I like Kim Newman. I think he’s a good reviewer and he approaches terrible B-movies with a level of open-mindedness few critics employ. But when it comes to giving Doom (the movie, not the videogame series) 2 stars, (Leaving aside Newman’s assertions that “games [stories] are, almost by definition, mindlessly derivative” and “there’s nothing duller than watching somebody else play a game” – RAGE!) I’m forced to disagree. Newman wasn’t alone in this assessment. Metacritic gives Doom a rather dismal 34%, with 14 critics giving it an overall bad rating and only 1 considering it good. However the user reviews give a different story, with far more reviewing the film positively and a more magnanimous overall score of 6.1/10. Several fan reviewers dismissed the movie as ‘boring’ but I think it’s misunderstood. Understated rather than dull, confident in its own identity rather than trying to be something else (even if that something else may have been a more successful movie.) Doom is now on Netflix and even though I already own it on DVD, I watched it again, because I love it. I’ve never been sure why I love it so much, but this time around, a few things clicked into place. I won’t deny that it’s a flawed, silly film with some utterly awful lines and multiple instances of terrible lighting. I’ll also concede that I’m somewhat biased as I have a propensity for videogame adaptations even when they’re rubbish. Super Mario Bros. and the Resident Evil series are notable examples, but my relationship with them is significantly different to my Doom lovefest.
I like Super Mario Bros because it’s such an oddity. Weird casting (Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as brothers – of course!) strange visual choices (Goombas. Seriously, how do you get from anthropomorphic toadstool to pinhead dinosaur?!) and tales of a nightmarish working environment give the film a weird almost mythic quality. I’m not particularly attached to the franchise, or the characters, so I just found it a strange little exercise in missing the point.
Resident Evil on the other hand is a franchise I adore. And while the films fluctuate between competence and catastrophe, I felt they did a serviceable job on all my favourite bits. Nemesis ran around with a bazooka growling “Starrrrssss”, Chris Redfield was a bad ass, Wesker was a dick – what more do I need from a tie-in movie? The fact that they also contained my favourite Eastern European Milla Jovovich was just a lovely added bonus. But Doom is different. It’s not outlandish enough to be a fascinating novelty and I don’t have any feelings about the franchise one way or the other, so my affection for it isn’t related to the enjoyment of seeing beloved characters brought to life. My unabating adoration of Doom stems from the fact that it is based on a game that does fit Newman’s description of being ‘mindlessly derivative’ and yet, its creators made several important choices that steered away from being as thoughtlessly generic as many other action films.
When Doom was made, Karl Urban hadn’t yet fully embraced his Next Generation Bruce Campbell status. He had yet to portray Bones and Dredd and was instead best known as the prettiest Rider of Rohan. He wasn’t the obvious choice as a rugged space marine and his character benefitted from having a little more going on behind the eyes than the usual phlegm-spitting, gun-toting, wise-cracking hero.
In fact, as far as this type of movie is concerned, The Rock would have been the obvious choice as lead. He’s a bigger star amongst the film’s likely audience, and his eyebrow-quirking gurning and relentless manliness would have fit well with the game’s original portrayal of the player-character. (In fact, technically speaking he is the player-character, and I’m still undecided on whether this is a clever comment on gamer culture or if I’m giving the film makers too much credit.) The film’s artwork certainly implies that The Rock is both the lead and the hero, an understandable move on the marketing team’s part. But in reality he is the villain AND he dies, with no tiresome after-the-credits “Or did he?” sequences.
Obviously Doom doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. It’s a film about manly space marines being manly and chopping off monsters’ suspiciously phallic-looking tongues. However, it would have been really easy for the writers to position Rosamund Pike’s character as Urban’s ex-wife or girlfriend. In making her his sister, they automatically prevent any romantic subplots or cliched thinly veiled displays of sexual tension (barring any Lannister-esque plot twists, of course.) This automatically puts Pike on more equal footing with Urban and means her point of view can be conveyed without implied emotional baggage.
Razaaq Adoti’s character, Duke, is initially presented as a macho character with an eye for the ladies. He’s coarse and a little sexist and in most other films of this type, he would have doubtless been the one who got all rapey as soon as he was alone with the token female, forcing the hero-character to come in and save the day. However, the writers took this in the opposite direction, with Adoti wrong-footed and awkward as soon as Pike fails to fall for his leering ‘compliments’, thereby needing no-one to come to her rescue.
Finally, there’s Dexter Fletcher’s disabled character Pinky, whose wheelchair is only briefly remarked on and who remains an active part of the story even after his unpleasant demise.
Hollywood has a habit of churning out soulless sci-fi with cheap CGI used as a substitute for cool visuals. Doom makes great use of its CGI and combines it with prosthetics and creature effects to make a pleasingly gorey whole. (Or hole.)
First Person Sequence
Much was made of this sequence and how cheesy/stupid/pointless it was. I find it hard to see it as anything other than a loving homage to FPSs in general and Doom in particular. It’s not overly-long or self-indulgent and retains its sense of humour while getting a few jump-scares in too. Give it a break, ok?! If we want to talk about fucking nonsense videogame-inspired sequences in films then what about The Beach? But oh no, that had Tilda Swinton and a load of middle-class hippies taking drugs so it was critically acclaimed.*
Several reviews complained of the film’s ending being anti-climactic, when actually this is an artistic comment on the emotions experienced at the end of virtually every videogame release of the last twenty years. I jest, of course, but it’s another case where it would have been easy for them to have a ton of explosions and Karl Urban saying some self-referential quip like “No, YOU’RE Doom…ed”** and then that woman scientist who they evacuated ages ago comes running back into his arms and they kiss as Rosamund Pike looks on enviously wishing all the other marines hadn’t died. But what they had instead was a lengthy fight (not Piper VS David lengthy, but pretty prolonged) between The Rock and Urban, followed by ONE explosion, followed by a rather ambiguous ending where Pike and Urban may or may not have made it out. Who doesn’t want to see The Rock duke it out with Urban? Who doesn’t like seeing The Rock explode? (He really was cooking. Sorry.) Who isn’t positively joyful to see ANY sci-fi film end without the tacked-on promise of an inferior sequel? A dick, that’s who.