I had high hopes for Doomsday, having enjoyed director Neil Marshall’s first two films – Dog Soldiers and The Descent – immensely. Both were low budget, creatively shot films with focused plots and inventive effects (not to mention quite a bit of gore). Though the inventive effects and well shot action remains in Doomsday, with the budget upped considerably from his previous two productions, it seems that Neil Marshall wasn’t able to restrain his ambition – Doomsday is all over the place, though it has its moments.
Opening with the aformentioned viral outbreak, the prologue shows Scotland being cut off from the rest of the UK in order to contain the disease, its citizens left to fend for themselves behind the wall; shunned by the international community following this action, the UK have no choice but to send in a small squad of soldiers to seek a cure from the Scottish survivors when the virus reappears in London, 27 years later. The team, led by one-eyed Major Sinclair (who comes equipped with a cybernetic, spying eye to replace her missing one), go behind the wall and encounter a transformed Scotland, which has fallen into violent, cannibalistic anarchy since the original outbreak.
Right from the start, Marshall’s influences can be felt onscreen; he shamelessly – and obviously – plagiarises Escape From New York, Mad Max and Excalibur, among other films. The John Carpenter influence can be felt even in the font used for the opening and closing credits (Albertus, for the text geeks out there), as well as the visual design showing Scotland being cut off from the UK, which feels less like an homage to Carpenter’s Escape From New York and more like outright theft. It’s ridiculously blatant. Obvious too is the Mad Max influence on the design of the cannibal tribes; from the costumes, hairstyles and even to their cars. A diversion to a medieval-esque society in the latter stages of the film – which makes the proceedings even less cohesive than they were until that point – gives us the Excalibur rip-off.
Though initially the score – by Tyler Bates – also has the pulsing synth-led style known and loved by John Carpenter fans (and which, perhaps, makes Doomsday feel more up-to-date and less anachronistic than it did upon release, thanks to the rise of the mostly Carpenter-influenced synthwave music genre), it does shift gear later on, feeling a little more unique than it does at first. There’s some great use of 80s pop songs on the soundtrack, including Good Thing by Fine Young Cannibals and Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Whenever there’s an excuse for some graphic gore, Marshall goes for it wholeheartedly – appendages, organs and whole bodies pop and explode all over the place almost constantly. At one stage, someone is graphically, somewhat disturbingly cooked alive before being eaten. It’s all pretty grim, but there’s a few attempts at humour – though every one of these falls flat.
Rhona Mitra as Major Sinclair fails to make much of an impression; she’s clearly supposed to be the badass Snake Plissken style protagonist, but she has so little character and personality that it’s hard to root for her in the same way you do for Kurt Russell’s iconic nihilist. Taking the comparison further, she even pulls a similar move against the Government in the climax that Plissken does at the end of Escape From New York.
Other characters don’t far much better; most are dispatched so quickly and off-handedly that they’re clearly little more than cannon fodder – others that stick around just aren’t very compellingly written or handled. Bob Hoskins – much missed – does great work with his ex-cop character, one of the very few who stands out.
It’s a massive disappointment, unfortunately. Despite its wholesale theft of themes and imagery from other, much better films, Doomsday doesn’t have the single-minded focus of any of them, awkwardly mashing them together in a film full of plot holes that lurches from one scene to the next with little in the way of logic. The action scenes are well shot and good use is made of its budget to make it appear much bigger than it actually is, but the grim nastiness leaves a sour taste and little lingers in the mind, other than the desire to go back and watch the 80s films that inspired it.
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