Movies based on videogames. You have to wonder why they keep making them. For every successful attempt (“Tombraider” being the best example), there are a dozen carcasses left behind to warn those who would dare follow in their footsteps. Andrzej Bartkowiak’s “Doom” is based on an old PC game from the early ’90s that proved popular enough to spawn numerous sequels, expansion packs, death matches, and mods (don’t worry if you don’t know what any of these things are, it just means you’re not a PC gaming geek), and more recently, led to the creation of the “Quake” series of games. How exactly do the original “Doom” games translate into a movie? Not very well, as there’s nothing cinematic or story-driven about those games in the first place. To wit: you have a gun, you walk around, and you kill spawning demons. The end.
And so they made a movie out of Doom anyway. Is it any good? Not particularly. Former cinematographer turned director Andrzej Bartkowiak (“Romeo Must Die”) tries to hide most of the film in darkness, but curiously fails to generate any real tension. The movie concerns a squad of Marines sent to investigate the disappearance of scientists on a Mars research station. They discover that indigenous creatures have infected the scientists and turned them into monsters bent on — well, something. This leads to a lot of scenes of gung-ho Marines, strapped with giant guns stalking about dark corridors, dark rooms, and dark basements. And I do mean a lot of these scenes. It’s all very dark, and it’s anybody’s guess what’s happening in any given scene.
The Marines themselves are a rag tag bunch, certainly not made of the sturdy stuff you’d entrust with such a vital mission. As per S.O.P., one of the Marines is a religious fanatic into self-mortification; another is an easily scared rookie named The Kid; there’s a combative pervert into “she-boys”; and of course, the usual sprinkling of minority faces to keep the film PC. With the exception of the Sarge (The Rock) and Reaper (Karl Urban), you wouldn’t want these guys guarding a hen house, much less going on important rescue missions on another planet. The attempt at giving the Marines edgy personalities was probably the contribution of screenwriter Wesley Strick, who gained fame writing a psychopath Robert De Niro in ” Cape Fear “. Here, the attributed “edginess” just comes across as silly.
The film’s actual hero (notice I did not say star) is New Zealander Karl Urban (last seen battling Vin Diesel in “The Chronicles of Riddick”), playing Marine John Grimm, whose code name is Reaper. (“Grimm Reaper”, get it?) John’s twin sister, Samantha (Rosamund Pike, last seen battling James Bond in “Die Another Day”) is a scientist at the Mars research station, and the two haven’t seen each other in 10 years. John doesn’t like going back to Mars, especially since his parents, both researchers like sis, were killed during a dig there many years back. Now back together again, the siblings have some catching up to do, but all that’s interrupted by monsters and quickly dying Marines. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
Unquestionably poorly conceived and scripted, “Doom” does have a couple of nifty moments that makes it just a little bit worthwhile. There’s a long sequence toward the end where Bartkowiak gives the audience a first-person perspective of combat as Reaper marches through the facility, encountering and killing monsters as he go. Mainstream movie reviewers were dumbfounded by this move, and the general consensus deemed it pointless. In fact, Yes, it is quite pointless, and only a veteran of First Person Shooters could possibly appreciate this sequence, which I did. The other good idea is the ark, the means of instantaneous teleportation from Earth to Mars, which unfortunately is more of a plot device than anything relevant to the story at hand.
Fans of the games won’t be completely satisfied with “Doom” the movie, since although Bartkowiak and company do include a lot of game elements in the film, one can’t help but notice that a lot of the monsters that made the games so memorable aren’t even present. While the Imps are well represented, the complete absence of giant floating monster heads that spit out balls of fire is a bit disappointing. The film’s “R” rating probably cost “Doom” a lot of teen business, but it works wonders for the gore. The film is covered end to end in gruesome splatter and a seemingly unlimited supply of gushing blood. Gorehounds will certainly appreciate “Doom”, while queasy moviegoers might think it exploitative.
Approached from the right perspective, “Doom” is not an especially bad movie. In fact, it’s quite entertaining when it stops wallowing in darkness long enough to deliver fights between Marines and monsters. The characters are perhaps too edgy, leading to questionable personalities among what are supposed to be rough and tumble, but highly professional Marines. Also, a major character has a complete personality transplant in the Third Act, setting the stage for a mano-a-mano fight with Reaper. And yes, I’ll even grant you that stars Karl Urban and the lovely Rosamund Pike probably tries too hard to get their American accents right (why bother in the first place?) at the expense of any chemistry between them. Still, it’s mindless splatter with a big budget, and that’s not something you encounter often from Hollywood .
By the way, a little word of advice to screenwriters Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick: Marines, even futuristic ones, would never, ever refer to themselves and their fellow Marines as “soldiers”.
Andrzej Bartkowiak (director) / Dave Callaham, Wesley Strick (screenplay)
CAST: Karl Urban …. John Grimm/Reaper
Rosamund Pike …. Samantha Grimm
Deobia Oparei …. Destroyer
Ben Daniels …. Goat
Razaaq Adoti …. Duke
Richard Brake …. Portman
Al Weaver …. The Kid
Dexter Fletcher …. Pinky
The Rock …. Sarge
Yao Chin …. Mac