would willingly work for him. Like the extraordinary assassin Maria, who serves as his bodyguard. Why does she hang out with such an unhinged crackpot when she could easily take him out? Was his promise to deliver Leon to her enough to secure her undying loyalty? Again, that's a huge stretch.

Regardless, if you can suffer through the ridiculous plot, corny dialog, and awkward pacing issues, the action is well worth the price of admission, and seeing all five of these classic "Resident Evil" characters team up is a fan's delight. Although I wonder where they can go with the series from here, as it seems like a good conclusion for all of the characters.