The end of the world has been a popular topic in Science Fiction and Fantasy films for as long as we can remember. But while the topic is well worn, the subject has been kept relatively fresh as the causes of our demise have evolved with popular politics – nuclear holocaust, alien invaders/Communists, wayward meteors and Global Warming. The disaster du jour happens to be plagues and the latest entry into this post-Apocalyptic action genre is “Doomsday.”
Directed by Brit Neil Marshall (“The Descent”), “Doomsday” presents us with a near future Scotland that has been overrun by a vicious virus called ‘Reaper’ which causes its victims to die horrible, blood-spurting deaths. When things get out of hand, a gravelly voice-over tells us, Scotland is completely walled off from the rest of Great Britain to allow nature to take its course and the plague victims to die out. That was in 2008. Fast forward 30 years and England has declined to a land of poverty and chaos due to international isolation in reaction to their walling off of Scotland.
It is here that we meet Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra, perhaps best known as a Lara Croft spokesmodel), a one-eyed, tough-as-nails Domestic Security commando. When the Reaper virus suddenly reappears in London, Sinclair is recruited by her old boss Nelson (Bob Hoskins, “Unleashed”) to lead a heavily armed yet inevitably ill-prepared crack commando unit through the wall into Scotland to investigate the validity of satellite images that show survivors. After all, if there are survivors, there must be a cure.
“Doomsday” is cobbled together from the highlights of just about every notable post-Apocalyptic action film of the last 30 years. “The Road Warrior;” “Escape From New York;” “Aliens;” “28 Days Later;” the list keeps going. But this wouldn’t be entirely inexcusable if the bits were assembled with some care. Alas, they are not. If Marshall had kept the film as a straight-ahead actioner/chase flick, it may have still worked on a low expectations level. However, he intercuts the action in Scotland with scenes back in London involving the seedy political machinations of the Prime Minister (Alexander Siddig, “Syriana”) and his slimy advisor Canaris (David O’Hara, “The Departed”).
The two storylines do eventually join at the end, but a rational examination of the implications doesn’t quite hold water. The biggest problem is that the film is jumbled and only marginally coherent. The concept is tried and true and has the foundations for an adrenaline-pumping ride, but the characters are largely forgettable and they are left jumping from scene to scene with precious little plot thread to guide them.
However, getting hung up on plotting and story in this sort of film is a waste of time. It’s all about the action and “Doomsday” has plenty of it. Unfortunately, even here the movie falters. The action is choreographed competently, but like all the thematic elements, they are mostly carbon copies of sequences from previous films. In fact, the climactic car chase at the end of the movie can almost be cross referenced crash for crash with “The Road Warrior,” even down to the way the main baddie dies. The only new element that Marshall brings to the table is a gratuitous level of gore, but it’s nothing we haven’t already seen with the recent spate of gore-porn flicks. The only points Marshall scores are during his ‘Thunderdome’ sequence, which actually manages to be darkly funny, mixing an above-board level of nastiness with a soundtrack by Fine Young Cannibals (get it?).
As one would expect for this sort of film, the acting is only as good as it needs to be to keep the action moving. The standouts are Marshall regular Craig Conway (“The Descent”) who does his best Lord Humungus-meets-Wez impersonation as the maniacal Sol and Malcolm McDowell (“Gangster No.1”), who gets medieval on our asses. Mitra looks great in her body-hugging jumpsuit despite channeling Sylvester Stallone, whether she’s kicking a fully suited knight’s ass or shamelessly flaunting her own, while Hoskins, Siddig and O’Hara seem happy to pick up their paychecks for workman-like performances.
“Doomsday” could have been a guilty pleasure had most of us not already seen all the movies it rips off. It doesn’t do anything better or different than the countless other low-ambition action films out there. Even the gore quotient is rendered pedestrian by the recent “Rambo” movie. I’d like to say that “Doomsday” would be worth a rental, but you’d be better off renting “The Road Warrior” followed by “28 Days Later.” You’ll get all the content of “Doomsday,” but be watching movies that are orders of magnitude better.
Neil Marshall (director) / Neil Marshall (screenplay)
CAST: Emma Cleasby … Katherine Sinclair
Jeremy Crutchley … Richter
Rhona Mitra … Eden Sinclair
MyAnna Buring … Cally
Malcolm McDowell … Kane