Neil Marshall's third feature film will win no awards for originality. That is pretty evident even from the trailer. It is also a very silly film. Yet as I am familiar with Marshall's first two films, the great Dog Soldiers (2002), a tongue in cheek military werewolf picture, and The Descent (2005), a pot-holing cavern horror, I expected as much. A man that has so far made his name with British horror flicks, Marshall strays from the genre for Doomsday in favour of dystopian science fiction. Has this change of tact done him good? A brief synopsis...
Nearly thirty years from now, after quarantining the victims of an epidemic to Scotland, the virus breaks out in London. Scotland has become a wasteland with presumably no survivors, yet the government has detected human movement within the quarantined area so they send in a crack team of military police to track down the survivors and provide the government with a cure to save London and the rest of Britain from further infection. The one to lead this team, on advice from copper boss Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins) is Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) a tough young officer who herself came from the quarantined area as a child. From here on in, it's all guns blazing and blood splattering action.
My first thoughts on this rather unsubstantial film irritatingly leapfrog my better judgement in that I actually thought it was a lot of fun. What I enjoyed about it was its 1980's tacky action film quality. It reminded me of many films, some of which I will detail later, but the overriding trigger happy, mindless, leave-your-brain-at-the-door action style took me back to the videos I used to rent with my dad as a child when my mum was out, many of which starred a Stallone, a Van Damme or a Schwarzenegger. Testosterone all the way, although this film, as is the current trend, has a female arse-kicking hero at it's overblown helm. This is also a plus for me because since forming a crush on practically all female characters in Buffy The Vampire Slayer I am a card holding member of the Girls Kicking Arse Society. Also Sean Pertwee's in it and I like him.
What I have done here is in order to not sell the movie short or sound like a moaning whingebag I have submitted my positive thoughts first. I will now delve deeper, which is where many of Doomsday's problems lie.
Let's start at the beginning. After 28 Weeks Later, I Am Legend and Diary of the Dead, this film perpetuates the recent trend of virus related dytopic sci-fi. As none of these films are particularly good, Doomsday was not looking fresh from the outset, but there was hope it could best its recent predecessors, and in sheer volume of influences it does. Unfortunately, as proved by Mr. Tarantino with Kill Bill – the poaching of ideas does not a good film make. A rather uninspired script does not help matters, and Marshall does a criminal thing in rendering the wonderful Bob Hoskins into a flat and wooden character, and doesn't do much better with the rest of the cast.
Thematically what is being done here could have been interesting if not so blatantly borrowing from other films. The main protagonist is a female British Snake Plissken from Escape From New York, entering a quarantined area at the request of the government with a time restriction – she even has an eye missing like Russell's character in John Carpenter's 1981 classic. There is Carpenter-esque synthesizer pulses underscoring the entrance to Glasgow too. The team's small high tech weapons convoy is straight out of Aliens, complete with scratchy helmet-radio communications, and breakdown there of when the brown stuff starts hitting the fan. Here we enter the Mad Max section of the movie with the post-apocalyptic punk iconography of The Road Warrior, and to a lesser extent Beyond Thunderdome, present with only the slightest nuances changed; instead of outback Australian barbarism it is of the Scottish highland sort. It has already been widely noted that the character of Sol is ripped off to an almost plagiaristic level from Mad Max 2's Wez.
What follows is an introduction to the opposing side of the war that is being fought between the plague survivors. Up in the woodland hills there is the settlement of medieval survivors lead by the man who Sinclair is searching for to obtain his cure, Dr. Kane, played by Malcolm McDowell. This is another shift in mise-en-scene, as now our ever dwindling group of protagonists are pit against a foe who for all intents and purposes might as well be the Sheriff of Nottingham. But the way Kane has built up a far away insular community and the way he resides, all anguish, in the shadows reminds me of a British medieval Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, just not as well acted (scripted or shot for that matter).
From this point the film loses all grip on plausibility, with scenes including a totally unbelievable gladiatorial battle and a ridiculous car chase. The film ends on a bitter sweet note redeeming it slightly from shadowy depths of nonsense, although one is left feeling visually overloaded and mentally underwelmed by the whole experience.
The acting, although nothing noteworthy, is quite acceptable and it is not that the direction itself is poor either. The action scenes are to Hollywood standard without a doubt (employing that irritating fast cutting technique that means half the time you can barely see what's going on), and the pace is kept at breakneck speed throughout. It's in the conceptual unoriginality and dull lifeless dialogue Doomsday fails. It seems Marshall has fallen victim to that overambitious nature some director/writers succumb to when given a big budget for the first time and his judgement was somehow clouded. In making a film with themes and styles already existing in previous movies Neil Marshall has made something that neither contains the raw and visceral qualities of his first film nor capitalizes on the techniques honed in his second. Rather, what has been achieved is a postmodern bricolage void of any real subtext or deep meaning. But it is a lot of fun!