March 19, 2008

Movie Review: Doomsday

Playing like a "best of" reel cut from other films, Doomsday is not a particularly good movie, but it is a completely entertaining film. This is the film where writer/director Neil Marshall just cuts loose with all of the fun ideas that have been bubbling through his consciousness, filtered through films he has enjoyed, both new and old. This is a film where greatness and originality do not appear to be the final goal, rather it felt like he was trying to piece together all of those ideas into a single cohesive film. An experiment, if you will, in stream of consciousness and the ability to pull all of these ideas into a film. The end result? A film that tickles the pleasure centers in just such a way that you cannot help but be sucked along for a wild ride.

Doomsday brings in elements of a number of other films. Among the films referenced are Aliens, Escape from New York, Road Warrior, and 28 Days Later. I am sure there are more there waiting to be uncovered, but these are the most obviously apparent. It is sort of a lower level Quentin Tarantino homage film, but if he directed this it would have starred Uma Thurman and some older star needing a career resurgence, or at least some recognition (like John Travolta, Robert Forster, and David Carradine). However, this is not a Tarantino film, it is a Marshall film, and that being the case, it has more of a B movie feel that aims at being pure entertainment and nothing else. I watch Doomsday and do not get any overt attempts at sermonizing the state of world affairs. Sure there are parallels that could be made, but I really didn't care; Marshall has created such a film that all that matters is what is on display.

As the film opens, we learn (via voiceover from Malcolm McDowell) that a virus appeared that began to decimate all in its path. It first appears in Scotland, so what do they do? Wall off Scotland, of course. There was never any serious attempt to discover a cure, just wall of the infected area and forget it. No one knows exactly what happened inside the wall, but eventually the visible fires went out and the area around the wall went quiet. With the outbreak apparently contained you would think that England would be okay, but that would be quite far from the truth.

Because of the way Scotland was treated, the world turned their back on England; leaving the country an economic wreck, poverty and overpopulation ran rampant. Then the unthinkable happened, the virus returned. At the same time, it is revealed that there is still life within the wall, and where there is life, there is a cure. The plan is easy, send a covert military team into the hot zone to find and extract the cure, if it exists. To lead the team the enlist Eden Sinclair, a top agent in the defense force and one of the last to have made it out of the hot zone prior to the sealing of the wall (she was a child at the time).

So, off the team goes, tough as nails Sinclair at the head. They head to Glasgow, in search of the last scientist known to have been working on a potential cure. Rather than the good doctor, they find a band of gothic punks, not unlike the bad guys in Road Warrior (except played much more comedically). This precipitates a big fight, culminating in the discovery of a clue to the whereabouts of the doctor. This leads them into a medieval society, where they fight some more, which turns into an all out road chase with the punks from earlier. The climax is reached and plays for all of the bravado that this over the top, testosterone driven spectacle deserves.

That really is all there is to it; a virus outbreak, a wall, a new outbreak, a wall breach, and non-stop action. Neil Marshall delivers everything with such shameless excess that I found it completely impossible not to grin like an idiot at every implausible moment.

The performances hit all the right notes. Rhona Mitra leads the cast as Eden Sinclair, a latter day Sarah Conner. She brings a steely persona that fails to develop beyond the expected tough guy presence. I found myself cheering for her every step, while also wondering what lay behind the emotionless facade. Mitra is more than able to deliver the physicality required by the role and would love to see her in more projects in the future. There is a pair of more familiar names amidst the supporting cast, and their presence does help elevate the film's esteem. Those names are Bob Hoskins, as Sinclair's boss, and Malcolm McDowell, as Doctor Kane.

Among the supporting cast, the majority of the roles soar well beyond reality and into the bizarre. At the top of the short list would have to be Craig Conway as Sol, leader of the Road Warrior punks. The guy is part insane megalomaniac and part rock star, but beyond that, he is all fun. The guy is crazy, relentless and hilarious. At his side, although for too short a period, Lee-Anne Liebenberg as Viper, the tattooed girlfriend of Sol, exhibiting an alluring dangerous, amazing screen presence. For the few characters to have any actual impact, there are a ton of pure generic players there to be killed in a variety of ways. Not everyone needs a personality, most just need to be seen on screen.

Neil Marshall delivers the goods with his third film. It does not quite reach the claustrophobic, frightening heights that The Descent reached, but it is a vastly different film. This feels like exorcising of his cinematic demons, the culmination of his lifelong love of the cinema. Perhaps it would be best to view this as a love letter to the genre films that initially drew him into the world of filmmaking. Three films deep into his career, and they all deliver the goods, each demonstrating the next step in his ability. It will be interesting to see what he sets his eyes on next.

Bottomline. This is a wonderful movie. It may not be obe destined to take a place among the greats, but it is sure to grace numerous cult film lists for years to come. It is the kind of movie that can be watched numerous times without becoming boring. Also, the cyber-eye is kinda neat.

Highly Recommended.


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