I’m willing to bet that I know what Neil Marshall’s favorite movies are: Escape From New York, Mad Max, Aliens, Apocalypse Now, The Matrix, Braveheart, Pulp Fiction, Gladiator, and George Romero’s Living Dead pictures. Marshall, whose previous The Descent remains one of the most disturbing thrillers I’ve ever seen, borrows some of the best elements from these films for his latest effort, Doomsday. The result feels almost like a greatest hits package from other titles. You know all those referential spoofs we’ve been getting lately (Epic Movie, Scary Movie, Meet the Spartans, etc.)? Well, Doomsday is like one of those, except played completely straight.
For the sake of making the argument, I’ll point out the familiar stuff as we go along.
The movie starts off in present day. A lethal virus has spread, and to contain it, the government builds a giant wall, sealing off all of Scotland and leaving the “infected” to rot on the other side (a la the Living Dead pictures). Then the story fast-forwards to 2023. Somehow, the virus has jumped the wall and landed in England. A panicked Department of Domestic Security head discovers that a few humans are still living over there – which must mean someone discovered a cure. He orders DDS chief Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins) to assemble a team to go over the wall, find a missing doctor who is presumed to have found the cure, steal the cure, and bring it back (shades of Escape From New York).
Leading this mission is Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), a soldier who has a very personal reason for wanting to enter Scotland. Her crew makes its way through the post-apocalyptic landscape in giant tanks (just like the ones in Aliens) and come face-to-face with hostile survivors who resent the intrusion. These survivors are dirty, pierced, tattooed, and guided by a Mohawked leader (Mad Max) with his own personal leather-clad gimp (Pulp Fiction). Eden and the others eventually find their target, Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who turns out to be something of a lunatic (Apocalypse Now). He lives in an old castle in the forest (allowing for some Braveheart-esque action). Kane does not want to be found; he captures Eden and makes her fight for her life in an arena (Gladiator). She escapes and is chased in a sleek black sports car (The Matrix Reloaded) by the survivors, who pursue her in dilapidated old vehicles for a major smash-up (kind of like the Mad Max sequel The Road Warrior).
This mish-mash of elements from so many other films isn’t bad in and of itself. In fact, I kind of liked parts of it. Marshall at least cribs from the best parts of great movies. He also inserts some uniquely humorous touches throughout. Doomsday has some of the most creative “kills” I’ve seen on screen in a long time; you can’t help but laugh at how gloriously over-the-top some of them are. There’s definite style at work here too. Consider the final chase scene, which is creatively (and effectively) scored to the 80’s Frankie Goes to Hollywood classic “Two Tribes.” Some individual moments of action are effective as well, particularly in that finale.
What ultimately harms the picture is that the director never entirely figures out how to gel all this stuff into a cohesive whole. His characters, for example, are woefully underdeveloped. The subplot involving the government official who hides secret knowledge about the human survivors in Scotland is potentially provocative, yet the movie rushes through these sections in its rush to carry on with the action. Ditto for Eden’s backstory; the ending would have been much more emotional had we understood her character’s motives a little more. Kane, too, could have used some more depth. If his personality and narcissistic worldview had been expanded on, he might have been a near-classic modern day villain. But again, Marshall rushes through those passages so that Kane seems like little more than a stock baddie.
I also had some problems with the way the action scenes were edited: the pace is too quick. Sometimes there are literally several cuts per second. Because of this, it’s often difficult to tell what’s happening. For an action sequence to work, you have to be with it 100%. You have to know what’s happening at all times so that the peril facing the characters seems real. That doesn’t happen enough here.
There are a lot of problems with Doomsday, but it is not without some entertainment value. So many movies that open without screening for critics (as this one did) are simply atrocious. I wouldn’t even come close to putting Doomsday in that category. It’s amiable enough, without ever achieving the level of success reached by the films it pays tribute to.
( out of four)
Doomsday is rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
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