Resident Evil is a video-game franchise with no foreseeable end in sight. And as Capcom’s zombie shooter approaches the big 3-0, it unleashes another entry in the often overlooked animated series of films. Taking place between games 6 and 7, and following 2017’s Vendetta, the story of Resident Evil: Death Island is subject to the same formula as its predecessors. A big threat brews somewhere, and the characters rush in to stop it. However, the new animated film does manage to set itself apart by featuring an all-star cast and complementing the over-the-top action sequences with organic emotional moments.
While the previous animated films — Degeneration, Damnation, and Vendetta — tend to star only a few major characters from the game franchise, Death Island includes four heavy-hitters. Leon S. Kennedy, Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, and Claire Redfield are all active during this mission.
Death Island opens with a flashback from the Raccoon City Incident; one of Umbrella’s employed military units is infected, all except for two soldiers named Dylan and JJ (respectively voiced by Daman Mills and Lucien Dodge in the film’s English version). Their orders are to protect and save the higher-ups and kill the infected. As one might expect, Dylan and JJ’s survivor scenario doesn’t play out favorably, but it does set the stage for someone’s villainous turn.
Even though the animated films don’t have a major impact on the video games, they are directly connected to them, and they reflect important events and stories. An example is Jill Valentine (Nicole Tompkins), whose trauma sustained from Wesker’s brainwashing in the fifth game carries over to Death Island. Screenwriter Makoto Fukami, returning from Vendetta, ties Jill’s personal arc to the main story in a way that doesn’t feel forced. In fact, Jill’s trauma can be compared to that of the film’s arch-villain. They did terrible things while under someone else’s control.
Death Island doesn’t take too long before it gets to the anticipated action scenes. After Claire Redfield (Stephanie Panisello) discovers a dead orca on the beach with a huge bite wound — a reference to Jaws 2? — she, Chris (Kevin Dorman), Leon (Matthew Mercer), and Jill end up on Alcatraz Island to investigate the source of a recent outbreak in San Francisco. There’s a new strain of the T-Virus, however, more concerning is how none of the infected parties were bitten. So how is the virus spreading?
As is clearly evident during the battles between the zombies and the four leads, the capture-motion animation has come a long way since Degeneration. There is still an “uncanny valley” effect to consider, but otherwise, the brawls don’t look as ungainly as before. The tussles are fairly exciting and, at times, well choreographed. Action-wise, Jill and Leon admittedly receive the biggest spotlights here, with the latter having a one-on-one fight to the finish with Vendetta holdover Maria Gomez (Cristina Valenzuela).
Death Island is definitely made with Jill fans in mind. Her journey to catharsis is the film’s center attraction, and how her emotional release factors into the villain’s own poignant story is nicely done. Leon, being the face of the animated franchise, naturally gets more substantial screen-time than Chris and Claire. So the film does slightly waste its potential for a true and equal team-up. Nevertheless, Death Island is a solid meeting of both game and film characters, and in several respects, it outshines the last three outings. The film may not ultimately have any effect on the game series, but it is a sign that the animated Resident Evil franchise is finally starting to get its act together.
Resident Evil: Death Island is now available on both Digital and Blu-ray/DVD.