By Bill Gibron
Step aside, zombie films -- there's a new derivative genre in town. The post-apocalyptic thriller is out to trump your ongoing redundancy. Instead of bringing something new to the dystopian brave new world, writer/director Neil Marshall's Doomsday has simply decided to reference each and every offering in the oeuvre. A substantial slip from his championed efforts (Dog Soldiers and The Descent), this Escape from Newcastle calamity is like watching George Miller channel John Carpenter. Toss in a little Aliens, a few medieval riffs, and enough Mad Max references to choke Mel Gibson's ego and you've got a disaster pretending to be profound.
When the Reaper virus devastates Glasgow, the British government quarantines all of Scotland. A few survivors make it out. The rest are locked behind heavy steel walls and guarded gates. Nearly three decades later, the plague reappears, this time in downtown London. Desperate to find a cure, Cabinet Minister Caranis (David O'Hara) gets Police Chief Nelson (Bob Hoskins) to send his top officer back into the hot zone. He chooses lady loose cannon Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra). Her goal? Lead a group of soldiers to Kane (Malcolm McDowell), a doctor who was once in charge of Reaper research. Seems the satellites have been picking up images of humans in the supposedly uninhabitable realm, and if Kane has found a cure, they may be able to stop the insidious disease.
It would be nice to report that Marshall, who seemed capable of revitalizing any staid formula (Soldiers -- werewolves, Descent -- creepy claustrophobia), found a way to turn future shock into something fun and exciting. But the biggest sin committed by Doomsday is how unadulteratedly pointless it is. Instead of inventing a speculative cinematic reality that's fresh and imaginative, instead of taking the storyline somewhere new and innovative, we get the same old Armageddon. Half the quarantine populace has turned into a cannibalistic version of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. The rest have headed back to the equally craven days of Camelot. The punks love '80s new wave blasting from their makeshift staging area. The more gentile survivors are into bloodsport and torture. McDowell's Kane (who narrates the film) reminds us time and time again that morality has evaporated -- and Marshall means to show us every depraved bit.
Much of this movie is beyond illogical. We learn early on that the infected, desperate for food, began eating each other. Yet our military mission runs into a virtual swarm of CGI cows. Our heroine, Eden, has a glass eye that also functions as a video recording device, and still people confess to all kinds of sinister things right in front of her. In the lead, Mitra is decent, if not definitive. She frequently comes across as too aloof to even be in this film, let alone in the perilous situations present. The rest of the cast is competent, with Hoskins and McDowell making the most of some rather ridiculous dialogue (Marshall sure loves his allegorical references to evil).
But since we've seen it all before, because we know every action-oriented beat prior to its arrival ("Here comes the point were a Mohawked maniac leaps onto the car hood!"), Doomsday turns perfunctory. One could suggest that Marshall is purposefully playing with certain references, suggesting that our artistic past may guide our anarchic future. But that would be giving this film more depth than it really has. With its plentiful (if occasionally out of place) gore and solid stunt sequences, the pieces are there for a mildly entertaining experience. But Marshall can't make them fit together, resulting in a narrative that's as scattered as it is senseless.
The next Lord of the Dance.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 14th March 2008
Box Office Worldwide: $22.2M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Rogue Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, Crystal Sky Pictures, Scion Films, Moonlighting Films, Internationale Filmproduktion Blackbird Dritte
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 35
Cast & Crew
Starring: Rhona Mitra as Major Eden Sinclair, Bob Hoskins as Bill Nelson, Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Marcus Kane, Alexander Siddig as Prime Minister John Hatcher, David O'Hara as Michael Canaris, Craig Conway as Sol Kane, Lee-Anne Liebenberg as Viper, Adrian Lester as Sergeant Norton, MyAnna Buring as Cally Kane, Sean Pertwee as Dr. Talbot, Darren Morfitt as Dr. Stirling, Leslie Simpson as Carpenter, Chris Robson as Miller, Axelle Carolyn as Drop Dead Girl / Podium Marauder #1, Caryn Peterson as Vagrant Girl, Adeola Ariyo as Nurse, Emma Cleasby as Katherine Sinclair, Christine Tomlinson as Eden Sinclair (young), Vernon Willemse as David / Gimp, Paul Hyett as Hot Dog Victim, Daniel Read as Sergeant #1, Karl Thaning as Pilot, Stephen Hughes as Soldier #1 / Johnson, Jason Cope as Wall Guard, Ryan Kruger as Soldier, Nathan Wheatley as Patient 'X', Cecil Carter as DDS Assault Trooper, Jeremy Crutchley as Richter