Resident Evil: Death Island (aka Biohazard: Death Island) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The medium of computer animation and the genre of video game movies have improved to such a degree that one expects more from the combination of both. Recent endeavors like The Super Mario Bros Movie and Sonic The Hedgehog movie have proven that these properties can be serviceable enough to pass as lukewarm matinee affairs. The same level of improvement can’t be said for the Resident Evil franchise, which still seems to be stuck in that decaying camp of spinning together video game cinematic sequences into a feature film. To clarify, Death Island is not technically that kind of pastiche, but you wouldn’t know from looking at it.
The premise of this film is simple. Too simple. Taking place after the events of Resident Evil: Vendetta, the familiar security agents of Jill, Chris, Leon, Claire, and Rebecca are hot on the trail of another zombie outbreak experiment. They find leads from some mutilated whales that wash up in San Francisco. Considering the location, Alcatraz Island is likely the source. They go undercover to the island’s prison with a tour group, only to find themselves being attacked by zombies inside the prison. After some standard zombie chaos of the unlucky tourists becoming a bloody snack, the team investigates the prison to discover who is creating this new threat to humanity.
The villain is not all interesting, either in design or motive. It’s an ex-soldier who has grown disillusioned with the world after a zombie outbreak forced him to kill his comrade. Rather than fight back against the T-virus that claimed his friend, the villain merely wants to wield his own version to control governmental organizations so that…I don’t know, he can burn it all down? His nihilism comes so standard even he doesn’t seem to have much of his heart in it. He does devise some clever new ways to infect people with his miniature drones and sets his sights on creating giant zombie monsters. These are neat ideas, but they’re all housed within the incredibly small box of Resident Evil stagings. The entire adventure is contained in the island’s prison and proceeds exactly the way one would expect a Resident Evil game at such a location to unfold, complete with a giant boss battle as the villain transforms into a hideous mess of flesh that needs to be blown up.
The film pretty much goes on autopilot with that barebones plot. However, what are we really watching the movie for at that point? Zombie horror? Sure, there’s that, but the gore still feels kneecapped and tame, either being bound by keeping an MPAA rating acceptable or having limitations with the stiff computer graphics. The story’s not all that compelling. There’s not exactly any new ground explored from the previous Resident Evil series, making this feel more like the filler arc of a Resident Evil TV series. The many characters crowd the screen are major bores, where any chemistry they attempt to have falls flat. That’s fine for skippable cutscenes in a game but lousy for a film that doesn’t allow us to press Start and skip to the action. Even the action is pretty hokey, though I must admit there’s an unintentional silliness with the build-up to the finale, where the central heroes bound into combat like superheroes despite their only real talent shooting guns at monsters. They’re in their comfort zone, for sure, but it sure is absurd watching them assemble like the Avengers.
Death Island is a very whatever-type of Resident Evil movie that delivers a watered-down version of what fans have come to expect from the franchise. It’s got the basics down of having the familiar characters, the continuing story from the last animated movie (whoever is watching it), the zombies, the boss battles, and the relation to the Umbrella Corporation that started all this. Fans who need nothing more than that should be pleased. Anybody else who wants their zombie horror juicy or their outbreak movies more compelling will be left hungrier than a zombie starved for weeks. Forgets brains; I’d settle for some heart at this point.