For the first time in the franchise’s twenty-seven-year history, the five most notable Resident Evil main characters come together in one ninety-minute film. In addition, the ensemble cast and the anticipated return of Matt Mercer as Leon (presumably for the last time) excited longtime fans to head back into the animated arm of the series. Previous additions, including the 2017 Resident Evil: Vendetta movie and the recent Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness miniseries—which is part of the same continuity—have been met with a warm reception from franchise devotees. But what of new fans?
As the movie continues plot threads from its 2017 predecessor, a non-follower would be diving into the deep end by starting with this film. However, Death Island invites new audiences as it brings the viewer up to speed on the chemistry and interpersonal histories among the lead characters. Even for those who have only heard of the franchise name, the titular leads have permeated other facets of popular culture. Context clues play a large role in catching up to their backstories, especially for Jill and Leon, as they’ve never had any on-screen interaction until this movie.
Writer Makoto Fukami skillfully balances the emotional highs and lows between characters. Jill’s interactions with the other four characters come off as sincere, stitching together their friendships built up from other continuities. Utilizing Chris’s concern over her trauma from a previous mission, Fukami weaves the emotional tension between the two longtime work partners into their latest mission. It effectively brings the viewer up to speed without resorting to cliché, petty bickering.
In contrast, the weight posted by the villains—Dylan and Maria—is much weaker. Although the movie focuses on Dylan’s emotional backstory as an ex-soldier hired by the Umbrella Corporation, he never breaks out of his mustache-twirling villain shell. His lofty goal of world domination is just thinly veiled insecurities stemming from having to forcibly kill his friend during his last mission. Jill rightfully calls him out for his ridiculous leap in logic during the film’s climax, but by then, the viewer is unconvinced of how Dylan came to this conclusion in the first place.
On the other hand, Maria—the secondary villain—makes more of an impression as her vengeance carries over from the previous film, Vendetta. She’s the center of all the hand-to-hand combat while Dylan gathers the ‘pawns’ under his master plan. Though, she’s a character of very few words compared to Dylan’s long-winded monologues. Her objective is to take down Leon, which, unfortunately, leads to simple—and sometimes laughable—one-liners akin to Inigo Montoya. However, her final fight with him is cut short, almost anticlimactic, as he kicks her into a stake, and she stumbles to the ground. Considering she spent the whole movie chasing him and knocking the wind out of his sails, she never sticks a strong enough blow to keep Leon down for more than a second.
Director Hasumi’s previous work on live-action movies shines through in his keen eye for action. The sheer absurdity of using a close-up angle on Maria’s heel to clamp a motorcycle brake had me wishing there was a freeze frame. CGI movies often receive criticism for their stilted, inorganic look. However, Hasumi’s inventive use of camera angles during action sequences separates Death Island from an extended in-game cutscene. Arguably the most exciting shot in the film would have to be the five characters finally assembling in one shot, guns drawn at the transformed Dylan. All hell breaks loose during the individual character’s slow-motion sequences and exploding artillery in the armory.
At the heart of Death Island is the camaraderie with a dash of zombies. Eagle eye viewers will catch the raw designs of the creatures featured in this movie. Lickers, bio-organic weapons, and zombie sharks all receive enough limelight to please even the most hardcore fans. As for humans, their emotional highs and lows while they face their inner demons need more exploration. The Death Island filmmakers tackled the challenge of balancing screen time between the five main characters, translating it into an exciting 90 minutes of action and character development.