The Good: Starts well
The Bad: It turns absolutely ridiculous.
The Basics: An unpleasantly gory post-apocalyptic film, Doomsday alternates between the ridiculous and the boring.
A friend of mine turned me on to Doomsday because the current script project I'm working on has a role which would be ideally filled by Rhona Mitra when it is cast. My friend asked “Who's Rhona Mitra?” and, knowing his tastes, I said, she was the lead in Underworld 3. To that, he responded, she's the lead in this wonderful movie, Doomsday! He was correct; she was the lead. Sadly, he and I differ greatly on “wonderful” when it comes to this movie. My friend died recently and as I move reviews from my old site to my new blog, I found this one and I thought I'd move it sooner as opposed to later. Pete and I differed a lot on movies and it occurs to me that Doomsday was probably the last one we disagreed on (whatwith Let The Right One In not arriving in time for us to watch it and disagree on).
The last few years have seen the rise of a number of post-apocalyptic scenarios in films (living through the Bush years, who can blame us?!) and Doomsday rode the end of that trend with little fanfare. While it is stylish and well-directed, Neil Marshall’s script (he also directed the film) is alternately sadly derivative and utterly ridiculous. And while the players in it do well with the parts they are given, they are given little to work with that makes a whole lot of sense. For those seeing it on DVD, they have the opportunity to check out the unrated director's cut which is even more gory and gross than the original (I went with this, as I like to see what the director's vision is, especially when they write the movie themselves).
A plague surfaces in Glasgow which requires the upper portion of the island (Great Britain) to be cordoned up with a wall and military presence the likes of which the world has never seen. On the last transports out, a little girl (who has been shot through the eye) is put on the chopper while her mother stays behind in the infected zone. Thirty years later, the girl has grown up to be Major Sinclair and she is a crack officer who gets by quite well with her bionic eye and a friendship with a powerful government handler. That handler, Bill Nelson, has a meeting with the Prime Minister of England, who reveals that the infection has resurfaced in London and before it becomes a full-blown plague, it must be stopped. The Prime Minister – and his right hand man, Canaris – reveal to Bill that satellite footage has revealed people alive in the quarantine zone, which suggests a cure to the plague. Bill sends Sinclair and a small team through the wall to try to find the scientist, Dr. Marcus Kane, who was working on a cure.
Instead, Sinclair’s team is soon mowed down by punk survivors who are following the angry Sol. Captured by Sol, Sinclair and her team work to escape and find Kane with the unlikely aid of Kane’s daughter, who Sol had imprisoned.
Doomsday starts awesome and I cannot stress how excited I was when the movie began for it. But from pretty much the first appearance of the punks north of the border, the movie takes a turn into the ridiculous. Marshall creates two societies within the quarantine zone, one built on violence, one built on fear. The second community works in its own weird way because fear can constantly be adjusted and tweaked to keep the peasants in line. But the society with Sol and his crazed friends becomes quickly ridiculous and unpleasant to watch.
First, a society based on sheer violence and barbarism is near impossible to sustain, especially for thirty years. Humans have progressed beyond being animals. The type of regression Sol’s society represents makes sense in the initial outbreak, but not for decades afterward. But the real killer of the story is this: Bill is shown satellite footage that shows one or two rogue individuals out above ground. Sol’s people number in the hundreds and the viewer is expected to believe that this angry bunch of punkers – who apparently have perfectly good automobiles – are just quiet most of the time? Utterly ridiculous.
The film wanders about from the tense and sensible into the violent, gory and anything-but-entertaining. It then degenerates into a somewhat pointless excursion that is less satisfying, but acceptable before becoming one of the dumbest prolonged car chase sequences I've seen in recent years.
On the character development front, there is none. Marshall’s script follows along almost every conceit of the horror genre, so who lives and who dies is pretty unsurprising to seasoned moviegoers.
But the film actually has decent acting. Alexander Siddig gives a plausible performance as the Prime Minister which reminded me just how much I miss Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where he played the doctor. Similarly, Bob Hoskins gives a good supporting performance as Bill Nelson and he has a decent emotional range to pull of his character's big scene.
And Rhona Mitra does make the viewer care about the fate of her character, as well as plausibly play the action hero. Fans of The Practice or Gideon’s Crossing are likely to enjoy how this often-cerebral actor is actually able to mix it up with a performance that is downright badass.
That said, the movie is predictable and the DVD bonus features are obvious for a film of this type. There is a commentary track, but I opted to not sit through the film a second time to see how insightful it might be. The special effects features were pretty basic and the DVD had trailers for this and other films as well.
In the end, fans of science fiction or apocalyptic films have seen all of this before, in much better ways.
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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.